If you could invest a few minutes each day to completely change your outlook, how you feel, your motivation and your stress levels, would that be worth it? Of course it would! Daily reflection can help with all of that – and while there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to do your daily reflection, there are things that you can do to make it MORE effective. Here’s how.
But first… the WHY.
Negative Experiences and Our Emotional Brain
Life dictates that you are going to have some negative experiences. Daily. The stress of deadlines, unrealistic expectations from managers and customers, arguments, worries and basic clashing of personalities are bound to touch you at some point in the day. And our emotional brain treats negatives very seriously.
This is a hangover from our three-million-year-old hardwiring: negatives were a threat to our life, so we needed to pay a LOT of attention to them. While these threats are (usually) no longer life-threatening, our emotional brain hasn’t got the memo yet, so it treats them just the same. And here’s the kicker: it treats negatives far more seriously than it treats positives.
As a matter of fact, the emotional brain reacts disproportionately to negative events. Imagine if you went to the casino and you won $1000 …. Your emotional brain likes this, and it gets a little excited. But now imagine if, instead of winning $1000, you LOST $1000. Your emotional brain would go completely crazy! It has a stronger reaction to a bad event as opposed to a good event. It says, “Hey! This is really bad. NEVER EVER put yourself in this situation again!” It also kicks off the stress response and causes you to think about it for the next few hours to really cement the feeling that this was a very bad decision. This is a fantastic survival mechanism when there are predators lurking about and you almost get attacked, but it’s not so fantastic when you just get a little negative feedback in the office.
But our emotional response doesn’t stop there. It also makes sure that we remember the bad event. You see, our emotional brain is heavily linked to our memory centre. So we don’t just react to negatives more intensely, we also remember them a lot more readily. In fact some research suggests that negatives have twice the impact of positives and we remember negatives more in a ratio of about 5:1!
Daily Reflection: Making the Positives More Positive
So, this brings us to a habit of daily reflection. Some studies have shown that doing this in the right way just a few times a week can boost your optimism, happiness and wellness considerably. When we take some time each day to reflect on the things that have gone well or the things for which we are grateful, it gives those things more attention, more meaning and more time. The theory is that this off-sets the negative bias that our emotional brain likes to have.
Here are three key things to do:
Do it at the same time every day.
Make a habit by doing your reflection at the same time every day. It might be just before you go home from work. Or just before you go to bed (we personally find that having the journal on your bedside table is a great reminder to do it). But we certainly suggest doing it at the end of the day somewhere. This makes sure that the day finishes on a positive note and should help you disconnect from work and get a better night’s sleep.
Wins, Gratitude, General Awesomeness
You can write pretty much anything about the day that went well. Maybe you got something accomplished at work, or you had a great lunch with a friend, or an amazing workout. Or maybe you caught an awesome sunrise on the commute home. Anything is worth mentioning. BUT… it is also great to cultivate your ‘resilience muscles’ by finding the good in something that was initially challenging. Maybe you got some bad feedback but you can be grateful for the chance to improve. Anything that turns a negative into a positive is great skill practice your brain’s ability to see positives more than negatives.
Smile! It’s Contagious
Finally, really immerse yourself in the process of the daily reflection. You can write down some positives, but if you’re still thinking about the negatives, then it won’t have the same effect. Allow yourself to reflect on the events of the day and SMILE – when you initiate this positive physical reaction it can trigger the commensurate emotional reaction as well. It’s like the smile is contagious within your body, and the rest of your physiology acts accordingly.
** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.