Category Archives: Journaling

“To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.” – William James

Well, hello, there. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?! One year and ten months, to be exact. I have to say, I’m not surprised. For one, the last 22 months have been almost overwhelmingly chaotic, filled with many wonderful changes (residential, professional, marital!) and challenges. It’s been non-stop hectic, but I can hardly complain – I get bored easily, enjoy chaos for the most part, and my best friend once told me that my motto should be “too much is never enough.” And, in the tough times, I’ve found that my father’s advice is as salient as ever: GO WITH BEAUTY. 

So here I am – back on the blog. Mae West is quoted as having said, “The good girls keep diaries. The bad girls don’t have the time.” As someone who has diaries dating back to age 4, I’d think I’m part of that former group. But, as someone whose diaries generally begin with the sentence “Okay, I’m trying again, in a new book, and this time, I’m really going to be good about writing every day!” and then, after five or ten entries, remain completely blank – I am confused about where I land. Perhaps it is a polarity – I’m somewhere in the middle.

And so, that’s where I will begin, here and now – somewhere in the middle. In the past, when restarting a journal, I felt as if I was required (by who? someone unknown, and especially judgmental, future me!?) to “catch the reader up,” to write up a summary of “what’s happened since [insert date of last entry].” This summary was usually in bullet form, and exhausting to write; many times, I didn’t even make it past the review itself, growing weary of recapping what I hadn’t had time to record in the first place.

Another inclination, from my typical diary M.O., has been to start fresh in a new book. The equivalent here, I suppose, would be a new blog, a new URL, a new way to convince myself that I didn’t really just give this up for the better part of two years – I just wanted something different. But that’s not true. I did give it up, and it’s good that I did – because a lot of wonderful things came about in the in-between.

Just this morning, a few things happened: a colleague asked me to write something for a project that he is working on and may want to post online… and I visited a friend’s wonderful blog and saw that she had a few stop-and-starts on her posting timeline… and I was feeling sort of stressed and upset about some news from my doctor – until I remembered to GO WITH BEAUTY. And then all of these things came together, leading me to type www.gowithbeauty.com into a browser that didn’t even recognize the web address. And why would it?! I’d never even visited my own site on my new laptop.

So, hello, again, to you and to me. Welcome back to my exercise in being patient with myself, in giving myself permission to be human, in playing with ideas and thoughts in a semi-public space, in remembering that starting over isn’t always necessary.

After all, it’s by picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off, and starting again that we really learn and grow and change for the better, that we move toward beauty.  So let’s begin, again, immediately, flamboyantly – no exceptions.

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January Reflection

As the first month of the year winds down, it allows for a nice moment of reflection. Days, weeks, even months, seem to pass by in a blink. While we recommend keeping a gratitude journal – and making it a daily practice – we know that getting started can be tough, especially if you have a lot of other goals and resolutions that you wish to achieve.

This week’s reflection is just as relevant for those who have kept a gratitude journal and those who haven’t. All it requires is that you spend a few moments looking back over the past month, and that you pinpoint a few standout memories from the first 31 days of 2015.

Find yourself a quiet place, and a comfortable place to sit. Fold yourself into whatever position suits your needs, just as long as your back is straight and you can take some deep diaphragmatic breaths. Allow yourself to settle in for a minute or two, focusing only on your breathing. Enjoy the feeling of your belly expanding as you take air in, and, as you exhale, enjoy the peaceful feeling of the completion of that breath, pausing before you inhale again. Once you have slowed your breathing a bit, and feel focused, turn your attention to the past month.

Even if you had a tough month, overall, there have surely been some moments of joy, of celebration, of connection, that can elicit feelings of gratitude and warmth when you look back at them. Perhaps you had a great family dinner just before everyone headed back to work and school after the holiday break. Maybe you joined a running club as part of a get-fit resolution, and you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy conversations with your new friends during long runs. Maybe just this morning you found yourself smiling back at your puppy, amazed at his ability to greet every day with unbridled joy and thrilled that he shares that joy with you.

In your mind, walk back through the last 31 days. If you remember a less-than-terrific moment, breathe in as you remind yourself that it was just a moment within a full, well-rounded month, and as you exhale, let go of your thoughts about it, turning to another, more positive moment.

Allow yourself to smile as you recall moments of loveliness. Smile as you remember laughing at lunch with your father, smile as you think about getting a hug from your friend, smile when you remember how proud you were when you finally made a perfect poached egg. Big or small, these moments made up the happy parts of your month. Smile as you think of them, and continue to breathe deeply.

After a few minutes, or when you feel ready, take a final few deep breaths, and open your eyes. Spend a few minutes jotting down the strongest, most positive memories, the ones that made you smile most. We recommend keeping track of these memories in a hand-written notebook (ideally one specifically for writing down highlights of 2015, and gratitudes from the year; you’ll love looking back on it in 2016). But even keeping a running Word document on your laptop will make for a nice repository of memories.

