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Reflective Human Action

Reflective Human Action
On-Line Curriculum

Week 4 - Core Principles of Reflective Human Action

Topics: Living Consciously, Present Moment Awareness & Commitment
Objective: Experience conscious living and present moment awareness.

This week's assignments:

  1. Read the E-Lecture.
  2. Complete two reflective activities.



If you've ever visited London, England, you probably recognize the phrase "Mind the Gap". In London, as you board or disembark from the subway, a male voice warns over the public address system. "Mind the gap. Mind the gap." Of course, the intent is to watch your step and don't fall into the gaping space between the train and the platform. This phrase has stuck with me to describe a unique space in time. Let me explain.

As we live each day, we are constantly bombarded with stimuli. We perceive the stimuli that cause a reactive response. Usually people receive and respond without thought. The response is generally automatic: stimulus/response…stimulus/response…stimulus/response. There is however a space—a gap, if you will—that is available to you between the stimulus and the normal time to respond. That gap contains the field of all potentiality…it contains spirit…it contains imagination and conscience…it contains self-awareness and independent will…it contains the key to creating something new.

We all have the possibility of accessing this space, but we often fail to notice that it's there. In order to access it, you must first get out of "automatic drive" and begin to notice yourself as you "be" in the world. This requires reflection on the stimuli presented and evaluating your options to get the best result of who you want to be in any given situation. To repeat…you need to notice who you are being as you are being it…in other words, begin to create consciousness about you and your thoughts as you move about your world. In other terms, you must begin being present in the moment…

Present moment awareness is an amazing place to be. Time moves very slowly in this space—unlike when you move through the day in past or future awareness. Being in present moment awareness, you set aside your baggage from the past and your worries in the future and experience the moment—being present in this moment.

For example, you may be wondering right this very minute…I have so much to do today, how long is this e-lecture…I'll never get that big project done if I don't start moving…I don't have time for this today. This is living in the future. And the future doesn't exist yet.

Another example, the existence of guilt in your life. You may be thinking…yesterday, I didn't take the time to hug my kids…I can't believe I can get so busy that I would forget such a basic thing…but I couldn't help it…I got that call that really threw me for a loop, then the flat tire made me late, then I got home and things were such a mess…I always told myself I'd never let a day go by without hugging the kids. I know what that feels like when the hugs aren't there. This is living in the past. And the past no longer exists.

The only thing that is real is this moment. Who do you want to be in this moment?

Authentic leadership requires that you step into the gap between a stimulus and your response and reflect on the alternatives available to you in your response. Incorporate, into your evaluation, which response is going to better portray the person I want to be. This process takes an imperceptible moment, but it is critical to creating something that you do not currently know how to do. Without this reflection in the moment, you cannot lead. It is in the present moment that reflective human action takes place. Leadership occurs from that reflection in the present moment.

Leadership and Commitment

There is little difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in something, you do it only when it is convenient. When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses and produce only results. (Gilley, 1997, p. 45)

Leadership requires commitment. Personal leadership can only be exhibited if you live authentically, in alignment with your core value system. Personal leadership is driven by a commitment to make a situation "right". It comes from noticing when a situation is out of alignment with an established vision.

Commitment is doing, not trying. Have you ever tried to sit in a chair? You either are sitting OR not sitting—the act of trying creates an action suspended in non-accountability. Trying creates activity, but not bottom line outcomes. What commitments have you made to yourself that you have tried to keep, but never were able to fulfill? Perhaps the outcome has something to do with the trying!

Commitment requires discipline, not only in the fulfilling, but also in the consideration of the commitment. The foundation for this discipline is in conscious living. Conscious living requires one to be in the present moment—that space between stimulus and response—where one gets in touch with the authentic self—to examine the promise for action and assess whether the promise is in alignment with the true and authentic self. Conscious living requires us to carefully consider our authenticity in our response, examine if there is a possibility that something within us might sabotage or undermine our resolve. Conscious living helps us to see how events of the past may impede our ability to fulfill our commitment today.

Careful consideration is not the only thing required to fulfill a commitment. Good intentions are only intentions. Action must back up the intention. There needs to be plan—a strategy—to back up the commitment.

Here are some questions to consider before making a commitment (Gilley, 1997, p. 47):

  • What does the commitment require?
  • What must I do to make sure the commitment is carried out?
  • What must I refuse to do to make sure that it is carried out?
  • How do I measure my progress?
  • What support systems or mechanisms do I or others need to make sure that the commitment is carried out?
  • Why wouldn't I want to be committed to this?
  • What situations test our commitment?
  • How do we respond in those situations to ensure that we keep our commitment?


