I read in a book* lately, that habits are like the lattice that our lives crawl up. They provide direction. It went on to say that we develop habits whether we consciously decide to or not. And often, the ones that happen naturally are developed out of our sinful natures, and therefore not great habits. Good habits, on the other hand, require a little more work, but go a long way in promoting our own personal growth.
This particular habit is a relatively new one that I picked up from the recovery world. Anyone who is familiar with Celebrate Recovery, AA, or NA, will be familiar with this practice. It’s called daily inventory. An inventory is just like what it sounds. Except instead of gallons of milk, we inventory the behaviors and thoughts in our own lives.
In the 12 step recovery process, there are two kinds of inventory. The first is found in step four, where a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory’ is made. It’s meant to be done one time. This is a list of all the things you’ve done right and wrong throughout your life, along with the right and wrong done to you. It makes you have to deal with your past so that you can focus on a better future.
The second kind of inventory is found in step ten, a little further down the road. This is a daily inventory. The step says “We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” A daily inventory keeps from having to do the first kind again. It’s like picking the weeds a little at a time instead of letting them grow up for 6 months then tackling the mess.
‘But I’m not an addict, I don’t need AA habits.’. Hang with me. Your sin is not greater or worse than an addict’s. And if we really get down to it, all human beings are addicted to some kind of sin. Therefore you might just find some use in this tool.
So let’s get down to the practical stuff. What does a daily inventory look like? I choose to do my inventory at night, while Brandon is getting ready for bed. It literally takes me five minutes. It’s not a super long, drawn out process. If you’re doing it right, you really should just be reviewing a day’s worth of life.
So I write through four categories. They are Gratitude, Progress, Next Times, and Prayer. Let’s break those down.
This one is pretty obvious. Make a list of what you are grateful for from today. Be specific, but also don’t feel like you have to have something eloquent or grand to be thankful for. I flipped back through the last few weeks, and I have a few spiritual biggies, but I also wrote down that I was grateful for hoodies, my favorite coffee cup, the icemaker, and nap time. It’s important to thank God for the big and the little, and cultivate an attitude of thankfulness even in the mundane.
Now it’s time to brag on yourself! Some of us are better at this than others, but recognizing progress is important. So write down a couple of things that you did well today. This can be a spiritual victory, a good grade on a test, taking a step towards a goal you set, or leaning out of your comfort zone.
Just like gratitudes, these things can be big or little. Some days you’ll struggle to find the victories, and you’ll need to hone your detective skills to find something you can be proud of for that day. But search away. Find at least one thing and write it down. Other days they will come a lot easier, and you’ll have more to record. It’s just the nature of being human!
Next Times are in contrast to Progress, but I don’t like straight up calling them failures. It can be counter-productive to focus on your failures daily. What this section does is push us to acknowledge our failures, but then look at what we can learn from them for next time. See what I did there?
So think through your day and identify a time or two that you didn’t measure up. If you want to write out the incident, that’s fine. I normally don’t. I’ve learned that, for me, it’s not always beneficial to rehash my mess up on paper. But do make sure you write down what you’ve learned from it and what you can do better next time. Give yourself an attainable solution, a way to improve upon yourself, your actions, or your attitudes.
And don’t be afraid to jot down the same Next Time multiple days in a row. Do you know how many times I’ve written down that I need to talk about myself less at work? Days and weeks on end! But I keep on including it so that I don’t let the issue get swept under the rug and forgotten.
Lastly, jot down something that the Lord stirred your heart for that day. If you keep a list of people or issues you pray for on a regular basis, this is not for that. This is people and conversations that come your way throughout the day that the Lord impresses upon our heart. It may end up being added to your regular rotation, but mine typically do not, as they are more specific. This process keeps my focus a little bit less on me and a little bit more on those around me.
So there are your four main points to focus on within a daily inventory. Do you see how these steps can keep bigger issues from developing? If you are daily looking at your actions and attitudes, it’s a lot harder for issues to grow deep into our souls. We can catch them early.
Here are a few more things I’ve figured out as I’ve implemented this habit…
• The order is important. I’ve tried several different orders, and this one works the best in keeping your thinking on track. It takes your focus outside of you (gratitude), back inside to self reflection (progress and next times) and then back out to other people.
• Write it down. It doesn’t have to be in a fancy notebook with a fancy pen. A napkin or receipt will work just fine!. And it doesn’t have to be a novel, or even complete sentences. Most of the time, my items are a few bullet points. However you decide works best, just make sure to actually write it down. We retain so much more from the motion of taking pen to paper.
• Don’t be afraid of overlap. Sometimes the same moment in your day may come up in several categories, and that’s OK. You don’t have to pick one over another. Here’s an example:
o Progress: Was able to realize that my frustrated attitude showed with the kids tonight, but I caught it, stopped to fix it, and apologized. Yay!
o Next Time: Make sure my heart is less selfish regarding my wants and desires. This will keep me from acting out of unnecessary frustration.
• Balance. This final point is crucial. We all have a propensity to think either too highly or too lowly of ourselves, and this becomes evident in how we approach our Progress and Next Times. Make sure that you keep them even. Yes, some days are going to be worse than others. Some will be extremely good! But make sure that you list a pretty even number in each category. On those days where you crushed it, make sure to ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you can grow. And on the days that you bombed, ask Him to reveal victories, even super small ones.
I can’t stress how beneficial this process has been in my life, I can honestly tell you that I notice when I let this habit slide. Maybe because I’m sleepy, or my notebook is all the way downstairs. But when I’m consistent, I have a better grasp on my behavior and thoughts throughout the day.
So grab a pen a paper and write out the categories. List just one thing in each. You don’t have to write a novel tonight…but jump in and get started!
*The Common Rule, by Justin Whitmel Earley