WHY YOU SHOULD KEEP A JOURNAL
Your thoughts and feelings tend to ricochet in your mind like a game of pong. It’s hard to anticipate where the ball is headed.
Oftentimes, you let your emotions get the best of you. They inflate like balloons, expanding with each breath that you take until those emotions go pop!
And then you “burst” all over the place.
You engage in heated exchanges with your loved ones and pick fights with strangers at the parking lot.
You may also refrain from running your emotions through a “reason filter.”
As a result, you make hasty decisions that lead to undesired consequences. When you’re too quick in this manner, you end up taking a left turn when you ought to go right.
GAINING INSIGHT VIA HINDSIGHT
To promote better self-care and mental health, consider keeping a journal.
Journaling allows you to be insightful about your thoughts and feelings, unlike when you’re “in the heat of the moment,” when your emotions can easily govern your reactions.
Furthermore, journaling exercises activate the left side of your brain: the more analytical and rational you. It helps to clear your mind so that you can focus narrowly on a single thought, topic, or situation in life.
What’s more, Positivepsychology.com lists 83 benefits to journaling. It’s no wonder physicians, psychologists, nutritionists, and other medical experts encourage this practice!
For me, journaling helps to slow down the neverending game of pong that’s constantly playing in my mind.
By taking a moment of my day and working through my thoughts, feelings and emotions, I’m able to see exactly where the ball is headed and I can keep it from falling off the screen.
If you’re new to the practice of journaling, here’s my biggest piece of advice:
Although there are myriad benefits to journaling, keep in mind that it’s not meant to be serious.
Forget about grammar rules and switch tenses if you feel like it. Heck, use semicolons if you’re feeling so bold!
There’s no right or wrong here.
Just don’t think of it as a chore. Think of it as a practice.
Learn it by rote, and in no time, journaling will become part of your essential habits, like brushing your teeth and combing your hair.
6 JOURNALING EXERCISES TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE:
#1. PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE “SELVES”
Write a letter to your past-self, present-self and future-self. This can be done in one letter or three separate letters within your journal.
Begin each entry with “Dear [your name.]” If it feels right, speak to yourself in the second-person voice:
Dear Self, you’ve come a long way!
For your past-self, think of a time when you were a child.
Did you have an imaginary friend? If so, what were they like?
Is there a fond memory that you cherish? What were you feeling then? Happy, anxious, scared? What was the day like? Cold or warm? What colors did you see?
Be sure to give your past-self some advice. A heads-up would be nice, too. Perhaps about a challenging event that you’ll be facing down the road.
In my case, I wrote about my parent’s divorce when I was thirteen years old. “Brace yourself, buddy,” I wrote to my past-self, “shit’s about to get real!”
For a long while, I resented my parents for breaking up the family. But when I wrote about it, the ink on the page revealed the bitter truth: my parents were happier when they were apart. Their marriage was doomed to fail and no one was to blame. Not even them.
And that’s quite alright.
For your present-self, focus on the now.
How’s work treating you? Do you report to a dream job every day? Or are you stuck in a rut, toiling away at a dead-end job that you hate with every fiber of your being?
What’s your dream job, by the way? Is that what you really want to do for the rest of your life? Or is there some other line of work that might be rewarding to you? Do you have any family or friends that are in similar situations as you?
And how’s your love life? Are you in a committed relationship or are you exploring your options? Are you ready to find love or do you need more time?
Whatever you write, be sure to validate the following:
You are in the right place at precisely the right time.
Even if the right place stinks to high heaven!
Remind yourself that you’re a transient being. There will always be a new stage in your life. It’s waiting patiently at the end of the tunnel until you are ready to set it in motion.
For your future-self, GO ALL OUT!
You are the person you wish to become five, ten, twenty years from now.
What kind of work are you doing? Is it different from the work that you’re doing now? Are you even working?
Maybe you’ve retired, packed your things, and moved to New Zealand. You have a pristine view of Milford Sound from your future house on a hill. Are you enjoying the lovely scenery with friends? Family? A pet?
Is it lonely where you are?
Be sure to have fun in part three. It’s the future, for crying out loud! There are flying cars everywhere and personal assistant robots named Alfie!
#2. WRITE ABOUT A PICTURE OR A WORK OF ART
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.
But you needn’t write as much to complete this challenge.
Find an old picture and switch on the cogs of your imagination.
Describe what’s happening.
Are you at a birthday party? Are you at a Six Flags theme park with friends? Any pictures from your High School senior trip? What about your prom night?
