Now that your phone is off, or at least in airplane mode, this is an optimal time to slow down, write down your thoughts from the day, contemplate the future, and, if you’re bold enough, meditate.
And we’ve got science to back that up!
A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that participants who wrote a to-do list before bed fell asleep significantly faster.
In my experience, writing down your plans for the coming day helps you to get them out of your head, so to speak. If I journal before bed, I feel like I can relax and I don’t have to sit there thinking about what to do the next day. I already wrote it down, so we’re good.
If, on the other hand, I just go to bed after my day, with no form of contemplation or writing, I’ll catch myself stuck in thought loops trying to figure out what to do tomorrow.
Now, you can take this part of the article and simply begin writing a to-do list about your following day, but I like to take things a step further and create a 15 to 20-minute evening ritual for reflecting on the day and optimizing the night.
I start by answering 5 questions from the book Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine. Mark was a Navy SEAL commander for 20 years, is a martial artist, and a yogi as well as the creator of 6 million-dollar businesses (most notably SEALfit academy & The Unbeatable Mind Program.)
This is where I first came across the idea of the evening ritual.
To perform an evening ritual, pick a space in your house to dedicate to journaling and reflection. I find it is more effective if this place is not your bedroom so that you are not laying down or thinking of bed.
When you have entered your space, be it your office, the kitchen, or wherever, sit with your journal and answer the following questions:
- Was I “on” today? Or was I “off” and unbalanced?
- What contributed to this feeling?
- What were the 3 most positive things I accomplished today and what did I learn from them?
- Are there any problems I would like my subconscious mind to solve tonight? (This one is a bit strange. Essentially, you are asking if there are unique problems you’d like to be addressed by your dreams. Sometimes dreams offer profound wisdom. If you like this question, be sure to keep a pad and pen by the bed to record your dreams when you wake in the morning.)
- What went wrong today and what can I learn from it?
Write down your answers to these questions, then perform a meditative exercise.
In Way of the SEAL, Mark Divine has his readers use this time to do visualization work in something known as the “mind gym.” Creating your mind gym and familiarizing yourself with its use is a project that is undertaken over the course of his book, so I won’t be asking you to attempt that here.
However, there is an incredibly powerful visualization I like to use called “future me” that fits just as well, if not better after the evening ritual.
Future me visualization
Sit with your back straight, either in a cross-legged position and/or with your back against a wall, or sitting erect on a hard chair.
Spend five minutes deep breathing by taking a five-second inhale through your nose, filling the lungs to full capacity, then exhaling for five seconds through the nose or the mouth. I find that the best method here is to find an ambient song that is five minutes long, so that you are not jolted out of your breathing by an alarm.
You can also simply count your breaths. 30 breaths is five minutes. This can add a mindfulness aspect of counting to the breathing.
After five minutes, let go of your breath by allowing your lungs to breath “as they want to.”
Now, breathing normally, imagine you are sitting in a theater, alone, watching a big white screen.
3-month image: On the screen, see a movie of yourself in 3 months time, in optimal health, pursuing your goals, and living your life.
Try to incorporate as much detail as possible into this visualization. Are you at a particular coffee shop? Are you more fit? More wealthy? Working on a new project? Living in a new place?
For the 3-month meditation, I usually see myself doing many of the same things as I do now, just further progressed, and feeling confident, healthy, and active. The idea is to see an ideal and possible future three months from now. Notice I did not say “realistic,” but possible.
Even if you don’t achieve this future, it is very important that you envision a desired future that is possible, even if unrealistic. This meditation helps you “practice” being the kind of person you’d like to be, and I’ve found it helpful for both pursuing my goals and identifying areas I need to work on.
1-year image: After spending some time in the 3-month meditation, bring the screen back to blank, and now start a new visualization of your ideal, possible future a year from now.
This is the time to see some of your longer-term goals being either already fulfilled and moved past, or actively resolving. This is a great meditation for imagining desired but difficult to predict futures, like moving to an ideal city or being in a new relationship.
The more details the better, although, again, it’s not important that these futures ever actually happen. The point is to orient yourself towards your desired future.
