The other day, I woke up at 5:23 am. I was exhausted. It was clear that my brain hadn't slept much, and it had been awake for some time. Before I'd even opened my eyes, my mind was having a conversation with itself that went something like:
Hell, I forgot to send that email off to Julie yesterday. She's three hours ahead, so if I get up now, she'll still have it before she gets into her office. Need to add a new blog post. I wish I hadn't committed to dog training today. How am I going to get everything in. Maybe Sarah won't send me her project for editing today. She's often late. I won't send her a reminder. While I'm lying here, I could do my stretching and get that off my list. Got to practice my speech for tomorrow. Is it my turn to cook dinner tonight? Meditating this morning isn't going to happen. I've got to book my plane reservations or that trip's going to cost a fortune. Must arrange for that dog sitter, too. Coffee!! ...
That was all in a span of about 45 seconds.
I did get up and (ever grateful for my early-morning husband) poured myself a cup of coffee. I sat at my desk and brain-vomited words onto a sheet of paper (much like what you see above). And, I breathed a sigh of relief. The mere act alone of writing something down began my path toward focus.
The next two steps looked like this:
I took all my thoughts and put them into one or two words on one page, so I could see them all. (yes, I know, it looks ugly)
Then, I created a mind map and put them all into "logical" (for me) categories and sub-categories.
My final result looked like this:
This may still look like chaos to you, but it created focus and clarity for me. Instead of my brain being like a pinball machine of random, individual thoughts, I could see some structure and make sense of what I needed to do. All of it listed on a pretty pink, 3x5 card, didn't hurt, either. It wasn't quite so overwhelming.
Employing a combination of journaling at the beginning, mind-mapping in the middle, and a sort of to-do list in the end freed my brain and made for a really productive day -- that included even an afternoon nap!
The mere act alone of writing something down (preferably in long-hand) began my path toward focus.
Apologies to Billy Ocean for tainting his song, but it just seems so appropriate!
I don't know if this will resonate with you, but growing up, I was taught that the best way to solve a problem was to "think it through" and "plan things out". My ability to analyze and my rational thought could, supposedly, get me out of anything. To a great extent, that has proven true. The downside comes if I'm not able to turn the brain off.
Being stuck in your head is like being captive in another reality -- one that can become a very bleak and hopeless place.
There's plenty of research that's shown that overthinking can lead to depression and anxiety and creates barriers to discovering solutions. And, a concern of some researchers and therapists is that journaling can get people stuck in their heads and become passive observers of life. As journalers, we need to make sure that we access our hearts and souls.
This was expressed perfectly to me earlier today by a friend who keeps several journals.
She said, "I'm an introvert. Introverts tend to overthink. So, when I journal, I get rid of the thinking part of me and let my words come through. I feel more connected with ME, my true self. I don't journal to write out negative thoughts, I journal to write through them."
When I asked her to tell me more about writing through, she added, "I journal to remind myself that I am not my thoughts. I feel more grounded when I journal. And before, I usually am frazzled, feeling harried."
So there. That's probably one of the best testaments to the value of journaling I've heard in awhile.
So, Enjoy Billy Ocean and sing along ... Get outta my head, get into my heart ...
With journaling being an activity that's typically motionless -- I've tried journaling while working out on my recumbent exercise bicycle and it makes for handwriting that's impossible to read -- it may seem odd that I'm saying it's something that'll keep you active. But, it is!
If you look at my 1,2,3s of Journaling (Coming Soon!), one of my top suggestions is to look at journaling as an essential supplement to life. In other words, it should enhance and elevate your life; it should NOT be your life. It's an activity to try to do regularly, but I don't recommend it every day. Try to eke out some space once a week at first and see how that feels. I also recommend spending maybe 10 - 20 minutes journaling. Remember, we're journaling, we're not writing War and Peace.
