3 essential questions to ask at the end of every hard day

Carving out this time helps me know that though I did not live out my day perfectly, I did live it well.

3 essential questions to ask at the end of every hard day

I am a big fan of rhythm and routine–a natural part of my ISFJ, Enneagram 1 personality type. Not rigid and inflexible as in past years, when I lived like the slave rather than the master of my agenda. But a gentle structure that ebbs and flows as needed and generally helps me live purposefully, clearly aligned to my primary goals and values.

An important part of my daily rhythm is to begin and end my days with simple routines designed to support mind, body and spirit health. Nothing fancy and, occasionally, I break “the rules.”

In the evenings I dim the lights and make an herbal tea. I check my menu for the following day; simple, real food is important to us and I like looking ahead to ensure I have what I need and note if there is anything to get started for the following day. I do a 45-second plank, turn off my phone and climb into bed with a book. Easy reading mostly, by the light of my salt lamp, as I want to calm my mind for peaceful rest.


But before I actually read, I lay the book on my chest, take a few deep, slow, calming breaths and ask myself a series of questions to end my day well.

1. What are three things I am grateful for?

I started this life-giving practice in 2011 after reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Expressing gratitude comes easy to me now, like breathing or laughing with my children. But I have walked through darker seasons where I had to fight for gratitude. I struggled to find hope, reluctant to allow myself to feel joy, afraid of what lay around the next bend in the road. Back then this practice was hard work but part of what sustained me as I slowly healed and found my way back to health.

I want to live with my eyes and heart wide open to the amazing beauty of each day. To receive each day as gift, not guarantee. If I look for it, I can find gifts even in the midst of pain, or loss or uncertainty. This doesn’t mean I welcome pain or loss or uncertainty—but now know I have the resilience to walk through the storm and emerge intact.

2. What are two things I did well today?

I work with women both in class settings and one-on-one. Many are open and even eager to begin a practice of gratitude, to begin to notice the small daily gifts that we often take for granted or miss because we are hurting or distracted. But when I ask them to speak words of life over themselves, to notice what they do well, how they shine, we meet resistance. It is so easy to see our struggle or shortcoming but not our beauty or the all the ways we show up and serve and use our strengths on a daily basis. Can you relate?

I only added this question to my evening routine over the past year. And I must admit that my responses require some thought. But as someone who, since childhood, struggled with believing I was enough–so painfully aware of all the ways I never quite measured up—this practice is changing me. Deepening the roots of self-awareness and self-compassion that permit me to step out in calm confidence.

3. What is one thing I would do differently?

Some nights I tell myself that there is not a thing I would do differently given the chance. But more often I can identify something: a word spoken in impatience, too much time on my phone distracted, the way I procrastinated out of fear or forgot to eat because I was busy working. The goal is never to criticize but to notice where I did not live fully aligned to my bigger goals and values.

I choose a growth mindset. I am gentle with myself, compassionate and forgiving as I am with my children or husband. But I am always aware that I get to choose who and how I want to be and that tomorrow is a new gift, a brand new opportunity to become more fully myself.

Though I have never actually timed myself, some days I feel like this practice of asking myself three purposeful questions takes me five minutes, other nights 20. Once in a while I have a desire to rush ahead.

But sacrificing a bit of my precious reading time is so worth it because of how calm and clear I feel afterward. At peace. Content in the knowledge that though I did not live out my day perfectly, I did live it well.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Our deepest condolences go out to Chrissy and her husband, John Legend (who has been by her side in the hospital for several days now).

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