We are the authors or sculptors of our lives. To become the person we want to be, we should reflect on our thoughts and actions and then make whatever changes we consider necessary. After all, our thoughts solidify into actions, each step of which helps to shape our lives. However, to take the art of self-creation a step further, rather than merely reflect on our thoughts and actions, we should write them down. In other words, keep a journal.
The difference between reflecting on our thoughts and writing them down is just like the difference between sculpturing with a mallet and a sledgehammer. It’s a difference of power. Reflection is a mallet. Writing is a sledgehammer.
Thoughts are frail. Like cherry blossoms blown about by the wind, our thoughts scatter in every direction. That’s why mere reflection lacks power. But writing our thoughts down forces us to focus on the issues and reading them helps to keep us to stick to the subject. If you wanted to burn a newspaper, you wouldn’t try to do so by putting it out in the sun, would you? Even if you left it there for 50 years, the worst that would happen is the pages would turn yellow. Yet, if you were to use a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun on the newspaper, you could set it ablaze in minutes. Writing is the magnifying glass that sets our thoughts on fire.
Keeping a journal and meditating are similar in four respects. First, both can substantially improve our lives. Second, nearly everyone has a vague notion of what it is to meditate or keep a journal. Third, few people know the specific steps involved in either activity. In other words, what is it exactly that I should do if I want to keep a journal or meditate? Fourth, there are hundreds of methods for engaging in either practice. To simplify, I will describe one way to keep a journal.
But first, for many, what is the purpose of a journal? What is the purpose of scaling mountains? According to mountaineers, it is because they are there. What is the purpose of writing? According to the U.S. novelist Thomas Louis Berger (born in1924), it is because it isn’t there! That’s why many keep a journal. Because it isn’t there. What isn’t there? Our full potential. In other words, a new and better me. We can be better today than we were yesterday and we may want to be better tomorrow than we are today. That’s why some keep a journal. They do it to experience continuous growth.
Now to the nitty-gritty. What is it exactly that I do when I make a journal entry? What are the specific steps that I take? Any good teacher or supervisor knows that if you want someone to change their behavior, you start with honest praise to let them know they have value and are appreciated. Next, you explain that they can become even better than they already are by doing whatever it is you are about to suggest. If this is the way to treat others, shouldn’t we treat ourselves the same way?
So, the first thing to do when making a journal entry in the evening is answer the question, “What have I done right today?” By reviewing our accomplishments, it encourages us to stay on course and do even better in the future. Now that we are motivated to do better, we go on to the second step by asking, “What have I done today that I could have done better?” Here’s where opportunity lies. We look for ways that we can improve by learning from our mistakes. Thankfully, we will never run out of opportunities for self-improvement.
Each of the steps we take in our journal grows more important than the step before it. In step three, we ask, “What actions can I take to seize the opportunities for self-improvement that I have found?” After listing actions that we can take, we move on to the fourth step, which is to fit the action steps into our daily schedule. Depending on our schedule, we can begin to incorporate them into our life, if not the next day, within a few days.
Although any changes we make for the better are commendable, they are not of much value unless they become permanent, or habitual. That’s why step five is the most important. This is the step where we monitor our progress and make sure we stay on track. We keep a watchful eye on new, good behavior, making sure we repeat it for 30 days, so it will become a habit. Once it does, we are free to forget about it and move on to new areas of improvement. Step five also blends into step one, for when we look at what we are doing right, we are actually monitoring our progress. So, the five steps form a cycle of never-ending improvement. The steps may sound complicated, but after a few repetitions, you will find they are easy to follow and usually will not take more than 30 minutes to carry out.
There is something else I do. As I work in my journal, invariably, I will have a flash of insight, have a good idea, or just think of something I may want to consider in the future. None of these thoughts are directly related to my self-improvement regimen; nevertheless they are worthwhile. So, I immediately add these flashes of inspiration to another journal, which serves as a repository of good ideas. Keeping multiple journals and instantly flipping between them is a simple matter when working with a good software program, many of which are available. Once a week, I spend ten or fifteen minutes browsing through my collection of good ideas to see which ones I am ready to act on.
Keeping a journal will steer, focus, and use your thoughts to take you where you want to go. It will accelerate your growth and help in achieving your goals. It puts you in charge of your thoughts, and, therefore, in charge of your life. Once you get into the habit of keeping a journal, you will come to believe that living without one is like being a farmer who refuses to water his crops!
Journaling both informs and forms us
I’ve described how to keep a self-improvement journal. Now it’s time to introduce a few different methods. Perhaps one of the systems I’m about to describe will whet your appetite and convince you to give it a try. I encourage you to do so, for once you enter the world of journaling, you will make many pleasant discoveries. You will learn through experience that journaling both informs and forms us. The greatest discovery of all is self-discovery. Journaling will introduce you to your best friend, your strongest ally, and your greatest accomplishment: yourself. That’s enough of an introduction, now let’s move on to the descriptions of five methods you can experiment with. Even if none of them are for you, they’ll help you to find your own method.
