If you are like the vast majority of people, it’s inevitable that the hustle and bustle of life leaves you feeling depleted at the end of the day. Even though there’s always more you’d like to get done, much of which could lead to personal growth and increased happiness, the monotonous grind of work coupled with an endless list of chores, social obligations and family responsibilities cumulates in you doing nothing more than lounging around the house, oftentimes loathing about what’s wrong with the world. To convolute matters further, as the nights turn into weeks and weeks into years, these uninspiring behavioral patterns turn into who you are as an individual.
Unfortunately for many, this story rings out all too true, and it isn’t until much if not all of life passes them by when they realize they’ve wasted ample amounts of the limited time they have on this earth doing nothing particularly worthwhile. Randy Pausch, the celebrated university professor who gained international fame for his moving address called The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, sums it up this way:
It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not.”
If we’re to avoid this all too commonly experienced misfortune, that hits individuals like a ton of bricks at the end of their life, we must change the way we think so we change the way we behave. Fortunately, thanks to the brain’s amazing power of neuroplasticity, there’s a variety of personal development activities that can help us transform our habitual pattens of thought, with one of the most powerful being the practice of conscious questions. As made clear by the following five reflective nighttime questions, which can be supplemented with a set of empowering morning questions to jumpstart your day, we can take control of our life’s fate if we so choose:
1.) What Went Well Today?
Because the human brain is naturally designed to focus on the negative aspects of life and the potential threats we may encounter, as a way to keep us safe and pressing forward, many of our habitual ways of thinking are veiled in pessimism. When you add this evolutionary ‘feature’ to the mind’s natural tendency to generate an endless stream of automatic thoughts, it becomes easier to understand why so many people are dissatisfied with life. Consequently, it’s for this reason that purposefully focusing on the positive aspects of each day, with the help of the question ‘What went well today?,’ can be such a transformative practice to undertake. The inspirational American writer and entrepreneur Germany Kent tells us of the power of positive thinking:
Positive thinking is powerful thinking. If you want happiness, fulfillment, success and inner peace, start thinking you have the power to achieve those things. Focus on the bright side of life and expect positive results.”
In addition to shifting our worldview from the negative to the positive, the question ‘What went well today?’ can also help boost our self-esteem and keep us on the path towards achieving our goals. Regardless of if the small daily successes emanate from your work, health, relationships or another dimension of life, it’s certain that you can do wonders for yourself by consciously pondering whatever good you experience during the day. Life coach and author Allan Rufus offers another example of how the question ‘What went well today?’ can transform our existence:
Life is like a game of chess. To win you have to make a move. Knowing which move to make comes with IN-SIGHT and knowledge, and by learning the lessons that are accumulated along the way. We become each and every piece within the game called life!”
2.) What Could’ve I Done Better Today?
Just as it’s important to reflect upon the positives we experience each day, it’s equally beneficial to consider the ways we could’ve done things better. Although it can be easy to discard the idea of recounting the problems and mistakes we encounter on a daily basis, especially considering reference was just made to the brain’s implicit bias towards the negative, when it’s done consciously and free of judgment, rather than in the form of ruminating on autopilot, daily mishaps can become incredible chances for growth. Undoubtedly, with the assistance of the question ‘What could’ve I done better today?,’ we can begin to realize, what all great achievers already know, in that failure isn’t fatal and mistakes are opportunities dressed in disguise. Take it from the immortalized American inventor Thomas Edison, who famously failed his way to iconic levels of success:
I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
By asking ourselves ‘What could’ve I done better today?’ each evening, it’s certain that we’ll be able to find an endless number of ways to improve ourselves as individuals, the relationships we share with others and our situational circumstances. Moreover, because gaffes such as misusing time, allowing fear to stop us from action, not giving our best effort and unintentionally succumbing to our desires and cravings are an inevitable part of life, deliberately pondering on what you could’ve done better today can expedite your personal growth like few other inquiries. Personal development legend Dale Carnegie reminds us:
The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way.”
