“What did I learn today?”: On writing and self-reflection

Over four years ago I wrote a post in this blog with the title “What did I learn today?” (blog post written in Spanish). I started asking myself that question back then as a way of reflecting about my days at work. It was a period when I was embarking on a new career, so learning every day was an indication that I was making progress. But it was also a way of making sense of everything, as it very often felt I was just overwhelmed by the influx of things coming my way, and not actually absorbing any of it to be able to reuse it. I wrote the question on a notebook (paper, just the way I like it). Slowly the question started evolving into a wider set of questions used depending on the occasion: What did I enjoy today? How did I contribute today? What is making me feel frustrated? Why am I so positive?

My work notebooks

Doing this exercise helped me feel more relaxed. In the majority of the situations, I had the answers. I just had to take the time to reflect and find them. It also helped me plan, reducing anxiety in the process. It generated new questions, giving me purpose, keeping me engaged. If I did not have the answers, at least I started a thought process that would take me to them.

To date I keep on doing this. Sometimes monthly. Other periods daily. Mostly weekly. I still feel there is a lot of change in my life, and chaos comes and goes. It seems I like this constant change.

Being able to stop and reflect allows me to keep this lifestyle of change, without burning out in the process. It allows me to understand that even if I have not reached a goal, I have made progress towards it. It also warns me if I have stopped or slowed down on something I want faster. But it also tells me if I am biting more than I can chew. So it allows me to select what to keep and what to quit.

I do this in all areas of my life. I reflect about how my body is feeling, how is my relationship going, how are things with the family. Sometimes is just verbosity, because all I need is to vent out emotions, ideas or questions that have been keeping me trapped in my own head; other times is a very structural analysis of options, where I use rating systems and tables to make a decision. Each one when needed, and as it best feels.

Here are some tips to encourage this process of self-reflection, based on my own experience:

  1. Keep white spaces/pens/paper to write in the areas where you spend time working or reading or just chilling. For example:
    • A notebook on your desk or night table
    • A whiteboard (I have one at home)
    • Sticky notes
  2. Don’t let those moments of doubt, inspiration or eureka get lost in your thoughts:
    • Use Google Keep or Evernote to keep thoughts synced
    • User your phone memo app (if no internet)
    • Keep a notepad or other document type of app with a new file open in your browser tabs
  3. Book time in your calendar to remind you to take time to reflect and to actually do it
  4. Re-read stuff you have written in the past. It teaches you about who you were and who you’ve become (or if you haven’t changed that much, too) 🙂

Reflect. Be happy. Don’t ruin other people in the process.