The first quarter of 2012 is in the books. No time to reflect, though; we have to put our shoulders to the wheel and get back to the grind, right?  After all, there is plenty to do.

We live in a country of doers – self-discipline and mastery are the words we live by. We read motivational books, listen to motivational speakers and set goals that inspire us to take action. For many of us, we feel the stress of the things that we should have done last year. So, we make resolutions to do better.

Stop! Before you leap into action, make sure the actions you take will be effective. Working work with retailers, I find that many are so busy “doing” or running their businesses that they do not take time to consider the effectiveness of their past actions. Not that the results were necessarily bad, mind you, but maybe the results could have been better.

We are judged by the results we produce. So many of us, blinded by what worked before, simply continue doing what we did before. However, what worked in the past may not be working as well today. Few of us have ever experienced business conditions like the ones we face currently. It’s time for different tactics in this new economy.

Rule of thumb:  If your actions aren’t producing the results you desire, look for more effective ways of doing. The difference between the successful and the unsuccessful is the actions they take, what they do. Sometimes we “do” just for the sake of doing. We believe that if we are not busy doing, then nothing is happening.

This is not true. We get our best ideas when we are not busy doing – when we’re driving, showering, running, playing, meditating, relaxing, waking, or falling asleep. We get our very best ideas when are inspired. And one of the most powerful ways we become inspired involves the process of reflection.

Where do we start looking for inspiration to find better ways of doing? We start by looking within ourselves, using the power of reflection. It is possible that the answers and solutions are already present in the depths of our own minds. Reflection is the process by which we come to observe, examine and explore the content of our mind, which contains our experiences, our perceptions and what we have learned. It may be used to gain insight into current challenges, to uncover hidden dreams and opportunities, to gain deeper insight into how to evolve and grow our businesses, or to explore the nature of the soul and the deeper meaning of life.

Personal reflection brings self-awareness. For anyone who needs to change, the first step is identifying the need to change. We all know people who are totally clueless as to how their actions sabotage their relationships and their lives. Self-awareness is one of those human endowments that separate us from the animals. We can think about what we think about. No one will change unless they are aware of the need to do so. Personal reflection will bring the need to mind.

Reflection has been named as one of the key competencies needed for effective leaders and business owners. Many experts consider reflective observation an integral part of the learning process, whereby experience leads to observation and reflection, creating new concepts from which new implications for further action can be drawn.

Many of us don’t have much patience for the process of reflection. We say we want results, yet what we’re really saying is that we want speed. But even Einstein once said, “There is more to life than increasing speed.”

Taking moments to reflect bring insights that lead to opportunities for growth and learning.  Reflection invokes a power within ourselves to expand upon what really matters, on what is significant to us in our businesses and lives. When we know who we really are and what we really want, we become inspired, and our goals and action plans become inspired, meaningful, and purposeful. We stop wasting time, money and energy living each day as we did yesterday, wondering what happened, not noticing the difference we are making, and not experiencing the joy of our work.

When we take a moment to reflect, without blame or judgment, and in a state of curiosity, on significant events, successes and failures we experienced during the year, we can identify areas for change.  As novelist Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Change is hard. Change is difficult. And it’s never more uncomfortable than when the change must occur from within. But growth is impossible without changing one’s self. Remember, in our world change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Things will change around us all the time. Change will happen to us. But real growth only comes when we intentionally allow change to take shape in us. People unwilling to grow will never reach their potential. To change your world, you must change yourself.

Reflection can turn our failures into successes. Ironically, failure is not failure at all, if we have learned and grown from them. Failure becomes failure when we are doomed to repeat the experiences.

Additionally, when we step back, reflect upon the reflections, and notice what we are thankful for, we become truly inspired-in touch with our highest awareness and creativity. Our vision and purpose becomes clear and we develop goals and action plans that are inspired.

Take a little time to reflect and examine your life, your business and your relationships. What were the pivotal events in 2011? What can you learn from them? Are you getting maximum return on your efforts? Are you getting the results you desire? What could you do differently in the rest of 2012 that could make a significant difference in each?

Include reflection in your strategic plan. Make reflection part of your day-to-day meetings; do it in your daily planning and at the end of your workweek.  You will begin to see difference you make; you will move powerfully in alignment with who you truly are, what you truly want, and experience the joy of your work. You will become inspired.

It is when we are inspired that we are unstoppable. It is when we are inspired that we achieve significant, long-lasting results.