Johari’s Window and the Prayer of Examen—Growing through Listening

Nurturing simple strategies for growing in self-awareness

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.

  1. Be your own first editor. “Let your work sit,” he told us, “even for a day or two if you can. Then read it again. No doubt you’ll find things to change.”
  2. As part of being your own first editor, read your work out loud, and listen for bumps. Like a doctor listening for irregularities in a heartbeat, an editor listens for spots where thoughts don’t flow well. You might need a transition. Or cut something out. If you listen well enough, you’ll know what needs to change. (This, I’ve learned over time, might be the hardest skill to hone. I can sometimes hear the BUMP! BUMP! BUMP! all over my own writing. Often, though, I miss those bumps, and, like the unmarked speed bumps along Belize’s highways, hitting those at full speed is not pleasant.)

“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.

The Prayer of Examen

1. Invitation

  • Take a couple deep breaths and be mindful of God’s presence. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you as you pray and to speak to you in this time of prayer.

2. Gratitude

  • Recall moments or events from your day for which you are especially grateful. Thank God for those.

3. Review

  • Think through the events of your day, paying attention to where you felt drawn toward God, and what caused you to turn from God.

4. Forgiveness

  • Ask God’s forgiveness for events that caused you to turn from him. Talk to God about events for which you might have to seek forgiveness from others.

5. Grace

  • Ask God for the grace you need to faithfully follow him in all things tomorrow.

Listen and Follow Along

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.)

Watch and Follow Along

Or, you can do a reflective prayer by following the prompts in the following video from REVEAL for Me, one of the projects I work closely with as part of my regular job.

As you grow in self-awareness, you grow in wisdom—both traits of a Blue Thread Life. So, how about you? What are some of your favorite ways (or least favorite ways) of being your own first editor in life?

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