Reflection: ‘the art of using science’

Reflection is a natural process, a capacity that everyone has that involves persisting with enquiry into a concept or question seeking a reasonable answer or hypothesis that may feed into more rigorous forms of enquiry (such as research). Nevertheless, if we don’t value the product of personal enquiry, if all we ever value is ‘what the science tells us’ [emphasis on the passive use of ‘tells’] and we rely on the facts and outputs of research then we will naturally spend limited effort to pursue active and critical enquiry. Indeed, we will rely on research to tell us what to do. Now facts and science are important to informing practical interventions don’t get me wrong, it is very important to read around the scientific content of your profession to pick up facts and interventions that we might use, but what I believe is currently undervalued is the ability to reason critically and reflectively about the science in relation to our practice. If we only ever value ‘the facts’ (i.e. it has to be 4x4minutes above 90% because that’s what Helgerud 2009 did; or we have to do 5×5 because that’s what ‘the best powerlifters do’) and we don’t connect with our own capacity to generate ideas and indeed integrate our understanding with our unique context then we run the risk of uncritically accepting and doing what the research says devoid of context and individualisation to the working environment. It is also unlikely that we will spend a great deal of time reflecting to any meaningful degree and it is unlikely we will persist in reflection when we don’t get a desired result. If we rely on google (or google scholar) to answer our questions and we settle with surface understanding from our reading of the literature, we will never learn to trust our own ability to think, enquire and understand a subject more deeply. To persist with genuine curiosity, to pose a question and to persist with enquiry to achieve a reasonable answer to a question or deeper understanding of a concept, we need to value and place trust in the capacity of our own ability to generate/construct knowledge. What I think we need to aim for is the reflective use of scientific knowledge rather than blind acceptance of ‘what the literature says’. In short, I will use the words of a very clever man who told me once that coaching is ‘the art of using science’.