Do you ever feel like you're just drifting from one day to the next?
The next time you feel ungrounded in your life, pick up your favorite notebook and try a reflection writing exercise.
In our busy, modern lives, we don’t always make time to sit down and actually reflect on our days. We jump from meeting to meeting, and email to email, without a chance to pause and contemplate what’s happening around us. And over time, this busyness can cause us to lose sight of the things that make us feel happy or grateful. We’re always hustling for the next exciting thing because we’re not noticing the great things that are right in front of us.
Reflection exercises give us a chance to pause and observe the world around us. And through this close noticing, our days feel like they have more texture and vibrancy. When we notice a hummingbird in the backyard or the way the barista took extra care to make your morning latte or the colors in the sky after it rains, we feel more connected to the present moment. We become active participants, rather than passive bystanders.
Benefits of journaling and reflection
Journaling has been known to have wide-ranging benefits. From easing your stress and anxiety, to supporting your health and immune system, journaling allows you to gather the disparate thoughts that are hovering in your mind and organize them on paper.
With journaling, you can examine any issues or problems that are weighing on you, and observe them from a different vantage point. You can potentially find solutions to your problems, or perhaps realize that the problem isn’t as overwhelming as you initially thought.
Even the physical act of journaling has positive benefits. Handwriting is good for you. But it is the act of writing itself that feels very good and liberating. It’s almost as if the negative thoughts channel through your fingers and onto the page. When you see the words on the page, it feels easier to say goodbye to them, and move forward.
How to do this reflection exercise
The wonderful thing about reflection prompts is that it’s a powerful exercise that involves very simple tools. All you need is a pretty journal that you’ll look forward to using and a pen that feels good in your grip.
If you’re just starting your journaling practice, you can take inspiration from Mari Andrews, one of my favorite illustrators. Her illustrations are so personal, insightful, and full of specific details that resonate with so many people.
It’s no wonder that she has a regular journaling practice that supports her life and her art. In this interview she did with The Kitchn, Andrews gives us a glimpse into her morning journaling routine: “While I’m eating I do this little journaling exercise called the The Daily Examen. There are five steps: stillness, thankfulness, reflection, shortcomings, and hopeful. It helps me be positive and thoughtful throughout the day. It usually takes me a half-hour in the morning.”
If you’re a morning person, use that time to do your reflection exercises. You can start your day on a positive note and cultivate a sense of gratitude and purpose that will empower you for the rest of your day.
Or, you can incorporate journaling into your evening routine. Journaling in the evening is great because you’ll have had a full day’s worth of experiences that you can draw from and reflect on. An evening journaling exercise is also a gentle way to wind down and feel appreciation for the day and renew optimism for tomorrow.
You can accompany this exercise with a cup of coffee or tea, maybe some soothing classical music or pleasant bossa nova in the background, and you can take 20-30 minutes to do your writing. Even if you only have 5-10 minutes to jot down specific details or a couple of lines it will be worthwhile.
10 reflection prompts to help you connect more deeply with your life
Below are some reflection prompts to help you examine your personal development or expand your sense of gratitude or help you feel more confident and prepared for tomorrow.
There’s no wrong or right way to do this exercise. You can pick one prompt and write a page. Or pick several prompts and jot down one line. Or mix and match.
Some prompts may be more inspiring than others, depending on the day. But if you’re having trouble coming up with something to write about, be patient and see what arises. You might discover something surprising and positive that you hadn’t considered before.
1. What made me smile today?
Maybe it was an adorable puppy you saw in the park. Or an email from a friend. Or a funny conversation you had with a coworker.
2. Who did I interact with today? What gifts did they provide me? What gifts did I provide them?
This prompt is inspired by the Daily Examen practice that Mari Andrew talks about in her interview. For those who are unfamiliar, the Daily Examen is a spiritual reflection exercise that was practiced by St. Ignatius. Whether or not you’re religious, you might just benefit from the sense of gratitude and purpose that this exercise cultivates.
As for people you interacted with today, maybe it’s the barista at your favorite coffee shop or a coworker or babysitter. So many people flow in and out of our lives. This is a time to honor them and their kindness.
3. What is a delicious drink or food I had today?
It doesn’t matter if it was just a soda or a glass of water. Maybe it was refreshing or a nostalgic childhood treat. Write it down.
4. What’s a beautiful thing I saw today?
It could be a pretty flower you saw on your walk or a smile from a stranger.
5. What challenged me today?
Maybe it was a stressful work meeting or a flurry of emails. How did you respond? What did you learn from this experience?
6. How can I do better tomorrow?
There is always an opportunity to grow and have a second chance. What will you improve on tomorrow?
7. What brought me a sense of peace?
Even in our biggest challenges, we may find a moment of calm. What did that look like to you? Now that you know what brings you peace you will be able to tap into it in the future.
8. What went well?
Don’t be shy. List your wins big and small.
9. What do I look forward to tomorrow?
It could be a person or a meeting or even a meal. What are you excited about for tomorrow?
10. What inspired me?
This could be a movie or person or mentor or a song. You can find inspiration anywhere.
If you’re feeling even more inspired to write and reflect, you can find additional journaling prompts here. If you’re looking for reflection exercises to help you with your professional development, you can work with our Ink+Volt Daily Reflection Journal. The exercises in this journal were inspired by our founder Kate Matsudaira and her work with an executive coach. This is a great tool to help you examine your skills and strengths and tap into your power.