‘After Action Review’: Thrive in Business and Life With Daily Contemplation

June 18, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019


On May 20, 1521, a young Spanish man named Íñigo López de Loyola was struck in both legs by a ricocheting enemy cannonball, with one leg horrifically shattered, during the Battle of Pampeluna.

In an age before anesthetics, he underwent multiple surgeries in an attempt to save his life and avoid amputation.

After a miraculous recovery, during which his doctors had told him to prepare for death, he began his lengthy and painful rehabilitation. Essentially bedridden, the young man spent his time reading; the books he had to choose from were mostly religious in nature. Undergoing a radical conversion, this young man went on to dedicate his life to God, eventually becoming the priest who founded the religious order commonly known as the Jesuits.

Now venerated by Catholics all over the world as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, his intellectual legacy is one that still offers richness and depth today, even in an increasingly secular world.

One of the foundational elements of Ignatian spirituality is what is commonly known as “the Daily Examen,” a way for practitioners to review their day in an enlightening way and to resolve to make their next one better. The good news is that this Christian spiritual practice is immensely valuable for everyone, regardless of their faith background.

The original form of the Daily Examen consists of five parts:

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.

With just a slight adaptation, you can bring this medieval practice into your modern professional life and reap the rewards in your personal life as well.

After Action Review

The first step is to dedicate daily calendar space to conducting an “After Action Review.” When your day is ended, you have to commit to setting aside time to reflect on the events of your day; it’s impossible to improve if you don’t even know how far you’ve come or what direction you’re heading. In the military, we called it making an azimuth check: You have to periodically stop and check that you’re still on the right course.

First, begin by finding what is good, true, and beautiful in your day: Where did you find happiness and contentment? Try to look at it from 30,000 feet; your goal should be to look at the day from beyond just your perspective. Think about the big picture and what really mattered. What are the things that impact more than just the immediate moment? Try to think about how the events of your day will matter 50 years after you die. Be honest. Will they?

Next, focus on the reality that, good or bad, every day that we wake up and get another shot at life is a gift. Whether you found success or struggle in your day, you have been given opportunities to learn and grow. Learning to accept and be grateful for the challenges you have been given will allow you to develop into something better than you were the day before, if you are open and willing to these opportunities.

Third, review your day and all the actions that you took, no matter how minor. For each occasion and instance, ask yourself which actions you would do over and exactly what changes you would make. You’re not trying to dwell in the past and dwell upon things that you can’t change; the goal is to learn and “war game” things in your head to train yourself to apply these lessons learned in the future.

Next is the most difficult step: facing your shortcomings. One important quality for any leader is to be radically courageous when it comes to one’s morality. You have to extend this fierce honesty to looking in the mirror if you want to identify what habits and tendencies are working against you. At what points during the day did you feel most aligned with the best parts of yourself? At which points did you feel that you were lacking? Then, while considering both sides of this coin, examine how the entire process of your shortcomings play out. Rerun the situation in your head and notice all of your decision points and what drove you to make them. Identify them and get comfortable spending some time in them; you’re just seeking to understand, not to come up with a comprehensive action plan.

Finally, look toward tomorrow. How can you make the changes you want to see in your life? How can you sustain and increase the positive parts of your day? To utilize a cliched bit of advice, remember self-improvement isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Know your big picture goals, but focus on the essential steps and elements that it will take to reach them; you have to begin by focusing on those. Be brutally honest with yourself and assess how committed you are to achieving those goals and what you have actively done to make them a reality.

This is your moment in time to set the course for the rest of your life. The more frequently you do this, the easier and more natural it will become; that is the moment when you will almost effortlessly come to the realization that you are making true progress.

Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. You can follow him on Twitter @EricksonPrime

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Chris Erickson
Chris Erickson
Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. Follow him on Twitter at @EricksonPrime.