The other day I read a quote by Gretchen Rubin—author of “The Happiness Project”—which states the following: “Accept yourself, and expect more from yourself.” I love that quote, and I think that it’s right on point.
There are those who criticize the field of self-improvement because they argue that it makes people think that there’s something wrong with them, and that they need to work continuously to try and fix themselves.
However, the real message of self-improvement isn’t that you’re broken and that you need to be fixed. Instead, the real message is that you’re fine as you are, and you can become even better.
A great tool for carrying out the process of both self-acceptance and continuous improvement is the Daily Prayer of Examen, which is one of the spiritual exercises recommended by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Don’t be frightened away by the word “prayer”. If you’re not religious, the prayer can be easily adapted for secular purposes.
In essence, the Daily Prayer of Examen is a review of your day. Although St. Ignatius recommended that it be done twice a day, we’ll treat as a daily review which you carry out at the end of the day, before you retire for the evening. The Prayer of Examen highlights the past 24 hours of the day, focusing on the following four elements:
Each of these elements is described below.
You begin the Prayer of Examen by finding a quiet place and achieving a calm state of mind. Concentrate on the nearness of God and his presence in your life. If you’re not religious, just concentrate on what Eckhart Tolle—author of “The Power of Now”—describes as the field of energy which surrounds all material objects. Take a moment or two to simply breathe and be with what is.
Once you’ve quieted your mind and you’re fully in the present, move on to the second step, which is gratitude.
Concentrate on the past 24 hours and reflect on everything that you received throughout the day. What do you have to be thankful for in the past twenty-four hours? Did you remember to give thanks for all of the blessings that you received during the day? Take a moment to be grateful for all of the good that was done for you on that day, and all of the good that you received.
Observe and remember the details of the day that just ended and review your intentions, your emotions, your speech, and your actions. Do this with an eye toward improving yourself. Ask yourself questions such as the following:
- What went right?
- What did you do well?
- Who did you help?
- How did you help yourself?
- What was the dominant emotion that you felt throughout the day?
- Did you set an intention for how you wanted your day to go at the beginning of the day? If so, did you follow through on that intent?
- Did you waste time?
- Did you speak harshly?
- Did you act selfishly?
- Did you do anything throughout the day that harmed another?
- Did you do anything throughout the day that harmed yourself?
If you did anything you feel you shouldn’t have done, forgive yourself and resolve not to act that way again in the future. The purpose of this step isn’t to beat yourself up or to feel bad about yourself, but to honestly review how your day went, both the good and the bad.
Acknowledge yourself for the good that you did, and resolve to do more of the good things that you did on that day. In addition, release any negative emotions you may be feeling from anything that you failed to do during the day, any mistakes that you made, any harsh words that you spoke, and anything that didn’t go as you would have liked it to.
Every day you should examine how you can improve your conduct. It’s not enough to resolve to do better; instead, you should identify specific steps that you’re going to take in the future in order to do and be better. Here are some examples:
- If a conversation did not go as you would have liked it to, ask yourself what you could have done differently that might have produced a different outcome. Then, rehearse the same conversation in your head as you would like it to go in the future.
- Ask yourself what changes you need to make.
- Ask yourself how you can bring more love, joy, peace, happiness, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control into your life.
- Ask yourself what you could have done differently in order to have made the day even more successful.
Look forward to the next day, when you will be even better than you were today.
A while back I wrote a blog post on how to best start your day. Now this post is on how to best end your day. The best way to end your day is by conducting a review during which you acknowledge all the good that you already have and all of the good that you’re already doing, while at the same time asking yourself how you can be even better in the future.
An alternative is to use this prayer as a journaling exercise, instead of just doing it in your head. Live your best life by following St. Ignatius’ advice: conduct a daily review of your day.
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