After a number of “challenging” life changes in 2018 I suddenly found myself a single dad with a beautiful 4-year-old daughter to take care of. We were always very close and I really think I found my calling as a Dad. It’s hands down the most incredible thing I have ever experienced but the circumstances in 2018 took things to another level.
I had to be there for her (emotionally and for the school run) and that meant changing my career, my prospects, my aspirations, my life. It wasn’t easy and change didn’t happen overnight. I had countless dark moments where I really didn’t think I could carry on, my willpower was almost non-existent. But I had to keep going for her while trying to support myself mentally and physically. That’s where the real learning happened.
I have always been interested in personal development, positive mindset and mindfulness but it was time to put theory to the test. So with unbelievable support from my amazing close friends and family (and following a predictable but brief period of self-pity), I took action and slowly began creating a set of powerful habits. It’s no exaggeration to say that this saved me. It slowly turned my life around. But what was the answer? Small steps, and the key habit the foundation that underpinned it all was… keeping a journal.
The Transformational Power of Self Expression
Journalling is widely considered essential to maintaining a healthy, positive outlook. It offers the opportunity to understand our own inner desires without the influence of other people's opinions expectations and beliefs. What you write in your journal is yours and yours alone. You know as you scribble and scrawl your innermost thoughts that no-one will read it and so you feel liberated to offload your anxieties, goals, demons, and dreams completely free of judgement.
Freedom of self-expression is incredibly powerful and incredible scarce in this world. In fact a growing number of GPs, therapists, and addiction experts across the world now advise their clients to journal. I recently received an email from one customer who suffered from fitness addiction, multiple eating disorders and depression that their GP had advised them to start a journal. It is also suggested for patients dementia and to the carers who dutifully devote themselves to them. In short, we would all benefit from this simple process of self-expression through writing.
NHS UK tells us that...”reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.”
Journalling creates self-awareness of your values, beliefs, your world, and your place within it. The very act of journaling keeps you in the moment, creative and focused. Let’s face it most of us know we should journal or if we already do, we know that we should do it more regularly. But where do you start? That’s where the essential skill of habit creation cannot be overestimated.
The Power of Positive Habits
Our lives are run by habits. Once created they allow us to run on autopilot and free our minds while we take care of practical things, driving, food preparation, technology, what we eat, where we shop, our local coffee shop, the friends we speak to. The list is endless and it is all habit. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into bad ones when life gets tough, excessive drinking, smoking, lack of exercise, bad eating patterns, bad relationships.
The good news is that by choosing to form positive, life-affirming ones we can walk a happier path and enjoy the journey. After all we are not always in control of what happens to us yet we should always remember that we hold the power to choose how we live.
Building the habit...
We all have big ideas and good intentions about changing our lives yet we often create overwhelm by setting expectations that cannot be met. Not achieving them leaves us disappointed, remorseful and guilty about our inability to succeed and so we give up.
So here’s a tip: start small. Think like a tortoise and take one tiny step at a time. Simple daily repetition will create neural pathways in your brain that rewire you for happiness. Those tiny steps and the sense of achievement you feel will eventually add up to one almighty journey.
Top Tips for Creating a Journaling Habit
Here are 3 steps to follow that will help you on your path to journaling (don’t concern yourself with what to write, that will come. Habit creation comes first).
Step 1: Create a Visual Cue.
As humans we are influenced by what we see. Marketing companies know this so well so think smart & take advantage of this by placing a notepad or journal on your bedside table (with a pen). You’ll see it at night and in the morning. Eventually, you will write in it.
Step 2: Be Grateful
It’s your journal so you can write anything. No judgement. However, some people are overwhelmed by this blank page syndrome. So start with short lists. Simply write down three things that you are grateful for. It could be anything, your car, a friend, your career, a soft pillow. The very act of thinking positively will steer your mind in the right direction and you’ll most likely find many more than three.
Step 3: Take Tortoise Steps
Spend only 5 minutes of self-reflection in the morning and 5 minutes before your head hits the pillow at night. Setting yourself up to capture perfect prose or poetry can be more overwhelming than helpful. If you just need to write a shopping list then do it. Remember you first need to create the habit and trust the process. Write anything but do it at the same time and same place every day and remember, small steps like the tortoise!
Journalling and mindfulness will enhance your life experience. You simply need to start noticing the life you are already living. Have a grateful day!
Klaus White 'The Tortoise Guy'
Co-founder of The Way of the Tortoise