You might also consider writing about a work of art.
I’m a die-hard fan of Frida Kahlo’s. When I visited La Caza Azul — the “blue house” in Mexico City where she lived — I already knew (before leaving the hotel that morning) that I would be sitting on a bench in Frida Kahlo’s courtyard balling my eyes out like a little bitch.
Why? Because she gets me, man.
Frida Kahlo’s work represents longing, love, pain, struggle, hopes, fears, dreams, and so much more. I see in her the qualities that I see in myself. Or better yet, she shows me what kind of qualities I possess through her work.
So, would you indulge me, dear reader, by describing my favorite Frida Kahlo painting (pictured below)?
Up for the challenge? Describe the above artwork in your own words and send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Begin with: I, [your name], forgive myself for _______________________.
Was there a time when you felt guilty or ashamed about something you did?
Did you spit out chewing gum in your sister’s hair? Were you a bad mamajama for no good reason?
Ever cheated on a past lover? Did it make them not want to trust anyone ever again? Can you even trust yourself, home skillet?
Were you this big klepto stealing things left and right? Did stealing those things affect someone else’s livelihood?
If you find it challenging to forgive yourself, then consider forgiving someone else instead.
Did someone judge you harshly in the past? Did they use racial epithets or poke fun at your unique features?
In my case, I was called a “faggot” on numerous occasions. To cope, I’d mutter the phrase “you’re fucking dead to me” under my breath.
But then I ended up sleeping with one of these assholes, so I had to rethink my strategy:
I forgive you, dipshits.
(Both the asshole and me.)
#4. THE ALPHABET CHALLENGE
Starting with the letter “A,” begin with the following phrase:
A is for _______________________.
Now, fill in the blank with the first adjective that pops into your mind. Amazing, annoying, attentive, and so on.
Then, write a complete sentence that begins with, “I am [insert adjective] because…”
For instance, I am ambitious because I was raised to be.
If you get roadblocked by a tricky letter such as Q, then just skip to the next one.
Be as quick as you can!
The point is not to write down a phrase for all 26 letters of the alphabet, but to identify which adjective comes first in your mind. Does the phrase you jot down have a positive ring to it or a negative one?
Highlight any phrases that feel negative and save these for future entries. When the time’s right, you might feel impelled to explore why you chose to write them down.
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be and why?
Maybe it’s the power of invisibility? Do you want to remain unseen by others and cruise fearlessly through life?
Or maybe you wish for superhuman strength? Maybe you’re tired of slapping on Lidocaine patches on your lower back. Maybe you want to feel like you can rise from bed invigorated and energized to take on the world.
My superhero persona would be Quicksilver from Marvel.
Quicksilver’s power is superhuman speed; too fast for the naked eye. But from his point of view, it’s just that we’re too slow.
At warp speed, Quicksilver’s surroundings appear as if they’re in slow motion.
I like the idea of slowing things around me because I value time above so many other things. It also helps me get organized and check-in with my priorities.
Think, how can I use this power to improve my life and the lives of those around me?
Oh, and try not to use your powers to rob a bank just so you could move to Mykonos and spend the rest of your days on the Aegean Sea, lazying about on a yacht named Princess Buttercup III.
#6. SHOOT YOUR FEAR IN THE FACE
Alright, Annie. Time to get your gun!
Ask yourself: What am I afraid of?
You might have some ideas off the bat. But if you can’t think of any, fill in the blanks below:
I fear death because _______________________.
I don’t fear death because _______________________.
One of my favorite quotes on death is by Eckhart Tolle. In his book, “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” he writes, “Death is the stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to ‘die before you die’—and find that there is no death.” 1
“Dying before you die” means accepting your fate as a transient being of this world.
Don’t waste precious time holding on to grudges or feeling paralyzed with fear.
Rid yourself of old wounds. Brace yourself for new ones. Defy the role of a hostage to Fear.
Untie yourself. Set yourself free!
After all, we’re just tiny blips in the Earth’s billion-year timeline. We should consider ourselves lucky to have left a mark, no matter how big or small it may be.
But, wait! I can’t die yet, you’re thinking. I haven’t fulfilled my purpose! Shit, I haven’t even figured out what my purpose is!
Oh, but you have.
You’re already fulfilling it.
And that’s because you are the purpose.
Being is the purpose.
Laughing, crying, dancing, dreaming, eating, sleeping, hating, loving—these are all tiny little drops adding up to the kowabunga of all purposes:
The will to survive.