by Lori Milner: author, entrepreneur, thought leader and founder of Beyond the Dress
As the world has gotten more complex and technology more advanced, instant 24/7 communication is rampant. As a consequence, most people take little if any time for introspection. How many times have you heard yourself or others say ‘I wish I had time to think’. For me, journaling is the invitation to sit inside my mind and actually figure out what’s going on. It’s a space of safety; a means to trap my thoughts on paper so I can get out of my own way. Sometimes I don’t really know what I’m thinking until I write it down.
Journaling is a place where you can truly free your mind and let it wonder. I think as adults, we let our ‘thinking mind’ interfere with our imaginations. We think of every reason why we can’t go after our dreams or we don’t even know what we want. So a journal is a place where it’s private – invitation only. There is no judgement, no rules, no boundaries and no limits.
Whether you use daily journaling prompts or just write whatever is on your mind, knowing how to journal opens a word of self-discovery. Journaling gives you a safe space to explore creative things and to ask yourself deeper questions.
So, there’s no need to ask how to write a journal. Better to ask how journaling can best serve you — and what personal journal ideas can help you make the most of it.
How to get started
All you need is a book and a pen. Nothing fancy – however you can get fancy if you want. For me, I like the simplicity of the ‘old school’ A4 note books and any pen will do. The second key ingredient is uninterrupted time – it doesn’t necessary have to be quiet. I often go to coffee shops to do my journaling where I know I won’t be disturbed by work demands or my kids. Make it easy - keep a book handy by your bed, in your car or even in your handbag. I like to call myself a recovering perfectionist; I fell in love with the process of journaling because it is not possible to get it wrong. They are your thoughts after all. It does feel uncomfortable at first because there is nowhere to hide. It’s you, your thoughts and the page. The only requirement for success - show up. That’s it.
Why you need to write
And why not a laptop? We are drenched in technology – paper and pen grounds us. It brings us back to the present, it forces us to slow down. Our minds work at about 1000 words per minute. When we write, the mind slows down to about 100 words a minute. This allows thoughts to be recorded more deeply. It also creates space for deeper and higher thoughts to emerge. A new level of awareness awakens, and this supports a more focused, creative thinking process. Journaling is about us. It’s raw, it’s pure. Everything else doesn’t really matter. The art of journaling brings you into a flow state – you get lost when you find the rhythm of your thoughts.
When to journal
Some people suggest doing it in the morning after waking up to plan the day; others suggest end of the day to reflect on what happened. I say it must fit into your day. For me, mornings work best. I can get my head around what’s on my mind and work through it. Perhaps something happened the day before haven’t had time to reflect on or that really bothered me. There is no ‘right’ time, you need to make the time.
How long to journal
In The Artists Way – Julia Cameron suggests 3 pages of what she refers to as ‘Morning Pages’. What’s amazing about the 3 pages is you feel like you’ve run out of things to say but just having that last push will often bring up something you hadn’t thought of. Julia puts it that ‘All of us have a voice-over of things we are concerned with. Morning pages are a catcher’s mitt for these concerns’. If 3 pages seems too daunting, then write a paragraph – the point is to dump all the circling thoughts in your mind so you can gain some perspective or at the very least, just have somewhere to put them so they don’t blind you to the things you need to do.
Here are the 3 main areas I use journaling for:
1. Steer my thinking & gratitude
When I’m feeling a bit lost or stuck on a problem, just the act of writing it out helps me get clarity. It serves as a self-reflection exercise, a way to really explore my feelings and frustrations. Sometimes something comes out of it – I had a great ‘aha’ moment. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get anything out of it. My process is just to write out my thoughts and describe what’s going on internally so they don’t circle in my mind.
When you are in an intensely emotional mood, journaling can help you more fully experience and understand those emotions. After you’ve expressed your thoughts on the pages of your journal, you’ll quickly find a release. Objectivity will return and you’ll be able to move forward.
Without a journal, intense emotional experiences can be crippling for hours, days, and even years. However, an honest and inspired journal session can be the best form of therapy — quickly returning you better and smarter than you were before.
One of the greatest gifts of being human is the ability to choose what to focus on. No matter where you are and what your situation is, your focus can be shifted to something positive. Gratitude is the experience of counting one’s blessings and the best way to kick off your journaling practice. Write down 3 – 5 things you are grateful for. Don’t only get stuck on the big things, a beautiful sunset or getting a well-rested night’s sleep can be equally rewarding.
