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Gibbs Reflective Cycle Stages

Gibbs Reflective Cycle Stages -

Life is a journey full of varied experiences. Some give you lessons to evaluate and correct your actions; some make you bask in joy and glory or numb in grief; others – just a boring phase to pass through. But unfortunately, it is the bitter experiences that make you better, more robust, and more mature as a person or in the craft that earns the bread. Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage talks about these experiences that teach you a lesson.

You evaluate your feelings to analyze what went well and what didn’t and conclude an action plan to deal with similar circumstances. Sounds interesting? Calm your mind and peek in.

Today's comprehensive blog is for everyone who strongly believes people learn things only by practicing and not by self-reflecting. Reading this post diligently will surely put you miles ahead and will also enable you to make sense of, understand, and reflect on the ways to do better next time in the long run.

Let’s get started!

What is Gibbs' Reflective Cycle?

Gibb’s Reflective Cycle model was formulated by Dr Graham Gibbs in 1988. Dr Gibbs was a research leader in the Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. This cycle was designed to provide structure to learn from experiences. It is one of the most renowned theoretical models that leads people to think about what they have encountered during a specific event or situation. 

This method helps people to become more attentive. It also helps evaluate an event's positive and negative effects by making them well aware of their actions and realisations from their own experiences about the aspects they require improving.

This cycle is immensely beneficial to ponder about a specific situation deeply. And it is when they reflect on those experiences they gain profound knowledge of their actions and can change or adjust their behaviour effectively. The Gibbs Reflective Cycle 1988 was originally formulated for nursing, like Rolfe's model of reflection. However, now this method is remarkably applied in different situations, like self-improvement, coaching or mentoring. In fact, in the recent era, it is still believed to be one of the best ways to comprehend how they learn from an experience effectively.

With this clear overview of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle definition, you are ready to discover the 6 essential stages of the Gibbs Model of Reflection of 1988!

What are the 6 Stages of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle?

In 1988, Graham Gibbs published his book 'Learning by Doing' and specified the model of Gibbs Reflective Cycle for the first time. This remarkable model of reflection is a framework that gives structure to the process of experiential learning through six stages. Each of these six stages of Gibbs's cycle of reflection of 1988 encourages an individual to reflect on their experiences through different questions.

Now, let's take a look at each of these Gibbs Reflective Cycle stages enlisted below in detail –

Stage 1 – Description

The first Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage of Gibbs Reflective Cycle includes explaining an experience or event in detail. This incorporates offering details about what occurred when it occurred, and who was involved in the incident. This is solely because when you tend to explain a situation in detail, you gain a profound understanding of what truly occurred and what impact it created.

However, it is important to note that in this stage, you should only assert what happened. Avoid giving your opinion or jumping to any conclusion. Rather, try to explain the situation as it unfolded as accurately and precisely as possible.

Helpful Questions – One can ask the below-enlisted questions to get a comprehensive understanding of the situation –

  • When and where did this occur?

  • Why were you there?

  • Apart from you, who else was there?

  • What actually occurred?

  • What did you do?

  • Apart from you, what did other people do?

  • What was the outcome of this situation?

Example of Description

To illustrate the cycle of reflection in action, let’s see what the ‘description’ stage would look like in an example –

My school friends and I had planned a group vacation. And I was eager to join them. But when I applied for leave for 4 days, my leave got rejected. My boss informed me that it was completely impossible for anyone to take time off during that period.

Stage 2 – Feelings

This Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage is about the feelings that got triggered by the event. It also demonstrates what someone's thoughts were during the event or any activity or situation that was described in Stage 1.  

The intention behind this stage is not to discuss the feelings in detail or comment on them directly. This is because emotions don't require being judged or assessed. Awareness is the key objective of this phase. Another crucial purpose of this Gibbs Reflective Cycle of 1988 stage is to help someone derive insights from their emotional responses and determine any underlying issues that demand attention.

Helpful Questions – Certain crucial questions to ask in the second stage are –

  • What were your feelings before this situation occurred?

  • What were your feelings while this situation occurred?

  • According to you, how other people felt during this incident?

  • What did you feel after this incident?

  • What are your thoughts about the incident now?

  • According to you, what do other people feel about this incident now?

This Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage also indicates that the Gibbs Reflective Cycle can be utilised in an individual setting or even in a setting of counselling or coaching. The final two questions can also enable one to view the event from other people's perspectives.