Try this meditation on the last day of each month. Give yourself permission to make mistakes or work with your calendar; if you end up running through your memories a day early or a day late, that’s fine!

Just be sure to set aside a few minutes, and you will have many happy answers to the age-old question, “Where does the time go?”

The Case for Journals

As someone who has kept a diary on and off since the age of 4, I can vouch for the fact that reading about everyday events from the past is really wonderful. It is a pleasure to see when and how I was writing, what I was focusing on, who I mention in my entries. It’s also nice to be able to “account for” my days throughout the years when I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday. In fact, I just realized, while typing this, that I haven’t yet had lunch today!

This article from the NY Times’ OpTalk page (which happily cites Pennebaker, of course), looks into new research that shows that “recording our run-of-the-mill, daily experiences, rather than just our highs and lows, could bring us unexpected joy.” Ting Zhang and colleagues asked people to write two short journal entries (what they did and how they felt): one on Valentine’s Day and another on a “regular” day. Subjects were then asked to rate how “extraordinary” each day was – and how much they felt they would enjoy reading each entry in the future. Perhaps because the afterglow from boxes of chocolate is so strong, subjects did not feel that they would enjoy recounting their everyday experiences as much as they would a “special” day. However, according to the study, “ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time, whereas perceptions of extraordinary events did not change across time.”

There is a certain beauty in the time capsule that is a journal and, if you use a traditional book and a pen, that beauty comes nicely packaged in your own handwriting. (Handwriting can be enjoyable to examine, as well – messy writing from journaling on a bumpy train while abroad; neat writing while penning a swooning entry about your new love interest.) Looking back on how you mentioned your fiancé in an entry well before you really got to know each other, or smiling while you remember that you used to do the dishes every night together before you got a dishwasher, or reading about how much you used to hate waking up for the class that led you to choose your current career – these are unique glimpses of the sweetness and serendipity of our lives.

Hindsight is hardly 20/20. As we move down a road, the things behind us get smaller and distorted. Reading our own words, from a “real-time” journal entry, helps us to avoid needing to squint as we look backwards on our own journey. We don’t need to piece together the fuzzy clues and memories; we can read it right there on the page. Even glancing back over your Day Planner as the year comes to a close can be rewarding. It’s pretty cool to know that you on April 18, you met your brother for coffee at that place you’d been meaning to try, and on October 2, you and your partner went to dinner with his cousins. Rereading journals, noting these little moments that might have been missed memories, instead cements them in our brains, allowing them to become part of our personal narrative. At the very least, they become a nice thing to reflect on.

Day slip by, weeks race on, years pass in a blink. We can’t control it, but we can use journals to be more mindful of the time we have. So find the type of journal that works for you and give it a try.

This research does more than support my love for recording life. It supports my true belief that even, and especially, in the “ordinary” lives the “extraordinary.” It’s just a matter of how you look at it and, perhaps, when.

The Case for Journals: Types of Journals

Interested in keeping a journal? Some journal types to try:

– Basic Journal: pen and paper, generally bound in a book. Write as much or as little as you’d like. Skip a week or write twice a day. Record daily events, record “extraordinary” days. Maybe include some Doodles. Up to you.

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– Art Journal: often pen and a book, as well, this is mostly drawings. Can be used to harness your creative thoughts, or to record the Basic Journal events using visual art.

– Poetry Journal: no need to show this to anyone. But if you liked writing poetry as a teenager, and sometimes feel like you don’t have the creative outlet that is right for you, give this a shot.

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– Phone Journal: we’re on our phones half the day anyway. Open up the Notes apps, or find a journal app, and use the moments on line at the store, or a few evening minutes as you wind down from the day, to type out a few thoughts on your personal current events.

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– Computer Journal (aka The Doogie Journal): if you, like Doogie Howser, would prefer to wind down each day by entering your thoughts and lessons-learned onto your computer, go for it! You may want to password-protect, and be sure not to use your work laptop for this purpose.

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– Gratitude Journal/Went-Well Journal: as I mentioned in my last post, these journals can be very relaxing – and they are proven to increase your happiness levels. Every night (or morning), jot down 3-5 things for which you are grateful from that day. (For Well Wells, write 3-5 things that, yep, went well that day.) These can be serious things (“Sara’s biopsy results were fine.”) or more day-to-day gratitudes (“Nick made the bed this morning.”). With a few days, the results of priming yourself to seek out more things for the list (i.e., priming yourself to find the positives in every day), will be evident.

