What Good Have I Done Today? A new look at my evening routine

What does the end of your day look like?

Is it a time of quiet reflection? Or is it a stream of frantic activities or hours of diversion ending with a fall into bed?

Do you take the time to learn from the events of each day? Or do you keep doing the same things over and over, and then wonder why nothing changes?

It doesn’t have to be like this. Follow the example of Ben Franklin and others who have made evening a time of reflection, learning, and growth.

The Same Thing Over and Over?

It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Our days can be like that. We have a schedule, maybe even some good routines. We stick to the schedule, we execute the activities, we do it all again tomorrow. And nothing changes.

How do we react to events, to people? How did you react today to meeting someone new, to a confrontation at the office, to a rude or unkind person?

What is our default reaction to inconveniences, annoyances, and disappointments? Do you react the same way each time and yet continue to be unsatisfied with the result?

Learn from the Day that is Done

At the end of each day, Benjamin Franklin asked himself, “What good have I done today?” This was a question he reflected upon and learned from. In this way, he was able to make improvements in his life, his schedule, and his behavior. The goal was to learn something new every day in order to improve the days to come.

Reflecting upon and learning from the events of the day is not a new idea. Over 500 years ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola described a similar practice, the daily examen. At the time of St. Ignatius, this was done twice a day, at noon and in the evening. It’s a habit that many still practice.

I recently worked through the Make Over Your Evening course by Crystal Paine. One of the most useful activities in the course is on Day 2, “Brainstorm Your Ideal Evening”.

When I tried to envision what an ideal evening would really look like, I realized that it was about more than just relaxation and diversion. It would also need to include reflection, learning and growth.

Improve the Days to Come

What can I learn from the day I just experienced? Each evening, I ask myself the following, beginning with Ben’s original question:

What good did I do today?

I take a look at my schedule for the day and at my “to do” list. What did I really  accomplish? I make notes in my planner as to what actually did happen during the day, adding events that may have taken me off my original plan, interactions with people, and significant lessons learned.

Looking at my day in this way, from morning to evening, gives me a good overview of how I spent the day and the lessons the day presented.

What could have been better?

How could the day have been improved? Was there something in my schedule that could have been planned differently?

What about my interactions with people? Was there something I could have done differently? Is there something from this day that I can learn from and apply the lesson to future interactions?

What about eating, exercise, self care? Did I do all I can to be sure I’m feeling my best and, as a result, doing my best?

I review the day and formulate a list of concrete steps that I will take to improve the days to come.

What am I thankful for?

There are so many things to be grateful for each day and the end of the day is a great time to reflect on that.

It used to be that I would only write in my gratitude journal in the morning, but I find that I reflect best with the events fresh in my memory. I still pull out my journal in the morning to read over what I wrote and to add to the list, but this new evening habit ends the day on a very positive note.

You can learn something new every day. But often the most important lessons are found in the events of the day, if only you will take the time to look.

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