Example of Feelings

For the above-mentioned example, the stage of ‘feeling’ would be –

"I was thrilled about a much-needed holiday with my old friends, but the unexpected interruption broke my heart and left me dismayed. But my friends were understanding. They cheered me up and finally postponed the holiday. This enhanced my mood significantly.

Stage 3 – Evaluation

In this Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage, you need to ask yourself whether the experience of the incident that occurred in stage 1 was good or bad. Try to comprehend which approach worked remarkably and in which way. Try to also figure out what approach didn't work effectively. The key to this stage is objectivity.

Objectivity will help people make informed judgments. These are evaluative statements of how good or bad they believe a situation, an idea, or an action can be. In this stage, objectivity can also be enhanced when an individual considers the experiences and perspectives of other people.

Helpful Questions –One can ask the below-enlisted questions to get a lucid understanding of the situation –

  • What was positive about this situation?

  • What do you think was negative about this situation?

  • What went well or didn’t go so well?

  • What did you and other people do to contribute to the situation (either positively or negatively)?

It is also crucial to analyse your bad experiences as the subsequent steps in the Gibbs Reflective Cycle will aid people in learning from them.

Example –

For the above-mentioned example, the stage of ‘evaluation’ will be something like –

"Such experience demonstrated that being more emotionally adaptable and confident is important. I should concentrate on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I should also have a conversation with my boss regarding potential bonuses during the holiday season for working. Furthermore, I should be grateful for the unwavering support and understanding my friends showed during this challenging phase."

Stage 4 – Analysis

The fourth Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle model is Analysis. Here, people must feel, think, and try to make sense of the situation. Here, they need to comprehend what actually occurred.

In the earlier stages, people were more focused on the details, but this stage provides the opportunity to think and extract meaning from the experience and the situation. This stage also incorporates taking into consideration the perspectives of others who are involved in the situation and taking a close look at the situation from various angles. This stage is often conducted together with stage 3 of this remarkable model of reflection.

Helpful Questions – You can focus on asking these crucial questions at this stage –

  • Why did things go well or badly?

  • How can your experience be compared to academic literature, if applicable?

  • Could you have responded to the situation distinctly?

  • Are there any models or theories that can help you comprehend what actually occurred?

  • Are there any crucial factors that could have led to a more remarkable outcome than this?

  • What kinds of skills do you need to acquire to handle the incident better than you did this time?

Example – For the above-mentioned example, the stage of ‘analysis’ will be something like –

"When I reflected on the whole scenario, I understood that my vacation request may have got rejected due to certain underlying issues at work. These issues may be due to errors in communication or management problems that led to the mediocre performance of the team. Determining such root causes will help me address them and refrain from these similar situations from occurring in the future. Also, I convinced myself I had the chance to take a holiday and didn't feel anything could go wrong. As a result, I felt deeply frustrated and hugely disappointed when my plan A didn't happen successfully'.

Stage 5 – Conclusion

This is where you need to take a step back and look at yourself from a distance. You also need to ask yourself what else you could have done in such a situation.

Conclude the Gibbs Cycle of Reflection by summarising all your key findings and reflecting closely on the chances that could have enhanced the future outcomes. While making conclusions, you should also take into consideration the ways these will create an impact on the personal level.

This is the Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage to arrive at conclusions by comprehending and concluding what actions could lead to better results in the future. 

Helpful Questions – Take the help of the below-enlisted questions to be well aware of the situations in the concluding stage –

  • What are the lessons that you acquired from this experience?

  • What have you learned about yourself and others?

  • What are the things that could you have done differently? Is there any chance that you could have approached the incident with a positive attitude or given only honest feedback at the moment?

  • What things would you do differently if the same situation, activity, or event was repeated in the future?

  • What are the skills you require to react in a more effective way the next time?

Example –

“This scenario helped me critically evaluate my work performance and recommend certain enhancements to the overall functioning of a department. Further, I required learning more about myself and my emotions by evaluating the recent state of my well-being. Taking this proactive approach will help me avoid such cases or incidents from taking place next time.”

Stage 6 – Plan of Action

The sixth and last Gibbs Reflective Cycle stage of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle of 1988 is the Actions Plan. Here, people explain how they will tackle similar situations in the future and ways to do better next time. This is the stage to make significant changes and devise a brilliant plan to do things differently in the future.

