It’s approaching 4 years since I began journaling. I’d read about the 5-Minute Journal as a means of bookending each day with a healthy dose of gratitude and positivity; I came for the promise of a more positive and appreciative attitude towards life. I’ve stayed for the benefits it’s brought about in my outlook generally (and a whole lot more besides).
One of the prompts that the 5-Minute journalling method provides when I reflect on the day that passed is ‘How could I have made today even better?’. This, combined with a prompt to list three amazing things that happened today, seems to ensure that I go to bed with my mind focused upon the positives of the day. It also seems to act as a healthy spur for my subconscious to consider the ways in which tomorrow may be even better through my actions.
My motives for starting journaling were part of a drive to become a better version of myself. I’d long recognised traits of pessimism, negativity and dissatisfaction bordering upon anger as dominant within my personality. In spite of being considered by many around me as a generally cheery person, I also felt like I was missing out on a significant helping of joy that could be taken from my daily life. The only thing stopping me from appreciating this, was myself.
I stumbled upon personal development, entered into the rabbit hole of self-growth and my life has improved substantially. Maybe life is just as good as it was before, except now I can see it for what it is!
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
What I want to share is something I’ve learned through my answers that question; ‘How could I have made today even better?’ as I reflect upon days when everything has seemed to go my way. The 5-Minute Journal doesn’t encourage writing vast amounts of text but the space allocated to this question is certainly the largest each day. What has struck me is that even following the best of days, I seldom struggle to find a few things to note down.
I will state from the outset that this isn’t because I’m such a perfectionist or that my personal standards are ridiculously high. It’s merely that there is ALWAYS room for improvement and space to have done more of what matters most.
Here’s what I have recognised I could have done better, even on my best days.
1) I could have celebrated victories less
I’m prone to recognising successes and failures and then analysing them as the outcomes arising from the things that I’ve done. This is useful to a point in that successes should be celebrated and appreciated, and failures present a good opportunity for learning. Once the moment has passed and the dust has settled, there’s a lot to be said for drawing a line under it and moving forwards.
To celebrate an achievement excessively or too often may lead to a tendency to live off-of past victories. It may mean taking credit for things that were not of my own making and were down to luck and good-fortune. To spend too much time thinking about them may mean I draw connections between cause and effect that simply aren’t there.
It’s far healthier and more beneficial in my view to recognise the win, to accept it for what it as and to give myself some acknowledgement for it and then to move on.
I completed a testing workout? Made progress in a project? Published an article? Made a sale? All these are good outcomes, but in a day or two they’ll mean little if I don’t keep on taking action to bring about more of the same.
2) I could have wasted less time
With ever-greater self-awareness and a personal mission to waste as little of my time as possible, I still marvel at how easy it is to lose 15 minutes, an hour or even a day either in attending to routine tasks or being sucked in by the lure of social media and other distractions. When I congratulate myself in my journal, gratefully acknowledging some accomplishment or another, my conscience is usually on hand to remind me of the half hour I lost on Facebook, or the time spent watching the spin-off of the spin-off of the YouTube video that I had intended to watch.
I have no expectations or desire to become machine-like in my productivity and focus, and often one-person’s wasted time is another person’s down-time or relaxation. What I can say with certainty is no matter how focused I try and be, I can usually reflect on at least an hour or so each day when I could have made better use of it.
3) I could have spent less time thinking about the future and what was coming next
One other thing I need to get better at is in reducing the time, energy and mind-space that I waste in looking forward to positive things and dreading what I think will be unpleasant. It’s good to anticipate and daydream about things that are likely to be positive or pleasurable. Over the years I’ve found that as a rule, the more time I spend thinking about something in advance, the less chance it has of measuring up to my expectations.
The converse is also true; something that I’m dreading rarely warrants the misery or angst that I devoted to it before it happened.
I suppose that this is a roundabout way of reminding myself of the importance of being present, living in the moment and being in the here-and-now.
4) I could have invested myself more fully and wholly in my relationships
For all the drive and determination that I feel towards my goals, I recognise that by far the most important aspect of my life is the relationships I am blessed to enjoy. It’s notable then that in a day when I may have crushed a workout, dealt with a challenge at work, written a blog, or made progress with a project, what has often suffered is the time I’ve devoted to communicating with or spending time with my nearest and dearest.
The time writing the blog came at the expense of calling my parents as I’d intended. The workout was done while the kids watched Netflix. I could have answered the FaceTime call from my daughter but was in the middle of tweaking a sales-deck and couldn’t lose focus. I could have met a friend for a coffee but instead I scheduled a meeting with a prospect.
Progress and successes are great, but when they come at the expense of our interpersonal relationships with those we supposedly put above all else, then maybe they’re not wins after-all?
“Those who seek a better life must first become a better person.”
Celebrate the wins
When each day draws to a close I’ve found enormous benefit in being able to draw a line beneath it by focusing on the positives of the day. A grateful mind is a contented mind, a mind that is generally at peace with itself. What I’m keen to ensure is that it doesn’t also become a complacent mind.
As I’ve been reminded at many points throughout my life, complacency is one of the root-causes for decay and failure. It tends to prompt the positive results to dwindle and the wins to become fewer and more far-between.
Tempering this self-satisfaction and gratitude by reflecting on how good-things could be made even better is a healthy way of combatting this complacency and can surely lead only to ever-greater accomplishments in future?
That's my hope anyway!