Monday, August 31, 2015

Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Dyer

Being creative means trusting your own purpose and having an attitude of unbending intent in your daily thoughts and activities. Staying creative means giving form to your personal intentions. A way to start giving them form is to literally put them in writing.  ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, The Power of Intention

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer passed away Saturday, August 29, at the age of 75. His book The Power of Intention has been one of a handful of inspirational books I reread every couple of years.

I purchased this book in 2004 when I was going through leukemia treatment. At that time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted my post-cancer life to look like. Utilizing some of the techniques he describes I returned to acting, working in commercials and a couple independent films, wrote Rebirth, and started a journal writing workshop for cancer survivors, all within a six-year period.

Over the past few years, I have been going through a transitional period, finding myself uninterested in the pursuits that used to occupy my daily thoughts and actions. I have been moving in new directions—a passion for politics and travel, to name a couple—yet still not quite ready to relinquish my past goals and dreams.

It is time to pull out The Power of Intention again and read it—even if only the highlighted sections. It's time to get clear about what I want, to decide down which road I am heading. As always, my journal is the place I will turn to write about and imagine that future. As I've done before, I will write it down and make it happen.

Thank you, Dr. Dyer, for giving me tools and strategies to co-create my life, and yes, for the inspiration!

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Reader Asks: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life? (Part II)

In Part I, I wrote about the importance of being truthful when writing, not censoring one's self. However, I also touched upon editing your writing, grammar and content, should you decide to publish all or part of your journal(s).

My email exchange with Marty also touched upon the audience for whom one writes. He shared with me:

You reminded me of something: the audience for my journals. When I write a journal entry, it's usually just for me, but also with an eye towards someone possibly picking them up and reading them. I remember one journal book (I have several completed) where I wrote on the inside cover something like "This journal is for Marty's eyes only, but if I'm dead, go ahead and read it. I won't care!" So there's always a lot of humor in them because in the back of my mind I have this weird expectation that someone is going to read them. Sometimes I'll write to make that mystery person laugh, or I'll deliberately put something in there to make myself laugh. It sounds conceited, and it probably is, but often I'll go back through my Facebook "Today in the Past" posts and find some silly status from five or more years ago that I'll have completely forgotten about, but it will just make me laugh. I guess that's what I do with my journals too, though I rarely reread them.

But the "mystery audience" is also a reason I will sometimes censor things, in the rare moments when my journals actually get that interesting. I'll really need to go back and read things to get a sense of what I leave out, because I think I'll be able to tell.

For those of us who consider ourselves writers, and maybe anyone who keeps a journal feels the same, it is natural to think of who may read our most personal thoughts, the struggles we are ashamed to share with anyone, or our darkest secrets. Will those readers be family and friends or strangers and what will be their reaction? Do we plan to publish parts or the entirety of our diaries? These are all considerations. 

It is tempting, when an audience is in the front of your mind, to be less than honest with yourself. I try to avoid censorship because I know that no one will read my journals—I live alone and they are stored on a shelf in my closet that the nieces and nephews are still too short to reach without a stool. Like Marty, my thinking is that once I'm dead, I won't care if anyone reads them. In fact, I like to believe that even the revelation of my negative qualities and experiences will serve to remind others that we are all human and quite fallible. We possess strength and weakness. We hide struggles and internal conflict from others, especially those closest to us. 

The downside is that someone you love may read a negative entry about themselves or some conflict that occurred with them that may not have found resolution. How will they respond to it? Hopefully, the relationship was strong enough that they understand the complexities of human interactions, misunderstandings, and hurtful behavior. I know I would, or like to think I would, be that understanding. Perhaps forgiveness, especially of one's self, can happen in this instance.

A while back, my nephew Andrew, who is now eleven, asked me if he could have my journals when I die. I laughed and told him probably not, at least not now at his young age. Upon further reflection, I am thinking maybe entrusting him with them at age twenty-five, should I no longer be on this earth then or thereafter. (I’d have to put those instructions in a will.) He was curious enough to ask, and it was flattering that he showed interest. He is curious, and I can imagine it would be thrilling to read my “secret” thoughts. (That makes me laugh, Marty.) Andrew has shown interest in writing a book, even at the tender age of nine, so bestowing my journal collection to his care is definitely something I am considering. 

