Gibbs Reflective Cycle


Life is the biggest school where everybody is a student. Every one of us learns different things at our own pace. Some learn from their mistakes, while others reflect on their experiences. But if only it was this easy.

Mistakes as a teacher take a straightforward approach. As soon as you realize you have said or done something wrong, be it overperforming at the gym or losing money to the stock market, you have learned your lesson.

As for your experiences, it’s not easy to reflect upon what you have felt or made others feel through your words, actions, and decisions. That is why years go by for some people who keep repeating the same actions, not knowing they have been hurting themselves and others around them.

But people learn from experience only when they consciously think about what went wrong and how they could do better in the future.

This is where Gibbs reflective cycle comes into the picture. It is an approach, a model that helps people understand at work and in life what they did better and what they could do better in the future.

What is Gibbs reflective cycle?

Gibbs reflective cycle was first mentioned by Professor Graham Gibbs in his book “Learning by Doing” in 1988. The model helps people to learn from the regular situations they encounter especially when things don’t go well.

How to use Gibbs reflective cycle?

Gibbs reflective cycle comprises six stages that we will be describing below. You can apply these steps to analyze a certain situation you have experienced yourself.

So let’s get started.

Step 1: Describe

Have you watched the popular crime show CID? Remember how the victim or the eyewitness describes the whole scene to the CID officers – what exactly happened, where did it happen, why they were there at the crime scene?

You have to do the same thing when applying the first step of this model. But there is a small twist, here CID officers are either you or the person who is helping you apply this model, in other words, your coach.

So, when describing the situation to yourself or your coach, answer these questions:

  • What happened?
  • Where and when did this happen?
  • Why were you there at the scene?
  • Were you alone, or was someone else there with you?
  • What did you do?
  • How did the other people react?
  • What was the result of this situation?

Step 2: Feel

As you are describing the situation, it’s obvious that you are replaying the scene in your head. Allow that scene to fill you up once again and analyze how it made you feel at the time. Did you feel angry, upset, embarrassed, or something else.

We know talking about your feelings is easier said than done. But again, a list of simple questions will help you analyze how the situation affected you.

  • How did you feel before this happened?
  • How did you feel when the situation took place?
  • What did you feel after the situation happened?
  • How does it make you feel now?
  • How do you think other people present at that time feel about the situation?

Step 3: Analyze and evaluate

Now that you have stated the facts and feelings about the situation, it’s time to introspect. Think about the situation again and the approaches that worked and the ones that didn’t.

  • What were the positive and negative outcomes of the situation?
  • What went well, and what didn’t?
  • How you and other people contributed to the situation, positively or negatively?

Step 4: Draw conclusions

Once you have evaluated the situation, you have all the facts and information you need. Now it’s time for the moral of the story, which in this case is the conclusion you will draw from the situation.


  • How could this situation have turned more positively for everyone?
  • What would you do differently if you were to face the same situation in the future?
  • What skills do you need to learn to handle such situations?

Step 5: Action

All that you did till now is a waste if you don’t apply your lessons in real life, whether it’s a lesson learned in the classroom or life. From the conclusion that you just made, you might have some actions you should take to deal more effectively with such situations.

Oh well, don’t shut your system and go out yet to act on your newly found conclusion. First, decide what planning is required for positive results, whether it’s clearing a misunderstanding or learning a new skill.

Once you have identified which areas you need to work on and how it’s time to take action and commit to the progress. And you will only know if you have improved by reviewing your progress by how far you have come in a certain time.

Creating a satisfactory and successful career is an ongoing process that requires you to learn new things from people around you, the mistakes you make, and the situations you face. And this is only possible when you learn the necessary models and frameworks and apply them using your creative thinking and other essential skills. Happy learning!

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