- Michael Thompson
The night my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child I was one misplaced heartbeat away from having another panic attack.
Throughout the better part of her pregnancy, my anxiety didn’t subside. I’d convinced myself that my career would stall once the baby arrived, and instead of being there for my wife, I threw myself into my work.
As her due date approached, I realized how short-sided and selfish my thinking had been. In an attempt to apologize for acting like an idiot, I sat down and began to think of ways to make it up to her.
One thing you need to know about my wife is the woman knows how to give a gift. I’m not talking about her going out and buying fancy things. I’m talking seriously thoughtful presents. On numerous occasions, she has stopped my world.
When it comes to giving gifts, I knew I couldn’t compete. But I’d be damned if I didn’t want to give it a try. After some days of thinking, I finally hatched a plan: I decided to make a blog where each entry represented a short story of one of our adventures together or a valuable lesson she had taught me.
To this day I don’t think I’ve ever put more energy into something. In the end, I wrote out 26 stories and I gave them to her the day after we brought our baby boy home from the hospital.
Today when people ask me why I started to write I usually say something like I wanted to better organize my thoughts.
But looking back on it, I began writing because I wanted my wife to love me as much as I loved her.
After seeing my wife’s beautiful smile from reading the stories, and realizing how much I’d enjoyed writing them, I made the decision to keep at it. However, instead of focusing solely on my wife, I branched out to include the lessons I’d learned from the people I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know throughout my life.
Over the years this little exercise has evolved into something much bigger. Today it includes daily thoughts on not only what I’m learning from the people around me, but a detailed account of what I think I’m doing right in my relationships, complete with the many things I still get wrong.
It has completely transformed my life.
Not only have my relationships never been stronger, but this exercise has also led to opportunities I’d previously been too scared to even dream about.
The words below are the rest of my sales pitch as to why you should journal about your relationships too — along with a bunch of questions to help you get started on your way.
Journaling isn’t only a great exercise for self-exploration — it’s also a helluva an exercise to better connect with other people
If you were to ask most people with high-flying careers which daily actions most attribute to their success, journaling is bound to show up near the top of the list.
This is not a coincidence. Career success is all about pattern recognition. Reserving time each day to write about a variation of the questions “What went well today?” — “What didn’t?” — “What did I learn?” and “How can I improve?” helps to distinguish between what’s working and what’s not.
Legendary management expert Peter Drucker got it dead right— “What gets measured gets managed.”
When it comes to having meaningful and lasting relationships the same logic applies. However, instead of asking yourself the questions above, all we have to do is make a few tweaks and we’re on our way.
Questions to get you started on journaling about your relationships
- “What went well today in my relationships?”
- “What didn’t?”
- “What did someone teach me?”
- “How can I improve my relationships?”
By taking the time to answer these questions on a daily basis, patterns will begin to arise. You’ll start to notice ways in which your actions are strengthening your relationships and ways in which they aren’t.
Taking a few minutes a day to journal about the four questions above will help to establish the habit. The 16 questions below will help you to cement it.
Questions to keep you journaling about your relationships
- How many times today did you catch yourself waiting to talk instead of truly listening to the people who you were speaking with?
- Did you interrupt anyone today? Why did you feel the need to do this? How do you normally feel when someone does the same thing to you?
- What did you do today that made the people around you laugh or smile? Were you complaining? Or were you being supportive of them or telling an engaging story?
- What did you do today when someone did something that annoyed you? Did you let it roll right off your back? Or did you allow their actions to stay with you throughout the day?
- If someone made you really angry today how did you respond? Did you take a moment to gather your thoughts so you could effectively communicate your feelings? Or did you flip out?
- Did someone slam their opinion down your throat today? How did this make you feel? Are you guilty of doing the same? Do you think it helped or hurt their argument?
- If you were criticized today how did you respond? Did you chose to take it as a learning opportunity or did you take it personally? If you criticized someone today did you take a moment to consider the best way to approach them as an individual?
- Was someone you know having a bad day today? How did you support them? Do you think you said too much or maybe too little? Did you make the mistake of talking about your great day?
- What was your body language like when you were talking with people today? Did you look easily approachable and show interest in the people you were speaking with? Or did you look closed off or even bored?
- When it came time for small talk today did you still show interest in the conversation? Or did you position your feet towards the exit and start to fiddle?
- How many new people did you meet today? Which connections felt the most natural? Which ones didn’t? What were you talking about in each situation? Did you ask good questions that opened the door for you to learn about them? Could any of these people benefit from an introduction to one of your friends?
- What new thing did you learn today about someone you care about?
- Did you feel genuinely happy when someone told you about something good happening in their life? If not, why do you think this is?
- What was the most interesting story you heard today?
- Did someone mention that someone they care about isn’t doing well? How do you feel when the same thing is happening or has happened to you? What are some of the ways that you can let them know you care?
- Did you tell someone today what their friendship means to you? Did anyone do the same for you? How did it make you feel?
I was 38-years-old when I began writing about my relationships. Prior to that, I’d said that my family and friends were the most important thing in my life. But to be honest, I never experimented with ways in which I could be a better husband, son, father, and friend.
Looking back on this today I think it’s crazy. I can’t count how much money and time I spent learning new skills to improve my professional opportunities — but I hadn’t done a damn thing when it came time to proactively take the steps to strengthen my relationships.
Time and time again we are reminded that the biggest regret of most elderly people is that they didn’t spend enough time with their loved ones.
Don’t make the same mistake.
But don’t just spend time with the people you care about — make it count.