Through reflection, it’s possible to edit your actions before they happen.
After he survived and was liberated from the Nazi concentration camps, Viktor Frankl gave a series of public lectures that are now in the book called, Yes to Life. In the lectures, he encourages people to,
“Live as if you were living for the second time.”
Reflection can happen in two ways. First, we can reflect on and learn from our lived experiences. Second, we can reflect on what hasn’t happened yet as if it already did. Both are important, but it’s the second one I want to dissect because it’s less familiar. This can be done by asking yourself a simple question:
If this were the second time I were living this day, what would I do differently?
The act of reflection (serious thinking or careful consideration) allows us to crystallize our experiences, learn from them, and use them to benefit others. By pretending this is the second time we lived this day – without making the same mistakes – it’s possible to edit our actions.
In his book, Business Made Simple, Donald Miller words Frankl’s question another way, “At the end of the day, what will you have regretted doing or not doing?” He encourages readers to jot down three things. This is a simple exercise that can be done every day.
Here is an example of some things I regularly write down in answer to this question:
- Being unkind, rude, or impatient with my wife or kids – especially in my words
- Being distracted and not present in my interactions with my family or other people
- Not writing or creating anything
Some are actions I would regret doing and others are actions I would regret not doing.
Miller goes on to write, “It’s by reflecting that we edit our actions and design our lives. Those who do not reflect neither edit nor design – they simply respond.”
The Power of Reflection
During my sabbatical, I spent a lot of time reflecting: both on my lived experience, and on what to take with me from my sabbatical. Here are a few of the lessons and practices I’m taking with me into everyday life:
- Natural beauty fosters deep thinking. Each week while on sabbatical, I tried to go somewhere beautiful to spend time reading, writing, reflecting, journaling, and praying. I had long periods of time where I could let my mind wander and write things down in my journal. Some of my favorite places were DeCordova Sculpture Park, Wachusett Reservoir, and the Mt. Auburn Cemetary (you can watch a short video from the cemetery here)
- Writing in a paper journal. Typically I journal on my computer simply because it’s easier to search and pull things out to use for writing purposes. But during my sabbatical, I bought a special journal for the experience and came to really enjoy the act of physically writing in a journal each day.
- Having more fun. I’ve long been a proponent of fun as a way to replenish and take care of your emotional health. Because of my belief in that, I make sure I schedule fun things to do. During my sabbatical, I played golf with a friend or went to the driving range about once per week and really enjoyed it.
- Reading more. I read five books during the two-month sabbatical which is a bit more than my usual pace.
- The practice of sabbatical itself. From here on out, my goal is to take a 2-3 month sabbatical every seven years and a thirty-day mini-sabbatical each year if possible.
- Work on becoming a minimalist. What is minimalism? According to Joshua Becker, minimalism is: owning fewer possessions, intentionally promoting the things we value most, and removing everything that distracts us from those values.
Edit Your Actions…
We all have behaviors we either want to change or keep doing. By reflecting on what hasn’t happened yet, we are able to edit our actions and move closer to the person we want to become.
Here’s an exercise to help you edit your life. Plan a 1-3 hour block over the next week where you can do some intentional reflection. Find a beautiful place, take a journal, and ask yourself a few questions. Here are a few prompts:
- What about my life do I like? What don’t I like? What do I want to edit?
- What things in my life do I have the power to change and what’s one step I can take today to change something? What things in my life can’t I change?
- How can I consistently and intentionally plan built-in times of reflection?
- What’s my next step to move toward the person I want to become?
What are some reflection questions and practices that have helped you? Leave a comment below…
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