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8. How to REALLY journal for self-reflection.
...and do it regularly-ish.
A lot of advice given out around this usually nudges the reader to just stick with it until they see the light, with promises of happiness, success etc. But in most cases people tend to fall off after the first few days.
The reason for this is not that people don't have the will to stick with Journaling, they do, it's that they don't know what they’re Journaling for.
If a list of instructions is what you’re looking for then feel free to skip the following section. But perhaps you’re interested in how i stumbled across these ideas in the first place, in that case read on.
The first time I smoked weed was also the first time I was completely aware of my senses. I'd like to say that my relationship with journalling (and via journalling, with myself), was made through a period of intense self-reflection. While technically true, the real answer lies in my complicated relationship with marijuana.
My first joint in college: I remember silently walking to my room, putting on my headphones and listening to my favorite music with a new sense of clarity. It was wonderful.
But over the years as my mental headspace soured, i started smoking every day by myself. And each time I got high, I was accosted by wave after wave of anxiety, paranoia and shame regarding various aspects of myself. There's a lot to unpack here but to keep this post on topic, the end result was that i pretty much stopped smoking weed.
Anyone who's felt the paranoia of going down the weed anxiety spiral will tell you, that even though the experience itself is very uncomfortable, it's actually quite hard to keep a track of where our train of thought takes us.
A couple of years ago (in an inquisitive mood) i happened to smoke a bit again with a friend, and felt the downward spiral looming.
“Why don't i type out exactly what i'm thinking as it happens ?”, I thought. After all, i was consigned to having a “bad trip” so might as well document what would happen as well.
So i opened the notes app on my laptop and took another puff.
What happened next was eye opening, as i typed out my stream of consciousness i noticed that i was able to stay with it as opposed to getting lost. And moreover, the thoughts giving me anxiety really didn't have much basis in reality, or at least not as much as i was giving them credit for.
Since then, I’ve adapted this to anytime i feel like i need to make sense of my world and reconnect with where my body/emotions are. Maybe i feel a constant underlying anxiety or sadness, perhaps i’ve just been stuck in a very mechanical place due to work and disconnected to everything else. I have filled in several notebooks and my note taking apps are full of hundreds of streams of raw thought. Some poetic, some unhinged, but all completely raw. And it has helped me understand my own mind, my emotions and to grow mightily as a person.
So let's get into it...
How to REALLY journal regularly for self reflection.
(I recommend keeping your journal conversational, rather than bulleted, at least in the beginning. You’ll eventually figure out your own voice as you write.)
Remove your filterThe reason why most people fail at Journaling is because they're too afraid to write down a truth about themselves that they can't handle. It takes balls to accept not being who you think you are. It takes maturity to accept that it's okay.
This is a conversation between you and only you. The important part here is to make sure that absolutely nothing is off the table, when it comes to your thoughts. If you think it, write it down. I'm adamant that auto-filtering is the most common hurdle that anyone who attempts to journal trips over. Some possibilities are too hard for us to admit, and thus, are hard for us to write down. Because once explicitly written, they become real. We must learn to notice these filters and break them down.
Honesty starts with us, and there’s no point to this practice without it. Be vigilant and self-aware for moments like these.
Curiosity is key.
There are places where your mind wants to go; this reveals a lot, and there are places where your mind avoids going at all costs; this reveals a lot too.
Try to follow trains of though that seem interesting. Curiosity about who you really are under the surface, will help you deal with self imposed filters. If your mind is completely blank, start with anything, the weather even and go from there. If you’re frustrated with what you’re thinking (or not thinking), write that down. Explore your frustration.
If unfiltered thought and curiosity lead you into the maze that is your own mind, noticing patterns of thought is what helps you navigate it.
The first few times these patterns reveal themselves to you, you'll feel lightbulbs go off all around. The maze our mind creates seems random, but actually sprinkled throughout are the same chains of thought repeated over and over again.
Eg. whenever i would start to approach a topic my mind was trying to avoid, my mind would simply go blank. I would write things like "i don't know" or "hmm, what am i thinking right now". Sometimes I’d pop open twitter or just gaze into the distance. Things that we usually classify as “being lazy” or “not having focus” were actually neither, it was an apprehension of some uncomfortable problem or truth. At this point i know that when these patterns appear, i should really dig in. And i’ve had enough lightbulb moments where the curiosity outweighs the apprehension.
When certain patterns repeat, that's a indicator to dig deeper. Leverage your curiosity and lift your filters. Discover yourself.
Some days of course, are a wash, you feel that there's something there but you just can't put your finger on it. This is fine, some truths require time to reveal themselves or a different approach. A lot of it is being aware of how you're feeling as you write. Maybe you feel a ball of anxiety somewhere in your chest, or a static haze all around your body. Being able to verbalize these emotions in a way that makes them tactile, allows you to then play with them. To soften the ball to peer in or to peek into the haze and see what the source is. This works for me but you may figure out your own language to converse with yourself.
Journaling your mind and getting to know it intimately is the art of becoming familiar with yourself. To know who you are as a person at a deeply intimate level. And with this intimacy also comes an acceptance of that person.
When you see the true nature of your mind, it makes it impossible to not be empathetic towards yourself. And all the bravery required to take on such a task translates over to your relationships, your work, everything.
At some point, trying to hide what you know to be true about yourself, feels frivolous. One of the biggest wins for me as a person has been what i feel is a wonderful honesty between myself and the rest of the world. Things that I’d tried to fix through various mindset hacks, philosophies automatically fell into place once i befriended my own mind.
I hope this post has been useful, if you have questions feel free to comment/reply to this post. ^_^
Hey! If you enjoyed this or found this useful. Why not spread the word and give my ego a little hit of that sweet sweet validation.