Reflection in the Situation -- Diagram by Gordon L. Ziniewicz


Problematic situation: Something causes one to stop doing what one was doing. The usual routine of following habit is interrupted. There is a dilemma, a perplexity. The situation is problematic.


Reflect: Divert energy from overt action to inner mental action or thought. The momentum of action turns inward (one stops to think). Use past information and experience (personal and collective) to understand the present and to project the future. Anticipate what will happen if things go on without doing something to change them.


Face the facts: Analyze the situation to find out what has gone wrong and why. Look at the facts of the situation. Understand the problem. Identify obstacles and resources. Obstacles are conditions that impede or work against progress toward the end or purpose. Resources are conditions that facilitate or enable progress toward the end or purpose. Be keenly aware of what is really going on, including other human beings and their actions. Be aware of even small things that might be affecting the situation.


Project goal or purpose: Imagine a favorable possible outcome for the present problematic situation. The mind runs ahead to imaginary completion, unity, harmony, resolution. Project ends and ideals. Know where you were headed.


Change the end, purpose, or goal in the light of a new assessment of actual conditions. Modify your expectations to reflect reality. Make your goals reality-based. Project new possible ends (new headings).

Reassess the facts of the situation: Take another look at the actual conditions in the situation to determine how they relate to new "projected" ends or purposes. Determine which conditions seem more favorable (as means or resources) as a result of this "new look." Look back to the facts to find appropriate means. Change one's understanding of the problem in the light of new aims and new possible directions.

Revise purposes with observation of the facts, and reinterpret facts in the light of purposes.



Think of alternative courses of action: Imagine and weigh alternative possible courses of action. Think of what can be done in the light of present conditions (obstacles and resources). Think of a variety of "ways" out of the situation which will resolve the present conflict in the best way possible.

Test each possible course of action in the imagination: It is better (safer) to experiment in the imagination before experimenting in overt action (less harm is done). It is hard to undo overt action.

Imagine what would happen if you followed each course of action. Test each possible course of action in the imagination to see how it might turn out (possible consequences). Examine the likelihood that each course of action will bring about the end or purpose sought (desirable favorable outcome)

Weigh each course of action in the light of actual conditions (obstacles and resources) in the situation. Given the present circumstances, what is possible (in a practical sense), and what is not?

Evaluate each course of action in the light of standards, values, or principles. Consider each course of action and its possible consequences in the light of guidelines worked out from personal experience with the help of custom. Principles are guidelines or maps that help us figure out which way to go. Just as maps drawn by explorers help us to find our way in unfamiliar territory, so principles worked out by others can help us decide what to do.


Choose the best possible course of action:

  • Rule out courses of action --
    • that will make things worse.
    • that will increase obstacles or reduce resources for future action.
    • that contradict values or principles.
  • Judge which possible course of action best fits the actual situation, hits the nail on the head, is most likely to solve the problem.

Judgment: The art or skill of making good decisions. The more good decisions we make, the better we get at making good decisions. Bad decisions (mistakes) are helpful, if we learn from them. Understanding what we did wrong helps us understand what we should have done.


Return from thought to overt action: Set out in the new direction mapped by reflection. Do something (or nothing, if that is the best "course of action").


Reflect again: Assess the new situation Did things work out for the best? Insofar as actual outcomes differ from anticipated outcomes, try to figure out why. Initiate new reflection. Learn from mistakes. Consider the short-term and long-term consequences of present actions. Ask yourself: What went wrong? Should I have acted differently? Are things better or worse? Am I better or worse? What about the future? Have I created new obstacles? Have I opened up new possibilities? What still needs to be done? Should guidelines or principles (maps) be revised in the light of these new facts or outcomes? Should purposes be reframed?

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