A few weeks back I posted a You Tube video entitled “how to keep a journal”, in this video I outlined the advantages of keeping a journal and yesterday I added a part two video, where I outline the how. In this article I am going to quickly overview the content of these two videos as I feel that diary writing or journal writing to be extremely important.
The first video is here:
Ok so what is journal or diary writing?
I think that most of us are aware of the basics of keeping a journal or diary, whereby we note down what happened us today and so on. But there is a far deeper approach to diary writing which I want to write about today.
How to keep a Journal – Journal Writing Increases our Awareness
The primary reason for keeping a journal is to raise self-awareness. The modern world in which we live in is full of distractions and endless pressures. We have so many commitments, we are so busy all of the time and we have such a fast paced life, that if we are not careful Monday morning suddenly merges into next Sunday evening and then another week has gone by. If an average person lives for say 70 years, this equals to 3640 weeks. So each week lost is a little bit of life lost!
This is a prominent problem, which I keep hearing from all sorts of people, on a daily basis. Also, I am not free of this, as I too feel pressurised and that life these days is fast paced. So how does diary writing help?
Diary writing helps because it makes us think about our life, and as we self-reflect, we gain some insights and perspectives. For example, if you have a dream and the details appear fleeing, however, if you immediately write down the details, the dream will unfold itself and become more detailed. Well the same thing happens with journal writing. When we write things down, it makes us reflect and think about what has happened. It improves our memory power as we jog our memory, every time we go to write our journal. Also, new thoughts, insights and feelings will pop up as well.
For example, say you had an interview today, and when you got home you wrote in your journal. As you write your journal, forgotten details will pop up and with that many questions or possible insights may arise, thus allowing you to learn from the experience. Another example might be a minor problem like a small car crash or falling out with a friend. Our tendency is to tell our friends and family about what happened, but usually although this helps, it’s like we develop a news story which we keep on repeating to everybody. Also you might edit out some unimpressive details, due to embarrassment. Whereas when you write in your journal, memories arise, insights arise, you can be more honest with your expressions, as the journal is private and won’t be read by anyone. You will also more than likely have feelings and can explore those feelings as they arise in all of their complexity, something which is often not possible when you are chatting with friends.
How to keep a Journal – Boosts memory Power
Another benefit of journal writing is memory power, as when we write things down it jogs our memory. Another exercise which can help with this process is the nightly review.
The Night Review: The night review was a popular exercise carried out by priests, nuns, and religious brothers of Christian Sects, dating back well into the nineteenth century and possibly even earlier. I am not sure where this technique originated but it certainly is useful.
From a Christian context, the Christian is supposed to review the events of the day, starting with what they are doing now, just before going to bed, and working backwards towards the beginning of the day. The idea been to note down mistakes (sins) and ask for forgiveness. Now you don’t have to do this but you can use this exercise and instead of judging yourself you can simply observe yourself. Working your way backwards from night till morning puts a big challenge on our memory power. Also, we are so hard wired into thinking in a linear way, that this exercise helps us to broaden our horizons and think outside of the box.
Scientist now say that time is an illusion and that Einstein came up with the idea of space-time and that time moves at different speeds according to how close you are to the earth. A satellite many thousands of feet above the earth, will read time faster than people on earth, due to the lower gravitational effect of earth, consequently the clocks of satellites are adjusted to take account of this.
So what has all of this physics got to do with a nightly review exercise?
Well the thing is that not only will this exercise boost memory but also because you are remembering events backwards, it helps to free the mind from its poison like grip on always moving forward. It is this focus on what is going to happen next, which robs us of our life as we don’t experience the present, rather we simply race through it while forever looking forward!
So try out this nightly reflective exercise as it will boost memory, free your mind and also you will pick up on thoughts, insights and feelings which you can then explore.
What do I mean by thoughts, insights and feelings?
Thoughts are simply our thinking processes. So when you do the nightly review or write in your diary, you will become more aware of your habitual thinking processes. While it is difficult to change them, it is good to at least acknowledge them, as by so doing so we become more aware of both our strengths and our flaws. Finding our flaws is just as important as finding our strengths. Finding our strengths boost our confidence and encourages us to focus on doing things which we are good at. But finding flaws allows us to work on our weaknesses and also to acknowledge where we might be weak and perhaps need help. If for example, we discover that the decisions which we make in life are largely impulsive, we can work on improving our decision making process or at least seek help from on one else who is a better decision maker, for future reference. You will rarely find people, who know when to seek help and I feel that this is because most people don’t self-reflect and they think themselves great regardless of how erroneous their thinking processes may be. It’s easy to blame others in life, when things go wrong, but this won’t improve your life as only self-awareness will help you to make improvements.
Regarding insights, insights are those sudden thoughts which give us perspective and depend the state of our thinking. In second You Tube video’s below, I give the example of overhearing two men talking about job seeking and one man telling the other how it’s more important to pursue your passion, rather than chasing the money. This made an impact upon me and because I was open to it, it resulted in new insights about how I should pick my jobs in future.
