Skip to main content

Learning from Past Decisions: The Role of Reflective Practice in Decision-Making

November 20, 2023    •    10 min read
Reflective Practice in Decision-Making

Reflective practice in decision-making is not just a skill but a crucial discipline, especially in high-stakes environments like healthcare leadership where every decision can have profound consequences. Decisions in such contexts are often complex and multifaceted, requiring a balance of knowledge, experience, and foresight. A common yet critical oversight in evaluating past decisions is the influence of hindsight bias. This cognitive bias skews our perception of past events, making them seem more predictable in retrospect than they actually were. Such a distortion can lead to a false sense of confidence or an inaccurate understanding of decision-making processes.

The practice of reflective journaling emerges as a vital tool in this context. It serves as a method to capture the intricacies of decisions as they unfold, documenting the reasoning, the uncertainties, and the context surrounding each decision. By recording these elements in real time, leaders can create a valuable repository of experiences to draw upon for future reflection and learning. This process of journaling not only aids in mitigating the effects of hindsight bias but also fosters a culture of continuous learning and self-improvement. It encourages leaders to critically evaluate their decision-making approach, understand their biases, and develop more nuanced and informed strategies for future challenges. This article delves into the practice of journaling as a method of reflective practice, guiding leaders on how to effectively use this tool to enhance their decision-making acumen.

Understanding Hindsight Bias in Decision-Making

Understanding hindsight bias is essential in decision-making, especially in roles where choices have far-reaching implications. This cognitive bias, often referred to as the “knew-it-all-along” effect, can significantly alter our perception of past decisions. It creates an illusion of predictability, leading us to believe that we had more knowledge or foresight about an outcome than we actually did at the time of the decision. This retrospective bias not only distorts our understanding of past events but also affects our ability to learn from them effectively.

The impact of hindsight bias goes beyond mere misjudgment of past decisions; it can lead to overconfidence in future decision-making and a skewed analysis of decision-making abilities. Recognizing the presence and impact of this bias is a crucial first step in developing a more accurate and reflective approach to decision-making. Acknowledging hindsight bias involves understanding that not all outcomes are foreseeable and that decisions are often made under conditions of uncertainty and limited information.

Mitigating hindsight bias requires a conscious effort to reflect objectively on past decisions, considering the context and knowledge available at the time. This process of reflection helps in developing a more accurate self-assessment and a deeper understanding of decision-making processes. By doing so, individuals can learn more effectively from their experiences, both successes and failures, leading to improved decision-making skills and better outcomes in future scenarios.

Journaling as a Tool for Objective Reflection

Journaling stands out as an effective technique for attaining objective reflection in decision-making, serving as a critical countermeasure against hindsight bias. This method involves meticulously documenting the decision-making process as it unfolds. By keeping a detailed record of each decision, leaders can capture not just the final choice made, but also the full context in which it was made, the range of options that were considered, and the reasoning behind choosing a particular course of action.

This practice of journaling provides a comprehensive and accurate snapshot of the decision-making process at the moment. It preserves the nuances and complexities that might otherwise be lost or distorted over time. The recorded entries serve as a factual baseline, free from the alterations of memory influenced by later events or outcomes. By maintaining such an objective record, leaders create a valuable resource for themselves – a repository of real-time decisions that can be revisited and analyzed.

The benefits of this method extend beyond merely countering cognitive biases. Journaling facilitates a deeper introspection and understanding of one’s decision-making patterns, preferences, and potential areas of improvement. It encourages leaders to engage in a more thoughtful and deliberate decision-making process, knowing that each decision and its rationale will be recorded and scrutinized later. This heightened awareness can lead to more thoughtful, balanced, and effective decision-making over time.

Capturing Key Elements of Decisions in Real-Time

Capturing key elements of decisions in real-time through journaling is a fundamental aspect of developing a reflective practice in decision-making. This approach involves meticulously recording the nuances of each decision as they occur, not retrospectively. By doing so, leaders can create an accurate and comprehensive record that is immune to the distortions of memory or the bias introduced by knowing the outcome.

In real-time journaling, it’s crucial to document the specific circumstances surrounding each decision. This includes the context in which the decision is made, the challenges being faced, and the environment or external factors influencing the decision. Additionally, detailing the various options considered, along with their potential impacts, is essential. This not only aids in understanding the decision-making process but also in evaluating the thoroughness and balance of the consideration given to each option.

The critical component of this practice is recording the chosen course of action and, most importantly, the rationale behind it. Understanding why a particular path was selected over others provides invaluable insights into the leader’s thought process, values, and priorities. It also helps in identifying patterns in decision-making, such as tendencies towards certain types of solutions or responses under specific conditions.

Capturing these elements as they happen is key to preserving the authenticity of the decision-making process. It provides a buffer against the inevitable hindsight bias that can color our recollection of past events and decisions. With real-time journaling, leaders have a reliable resource to return to for objective reflection and analysis, thereby enhancing their learning and improving their future decision-making capabilities.