3.) Did I Live in Alignment with My Ideal Self Today?
As unique individuals, each and everyone of us has a variety of abilities, attributes, traits and strengths that make us incomparable to all other people. In addition to our genetic makeup, physical appearance and personality, determinants such as social influence and past life experiences also shape us into who we are today. Consequently, it’s from this one of a kind concoction that our perspective of who we believe ourselves to be, our self-image, and who we would like ourselves to be, our ideal self, is derived. Although we know that moving ourselves in the direction of the individual we most desire to be will lead us to greater self-esteem and happiness, very few of us ever complete the journey because of an endless variety of factors. Yet, as the legendary psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out, we all but guarantees a life of dissatisfaction by not taking the necessary steps:
If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
There’s little doubt that one of the most empowering nighttime questions we can ask ourselves is ‘Did I live in alignment with my ideal self today?’ because it both brings to light the quintessential version of ourselves and helps us systematically move towards becoming that person. If we hope to reach our last days with few or no regrets, we’ll undoubtedly have to live up to our potential, and this is only made possible by utilizing our signature strengths, treating others with compassion, raising our personal standards and actualizing our ideal selfs. The late great American psychiatrist David Viscott illuminates the way:
Your ultimate goal in life is to become your best self. Your immediate goal is to get on the path that will lead you there.”
4.) What Blessings has Today Offered?
Where as the first three reflective nighttime questions we’ve explored in this article are more geared towards personal development and achievement, we’d be foolish to look past all the gifts life has bestowed us with bestowed us with. In fact, because gratitude largely is the key to happiness and all of us already have plenty to be grateful for, the biggest mistake we can actually make is to overlook the many gifts each day bestows. Fortunately, the perspective transforming question ‘What blessings has today offered?’ can assuredly limit how often we disregard the time we spend with loved ones, laughs we share with friends, deeds of kindness and moments that drop our jaws in awe. The immortalized German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us:
In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
By asking ourselves ‘What blessings has today offered?’ each night, and reliving the small yet all important daily moments we often discount, it’s certain that we can infuse our lives with the richness of contented joy. Additionally, even though doing so may seem counterintuitive to our quest for growth, success and a better life, this isn’t at all the case. The truth is that when we ask ‘What blessings has today offered?’ along with the other transformative nighttime questions featured in this article, we’ll be able to move toward fulfillment, and becoming our idea self, while fully appreciating things as they are. The beloved spiritual teacher Gabrielle Bernstein tells us of how life can only become full with gratitude:
Gratitude unlocks all that’s blocking us from really feeling truthful, really feeling authentic and vulnerable and happy.”
5.) What Excites Me About Tomorrow?
Even if we take the life-affirming step to reflect upon our days with the four nighttime questions we’ve look at so far, we may find ourselves discontentedly dreading the anxieties and challenges of tomorrow. Because allowing our mind to freely ponder the potential problems and troubles we’ll face the following day limits our levels of happiness and chances for success, it’s imperative that we continuously rouse excitement within and develop a hopeful vision for what will come. The distinguished American author and entrepreneur Seth Godin tells us why it’s vital to develop an optimism outlook:
Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.”
Instead of allowing our future focused minds to marauder in a state of despair or apprehension, we can consciously use our intuitive creativity, with the help of the question ‘What excites me about tomorrow?,’ to change how we think about and approach our days. Moreover, by asking ourselves this life transforming question over time, we can begin to see hinderances as opportunities, which can be seized with ambitiously imagined plans, and start living with an unwavering sense of excitement about the gifts of tomorrow. The inspirational author and entrepreneur Carlos Wallace illuminates why waking up with a plan for the day ahead is a must:
Each day, wake up with a plan. Don’t just approach your days in an unfocused void. That state of mind leaves too much room for discontent, opposition, unhappiness and hopelessness.”