Many of us go through our entire lives as total strangers to ourselves, simply because we never pause long enough for moments of self-inquiry. We are so busy seeking answers to other people’s problems that we forget to ask questions for our own well-being. Obviously, this isn’t wise.
Wisdom, after all, is not about knowing all the answers every minute; it’s about asking the right questions. In the long run, the simple questions you ask yourself on a regular basis will determine the type of person you become.
At the very least, you need to set aside some dedicated “me time” at the end of each week – a personal timeout for self-reflection and self-inquiry – to ask yourself questions like these:
1. What pleasant surprises did I discover this week?
Life’s dynamic nature continually renews the possibilities before you; you honestly never can be certain when the next gust of wind will arrive and what it will blow in your direction. Open yourself to these surprises and pay attention. Many of them will bring goodness you never knew you were missing.
Some of your best discoveries will likely come when you least expect them, in places you never even thought to look. What you were not looking for can end up being more than you ever hoped to find. So seek your goals and dreams diligently, but don’t be so unyielding that you develop tunnel vision. Do not blind yourself from all the unpredictable wonders and opportunities passing in your periphery.
You are never too old, too young, too busy, or too educated to find value and joy in new, unexpected opportunities. So stay on the lookout, and keep track of these pleasant surprises. Be sure not to lose them in the haste of your weekly routines.
2. What lessons did my work teach me that I could build upon next week?
This question will help you clarify the distinction between activity and achievement. There will always be routines and mundane tasks that require you to go through the motions, but what else did you derive from your work this week? What was learned that could be built upon? Surely there were successes and failures – ideas that worked and those that wallowed. Think about these events and extract what is useful.
Look at your week from beginning to end. It was not a week of lounging around doing nothing; it was a week in which you had everything to do, and now you have done it. Pat yourself on the back, and then acknowledge the week’s lessons – especially the things that didn’t go your way. If you didn’t get a task done the way you had hoped or a particular solution didn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting for you next week. And the lessons you just learned are the first step towards it. (Read Decisive.)
3. Are my short-term efforts and long-term goals still aligned?
It’s not what you do or achieve every once in awhile (big picture), but what you do every day (small picture) that counts. Dream big dreams, but realize that short-term, realistic goals are the key to success. What you want to achieve is directly connected to your daily actions. The way you spend your time defines who you are and who you will become.
Therefore, make sure what you are doing (small picture) truly aligns with where you want to go (big picture).
While the pleasure junkies of the world avoid pain and discomfort at all costs, be someone who truly understands the value and benefits of working through the tough situations that others typically avoid. Be willing to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term happiness. Be more interested in something being effective than you are in something being easy. While everyone else is looking for the quickest shortcut, look for the course of action that will produce the real results you want for yourself.
4. What could I have spent more or less time doing?
As Stephen Covey once said, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” In other words, productivity is not just about getting things done, it’s about getting the right things done.
At the end of each week, look at how you have spent your time, and adjust the allocation as necessary for the upcoming week. Do your best to get rid of your schedule’s complexities so you can spend more time on the things that matter. This means fine-tuning and eliminating all but the essential tasks, so you are left with only the ones that add value to your life. And above all, know when to set aside the important things for the vital things, like family. (Read The Power of Habit.)
5. How did fear and uncertainty affect what I did and didn’t do?
Not knowing which path to take can be painful, but nothing is more disheartening than standing still and never making a decision at all. This is why it’s imperative to think about your fears and address them on a weekly basis. You have to stop them so they don’t stop you from moving forward with your life.
So what should you do? Anything… something small… so long as you don’t simply sit there. If you make a mistake, start over. Try something else. If you wait until you’ve satisfied all the uncertainties in your mind, it may be too late.
The bottom line is that you gain strength, confidence and emotional growth by living through every experience in which you are forced to stop and look fear in the face. And once the face-off is over and you realize you’re still breathing, you must say to yourself, “I have lived through period of uncertainty, I have learned from it, and I am better off. AND I am capable of dealing with the next intimidating circumstance that comes my way too.”