1. Conventional journaling. This is the method that usually comes to mind when we discuss diaries or journals. It’s simply a record of the events in our lives. There is no need to go into the minute details of our daily activities. Instead, merely record vignettes and snippets of your actions and feelings. Why do so? Because they will become a source of pleasure and learning. Don’t photo albums provide pleasure and jog the memory? Yet, all they do is record our physical environment. Our journal, however, records our interior life. Since it is a record that is more significant than mere physical change, it will provide even greater pleasure than a photo album. You are not a being of this instant; you are a process. You are a river because your life unfolds over many years. Your journal can become a panoramic ‘photograph’ of the stream of events and emotions that flow through your life. It provides the big picture and paints a portrait of the complete you.
Besides pleasure, our journal is also a source of learning. It’s pages remind us that what we once thought was unbearable, was in fact manageable. It’s a reminder that any pain or suffering that we experience will pass. It’s a record of how we coped. We can refer to our past to learn from our successes and failures.
2. Lists. Some people find it helpful to keep a list of their accomplishments. If you stop and think about it, you will realize that you do things you are proud of every day. The problem is many of us don’t stop and think about it. Instead of filling our hearts with joy, we fill our minds with negativity by focusing on what went ‘wrong.’ Keeping a list of our achievements and adding to it every day puts our attention where it belongs, on the positive. Focusing on our many attainments builds confidence and motivates us to do even more. And when we do this regularly, we will grow to realize that nothing goes ‘wrong,’ it just goes differently. And that provides us with the opportunity to develop our coping skills.
Another way of focusing on the positive is to keep a gratitude list. Each day you record what you are grateful for. This is a good practice because a grateful heart is a happy heart. Rather than complain about what we don’t have, we can choose to be grateful for our blessings and for the suffering we have avoided.
3. Cathartic writing. When we are in pain, we wish to speak to others about it. Having a shoulder to cry on provides some relief. Yet, there are times when we don’t want to burden others with our problems. Or perhaps we are not ready to confide in them because of shame or guilt. At such times, one may receive relief by writing about it. It is best to do so in great detail, exploring every emotion. Doing so helps to separate oneself from the pain. It is almost like writing about someone else. Cathartic writing, then, is psychotherapeutic. It helps to purge the soul of pain and can be of help when suffering from grief or depression. This type of journaling, however, works best with professional counseling. Keeping a journal while attending a support group is more powerful than just keeping a journal or just attending a support group.
4. Dialogue. Wouldn’t it help to have a wise person always at your side, so you could turn to him or her for advice whenever something was troubling you? Sadly, many are unaware of the help that is available. Perhaps it is because if they look around they won’t see anyone at their side. That’s because the words of wisdom they seek are not by their side, but in-side. It’s called by many names, including Inner Wisdom, Inner Self, or Higher Self. We can harness its power by entering into a dialogue with it. So, if you feel the need for guidance, describe your problem and write your questions. Then be still and allow your Inner Voice to speak to you. Write the answer you get. The answer may lead to another question, which in turn leads to another answer. Just continue the dialogue, back and forth, until everything becomes clear to you. This is a powerful technique that is worth exploring.
5. Intuitive journaling. When it comes to communicating with our Inner Wisdom, some of us are more gifted than others. If you are new to journaling and find it difficult to access your Inner Guide, you can benefit from using this method. But first, a little background information. If you were debating whether to take that job in a distant city, or to break off that 1 1/2-year relationship that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, the answer you seek lies within. Your subconscious is a database of trillions of bits of information. It can instantly combine and string them together to answer any question troubling you. The problem is most of us don’t know how to access our subconscious. Try as we may, we cannot retrieve the answers we look for. It all, however, becomes easy when we use an intermediary between our conscious and subconscious minds. One such go-between is the Chinese Book of Changes. You will find no better version than R.L. Wing’s The I Ching Workbook. No, I’m not referring to fortune-telling. I’m not speaking about myths, magic, or madness, but of meaningful dialogue with your own subconscious. You see, any reading you receive from the I Ching can be interpreted in many ways. But when you are seeking an answer, your subconscious will automatically interpret it in a manner that answers your question. Try it and see for yourself. Recording the results of your I Ching sessions is a form of intuitive journaling.
By now we have learned that the pen is mightier than the sword. It is also a lot easier to write with! So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get started by writing something worth doing or doing something worth writing.
The Mind-Changing Habit of Journaling: The Path To Forgive Yourself For Not Knowing What You Didn’t Know Before You Learned It – A Guided Journal for Self-Exploration and Emotional Healing By Zoe McKey
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.