Most of the time, journaling is an uplifting, energizing activity for me. By writing my thoughts or feelings down, I might be relieved of certain burdens (sometimes it's unpleasant things that I can leave on a page, or it's an idea that I don't want to forget, and I need to write through it). Other times, it might be an expression of a wonderful evening that I don't want to forget. Either way, it inspires me and energizes me to go out and engage in life -- to stay active.
But, yes, sometimes, journaling can be tough. If I'm angry or hurt about an event or a conversation, I can write and spiral downward and around and around to a point of obsession. And, if I don't pay attention, I can play that Blame Game really well. Thankfully, most of the time (these days) I catch myself and stop, take a deep breath, and write, "OK, so what am I going to do differently next time?" and "If there's nothing I can do to prevent this, how do I extract myself so I'm not put in that situation again?" Then I close my journal and, with those thoughts in my head, go play with the dogs, go for a walk or go for a drive. I'll usually return to that entry eventually, and more often than not, recognize that the situation wasn't as disastrous as I perceived it at the time, or I'll "force" myself to take some action.
Journaling needs to be kept 1) FUN! (at least most of the time), and 2) have positive life effect. To make that happen, we have to live. And that means being out there in the world, interacting with and experiencing people, nature, and things.
Certainly, journaling is about expression of our thoughts, emotions, and impressions. But effective journaling isn't about living in our heads; we need to be participants in life, exploring different perspectives and solutions. Besides, I don't believe that human dilemmas can be solved without human interaction, and human joys are best shared with others -- and that means:
Through my childhood and my early teens, I was dreadfully insecure. The major themes of my life were "What will so-and-so think of me?" and "Why didn't I do X instead of Y?" So much time and energy was spent doubting myself. These were, however, not questions I felt I could ever pose to friends or family. I knew that their responses would be exactly how I've been known to respond to others. *cringe* How many times have I said, "Don't worry about what so-and-so thinks." or What do you care what so-and-so thinks?" or "Well, you chose to do Y, and it didn't turn out so bad. I'm sure you've learned from this." In an effort to make someone "feel better", I never addressed the real issue. My responses only dismissed the person's concerns. Ugh! I think I've gotten better.
My personal Go-to eventually became my journal. IF I asked my journal, "What will so-and-so think of me?" It would say, "What do you think so-and-so will think of you?" and would let me respond. I'd write all the things that I thought so-and-so would think: "I'm stupid. I'm ugly. I'm mean. I'm a klutz. I'm useless ...." The list could go on and on. I'd eventually exhaust my list of terrible things I saw in myself. If I was lucky, I'd get angry because I saw how unfair or untrue those statements were. I'd then write about things I'd done that proved I wasn't all those bad things.
It was, to a great degree, my journaling that helped me to see some of my good qualities and talents. At the same time, it also exposed where I wasn't strong and helped me decide whether I wanted to work on strengthening or whether they were things to let go of. (of course, unfortunately, I didn't always listen to the things I supposedly learned.)
Of equal value was my eventual discovery through journaling that I'm not as insecure as people tend to believe I am.
You see, I'm bad at self-promotion and at "putting myself out there". When I try, it's often awkward -- sometimes, even embarrassing (for everyone). It stems from beliefs I grew up with and my cultural background -- things that I value. Some people have interpreted my way as lack of self-confidence or false modesty. For awhile I believed they were right. Through some navel gazing and journaling, I discovered that, in fact, I'm fairly self-aware of the things I'm good at, I know the many things I'm moderately decent at, there are a whole lot of things that I'm still working on, and there are still others that I'm just not capable of doing -- no matter how hard I might try. That, to me, isn't lack of confidence, it's knowing myself and being quite confident in that knowledge.
If any of this resonates (or doesn't) with you, I'd love to hear from you!
"Defining moments". Those two words together can sound so grandiose, so bold, and so ambitious. I think it's because of that that people have said to me, "I haven't really had any defining moments. There's been nothing big that's shaped my life."
We ALL have defining moments. It's not only rich or famous people who have them, and it's not necessarily events like winning the lottery or experiencing great trauma that shape us.