6. What mental clutter can I clear?
Just as you don’t move from one place to another without first sorting your belongings, and leaving behind what is not useful or needed, so too should you follow the same process with what you’ve mentally gathered, before moving on. Do some purging and clear some clutter. Don’t carry excess baggage into next week. Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may shine bright.
Throw away any regrets, shame and anger that you have accumulated this week, and take only the treasures worth keeping: the lessons, the love and the best of what can be remembered.
One of the easiest ways to sort through your mental clutter, and decide what needs to be discarded, is to perform a simple brain dumping exercise whereby you dump your emotions into a written journal or notepad. Literally think about this week’s standout moments, make a list of how you felt on each occasion, and then review your findings. Clear out the negative clutter that’s lingering in your mind by processing your thoughts, filing the lessons, forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and letting this week go.
The bottom line is that you have to close the door on this week’s negativities, change the record, clean the house, and get rid of the mental dust and dirt. Don’t deny yourself a fair chance at the week ahead. Stop holding on to what was, so you can enjoy what is beginning now. (I discuss this in more detail in the “Simplicity” and “Success” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
7. What is the first logical step for next week?
Next week is a new beginning – a blank canvas upon which you have the delightful opportunity to create. On Monday morning you will be standing at the start of an impressive adventure, with the very real and present opportunity to shape your present and future in exactly the way you see fit.
And as they say, well begun is half done…
What would you add to the list?
- What questions do you ask yourself during moments of self-reflection?
- Do you use any other self-reflection methods (journaling, etc.)?
Please leave a comment below and share your insights with us.
Photo by: Lauren Rushing
Great post! A question I often ask myself:
Are my actions and efforts adding value to my life and the lives of those I care about?
@Dev: Great question. I just wrote that one down.
I have three additions for the list:
– Why are you doing what you’re doing?
– What do you want to remember about today?
– What are you most grateful for right now?
Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Marc.
David Greer says
Love the photograph in today’s post.
My patterning is different. I start and end each day with a short journaling session — usually 5 minutes. Many of the issues you raise then show up.
In my evening journaling I try and always write down 5 things I am grateful for. That sets the tone for my next day.
Time for me to sign off and write my list or today.
Patrik Edblad says
At the end of each week I do a journaling session where I:
1. Visualize and update (if needed) my long-term goals
2. Celebrate the week by writing down at least 10 things (big or small) I did that I’m proud of.
3. Write down the biggest lessons I learn, meaningful quotes, sources of inspiration & people I want to meet
4. Analyze what went wrong and why
5. Commit to my top 7 outcomes for the next week
6. Schedule 1-3 most important tasks for every day for the upcoming week
7. Ask myself who else I can help as well as who can help me during the next 7 days
I’ve found this exercise to be very helpful to reflect, grow and stay on the right track.
Great stuff as always Marc, thanks 🙂
Kristin Barton Cuthriell says
These are so many important questions for all of us to ask ourselves. So often our mind is so full of negative clutter that it prevents us from enjoying the moment. We also tend to let our fear guide us, whether we are aware of it or not. I saw that you recently read the classic, The Road Less Traveled. It is one of my favorites. Have a great day. I enjoy your blog.
Shady Buchanan says
I love the part about leaving regrets/problems behind. Many, many years ago I read an article dealing with overcoming negative people/thoughts actions. In this article, they suggested making a “Trouble Tree” out of construction paper, and then using either small bits of paper, or a Post-it Note to briefly write down the offending person, or event. This Trouble Tree was to be kept at work (for the most part) and once you had made a Trouble Leaf, attach it to the Tree, and let go of that instance; forget it had happened and focus on the more positive things in one’s life. I expanded on that idea, and also used a Trouble Tree when at home as well. It was very helpful to me and has been for many years.
Another great way to let go of worries, is to Journal. Some have even suggested to just freely write down the negative items, no need to worry about proper sentence structure, just Brain-Storm write down whatever it is that’s causing you grief. Once finished, carefully fold the paper into half, and then half again, and carefully burn the paper, thereby releasing the negativity away from you and letting it vanish into the wind. That has also been helpful to me as well.