Gilley, K. (1997). Leading from the Heart: Choosing Courage over Fear in the Workplace. Newton, Massachusetts:Butterworth-Heineman

Activity: (Complete Activity 1 and 2)

Activity 1:

To become fully aware in the present, practice this activity daily for the next seven days:

Choose some small aspect of a daily activity and really notice you in the process. It might be cooking or washing dishes, shaving or brushing your teeth, or walking across campus. Notice who you are being in the process of this activity. Notice your attitude about the activity. Notice your movement, your body's tension, your rhythm and pace during the activity. Notice what distracts you from completing the activity in a focused manner. Is there a difference in your noticing between day 1 and day 7 of this activity? Post your observations about present moment awareness and you.

Activity 2:

In our lives, values serve many purposes. They guide personal and social behavior. They inform us of what to do and what not to do relative to moral conduct and personal competency. They serve as guides for taking positions on issues, choosing our politics, and evaluating actions, beliefs, and attitudes of ourselves and others. "They are our deepest feelings and thoughts about ourselves and our life" (Throop, 1993, p. 5).

Values are defined by many authors. Rokeach (1973), one of the leading researchers and scholars in the field of human values, defines a value as "an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence" (p. 5). Kouzes and Posner (1993) define values as "the beliefs about what means and ends are desirable and undesirable, preferable or not preferable" (p. 62).

When values are clear, persons do not have to rely on anyone else to provide direction. They can act independently and can recognize conflict between personal values and those of business or society. When values are clear and recognized, individuals are more in control of their lives and are thus empowered.

Values and value systems serve as guides for resolving conflicts and making decisions. We must recognize that we may not always be able to behave in a manner consistent with our values. Occasionally, two or more values conflict. By being clear about our values and being able to articulate them when appropriate, individuals can engage in true dialogue about priorities that direct their behavior. Also, we are most comfortable in situations when our thinking, feeling, and acting coincide, i.e., work together.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1993). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rokeach, M. ( 1973). The nature of human values. New York: Free Press.
Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R. B., & Smith, B. J. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
Throop, R. K. ( 1993). Reaching your potential: Personal and professional development. New York: Delmar Publishers.

Activity Instructions:

  1. Identify the five values you believe are most important to you and that undergird your actions. Use the Checklist for Personal Values (Senge et al, 1994), as a guide to stimulate your thinking. Add any values of your own that are not listed.
  2. Answer the following questions related to the five most important values you identified:
    1. What do these core values mean, exactly? By holding these values, what are you expecting of yourself in good times? in bad times?
    2. Have you considered other alternatives to these values?
    3. Are you willing to affirm in public that you hold these values?
    4. Are you willing to act on these values repeatedly and consistently over time?
    5. In order to reflect these core values, what would you change in your personal life? in your professional life?
    6. What would an organization be like which encouraged members (workers) to live up to these values?
  3. As a result of your answers, do you want to change any of the selected values?
  4. Focusing on the five values you consider most important, prioritize them in order of importance to you.
  5. Reflect on the following questions:
    1. Have you ever had to compromise one of your five core values? What did you feel when you had to give up a core value at home or at work?
    2. How do you want to handle this situation in the future if it arises?
  6. Post your top five values in order of priority to you. Share your thoughts about why have you chosen those particular values as priorities?

Checklist for Personal Values

Source: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, by P. M. Senge, A. Kleiner, C. Roberts, R. B. Ross, & B. J. Smith, New York: Doubleday, 1994. Reprinted with permission of the publishers. All rights reserved.

______ Achievement
______ Advancement and Promotion
______ Adventure
______ Affection (love and caring)
______ Arts
______ Challenging problems
______ Change and variety
______ Close relationships
______ Community
______ Competence
______ Competition
______ Cooperation
______ Country
______ Creativity
______ Decisiveness
______ Democracy
______ Ecological awareness
______ Economic security
______ Effectiveness
______ Efficiency
______ Ethical practice
______ Excellence
______ Excitement
______ Expertise
______ Fame
______ Fast living
______ Fast-paced work
______ Financial gain
______ Freedom

______ Friendships
______ Growth
______ Having a family
______ Helpings other people
______ Helping society
______ Honesty
______ Independence
______ Influencing others
______ Inner harmony
______ Intellectual status
______ Involvement
______ Job tranquility
______ Knowledge
______ Leadership
______ Location
______ Loyalty
______ Market Position
______ Meaningful work
______ Merit
______ Money
______ Nature
______ (being around people who are) Open and honest
______ Order (tranquility, stability, conformity)
______ Personal development (living up to the fullest use of my potential)
______ Physical challenge

______ Pleasure
______ Power and authority
______ Privacy
______ Public service
______ Purity
______ Quality of what I take part in
______ Quality in relationships
______ Recognition (respect from others, status)
______ Religion
______ Reputation
______ Responsibility & accountability
______ Security
______ Self-respect
______ Serenity
______ Sophistication
______ Stability
______ Status
______ Supervising others
______ Time freedom
______ Truth
______ Wealth
______ Wisdom
______ Work under pressure
______ Work with others

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