I guess it’s a a sign of aging when you calculate the date of an event and realize it occurred half a lifetime ago. That is, in fact, how long ago I first moved to Taiwan to work at a school that did not exist—a minor detail I only discovered after several days in the country thousands of miles away from home.
After the bait and switch, I felt comfortable to find a different job on the island—not a difficult task for a qualified English teacher. Which is how I ended up working at a magazine. In my first year as an editor, a certain Mr. Baldwin visited our company to present a writing seminar. I don’t remember all he taught us, but these two points have remained with me. You can apply these to any role where, from time to time, you commit thoughts to paper——an important email, a blog post, or an academic paper can all benefit from these basic editorial skills.
“But written content and actions aren’t the same, Adele!” I can hear you object. You cannot unsay what you’ve already said. And you cannot undo what you’ve already done. Yet these truths pertain to life in general. How so?
Editing your life is an act of growing in self-awareness. For unless you pause and pay attention to the past 24 hours, you may miss noticing what led to a day being great—or what made it a difficult one. And unless you pause to ask yourself what specifically made it a good day, experiencing more such days will be a matter of chance, not intention.
Similarly, you cannot change what you do not see, or what you refuse to see. If you barrel through life without paying attention to what made your day less than ideal, you’re bound to repeat the same mistakes. And those mistakes become habits. And the habits become bumps that make the journey unpleasant—if not for you, then for those around you.
So how do pay attention to the blessings and the bumps? Three habits come to mind:
1. Ask and listen. Invite a trusted friend to hold up a mirror, if you will, and share with you the habits or thought patterns you’re blissfully unaware of. Psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a tool in the 1950s for team development and conflict resolution. Their “Johari window” is as effective for growing in self-awareness, though. It underscores the importance of inviting others to lovingly point out the blind spots in your life.
2. Do a reflective exercise. Develop a habit of reflecting on your thoughts and your actions. A great practice is to do a daily prayer of examen. At the end of this post, I’ve listed five simple steps you can follow, as well as an audio and a video guide. Insofar as the Johari’s window goes, this habit invites God to address the hidden areas in your life, the blind spots, and to do what no-one else can do for you: illuminate items in that unknown quadrant.
3. Journal. Good journaling captures insights from self-reflection, highlights of insightful conversations with others, and revelations from prayer. It is an invaluable tool for staying present with what’s happening between you and God. What’s more, taking the time to skim through old entries can help you gain even deeper insight—almost like undergoing an MRI of your soul! Depending on your journaling habits, this, too, can be a way of dealing with the hidden and unknown areas of your life.
Back to the prayer of examen: If it’s something you’re not yet familiar with, what follows are some guides to try it out. You’ll notice that the steps are slightly different in all three versions. There’s no perfect way to do a reflective prayer. The goal is simple: to pause and to pay attention, to allow God to make you aware of the blind spots, the hidden areas and the unknowns in your life so you can make necessary changes and edit out those bumps or lean into the areas of blessing.
Listen to this guided audio recording of the prayer. (And yes, I pronounced it like I would pronounce examine. This is technically not correct. The real word rhymes with Grand Cayman. But it’s a fairly common practice to make this practice sound a little less obscure and a bit more commonplace.)