– Day Planner (aka Tiny Writing Journal): maybe you already keep a Day Planner or use a calendar/scheduler online or on your computer (I do both, but that’s another story), and maybe you don’t want to have another book to think about every day. No worries. Just make sure to record some personal stuff, in addition to your professional obligations. (Note: be sure to do this in a private way; your colleagues don’t need to see that Wednesday at 9pm is “snuggle time” every time they try to schedule a meeting with you.) Easy things to note: what you ate for lunch or dinner, what you wore, who you talked to on the train, what the weather was like, and for all of these, how you felt about it. Easy entrée into the world of journaling. When you get tired of squeezing your thoughts into writing small enough to fit into the little calendar boxes, I suggest finding a thin Moleskine or Muji notebook and starting with the Basic Journal! You’ll be smiling about last June’s trip to the beach in no time.

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Muji Notebooks: 4 for $4
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Moleskine notebooks: 3 for $8.95; each book has pockets and some pages are detachable

Tips for a Positive Start to the Week

Mondays are tough. We often have an earlier start to the day than we did during the two days before, and we often head off to work first thing – and we often aren’t very happy about any of it. Here are a few things to try that might make Mondays more bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

Gratitude Journals

Rather than grumbling about our early rising or activities for the day, try listing your gratitudes (keeping your gratitude journal) first thing. I am constantly recommending that people keep a gratitude journal, and my general advice is to make the list before bed. But the challenge that Monday presents to most people lends itself well to gratitude journals.

Unsure of how to come up with gratitudes first thing in the morning, before – you might say – anything has even happened? Well, how about these: Did you wake up from an alarm that you set? Congratulations! I used to work with children in need who would ask how they were supposed to get to school on time when their family had no alarm clock (plug-in or via phone) to rouse them from sleep. You have one? Fantastic! Happy day! Did you get up, stumble to the bathroom, and turn on hot, clean water for a shower? Get grateful; 780 million people lack access to clean water for drinking or cooking, never mind taking a long hot shower to start the day. (In case your Monday math skills are a bit fuzzy, 780 milion is 2 1/2 times the US population.) But lucky you! You got up and had a shower. Terrific day! Did your kids’ bus come late, leaving you waiting outside, checking your watch, and wondering if you would make it in on time? Maybe. But did you also get another precious few moments to see your children, a rare chance to talk with them for a bit longer in the morning? Yes? Well, look at that! Three gratitudes and we haven’t even addressed the fact that you likely had food to eat, coffee to drink, clean clothes to put on, and and job to go to in the first place. If you’re employed, even if you would prefer to be employed elsewhere, that’s something to be grateful for. We can always change our career path (more on that later), and we can always change our mindset (more on that later, too.) Changing our mindset about things – like how we view extra moments with the ones we love or how we view Monday mornings – can make a world of difference to our happiness.

Went Wells

And if gratitude journals aren’t your thing? Research shows that keeping a list of What Went Well works, too (Seligman, 2011). And yes – this can be done shortly after waking, or on your way to work. Did your alarm go off? Great! Better than that time the power went out and you slept through a meeting. Did you actually get to bed on time last night? Hooray! Nice way to kick off the week. Keeping track of what doesn’t suck, what doesn’t let us down, can be very effective, especially when we spend a lot of our time focusing on what didn’t work out. Start the week off with a bang by focusing on the better stuff.

Fresh Air

As we close out summer and look forward to changing leaves, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin spice mania, we must also accept that evenings come sooner and days grow shorter. Try getting outside every morning, especially while the weather still permits a 10 minute walk sans parka! Take some deep breaths, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you (even city sounds are more interesting if you close your eyes and pay attention), and enjoy a few moments of fresh air. Several years ago, I was living in a lovely apartment building with the luxury of an attached, indoor parking garage. Each morning, I would get into my car, drive to work, park underneath my building, and take the elevator to my office. Each evening, I would reverse the process. I liked that I could avoid what was at the time a miserable winter chill, but it took almost a week of this routine for me to realize that I had had virtually no fresh air for days, only filtered, heated air in either my apartment, office, or car. I also hadn’t allowed myself the opportunity to interact with people outside of my office or home! Getting outside provides us with a chance to increase our luck, develop our creativity, and better our health (info on all of that coming soon). So go for it: have your morning coffee outside, park further away from the office, get lunch from somewhere a few blocks away rather a place close by, take the kids to the park, or enjoy some quiet time on a solo run tonight. Making this a practice on Monday makes it more likely that we will continue this healthy habit throughout the coming week.

So there you go! A few easy things to try today. Take a moment during lunch to start a gratitude or went well list, and then make sure to get outside. And if you simply can’t get away from whatever is keeping you busy today (do try again tomorrow!), just “set wide the window… [and] drink the day.”

x Jessica

"Set wide the window. Let me drink the day." Edith Wharton