Another work day ends and I have a vague idea that it was perhaps a good day. Or maybe not so good. I got some things done, plowed through meetings, pushed the rock a little farther up the hill.
Now, finally, a moment of silence. Time to collect my thoughts. Catch my breath. As I settle into my favorite chair, my mind kicks off the replay. Scenes and snippets from the workday accompanied by an internal narrative that tries to interpret the experiences and give them meaning.
This is my opportunity for intentional reflection.
I’ve added the word intentional for a reason. I know that if I just let my mind narrate the memories on its own, I’m more than likely going to end up hearing from my inner critic and start grinding over a few small, negative events rather than taking in the whole picture.
When that happens my entire focus turns inward and my energy is directed towards compensating strategies, often trying to solve problems or perceptions that exist only in my mind. I have a nagging sense of inadequacy and worry that things are only going to get worse.
This is hardly a recipe for personal or professional growth but it can happen in an instant unless I use the pause button. When the memories start to play, it’s helpful to have a set of questions that can guide my interpretation of the day’s events and even shape how the memories are presented.
I think it’s best if you create your own questions but here is the set I tend to come back to on a regular basis.
- When was I at my best today? It’s important to catch myself doing something right.
- Where could I have done better? I try to be non-judgemental and talk to myself as a friend or coach.
- Who did I serve or help today? I know that even if other things went badly, this is something I can feel good about.
- What did I learn today? Every day has lessons and I want to capture at least one or two that I can apply tomorrow.
A couple of additional questions that I use in more difficult times:
- What else could this mean? If something happened that is really gnawing at me this question expands my perspective and presents possible new meanings.
- Will this matter a year from now? 5 years? 10 years? This helps me gain perspective on both the highs and lows and emphasize the things that have a real impact.
Sometimes my mind moves past or around the events of the day to focus on a specific problem or idea and as long as I’ve put myself in a helpful, curious state, that’s perfectly fine. I think that’s ultimately what I’m going for. I want to be in a curious, open frame of mind. Observing and experiencing, not judging or controlling.
You really don’t have to choose to reflect on your day, your work or your experiences. Your mind starts reviewing them the minute it’s no longer distracted so the real question is what will you do with these unguarded moments?
The good news is that you are the artist. You decide how to interpret what you see in the mirror of your memories. You decide what to keep, what the story means, and where it will lead. These choices shape the way you see yourself and the way you respond to others.
You are a reflection of your reflections.
“Did you ever wonder if the person in the puddle is real, and you’re just a reflection of him?”
― Bill Watterson