A defining moment is an event that creates a change that impacts the trajectory of our life and/or creates a part of who we are. Some defining moments may be graduation from high school or college, marriage, first child, divorce, a death of a loved one, or other big event. Equally as often, a defining event can be something seemingly small, a moment in time, an insignificant comment.
One of my defining moments occurred when I was about six or seven years old. As I did almost every day, I scampered off to our next door neighbors. Two girls, my age lived there. I so enjoyed spending time with them. They had games that I didn't have, and their mother always had fresh-baked cookies on hand. That day, I approached the house and was just about to knock on the wood frame of the screen door when I saw a silhouette approach from down the hallway. I was pretty sure it was Peter, my friends', older brother.
As the figure came closer, I heard, "Why do you always come here? You have your own home. Stop being such a bother. We don't want you here all the time!"
I don't recall whether I responded at all, but I do know that I ran home, crept into the house as quietly as possible, so mom wouldn't ask me why I wasn't next door, locked myself in my room, and cried and cried with shame. A few weeks later, I learned that the Johnsons were moving away. My six-year-old self assumed that they were moving because I was such a terrible bother.
That event so definitely shaped who I was for decades to come. The way I made or didn't make friends, the way I approached people professionally, and my sometimes desperate desire for acceptance were all influenced by my need to not be a bother to anyone. I'm very sure that I missed out on opportunities to connect with people because I appeared detached or disinterested.
It was through periodic journaling, questioning myself over and over again, that I eventually developed an understanding of the root of my lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. Once I had that understanding, I was able to look at myself and my value with different eyes, begin to heal, and know how to make friends in a healthy way.
Another defining moment was a mere passing comment by an English teacher in high school. He told me with such conviction and clarity that I had a unique talent for written self-expression. In times of great insecurity over the quality of my writing, I refer back to the journaling I did of that event. Doing so doesn't necessarily alleviate my insecurities, but it does help me get "back in the saddle" and continue writing.
Do you know your defining moment or moments? Try writing them down for yourself. It'll be interesting to see what impact doing so may have for you.
I was one of those angst-ridden, self-absorbed (is there any other kind) teenagers. Believing that my life was of greatest significance, I fairly consistently recorded daily events, tasks, and experiences in my diary. One day, for reasons I will never understand, I left my diary open on the desk in my bedroom. Of course, that was a day when mom went into my room, and of course, that was a day when I'd documented that I'd tried smoking for the first time. Boy, did I get into BIG trouble!
Needless to say, that ended my days of keeping a diary -- at least until I graduated from high school and went away to college.
That's when I also graduated from a diary to a journal. College opened up my mind and spirit to new experiences and a greater variety of people. As a result, I questioned more things and things more. My writings to myself became less recordings of events and more explorations of impressions, thoughts, feelings. I still sometimes wrote about events, but with greater view on how those events impacted me or others. Additionally, my journaling wasn't defined by a date or day. I would go for days or weeks without writing in my journal. More often than not, my entries were focused on a topic, a feeling, a memory, ever changing goals, hopes, or dreams.
After college and for the decades following, I've continued to journal periodically. Often, the urge comes during difficult times, but it also comes at the most joy-filled times. Sitting and journaling in solitude was and is my time of true self-expression. My journal has been a sort of inanimate therapist/coach that helps me gain understanding of myself or of others. It's a place where I can vent and not worry about betraying a confidence or being judged for meanness. It's also a trusted friend with whom I share my hopes and dreams and who's helped me see which are realistic and reachable and which are best left as dreams. And, it's been my accountability buddy or, sometimes, irritating admonisher, who stares me down in black and white and reminds me of promises to myself, my goals, and the mistakes that I'd be repeating over and over again.
The important distinction for me is that a diary is a place for looking to the past and reminisce; a journal is a place for looking at the past, the present, and the future with the potential to create insights and growth.
How do you see the two?