In my conversations with business leaders, colleagues, and friends, I find that people are falling into three distinct camps. The first is one in which you feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of change driven by the disruption to your business, the transition to working and doing almost every activity from home (or being on the frontlines of the crisis) and being concerned about the health, financial, and societal impacts of this situation. The second camp is one where, notwithstanding the concerns that we all share, you are adjusting to a much slower pace with greater time to yourself and with family. And the third is a mix of the two.
Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, no one I have spoken to describes the situation as business as usual. It is in times of extreme uncertainty and change when you are at the greatest risk of life happening to you, instead of shaping your experience. I noticed this happening myself. In the first few days of working from home, I allowed the change in my environment to interfere with my daily rituals. As a result, I was allowing my day to happen to me, rather than architecting the day in the way that I wanted. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you have complete control over how your day unfolds…or that there’s no room for spontaneity and emergence in how we live our lives. I’m simply saying that one important ingredient in leading an extraordinary life is that you choose to be the architect of your experience, not a bystander in your life.
One of my most important daily rituals that I choose to do is an intention setting exercise in the morning followed by an assessment at the end of the day. Every day, I dedicate a few minutes to writing down three outcomes that I want for the day. This is not a to-do list. Rather, it is a list of “what must be true” statements about the end of that particular day such that I will be able to say that I had an extraordinary day. One of my favorite outcomes is: “I consistently practiced my core values today.” I don’t always achieve each of my outcomes. But the exercise is a powerful structure that guides how I choose to make meaning, take actions, and get results each day.
Importantly, I make sure to carve out a few minutes at the end of the day to assess how I did against my intended outcomes. It is here that I am reminded of a passage from the Roman philosopher, Seneca:
“The spirit ought to be brought up for examination daily. It was the custom of Sextius when the day was over, and he had betaken himself to rest, to inquire of his spirit: ‘What bad habit of yours have you cured today? What vice have you checked? In what respect are you better?’ Anger will cease, and become more gentle, if it knows that every day it will have to appear before the judgment seat. What can be more admirable than this fashion of discussing the whole of the day’s events? How sweet is the sleep which follows this self-examination? How calm, how sound, and careless is it when our spirit has either received praise or reprimand, and when our secret inquisitor and censor has made his report about our morals? I make use of this privilege, and daily plead my cause before myself: when the lamp is taken out of my sight, and my wife, who knows my habit, has ceased to talk, I pass the whole day in review before myself, and repeat all that I have said and done. I conceal nothing from myself, and omit nothing: for why should I be afraid of any of my shortcomings, when it is in my power to say, ‘I pardon you this time: see that you never do that anymore’… A good man delights in receiving advice: all the worst men are the most impatient of guidance.”
Each night I do my best to celebrate what went well and take stock of and learn from where I fell short of my intentions.
Now more than ever, these practices are essential. When your environment seems to be changing so rapidly, you have a choice to shape your experience or be shaped by it. What would it look like to declare that each day is going to be extraordinary regardless of what is happening outside of your control? What if you were to institute a set of daily rituals to own your day? Mastering your life starts with mastering your day.