Dear Diary: The Background
Journals and diaries have been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. I have old-fashioned key & lock diaries going back to my childhood and spiral notebooks, date books, and ‘blank’ books now chalked full of my musings, reflections, inner struggles, and dream work. I have made notes on everything from what I wore to high school each day to the boyfriends that broke my heart to the yoga teachers whose classes I attended. But more than a daily chronicle of my life, the pen and page offered me an important refuge, the place I go to sort through my thoughts and develop an action plan.
In the early 1990’s, I began to study the process of reflective writing with more of an academic orientation. Specifically, I was interested in the therapeutic and creative benefits of journal writing, and how it could be used as a tool for personal growth. For a general overview, read Uses and Benefits of Journal Writing.
Through my own experience, I knew its power and I wanted to learn more. I devoured books and articles investigating the therapeutic efficacy of journal writing. I completed the Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Program. I participated in one of the first national conferences on journaling in San Diego in 1993, attended panel discussions, and engaged in in-depth writing retreats. I was a voracious consumer of any materials I could find on the subject of reflective writing.
Based on my studies, I created a journaling program to share my passion. I began to teach adult continuing education courses at our local community center, as well as at the continuing ed department for the joint campuses of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI). I conducted therapeutic trainings for alcohol and drug addiction counselors, gave lectures for the Jungian Society, taught reflective writing for seniors, and spoke at writers’ conferences. I had experienced the transformative effects of journaling in my own life, and I began to witness it in others. It is a magical process.
Get Started Writing
(… and yes, Lisa, I mean YOU too!)
Staring at a blank page can be daunting and just getting started can be a challenge for many people. As with many therapeutic modalities, there are definite techniques you can employ to initiate the writing process and to guide your exploration of an issue. The specific technique you choose to work with often depends on your particular goals, but first, you just have to get started.
One way to establish a regular writing practice is to simply respond to preset reflective questions. In this way, you use the questions as a prompt and you don’t have to think about “what to write.” Further, you can use the repetition of the journaling exercise to analyze patterns and trends in your life. This periodic check-in can then serve as a foundation for deeper exploration.
Your questions can come from all sorts of inspiration ~ from self-help books to scriptural texts ~ but here’s a great place to start. Last spring, I stumbled onto Alex Shalman’s blog, Practical Personal Development. (A link to his blog can be found in my “Worth Noting” sidebar.) This site contains all sorts of gems and wisdom for self-improvement, and I find wonderful inspiration on everything from relationships to time management to health and fitness. Alex Shalman is a great advocate for reflective writing, and one of his suggestions is to conduct a weekly self assessment:
“Self reflection should be more than a minor consideration if you’re serious about personal growth … How else am I supposed to make improvements, if I don’t know where I’ve gone wrong in the past? Many people try to ignore past errors, but then history repeats itself, as we all know.”
Weekly Assessment Questions
1. What will I try to improve on next week?
2. What was I most proud of this week?
3. What was my biggest accomplishment this week?
4. What have I done to get closer to my life goals this week?
5. What was hard for me this week, and why?
6. What was my biggest waste of time this week?
7. What did I do this week that made me ashamed?
To read the full text Alex Shalman’s article, go to Seven Questions That Will Change Your Life. With the regular consideration of these questions ~ Shalman suggests every Sunday night ~ he purports that we will become more conscious to move forward and create the life that we want. If a journal can help you do that, why not pull out a pen and paper and try it?!
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Journal This: Use the seven questions above to begin a self-assessment record. Commit to revisiting the questions again next week and through the month of September. TODAY is Sunday so get going!
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Stay Tuned … I will continue to look at journaling techniques in upcoming posts. Additionally, this fall I plan to offer a journaling workshop in the south Austin area. Please contact me for more information.