Either is a great way to help a person, not obsess or dwell endlessly on negative actions, behaviors, or ideas created by oneself or by others.
Really enjoyed your post. I have to say that I don’t usually ask myself any questions at the end of the week, but I’ll definitely give this a shot.
One question I’d add is: Did I have fun?
What questions do you ask yourself during moments of self-reflection?
What aspects of my life need changing and how can I go about change. This week has been especially hard for me. Ending a wonderful relationship with an amazing man whom I love because in the end it it the best thing for me as hard as it is.
What positive influence can I have on the lives of others and of my son. How can I encourage growth and confidence for others and myself.
How can i make a difference in the lifes of others. Sometimes I think we feel that our lives are to busy to offer time to make change within our community. But sometimes it is just baby steps that make the biggest difference. Offer a smile or hold a door. Tell someone how beautiful they are.
Do you use any other self-reflection methods (journaling, etc.)?
I tend to Pray, read my bible, and spend quiet time alone in reflection.
This is exactly what I needed today. I frequently feel like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. I think a weekly assessment will help me to take action instead of pondering every possibility until I put it down til the next day, or week, or month. Thanks!!!
Love this article. I really needed to read this today. We’ve got a really big project in the works and this definitely gave me some clarity.
Great questions to ask at the end of each day and week!
I would add the following questions to the list:
~What or whom triggered me?
~What self-sabotaging beliefs and/or patterns emerged this week?
~What do I need to heal in my life?
~Who or what do I need to forgive?
~What or who is holding me back?
~What do I need to let go of so I can make room for something that is for my highest good and the good of others?
~What is making me feel stuck?
~What did I accomplish? Was it productive or counterproductive?
~What can I do next week to move closer to my goals/dreams?
I like to journal and meditate. I also like to work out. 🙂 Exercising is a great way to let go and release that which is not serving you or the world.
Have a fun weekend!
Mary Lynn says
Recovering from surgery and learned to rest and do nothing this week! Not a usual or easy thing for me to do, was my goal and I did it.
Susanna Halonen says
Great blog post!
My favourites without a doubt were clearing the mental clutter and checking if short term efforts are aligned with long term goals.
I did a blog post two weeks ago on just this as I needed to do some self-reflection myself. Here are the 3 questions I found useful:
– What do you want your life to look like in 6 months time?
– What one thing could you do daily to raise your life to the next level?
– What three things make you happiest in life?
There’s more details around these questions on my blog if you’re curious 🙂 happyologist.co.uk/idea/3-questions-for-happy-self-reflection/
David Rapp says
I would add the carry-over affect.
What did I spend my weekend still pondering, thinking over, worrying about that happened at work during the week??
If your job carries over to your weekend too much (as defined by you), your priorities are lost. I chuckle when I read about people finding their “calling”, but on their tombstones and in their obituaries “work” hardly drives the content.
How many times did I say “yes” when I should have said “No”, and why? Asked in reverse as well.
How many times did I tell someone “I Love You” this week? Because if you die in your sleep tonight, this is the one that counts.
Thanks for this. I don’t work and am still struggling with a divorce after a 36 year marriage. I seem to only be able to make it through one day at a time. I’m proud of myself for being able to go to my favorite yoga class 3 times a week, and walk my dog. I am so grateful to be alive, having lost many good friends in my life. I need to sort out priorities and try to move on as best I can. At my age, it’s hard to have a long term goal. I appreciate this blog. It always has something useful to appreciate.
Great questions. I plan on sitting down at the end of every week and answering these to reflect and take a look into my goals, ambitions and how to better manage my time during the week. I’ve created a Google document template for anyone to use & save if they’d like to also put these questions and answers down in writing, its located here (http://goo.gl/0WNU6t) for those who want to utilize the document.
Kevin Carroll says
Did I make a positive difference in someone’s life this week? Could I have made that difference?
Andrew Coleman says
YES OK I CONFESS! =) I’m a pleasure junkie! I take the easy way, avoid conflicts, avoid pain and difficulties. With four teenagers at the moment too! Thanks for the direction, I’m taking stock and planning.
Andrew Coleman. (I went to school with a David Greer at Birdwood!)
