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Journaling has become increasingly popular in the last 10 years thanks to Ryder Carrol for introducing the world to his techniques, which he calls Bullet Journaling.
There are Facebook groups, Pinterest boards and assorted fan clubs that share their favorite Bullet Journaling spreads and tips. These artful designs both inspire and intimidate people — as things that appear “Pinterest perfect” often do.
I’ve worked with a number of clients who have confided in me their own personal struggles with journaling as a result of comparing themselves with these quite lofty expectations.
They find drawing stressful. Adding washi tape an uncomfortably sticky business. And making decorative spread designs anxiety-producing. Unfortunately, that detracts from enjoying the benefits of journaling.
I get it. As an avid journaler people are always telling me I should post pictures of my journaling pages to social media to raise awareness. There’s only one problem — my journals aren’t pretty! They’re mostly pencil or blue ink with very minimal, typically super simple design features that are often crooked. My lettering is incredibly functional, which is to say legible (usually) to myself.
I used to envy people that had aesthetically pleasing journaling practices. But then I realized, that such an approach was not true to myself. And while I think it’s awesome that many people are getting into journaling because of the opportunity to apply their artistic talents, it doesn’t work for me — and I know I’m not alone.
Whenever I work with someone that’s struggling with their journaling practice like this, I always encourage them to get back to the basics!
In this instance, getting back to the basics of JOURNALing is an acronym.
Just get it out of your head
We live in a society where we tend to keep things in our heads, as though it’s more efficient that way. Thanks to social media, we have also become trained to hold ideas in our minds until they are fully formed and ready to be shared with the world. Such an approach, keeping things all in your head, ends up being very problematic for a number of reasons.
As Journal Jam sponsor Ben West says, “So many people’s ideas exist as this Salvador Dali like dreamscape in their mind, where things don’t have to connect in natural, normal, physical ways…just this act of taking this idea you have that you feel really strongly and passionately about and putting it on paper almost immediately exposes that…there’s this very real obstacle to that and one, saying, is this actually a manageable obstacle or, two, am I asking for something crazy.”
Getting ideas out of our heads onto paper has many benefits. For starters, we are able to process things more completely, see holes in our thinking and gain valuable clarity. Additionally, when we write things down we are freeing up our precious brain space for more complicated cognitive tasks. There’s a lot of lost opportunities that occur when we “try to remember” to call the doctor instead of just writing down a reminder.
Observer your inner and outer world
I like to think of journaling as fieldnotes for your life. And in that instance, you can think of yourself as a researcher casually observing your inner and outer world. As a researcher, you strive to refrain from reacting to your thoughts, feelings, or external experiences. Instead, you simply notice. Perhaps saying, “well isn’t that interesting.”
Writing observations of your inner and outer world also helps to tone your mindfulness and awareness muscles. It’s a way to pause and become more present in the moment. This, in and of itself, often feels like a radical act in our fast-paced world where we are expected to constantly produce.
As we establish the habit of slowing down and observing our lives, we are able to create space for being more intentional and responsive instead of reactive and perpetually in a rush. I like to call this slowing down to speed up. By bringing my awareness to the present moment, I’m able to think more clearly, which enables me to direct my focus and attention where it matters most.
Understand how your past influences your present
With observations of our inner and outer world written down, we are setting ourselves up to better understand how our past influences the present. This is because we are creatures of habit and our past experiences build the foundation for our subconscious reactions in the moment.
Take for example a traumatic experience from my childhood. For years I was bullied by my best friend. When it was just the two of us, we were like two peas in a pod. But once we were at school, she would exclude and alienate me by not allowing me to play or sit at lunch with her.
For years, anytime I had an experience where I felt excluded by other women professionals I would run away and enter a shame spiral. My journaling practice helped me to see that I was reacting to my past hurt instead of responding to my current circumstances. And that persistently reacting to my past hurt was causing me unnecessary pain in the present.
One of the things I love about journaling is that I get to be the author of my story. As such, edits, rewrites and alternative endings are my prerogative.
Because I understood how my past trauma was impacting my present day, I choose to rewrite the story. Instead of seeing the rejection and exclusion I experienced as a sign of how uncool and undeserving I was, I changed the narrative.
In my new story, that experience deepened my understanding of our shared human reality, which has made me a more empathetic leader, teacher, friend, and parent. I have first-hand experience with the immense pain caused by not feeling like I belonged. Thanks to that, I now strive to create connection and belonging through inclusive spaces and experiences.
Navigate decisions better
I distinctly remember when I was graduating from college. I was on the phone with my Dad lamenting my big decision — what do I do next?
My dad advised, “There’s no right or wrong decision here Ariana.”
Decisions can be a great source of stress and anxiety for many of us — myself included. Taking to the pages of my journal when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the choices I have to make always results in me making better decisions than if I had not. That’s largely because through journaling I am able to slow down my thinking so I can see things more clearly.
Life is but a series of decisions. We make around 35,000 decisions in one day on average. Having a method for being thoughtful, intentional and decisive when it matters most makes a world of difference. It’s not to say all my decisions have worked out perfectly. But through journaling I’ve learned from those experiences, improving my decision-making next time.
Accept what’s within your control
When I started journaling in earnest I was in high school. As you can imagine my journal was filled with a lot of angst. On top of the normal teenager stuff, I also was dealing with instability in my home life at the time.
My journaling practice proved to be immensely helpful for me in navigating that challenging time. That’s because it afforded me a safe place to process my thoughts and feelings in a way that enabled me to clearly see what was within my control and what was not.
By accepting what was within my control — namely how I chose to react — I was able to let go of that which I had no control — the actions of others. Accepting what was within my control was a cathartic release.
Listen to your inner wisdom
One of the most life-changing benefits of journaling has been learning how to distinguish between the voice of my inner critic and the wisdom of my inner genius.
Our inner critics are quick to judge, ridicule, blame, shame, justify, and so on. My own inner critic was especially cruel. And like most people, my inner critic’s incredibly loud.
By letting my thinking slow down and becoming present through journaling, I learned how to listen for my inner wisdom. My journals contain words of insight that just came to me, as though by magic.
That insight is why I started Rosabella Consulting ten years ago. I was quite miserable for a few years, working in a dead-end job and experiencing a lot of professional rejection. Through my journaling practice, I realized my happiness was my responsibility (accepting what’s within my control). And when I thought about what I really wanted — to earn a living while being true to myself — I began to see new possibilities that had felt unattainable to me before.
As a society, we have developed killer skills for searching online for all sorts of answers. But the answers to life’s most difficult questions must come from within. When we go back to the basics of JOURNALing we are able to connect with our inner wisdom and receive guidance when we need it most.
Do you want to journal but keep putting it off? Do you feel stuck in your journaling practice? What if you could experience a profound shift with some expert guidance, camaraderie, and a few simple journaling prompts? Save the date for the next Journal Jam, April 8th at 3pm MST.
Originally published at https://www.rosabellaconsulting.com on March 25, 2021.