Do Something, Write (A Journal)

Journaling. Like so many of the habits I keep to stay productive (and sane), it’s something I would never have imagined myself doing five or so years ago.

Today, I’m an adherent of positive psychology, and I have been attempting to implement its principles in my life over the last couple of years. If I can change my outlook to a more positive one and perhaps bring ten percent of the energy Shawn Achor brings to his TED-talk on the subject to my writing, then I know I’m on the right track.

Currently, I am on my longest and most successful run of journaling yet. I started roughly three months ago. Someone gave me a fancy notepad, and when I saw it I thought, “This will be my new journal” – immediately followed by – “What rules should I set for it? How much should I write? What am I allowed to write?” I spent a couple of days in serious deliberation, then I took a step back and looked at myself. I was doing it again. Planning to overachieve and setting myself up for failure.

I sat down right then and there and wrote the following:

The whole point is that if you wait with starting until the perfect time, you’ll never start.

So here we go.

It doesn’t have to be clever or brilliant. It doesn’t have to be deep or meaningful. It can simply be about putting words on a piece of paper.

That’s what a writer does.

For this book, there are only two rules: write every day and finish on a positive note.

Write about what you’ve learned. Write about how you feel. Write about what you’ve accomplished. When you feel bad, write to identify and defuse negative feelings. When you feel good, write to remember.

And that’s it. When the rules are simple, you can keep it up. Some entries are just a few sentences. Some are several pages. There’s a long rant about how I feel like shit followed by: “Don’t forget to smile, asshat!” (And that did make me smile).

I’ve missed a few days here and there, but that’s life. You’re going to drop the ball, and that’s okay. You’re not writing to hit a word count or beat the world record in ‘most consecutive days journaling’. You’re writing because it makes you feel better.

And it works. I’ve seen the changes it has had on how I think and feel, and if you don’t trust me, trust science*.

If you want to learn more about positive psychology, I can recommend Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage. It’s down-to-earth, funny, and convincing.

So, do you keep a journal? Or do you think that maybe it’s time to start?

* For example: Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing
Karen A. Baikie, Kay Wilhelm. Check out the summary of possible benefits in Box 2.

Do Something, Write

Are you trying to make huge changes in your life overnight and completely failing? Congratulations. It is now confirmed that you are in possession of a human brain. Don’t get too excited, though. This is definitely a good news – bad news type of situation.

The good news is that the human brain is hardwired with the capacity to alter its neural pathways, enacting lasting change to your behaviour and consequently, your thoughts and feelings. Our brains’ ability to physically alter itself is called neuroplasticity.

The bad news? Like everything else in life worth a damn, you’re going to have to work for it.

Unlike computers, we can’t load a program and alter our knowledge or behaviour instantly (yet). But you probably already knew that because the last time you tried to make sweeping changes to your lifestyle, it didn’t go so well.

Let’s see. Today is Thursday. I’ll treat myself to a lazy weekend with lots of ice cream, and on Monday I’ll start getting up early, eating healthy, and going to the gym.

The problem is that we’re not built to make big, sweeping changes. We’re built to make small, slow ones that stack up over time.

In a way, this is good news, too. You can let go of that breath you’ve been holding for the last decade or so and stop setting goals completely change your life overnight because science says you won’t reach them.

You should instead set an utterly achievable goal. For example, if you want to write more, you can challenge yourself to write something – anything – every day for two weeks. And as long as you sit down, put a pen to the paper and wrote a single sentence, you have hit your goal. You see, the initial purpose is not to achieve amazing results but to build a habit. And as far as establishing a habit goes, your brain can’t tell the difference between a complete short story and a few dozen words on a post-it note.

“Mission successful. I call it my poo haiku.”

And the best part is that since your new habit is so ridiculously simple, you can start it today.

Or as I like to sum it up: Don’t make big changes tomorrow, make small changes today.

That’s so profound, it should have its own yoga sunset meme!

Okay, I made one.

You have my sincere apologies for that.

I’ll be talking more about building and maintaining habits in the future, but for now: What habit do you want to build?