My daily reflection routine

byNick_Beckstead5y18th Aug 201318 comments

20


In Common sense as a prior, I used the example of prayer as a practice that is probably adaptive but the people who adopt it may not know why it is adaptive. I wrote:

Another striking example is bedtime prayer. In many Christian traditions I am aware of, it is common to pray before going to sleep. And in the tradition I was raised in, the main components of prayer were listing things you were grateful for, asking for forgiveness for all the mistakes you made that day and thinking about what you would do to avoid similar mistakes in the future, and asking God for things. Christians might say the point of this is that it is a duty to God, that repentance is a requirement for entry to heaven, or that asking God for things makes God more likely to intervene and create miracles. However, I think these activities are reasonable for different reasons: gratitude journals are great, reflecting on mistakes is a great way to learn and overcome weaknesses, and it is a good idea to get clear about what you really want out of life in the short-term and the long-term.


…I think it would be better still to introduce a different routine that serves similar functions—this is something I have done in my own life…

Someone recently wrote to me asking about my routine. I wrote this person an answer, so I thought I might as well share it with others. I have a number of structured routines like this that I find helpful and have considered sharing more widely, so this post will also serve as a test for whether I should share these routines. (These routines include: planning the day and tracking your time, planning and evaluating a project, doing a literature search, keeping a record of personal principles, reading and evaluating a paper, weekly review, and a few others that are less developed.)

Below, I offer and explanation of my routine, a template for following it, and give examples of what it looks like when I have used it. I have been doing this for about 6 weeks and I spend 5-15 minutes doing this per day. I was raised in a very religious family, and did something pretty similar for about the first 18 years of my life. I think it is good, but I don’t think the effect size/my tracking ability combo allows me to confidently distinguish between “it’s a placebo” and “it actually works” on the basis of my personal experience. I do it because it intuitively makes sense to me, it fits with some practices that I think are likely to be adaptive, it seems good so far, it seems good from a common sense perspective, some impressive people I know do similar things, and I’ve been told that psychological research on gratitude journals supports the idea. (Also, I don't mind benefits from "mere" placebos.)

One quick point of caution is that I would be careful about framing this as “atheist prayers” in your head. I framed it that way for a while and thought it would be a good idea to do it, but “atheist prayers” just sounds silly. On the other hand, “daily reflection” just sounds reasonable. I found framing it this way made me substantially more motivated to actually follow the process.

 

 

A detailed explanation of my process

1.       Getting started

a.       Download the document “Daily reflection.”

2.       Step by step

a.       At the end of the work day or before going to sleep, open up “Daily reflection.”

b.      Copy and paste the template for today’s entry.

c.       Fill in today’s date, e.g. 18 August 2013.

d.      Under “What went well today/what am I grateful for?”

                                                               i.      List things you feel good about doing recently or things you enjoyed today.

                                                             ii.      List general things you have noticed lately and appreciate, even if they are not recent.

                                                            iii.      (This is supposed to help you notice good things in life and seek out more of the good things.)

e.      Under “Where would I like to improve? What principles could I follow in the future in order to improve?”

                                                               i.      List any mistakes you think you made today.

                                                             ii.      Try to think about principles you could follow to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

                                                            iii.      If any of the principles seem useful or generally applicable, save them in another document, titled e.g. “My Principles.” I review my principles roughly monthly, and get reminders when I add new ones. I took this idea from Ray Dalio.

                                                           iv.      (This is supposed to help you learn from mistakes and identify, manage, and/or overcome personal weaknesses.)

b.      Under “What do I hope for in the future?”

                                                               i.      List upcoming challenges and opportunities that you hope go well.

                                                             ii.      List long-term priorities that you hope go well, especially ones you haven’t thought about lately or have been neglecting.

                                                          iii.      (This is supposed to help you keep track of what you really want out of life in the short-term and the long-term.)

3.       Other notes      

a.       If it is inconvenient to make notes in this document and I’m not going to open up the document, I will sometimes do my daily reflection in my head.

b.      I generally list 2-5 things under each category per day.

c.       I find this complements well with tracking your time. If you do track your time, you can look at how you spent your day and think about what was productive and what was unproductive. This helps with identifying items for the first and second steps.

Daily entries (template)

1.       Date:

a.       What went well today/what am I grateful for?

b.      Where would I like to improve? What principles could I follow in the future in order to improve?

c.       What do I hope for in the future?

2.       Date:

a.       What went well today/what am I grateful for?

b.      Where would I like to improve? What principles could I follow in the future in order to improve?

c.       What do I hope for in the future?

3.       Date:

a.       What went well today/what am I grateful for?

b.      Where would I like to improve? What principles could I follow in the future in order to improve?

c.       What do I hope for in the future?

Examples of daily entries (stripped of anything personal or embarrassing)

1.       9 August 2013

a.       What went well today/what am I grateful for?

                                                               i.      Got my post drafted

                                                             ii.      Great talk with [friend]

                                                            iii.      Enjoyed dinner

                                                           iv.      Talking to [other friend] was useful

b.      Where would I like to improve? What principles could I follow in the future in order to improve?

                                                               i.      Spending too much on dinners

                                                             ii.      Spending too much time criticizing people with dumb views

c.       What do I hope for in the future?

                                                               i.      Evaluate my projects well after they are done

                                                             ii.      Use my framework for evaluating topics to work on

2.       13 August 2013

a.       What went well today/what am I grateful for?

                                                               i.      Really enjoyed the weekly review

                                                             ii.      Glad I e-mailed a number of people to engage them on their perspectives

                                                            iii.      Glad I came up with the idea that 80K say what it is going to change and be held accountable for making the changes

b.      Where would I like to improve? What principles could I follow in the future in order to improve?

                                                               i.      I spent too much time checking the LW blog in response to my stuff

                                                             ii.      I’m not sure how useful it was for me to be involved with this prioritization institute stuff

                                                            iii.      I didn’t do a good job filling out my time tracker

                                                           iv.      Maybe [friend] is right that I didn’t do a good job as I think defending my common sense prior post

c.       What do I hope for in the future?

                                                               i.      Get my GCRI talk outline done

                                                             ii.      Get to the point where I can do 10 pull-ups

                                                            iii.      Review my common sense prior project

                                                           iv.      Share my productivity procedures with others

20