At the end of each year, so many of us look back over the past year, examine the highs and the lows, and think about what we want for the next year. Do you make big, well-meaning resolutions? Are they abandoned by February? Or are you one of those people who don’t bother anymore, since it doesn’t really change much anyway. At the end of the year, many of us also think about what we are thankful for, and vow to practice gratitude more in the New Year.
I love the idea of practicing gratitude. It can keep you grounded and help you focus on the positive forces in your life. I can also boost your patience and empathy with others. I also find that practicing gratitude often focuses on external situations, what we have and what have been given. I have found a companion practice that focuses internally, and can really enhance your life and work. At the end of each work day, or before you go to bed at night, take 5 minutes or less to answer this one question:
What did I learn today?
This isn’t intended to be a journal practice, although this is a great prompt for journaling as well. It’s more of a bullet list. It is just one sentence, maybe two, to remind you of the lesson. For example, last Tuesday’s might have been “Physical Therapy after shoulder surgery takes a lot of time and effort; there are no shortcuts.” I wrote about this little incident in my last post. Reading this item in the future will be a reminder not only of the conversation, and the time spend rehabilitating my shoulder, but will hopefully also be a reminder of the good results from the effort, and of gratitude for a fully functioning shoulder (hopefully coming soon).
There are lessons large and small that swirl around us every day. Some are academic, some are silly, and some are personal. Of course, this is not an original idea. Put “what did I learn today” into a search engine, and you will see everything from TIL on Reddit to sites that will show you a new fact every day. (Confession time – I only recently learned what TIL stood for on Reddit. It stands for “Today I Learned”, in case you didn’t know.) While fact-a-day trivia is a lot of fun and a great way to spend a couple of minutes, the practice I recommend is more personal. Look for lessons that will make you a better leader, a better producer, a better friend, and – most of all – more the person you want to be.
By resolving to document one lesson a day, you will become more observant to the learning experiences happening all around you, and you will begin to see and retain the little lessons life brings you more readily. Some days you will learn something new about yourself – you may identify a bias, find a talent you didn’t know you had, or find a new interest. Other days you will learn something about a loved one, or you will meet an intriguing new person. And on some days you might learn new information, such as a new software feature, a new method, or a new professional skill. For example, I find that I often learn new approaches to communication and teaching.
It may seem difficult to think of things at first, but it’s worth keeping at it. Try using a small notebook that you keep with you, although you can use your desk calendar, the note taking app on your phone, or whatever tool you use to keep organized. There’s something very satisfying about writing it down by hand, though. The important thing is to be able to see and review all the things you are learning, and to revisit these notes from time to time. And when you get to the end of the year, and see all the notations, it becomes a wonderful gift to yourself to review all you’ve learned over the year. When you feel like things are stagnant, that nothing is happening in your life or career, or you don’t know what to do next, look over all the lessons you have learned, and remind yourself of how much more you know now than you did last year, and how much more you will learn next year. This will not only be something to be grateful for, but can be the foundation for new endeavors in the coming year.