Contemplating this and making a decision about it, leads me back to the audience. Even if I refrain from censoring the content, do I try to make it entertaining or provide some moral to the conflict or struggles with which I am dealing? In the end, I write for myself and make it compelling, even amusing, all while learning something from my experiences.

Nieces and nephews, Christmas 2012. This journal was a gift I received Christmas 2013 - Andrew is 2nd from the left. 

Marty returned to the idea of rereading one's journal at the end of our exchange: 

I stopped for a few minutes right before this paragraph and pulled out the journal that I keep in my bag. It's the most recent one I've worked on. The first entry is from March 8, 2009, right after Ryan came home from his 9 weeks in the NICU after his birth.The most recent entry is from Jan. 28, 2013, so I've been a bit out of the habit. But WOW! I did find this gem from March 10, 2009, when Ryan would have been home for about four days and was just over two months old:

"Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the rocking chair holding Ryan just after a feeding. We were listening to a CD the choir gave us at the baby shower they threw for us on February 26. The song 'Puff the Magic Dragon' came on, which is a sad song anyway, but I was looking at Ryan's little face, his perfect little eyes shut in little slits as he slept in my arms, and I was overwhelmed by his innocence, the newness of his life, and the loss of innocence in the song. It could have also been the fatigue, or the reality of the past nine weeks finally setting in on me, but I began to cry for several minutes. The next song, 'Child of Mine' by Carole King, which has beautiful, tender lyrics, only made the crying worse. It was a nice moment though." Okay, THAT made rereading my journal worth it.

Yes, Marty, it is worth it. Your journal is a treasure trove of memories, wonderful and sometimes devastating. It is the story of you, and that is a gift you can leave to Ryan, should you decide to do so. Happy writing, my friend.

Related articles:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/reason #7)

Tip #7: Journal writing is a tool for self-expression and emotional release. 

Journal writing is a wonderful way to express one's emotions. Some people are comfortable verbalizing what they are feeling whereas others are more reticent about openly sharing feelings and thoughts. This is when journaling can be beneficial. It allows for the release of pent up emotions, positive or negative.

There are times when no one is available to talk to about a problem or share concerns and sorrow or fear. During my cancer treatment period, I often found myself alone and awake in the middle of the night, haunted by what-ifs and anxious about the future. My journal was where I turned, while others slept, to pour out all the unsettling thoughts and emotions building up inside of me. I always felt better after writing or typing about them.

Furthermore, because a journal is for your eyes only, you can be as brutally honest about what you are experiencing, and therein lies the value of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard: it is healing. Write it down and let it go.

Note: Journaling can be an effective self-therapy tool. However, it is no substitute for professional help should you need it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Reader Asks: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life? (Part I)

Recently I received a question, a couple actually, from my friend Marty about journaling. I admit I was honored that he would reach out to me for advice. I thought his question would make for an excellent blog post so I am reprinting what he wrote, with his permission. His questions, a follow-up email message, and my responses will comprise a two-part post.

Marty's questions: Every now and then I get the urge to journal. I may keep it up for a few days, but I always fall out of the habit. Most of the time my journal ends up being very humdrum "here's what I did today" with occasional bouts of philosophizing, but not much of that. My question is, do you go back and read through your old entries? Obviously you must because you wrote a book based on that concept. My trouble is that when I go back and read what I wrote years earlier, I can't stand the sound of my own "voice." More depressingly, I don't feel like I've changed at all. I know I have, but it's sad because I want to think I more mature, more enlightened. All of that is probably a subconscious reason I don't journal with any consistency. I think I journaled the entire first year of Ryan's [his son] life though. That might be a good one to go back and read. I'm not sure what I am asking you, but I guess it's this: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life?

Response:  I understand your feelings, Marty. Similar questions came up frequently in the journaling workshops I conducted a few years ago.  

First, I reread journal entries all the time, many of which are cringe-worthy. However, by reading them I realize how much I've grown. Yes, there are persistent issues and patterns that seem to be stuck on repeat and those are the ones I resolve to keep working on, or eventually, end up accepting that it is just part of who I am and live with it. I believe acceptance is growth too, right, being aware there are parts of your personality that aren't going to change? 

Second, people assume keeping a journal requires they write every day and that the content must be important and literary. That is false. I go months sometimes without writing in my journal. In fact, I have barely written in my diary since returning from Europe on May 10, and most of what has been written is quite mundane. It is important to eliminate any judgment about the quality or quantity of your writing. 