Andy Webber says
Great post. Loved reading this. “What mental clutter did you clear”. I like that. Best thing I find is to go for a run. Instant clearing of the head I find. Also.. “did you face your fears”. That’s a good one.
I think you hit the nail with the simple point to ask questions. After all that is how we learn. The most intelligent people are the ones who ask questions and don’t think they know it all.
Gene Hernandez says
As part of my reflection for the week…
Did I add value in what I accomplished for the week both professionally and personal?
What would I have done different and did I learn something from the experience?
Was I able to balance both home and work life?
Lastly, disconnect and spend a few minutes thinking about next week as Monday is a new day to do what you love.
A very good post:
I have spent about 5 years in my existing company. 1 thing what makes me different from my colleagues is that I feel every Monday is a new opportunity to grow my project. I know every1 would think that’s silly but doesn’t matter. I am always rejuvenated at my work, for me project is not about completing but making a difference that would count.
I love what I do and do what I love.
Marc Chernoff says
@David Greer: I’m a big fan of journaling too. I actually use questions to fuel my journal entries on a daily basis.
@Patrik Edblad: I love this journaling framework. Thank you for sharing it.
@Kristin Barton Cuthriell: Yes, The Road Less Traveled is my favorite personal development book, bar none.
@Shady Bauchanan: The Trouble Tree idea is interesting. I’ve never heard about that method. I may give it a try. Thank you for sharing.
@Michelle: Wonderful questions, answers and insights. 🙂
@Jenn: With a little mindfulness, we can all get back on track. Good luck.
@Amandah: Great questions. And I also agree that meditation and exercise are vitally important as well. I do both almost every day to center my mind and reinvigorate my body.
@Mary Lynn: Sometimes relaxation is what’s needed most. I wish you well in your post surgery recovery.
@Susanna Halonen: Excellent blog post!
@David Rapp: Ah, yes… the carry over affect is so important. Learning to let go of baggage from one part of our lives, so it doesn’t rattle another part of our lives, always helps. Thanks for the continued support and insight.
@Joan: It may seem tough, but YOU ARE TOUGH too. Don’t forget that. One day at a time is all there ever is. Read The Power of Now
@Ryan: Thanks for sharing the doc. Great idea.
@Andrew Coleman: Did David Greer introduce you to our blog. Or is this a coincidence? I’m curious.
@Kevin Carroll, Gene Hernandez and Cal: Loved your additions to the list. Thanks.
@Nancy: Beautiful attitude. An attitude like that makes the impossible, possible.
@All: Thank you again for keeping the conversation alive. You have brought new depth to my ideas about weekly self-reflection. And a few of your insights will likely be implemented at my end this week. 😉
Davis Nguyen says
Thanks for another great article Marc.
I would add this one to the list and it is one I asked myself every day:
What positive impacts did I have in someone else’s life.
While I think it is great that I focus on my own development. One of the greatest and fulfilling thing I find I can do is to make a difference in someone else’s life: passing on a scholarship, connecting them with someone, attending on of their events, giving them a call.
Like David, I also keep a journal.
HI Marc, This is probably something I’m doing quite regularly but never in a conscious or formalized way. And definitely not weekly.
I think the two which resonate most with me are #1 and #5. It’s always good to find pleasant discoveries in our lives and be grateful for them. ANd #5 on how we respond to fear. We spend so much of our lives living in fear that stepping back a little back each week, can help us overcome this pesky adversary in our lives. Our greatest potential is usually held back by this character! The first thing we can do is recognize fear for what it is and observe how we respond to it.
Cecil McIntosh says
I enjoy your post and I would add that self-reflection could be even more profound if done on a daily basic.
Here’s my approach.
At the end of the day I close my eyes and do a review of my day. I acknowledge and cherish my successes.
I look at the upsets of my day and I fix them in my mind to be the way or the results I would have liked.
This removes all my emotional stress like overwhelm and any other frustration and it allows me to end each day in a state of perfection. It also lets me to go to bed at peace and to sleep like baby.
So instead of waiting for insights at the end of the week I get them on a daily basic.