Personally, my future me meditations are always changing slightly. However, my big goals generally remain the same, and doing these visualizations helps me “see” how I’m moving toward these futures in the present.
3-year image: The final visualization is to go a full 3 years in the future. Imagine waking up on this day, 2022. What are you doing? Where do you live? What major goals have you long accomplished and what bigger, better future are you driving toward now?
Get creative. Life can be vastly different in 3 years, after all. Maybe you’ve gone back to college or started a new business. Maybe you live on a beach now or finally learned to play the guitar.
Merge with your future selves: You can repeat this exercise or modify it as much as you like for different timelines. You could do six months, five years, and ten years, for example.
Regardless, once you finish your last visualization, see these future versions of yourself clearly in your mind.
Now, imagine them collapsing into you and unifying into you all as one person. It’s important to feel like you are them, right now, and have lived these lives already.
You may notice feelings of joyous confidence. After all, why wouldn’t you feel a sense of surety after combining with versions of you that have achieved your ideal, desired, and possible futures?
Smile and feel gratitude, and continue on with your day.
The to-do list
Now, finally, you can do your to-do list. I find that writing this list after being in a meditative space allows me to better access my intuition.
You can start by identifying the most important things you need to do for the day. I often write down my “one thing,” meaning the number one thing that will move my life closer to my goals more than any other, and then I’ll write down the 4 next-important tasks to do after.
Once you have an idea of what you want to get done, do your best to write down your to-do list in order of time.
For example, I’ll write down something like this:
7:30AM: Morning ritual, feed dogs (Morning movement, sunlight, hydrate, cold shower)
8:30AM-10AM: Phone-off work on The One Thing
10AM-1PM: Work at coffeeshop on One Thing & tasks
1:00PM-2:30PM: Make & eat lunch, and 30 minute nap or guided meditation
2:30PM/3:00PM: Work session 2
5:00PM: Workout 1 hour
6:00PM: Cook dinner, do 15 minutes of mobility work on problem areas while listening to an audiobook
6:30PM: Eat dinner while listening to podcasts/audiobook, or watching an episode of TV
7:30PM: Write, read, or watch TV
8:30PM: Turn off phone, hot/cold shower, do more mobility work such as foam rolling, and/or read fiction
9:30PM: Do evening ritual
10:00PM: Go to bed
Most of the time, this schedule ends up being stretched out. I’ll end up working longer, throwing other activities in, watching more TV than I intended, etc. That’s not the point.
The point is that when I go to bed at night, I have a clear idea in my head about how the following day is gonna go, thanks to my to-do list, and I’m not worried about it.
I fall asleep much more easily by comparison, and over time.
Pro-tip: Get counter-intuitive
Of all places, I learned this little trick in the book Man’s Search for Meaning by the Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl. Frankl, on top of writing one of the most profound philosophical pieces of our era, was also a capable psycho-analyst.
At one point in his book, while discussing psychology, he mentioned a little trick that just stuck with me: if you find yourself lying in bed unable to go to bed, simply stop desiring to go to bed.
Sounds counter-intuitive right? Still, I think you just might burst out in laughter once you experience this.
We’ve all had the experience of sitting there wanting to fall asleep, and the very wanting itself seems to keep us awake. So, to counteract this, start wanting to stay awake. Seriously, just tell yourself you want to stay awake, exactly like you are already doing.
The effect this has for me is that, as soon as I switch my thought pattern, I will suddenly relax and, paradoxically, have an easier time falling asleep.
I think this occurs because wanting to fall asleep is an anxious, worry-style thought, whereas wanting to stay awake is anything but worrisome. After all, you’re already awake so you’re getting what you want, and can now relax about the whole mess.
I don’t have fancy data to back this up or anything, it’s just a little psychological trick that I’ve found helpful.
Prescription: Do an evening ritual, meditate, and write a to-do list
- Answer some contemplative questions in a space other than your room sometime close before going to bed.
- Do a future-me meditation to enter an intuitive state.
- Write a detailed to-do list of your plans the following day, and if you find yourself lying in bed wanting to go to sleep, flip your thoughts and instead decide to want to stay awake.