Analyzing Past Decisions with Objectivity

Analyzing past decisions with objectivity is a critical component of learning from experience in decision-making. This process involves a thorough review of journal entries, where the focus is on understanding the decision-making process based on the information that was available at the time, rather than the eventual outcome. Such an approach is essential to gain a true understanding of the effectiveness of the decisions made and the thought processes behind them.

When reviewing journal entries, it’s important to maintain an objective perspective, consciously setting aside any knowledge of how things eventually unfolded. This means evaluating the decision based on the context, the data, and the circumstances that existed when the decision was made, without the influence of subsequent events or results. This approach allows leaders to critically assess their decision-making skills and processes, identifying areas where they were strong and areas that may need improvement.

Objectively analyzing past decisions also involves scrutinizing the reasoning and justification recorded in the journal. It’s about understanding the rationale behind each choice and evaluating its soundness and validity in the context of the information that was available then. This analysis can reveal patterns in decision-making, such as consistent biases, dependencies on certain types of information, or tendencies to overlook specific factors.

Through this objective analysis, leaders can learn valuable lessons about their decision-making style, including how they handle uncertainty, how they weigh different factors, and how they can improve their processes for future decisions. This reflective practice is integral to developing more refined and effective decision-making skills, leading to better outcomes in their professional roles.

Learning from Successes and Failures

Learning from both successes and failures is a fundamental aspect of improving decision-making skills. However, it is crucial to be aware of how hindsight bias can affect this learning process. Reflective practice involves a careful examination of past decisions, focusing on extracting valuable lessons while ensuring that the knowledge of outcomes does not distort the understanding of the decision-making process.

When reflecting on successes, it’s important to consider what contributed to the positive outcome. Was it due to a well-thought-out decision-making process, the available information at the time, or external factors? Similarly, in analyzing failures, the focus should be on understanding what went wrong and why. Was there a flaw in the decision-making process, were certain risks underestimated, or were there unpredictable external factors?

The key is to approach this analysis without letting the end result influence the evaluation of the decision itself. This means not just celebrating successes as proof of good decision-making or dismissing failures as poor judgment. Instead, it involves a balanced assessment that considers the complexities and uncertainties inherent in any decision-making process.

This reflective practice should be aimed at understanding the nuances of each decision, the rationale behind it, and the context in which it was made. By doing so, leaders can identify patterns in their decision-making, learn from both their successes and their failures, and apply these insights to enhance their future decision-making processes.

Applying Insights to Future Decision-Making

Applying the insights gained from reflective practice into future decision-making is a critical step in enhancing the effectiveness of leadership. This process involves taking the lessons learned from past experiences and actively incorporating them into new situations and decisions. The objective is to create a cycle of continuous improvement in decision-making skills.

Integrating these insights requires a conscious effort to recall and consider the reflections and evaluations made from previous decisions. Leaders should look at how their past decisions were formulated, what factors were considered, what was overlooked, and how the outcomes aligned with expectations. This understanding should then inform how new decisions are approached, ensuring that past experiences, both positive and negative, contribute to better judgment and choices in the future.

This integration also involves being open to evolving one’s decision-making process. It means being adaptive and flexible, willing to modify or change decision-making strategies based on what has been learned. For instance, if reflective practice reveals a tendency to overlook certain types of information, future decisions should involve a more deliberate effort to consider these aspects.

By actively applying these insights, leaders not only improve their decision-making skills but also build greater resilience and adaptability in their roles. This ongoing process of learning and application is essential for effective leadership, particularly in environments where decisions have significant impacts.


In conclusion, the practice of reflective journaling in decision-making is a profound approach to enhancing leadership skills. It provides a structured and objective way to analyze past decisions, learning from both the successes and the failures. This method is particularly effective in countering the distortions of hindsight bias, allowing leaders to view their past decisions through a clear and unbiased lens.

By documenting and reflecting on each decision in real-time, leaders gain valuable insights into their decision-making processes and outcomes. This practice encourages a deeper understanding of the factors that influence decisions and the effectiveness of various approaches. As leaders continuously review and learn from their journal entries, they develop a more nuanced understanding of their decision-making styles and are better equipped to adapt and improve.

The application of these insights into future decision-making is a critical component of this reflective practice. It ensures that the lessons learned are not just theoretical but are actively used to inform and enhance future decisions. This continuous cycle of reflection, learning, and application is what ultimately leads to more informed and effective decision-making.

Adopting reflective journaling as a regular practice can significantly improve a leader’s ability to navigate complex decision-making scenarios. It fosters a culture of continuous learning and self-improvement, which is essential for effective leadership in any dynamic and challenging environment.

Gregory Brickner

Results Fanatic®


Latest Articles