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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Look in the Mirror

Napoleon Hill tells a story of a homeless, destitute man who visits Hill's office one day. The man tells an interesting story of how he had once been a successful businessman, but then had fallen on hard times and been divorced from his wife. The man approached Napoleon Hill to ask him for help to save his life. Mr. Hill bought the man breakfast and listened to the man's story.

"Not once did he blame anyone for his condition but himself. That was a sign in his favor and one that gave me my cue as to how I could help him," Mr. Hill later recounts in his book, A Year of Growing Rich. Mr. Hill noted that the man never blamed others for his predicament and spoke of his former wife in a respectful manner.

Mr. Hill then went on to tell the man, "I'm sorry to tell you that after hearing your story, there is not one thing I can do to help you! But, I know a man who can help you if he will do it. He is in this building right now, and I will introduce you to him if you wish me to do so."

At that point Mr. Hill led the man into another room and stood the man before a full-length mirror.

"There is the man who can help you," Mr. Hill pointed at the man's reflection. "He is the only man who can do it, and until you become better acquainted with him and learn to depend upon him, you will not find your way out of your present unfortunate condition."

The story has a happy ending, of course. The man goes on to turn his life around, get a job, and then work his way up in his former profession until he reaches a position similar to that of his former life. But, the story outcome is not the point I wanted to make. I wanted to illustrate how important it is that we take that "look in the mirror" from time to time, and preferably on a frequent basis. We have everything we need for our growth already inside of ourselves if we are willing to take the look we need and to trust the answers we give. Toward that end, I would like to suggest two tools that I recommend as being highly useful to give you that "look in the mirror."

Morning Pages

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way and several other books and projects about creativity and writing, advocates the use of morning pages. These pages consist of three pages written in longhand and completed preferably first thing in the morning. The pages can be about anything we want them to be. They can be stream of consciousness, prayers, meditations, poetry, prose, or whatever calls to us at the moment. I often make lists of my thoughts or things that I need to accomplish. Ms. Cameron also refers to morning pages as "brain drain," which more effectively describes the effect morning pages have on me.

The beauty of morning pages and brain drain is that we can make them our opportunity to "look in the mirror." We can freely admit what is working in our lives and what we need to eliminate. We can express anger and longing and work out our problems on the page. Morning pages help us to order our thoughts by allowing us to look at where we are at the moment we write our thoughts and, at the same time, where we want to be. The gap we create on the morning pages between where we are and where we want to be is brought into the light, and we can address our attention to closing the gap.

Themes emerge as we become more aware of our thoughts and our thought patterns. The same problems or complaints crop up, and morning pages will nudge us to begin coming up with solutions. I have come up with some of my greatest ideas and best advice to myself during my morning pages time. I have even written a sticky note about a topic or problem that I wanted to "think about" later. I stuck the sticky note inside my morning pages book so that I would come across it the next day during my morning pages time of reflection.

Lessons Learned Journal

I heard this idea recently from the Quick and Dirty Tips Get-it-Done Guy Stever Robbins of the podcast of the same name. In Stever's new book, Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, he suggests that we maintain a "lessons learned" journal. Every day, preferably at the end of the day, Stever advises us to look back on the day and note what lessons we have learned. In Stever's case, he even goes so far as to maintain a spreadsheet of his learned lessons so that he can quickly find the information again if he needs it.

These life lessons can be about anyone and any topic. Topics will lend themselves to categories over time, and categories can be indexed easily. Life lessons are more than just diary entries. They are quick summaries of more universal statements of lessons gleaned from the day's experiences.

I use plain old composition books for my morning pages. At this time of year, I can buy a box of composition books at a very low price, so I stock up for the year.

So, my Morning Morning Check In suggestion is to make use of these tools as bookends to your day. Write morning pages when first arising in the morning and finish the day with a quick dash about a life lesson you learned that day. With these tools you will "look in the mirror" and build or deconstruct your life in order to recreate a life worth living.

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