Helpful Questions – You can take the help of the below-enlisted questions to be well aware of the situations in this stage –

  • What will be my action plan if I need to do the same thing or face the same incident? How will I approach things differently?

  • In what ways will I acquire the required skills that I need to tackle similar situations?

  • In what ways can you be sure that you will act differently the next time in the same situation or scenario?

Example – If the same scenario occurs again, here's what you can do to tackle future situations effectively –

  • Evaluate my contributions to the department and determine certain areas for improvement.

  • Reflect on my overall well-being and go through posts on ways to enhance emotional intelligence.

  • Look through alternative options for taking time off, like shorter trips or remote work arrangements, to maintain a balance of healthy work and life.

How to Reference Gibbs' Reflective Cycle?

Now, while writing assignments on Gibbs's Reflective Cycle, referencing it is crucial. Here are certain ways you can reference Gibbs Reflective Cycle effectively –

Gibbs Reflective Cycle in APA Style

If you are typing in ‘how to reference Gibbs Reflective Cycle’ in APA, then it is significant to go through this section carefully. In APA referencing style, Gibbs's reflective cycle should always be cited as –

Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988), as cited in Mayer (2010), shows that….


Gibbs's reflective cycle is a seminal theory in reflective practice (Gibbs, 1988, as cited in Mayer, 2010).

Reference List – Mayer, A. (2010). Starting reflective practice (3rd ed.). Cengage Learning.

Gibbs Reflective Cycle in Harvard Style

If you aim to cite Gibbs Reflective Cycle in harvard referencing style, it is significant to take into consideration the order of information provided below –

  • Author’s Surname and Initial(s)

  • Year of Publication

  • Title of the Journal (in italics with minimal capitalisation)

  • Edition

  • Publisher

  • Place of Publication

When you have this critical information in hand, you can cite the Gibbs Reflective Cycle in Harvard reference style like the below-enlisted examples easily –

Gibbs, G. (1988), Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods, Further Education Unit, London.

Read Also: Driscoll Model of Reflection for Nursing Students

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Read More: Kolb’s Learning Cycle and Reflective Learning Styles- Know Everything

Gibbs Reflective Cycle FAQs

Q. How does Gibbs's Reflective Cycle help in the reflection process?

Ans: Gibbs Reflective Cycle was devised by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give a specific structure to learning experiences. It offers a remarkable framework for investigating experiences. Given its cycle nature, it helps you to go through repeating experiences, allowing you to plan and learn from things that either went well or didn’t go well.

Q. Can Gibbs's Reflective Cycle be used in any context?

Ans: Yes. Gibbs's reflective cycle impacts everyone constantly in their day-to-day lives, especially students who are studying at school, college, university or any other educational setting. The process of reflection can enable all to explore the thoughts and assumptions which they already have on certain areas that help us arrive at conclusions with any problems they tend to come across.

Q. Are there any limitations to using the Gibbs Reflective Cycle?

Ans: Certain limitations of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle are as follows –

  • Based on the individual, reflection with the Gibbs Cycle can be superficial and not deep. This will impact the potential for collective or personal development.

  • The process of Gibbs's Reflective Cycle doesn't take into consideration any assumptions people can hold about a certain experience. It also doesn't take into account the need to look at various perspectives.

  • Reflection doesn’t also necessarily require people to come out with changed assumptions, practices, or perceptive. Similar to other reflective processes like client-centred therapy, an individual has to commit to making changes happen.

Q. What is the purpose of the Gibbs Reflective Cycle?

Ans: Gibbs Reflective Cycle was designed as a constant cycle of improvement for a repeated experience. However, it can be used to reflect on standalone experiences. One of the key aspects of Gibbs is the acknowledgement of the importance of 'Feelings' in reflection. Gibbs also created a separate stage, 'Evaluation,' to denote what went well as well as what didn't. These extra stages make it a beneficial model for certain practitioner courses, but some also find them prescriptive.

Q. Can the Gibbs Reflective Cycle be used for group reflection?

Ans: Gibbs's Reflective cycle is a helpful model to use when reflecting on group situations. It encourages different individuals in a group to reflect on what they though and how they felt or acted. It also helps a group reflect on how well they worked together, investigate what worked or what didn’t, and also suggest recommendations on the ways the teamwork could be improved.

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Anne Gill

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