How to Start (and Stick with) a Daily Reflection Habit
Reflection is our connection to the past. Turned into a daily practice, it enriches our lives and provides us with valuable insights that will guide our present and future.
Today’s article is about starting (and maintaining) a daily reflection habit. So let’s start with the steps, and then explore a few simple ways to do it.
How to form the daily reflection habit
Like any habit, we need to start with small action steps that are easy to do on a daily basis.
1. Choose one practice method.
Choose one method from the few mentioned below. If you have a different preference, by all means. Just stick with one thing to avoid confusion and overwhelm.
2. Keep it simple.
We don’t need to research every possible tool and gadget. The only practice that requires tools is writing. Use what you have. You can upgrade your tools later.
3. Set reminders.
It’s fairly easy to forget something—if it’s new to us. We can have the simplest habit in the world, but if we forget to do it, we’ll easily drop it. And, in most cases, we won’t even notice.
4. Anchor reflection to an existing action, or routine.
It will be easier to do something that’s attached to a well formed daily practice. For example: waking up, having a meal, taking a shower, brushing teeth, and so on.
The anchor may vary depending on what method you’ll use. For example, a morning check-in is done when you wake up in the morning, or when you’re taking a shower.
5. Keep going, pick again, and again.
I’ve never developed a new habit without relapsing more than a few times. In the short run it might feel like a big deal. But in the long run, it won’t matter if you skipped a few days here and there. It’s easy to feel discouraged when you’re doing something new. Don’t give up on yourself, keep going. The more you do it, the more your brain changes, and the more you’ll stick to it.
6. Review your progress (i.e. reflect on reflection).
Every week or so look back at what you did. How do you feel? What was helpful and what wasn’t? Is your process working for you? If it’s not, what can you do differently?
7. Fine-tune your process.
After you review your progress a few times, you can refine your method and personalize it. What works for you is as unique as you. So take the time to make small changes that will improve, or simplify, your practice. Over time you might find that you can incorporate two or more methods, or do it more frequently than just once a day.
The above are the basic habit creation steps. If you want to read more about habits and change, check out the following articles.
Now let’s look at a few methods you can use.
Choosing a reflection method
The main point of any reflection technique is to get us to stop, take a breath,and look at our day from a different perspective. The following are a few ways I’ve worked with in the past.
1. Morning check-in
Waking up, especially to a loud buzzing alarm, can be intense and would rattle the best of us. If you can, take a few moments to just breathe into the day and check to see if there is anything on your mind. How are you feeling? Any thoughts consuming your attention?
You can do this right after you wake up, or in the shower, or before breakfast. Look back at the thoughts you had before falling asleep and how you felt in the morning.
2. Journaling (writing)
This is by far my favorite method. I get to spend about 15 to 20 minutes each day with my thoughts and look back at the day. Here are a few ideas of what to write about.
- Memorable experiences, or encounters—what stood out in your mind, or how you felt about an experience. Is there something you can use in the future?
- Challenging issues that came up and whether you dealt with them, or are still trying to figure them out.
- Success and achievements that may go unnoticed if we don’t write them down.
- Gratitude for the moments of joy and beauty.
- Lessons and insights that can be used in the future.
3. Visual meditation
This can be a fun way to look back at your day. I’m using the word meditation loosely here. The main point is to sit quietly and visually recall your day.
You don’t need to take a long time, imagine if your day was on fast forward—but not too fast. You’re sitting on top of a cloud, relaxing and watching yourself go through the day. What can you tell your past self? How do you feel about her/his actions?
Make it as vivid as possible. The more we bring the day to life, the more we can learn from it. This should not take more than 10 minutes. You’ll fast forward through routine, and slow down a bit when viewing new experiences.
This exercise can give us a lighter perspective. The things we worried about a few hours ago may not be that bad.
4. Relive an experience in 30 seconds
I’ve adapted this approach from The 30 second habit with a lifelong impact article. The gist of it is: Spend only 30 seconds after an experience to write down what stood out for you. I’ve used this method to just stop and think about an experience after it was done for 30 seconds, or less. This is fast, but not easy. Let your mind surprise you.
You can write things down or just notice and acknowledge the experience. The objective is to stop and look back.
This method works best if you attach it to an experience ahead of time. For example, if you’re having coffee with your best friend, add a reminder to your calendar to do a 30 second review after.
5. Night check-in
Before you go to sleep, spend a few minutes thinking about how you feel. You can write down things you want to think about tomorrow, take a few breaths and look back at the day and how it turned out. It should not take more than a few minutes. Once you go through the process, give yourself permission to let go of the day. It’s time for a restful sleep.
I hope one of these methods works for you. Just go with what feels right to you in this moment. If it doesn’t work for you after a few weeks, try something else. The main thing is to stop for a few minutes each day and look back at your life. It’s not going to be perfect—nothing ever is. Just do your best—as simply and consistently as possible—and don’t forget to say goodbye to the past, and embrace the present.