2. Dream and explore
Journaling is a permission device and a playground for the imagination. Ask yourself questions like ‘What would excite me? This can be for work, personal or travel goals. Do you want to write a book, host a TV show, travel the world, and create the next massive social app? Write it all down. A great starting point is using an exercise from author Debbie Millman. It’s called ‘Your 10 year plan for a remarkable life’. She asks you to envision this day in 10 years’ time and describe it in precise detail from the linen on your sheets to your work day, to the car you drive, the people closest to you, your headspace – she wants you to get stuck into the tiniest details. Then put it away and see what happens. The power of the exercise is it creates clarity for what we truly want and aspire to. Of course you can change your mind along the way but there is power in a vision.
Without a destination in mind, finding direction is impossible. What I love most about this practice is there is a magic that happens when you place a goal on paper – you create the possibility. It moves from a thought to a more solid and tangible form. It’s the first step in giving yourself permission and actually forces you to really think about what you want. So ask yourself - What will excite you? What will fuel your soul?
This practice of journaling goes a little deeper than just writing down your thoughts, what’s on your mind and who irritated you at the office that day. It is an opportunity for self-mastery. Journaling then becomes a platform where I can start to notice triggers, patterns and even possible self-destructive behaviours like when the negative inner critic shows up and I tend to listen to her more than I should.
Practically – here are some ideas you can start to journal on when you feel like you didn’t handle a situation to the best of your ability or you never got up for your planned gym workout again for the 5th day in a row.
Learn from your past. Acknowledging and examining past mistakes and failures can teach you a great deal about what better choices you can make in the future.
Become aware of any patterns or habits no longer serving you. For example, when you get home, are you automatically reaching for the wine bottle to unwind? Have you thought about why? Are you avoiding your own emotions or looking for a distraction from a much bigger issue?
Examine your core values. Knowing what you believe and what you stand for will give you great insight as to why you make the choices you make.
Acknowledge and examine your fears. Your fears – rejection, failure, success and change – often dictate your actions and your actions influence everyone with whom you come in contact. The examination of your fears will diminish the hold those fears have on you, allowing you to make visible, more empowering choices.
The science of journaling – why it works?
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through.
You know when you are looking for a new car and all you see now is that particular model? They didn’t suddenly start making that car – you are just tuned into it. Similarly, your brain starts to tune into opportunities relevant to your goal. Writing goals signals to your brain "this is important." Your reticular activating system (RAS) then flags relevant opportunities and tools to achieve that goal. More detailed goals provide a psychological blueprint, and increases the likelihood of achieving them. Your RAS takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through the data and presents only the pieces that are important to you. All of this happens without you noticing, of course. The RAS programs itself to work in your favour without you actively doing anything.
Some people suggest that you can train your RAS by taking your subconscious thoughts and marrying them to your conscious thoughts. They call it “setting your intent.” This basically means that if you focus hard on your goals, your RAS will reveal the people, information and opportunities that help you achieve them. When you look at it this way, The Law of Attraction doesn’t seem so mystical. Focus on the bad things and you will invite negativity into your life. Focus on the good things and they will come to you, because your brain is seeking them out. It’s not magic, it’s your Reticular Activating System influencing the world you see around you.
Famous people who use journals
Each morning, Benjamin Franklin asked himself, “What good shall I do this day?” and each evening, “What good have I done today?” Steve Jobs stood at the mirror each day and asked, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?” Both billionaire Jean Paul DeJoria and media maven Arianna Huffington takes a few minutes each morning to count their blessings. Oprah Winfrey does the same: She starts each day with her gratitude journal, noting five things for which she’s thankful.
Your thoughts are the blueprint of the life you are building one day at a time. When you learn to channel your thinking--both consciously and subconsciously--you create the conditions that make the achievement of your goals inevitable.
You are the designer of your destiny. This simple routine will help you crystallize where you want to go, and how you will get there.
Think of yourself as a thought architect creating the blueprint for your life. Don’t shrink to fit a safe narrative, show up to the page and create the story of your greatness.
Here’s to owning your journal,
LORI MILNER is the engaging facilitator, thought leader and mentor known for her insightful approach to being a modern corporate woman. Her brainchild, the successful initiative Beyond the Dress, is the embodiment of her passion to empower women. Beyond the Dress has worked with South Africa’s leading corporates and empowered hundreds of women with valuable insight on how to bridge the gap between work and personal life. Clients include Siemens, Massmart, Alexander Forbes, Life Healthcare Group, RMB Private Bank and Unilever to name a few. Lori has co-authored Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman in conjunction with Nadia Bilchik, CNN Editorial Producer. Own Your Space provides practical tools and insights gleaned from workshops held around the world and from interviews with some of South Africa’s most accomplished women to provide you with tried-and-tested techniques, tips and advice to help you boost your career, enhance your confidence and truly own your space on every level. Own Your Space is the ultimate ‘toolkit’ to unleash your true power. It’s for the woman who wants to take her career to new heights and who is ready to fulfil her true potential.
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