Feelings are everywhere, but we tend to downplay them. But when we acknowledge our feelings, we learn a great deal from them. For example, say you have a fight with someone, then instead of just been angry, note don how you feel and try to work out your thoughts and feelings, certainly after say half an hour, lots of insights and also feelings will be released. Releasing our feelings, is vital if we want to cope with relational breakdown, grief and other setbacks in life!
How to keep a Journal – Self-Empowerment
I think after what has been written so far, that it’s pretty obvious that journal writing will empower you. It self-empowers because you stop going round and round on the merry go round, of endless life activity and instead you stand back and smell the flowers as it where!
It is more difficult than ever before to lead a self-reflective life, because of the busyness of modern life, but self-reflection can be encouraged and journal writing will really help with this process. As you write your journal, bit by bit new perspectives will come and with the increased awareness of our thought processes, new insights and explored feelings comes new opportunities, for the informed mind has life options available, which the ignorant mind can never even begin to conceive.
Ultimately we are all limited by our thinking, as Einstein notes that:
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”
What he means here is that you can solve all your life problems but to solve a problem your thinking must be better. Problems occur either because of a sudden change in circumstances or because we lack the thought power to solve them. If a problem occurs, because of a sudden change in circumstances, we should be able to adapt very quickly, but if we cannot find the solution then we are lacking in our thinking power.
Now I know that this might sound like a tall order as surely facing say financial crises, family crisis etc., can’t just be solved with brain power. I know that and I also know that we can come to terms with every situation and find a way to resolve it once we can think big enough. This doesn’t mean that we won’t have a problem anymore but it does mean that we won’t be passive victims to it anymore!
So if you are feelling ineffective and that life is passing you by, then sharpen that saw (which is your mind) and start journaling today
Final Thoughts on How to keep a Journal – How Do We Keep a Journal
See the second video here:
Ok so you want to keep a journal but are not sure how best to precede, so what should you do?
What you have to do is to forget flowery ideas about writing your autobiography or silly ideas like “hello dear diary”, where you note every silly event in your life, such as “I got up at 8am and ate breakfast, finishing at 8.30am” etc.,!!!
The important thing here isn’t the data, rather it’s the effort to think about your life!
Instead make a point of writing down either events or points of interest as they arise. So life changes, like a new job, new relationship, a big argument, an exciting football game which you watched with your friends etc. The important thing here isn’t the data,rather it’s the effort to think about your life!
As Plato notes:
“The unexamined life isn’t worth living”
This is what we have to overcome, we have to become self-aware and journal writing will help with this process. Everyone gets hung up on the data, the data doesn’t matter. Now and again I like to look at an old diary and read about what was happening say 10 years ago. But really I find it useful for two things:
A). Checking up on events in the timeline of my life
B). Checking out my old mind-set and seeing how much I have changed vote the years
That’s it, as most of the stuff, even the serious stuff doesn’t seem to matter much after 10 years. So a journal allows you to get the thoughts out of your mind and out of your heart and objectively out onto paper, or these days a journal can be electronic of course.
The might review exercise is a great tool which will help you with this process. As I know a lot of people struggle to self-reflect. If this is the case with you, it doesn’t mean that you are deficient rather it means that you lack practice. Get into the habit of doing the night review exercise and as thoughts, insights and feelings come up, explore them and even write them in your diary.
Also, for the night review exercised do not go longer than 5 minutes and also there is no need to write down what came up, just review and take note. If something interesting comes up, then take out your journal and write a brief note. If you feel like it take some more time out and explore your thoughts and feelings.
The thing with journal writing is that it is a slow process, so you need time to write an extensive entry. So with the review exercise, do it mentally, and is something interesting comes up make a quick entry and then write an extensive entry later.
Another great gain with journal writing is that it can really come into its own when it comes down to things like changing career, choosing college courses, life partners life choices etc., because you can write down your thoughts and feelings and on paper everything starts to take ion a different perspective. As long as everything stays inside your head it’s never fully processed. In the case of trying to get your head around big life challenges, take all the time you need and write extensively. On occasion I have burnt my way through a 100 page A4 sized journal, within a few weeks while trying to get my head around some important life decision, yet normally I would only write a few a paragraphs once or twice a week. So your journal is your flexible friend. Remember it’s a tool, and while it’s good to get into the habit of writing in the journal don’t be a slave to it and also do use it extensively when required!
And of course finally do remember that journal writing is simply a tool, as a stage will come when very few entries are made because you are consciously self-reflecting every day and don’t need to write in your journal very much anymore. When I started writing my journal maybe 20 years ago, my entries where extensive, these days I write in my journal maybe twice a year. But that’s ok as the process of journaling helped me greatly, to become a more self-reflective and empowered version of myself and that’s why I commend keeping a journal. It is just a tool, but tools like a journal, help us to face up to the challenges of our busy and demanding life, which can all too easily drag us into a passive and victim position, which is not good. So start today, start journaling and taking your power back!