Sometimes one doesn't feel like putting pen to paper or typing on a keyboard. Still, at these times I try to make myself write for at least three to five minutes. Often I end up writing for much longer periods and filling ten to twenty pages. At other times, there is nothing worthy to jot down, so I put the journal away. That's okay too.  

These journals are just for you, right? Of course, you would probably choose to do some editing should you decide to publish them. I did for Rebirth. There are many ways to journal aside from writing in a notebook. For instance, you have a social media presence. Reviewing past posts on Facebook is a great way to reflect on what is important in your life. Your posts are often funny and clever, which reveals that you have a wonderful sense of humor and that you use humor to make sense of this crazy world. That's valuable self-information and a terrific character trait and point of view to pass on to Ryan.

Furthermore, there is no one correct way to journal. It can be done on paper, the computer, a blog, via audio or video. I have been using my blogging lately in lieu of writing in a book because it is a form of journaling. I write about what is important to me, what is affecting the quality of my personal or professional life or my reaction to current events or politics.

I hope some of this is helpful. Find what works for you: frequency of writing, the form, and the content. I like to think I am decent writer, but when I reread my journals, often times they are not up to my standards either. That is because I am not writing for an audience. I am writing for me and so grammar, sentence structure, all of that goes out the window. Don't worry about that and more importantly, don't censor yourself. Write whatever comes to mind, even the ugly stuff. There are no set rules, except one (at least for me) and it bears repeating: don't censor yourself. 

I'll address writing for an audience in Part II, since my exchange with Marty touched on that as well. 

Related post:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Journal Writing Round-up: Three Articles

I am always searching for articles that outline the benefits of journal writing or ways to use journaling to improve one's life, career, or relationships. Recently, I came upon these three and provide a brief excerpt below the title. Click on the title to read the entire article. Enjoy.

Ditch perfection: "Your notebook is not meant to be a manuscript or memoir, but rather a place where you can "brain dump" ideas, organize your day and spark your creativity. It is not going to be a work of art archived in the Smithsonian, so don’t treat it as such."

Write in your journal. "No, not the “dear diary” kind of entries. Keeping a journal is a practice that can help you process the day and make sense of your thoughts. Keep your journal in the nightstand and every night take a few minutes to review the day’s triumphs and write down what you’re grateful for that day.

Don’t make this a boring, unthoughtful experience. Think of it as a nightly meditation -- just two minutes of reflection thinking about the day’s highlights and writing them down will transform your waking and sleeping thought. It’s part of a wealthy lifestyle to appreciate all the great things of the day: doors held open, great conversations had." 

""The act of writing is more powerful than people think," Peterson says.

Most people grapple at some time or another with free-floating anxiety that saps energy and increases stress. Through written reflection, you may realize that a certain unpleasant feeling ties back to, say, a difficult interaction with your mother. That type of insight, research has shown, can help locate, ground and ultimately resolve the emotion and the associated stress.

At the same time, "goal-setting theory" holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #6)

Tip #6 - Research shows that expressive writing has health benefits.

Numerous studies have confirmed that expressive writing produces health benefits, such as a strengthened immune system, increased lung and liver function, increased cognitive function, reduced stress and blood pressure, improved mood, decreased symptoms of arthritis and asthma, and increased well-being in cancer survivors. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if the writing topic is positive or negative. Healing benefits are derived as long as you involve the emotions. Therefore, journaling is a wonderful self-therapy tool, though not a substitute for professional help, if necessary.

You can read more about this in my Journaling through Cancer article in the March/April 2011 issue of Coping® with Cancer magazine.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I recommend Expressive Writing: Words that Heal by James W. Pennebaker, PhD and John F. Evans, Ed.D.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

5 reasons to journal (a recap)

I’m heading out on vacation this week and have little time to write so though I’d do a quick recap of the first 4 reasons to keep a journal and 1 tip. Click on the reason or tip to read more about each. Never fear, there will be more reasons to journal and many tips for doing so posted in the coming weeks.

  1. It's an easy way to record your life.
  2. It's a tool for working through life's challenges.
  3. Here's one strategy for tackling a problem.
  4. Use your journal to set and define goals.
  5. It's a safe place to express frustration and anger

Until next week, keep on writing, or start.