How to Journal for a Better Self

How to Journal, Document Life, and Write Yourself to Better Mental Health

How Do I Start Journaling?

Apart from breathwork, or maybe walking, journaling must be one of the cheapest self-help practices that exist. But is it naive to believe that you can simply write yourself to better mental health?

When I started journaling, it was a space for me to vent and complain about every possible downfall of the day. I didn’t hold back when detailing the extent of how people had wronged me, or to that end, how the world was certainly ending. I didn’t realise I was conveniently reinforcing my own negative cognitive biases about my life, writing my thoughts as concretely as if they were facts. 

Recently, my journaling style has become more of a logical process of identifying problematic or stagnant areas of life and finding a subsequent resolution to them. This has been a game-changer. Now, I still document all thoughts and feelings, but it’s my response to them that has transformed – both while journaling and in daily life. 

It’s important to document the entire spectrum of feelings, rather than just frustration, anxiety, and anger. 

When is the Best Time to Journal?

The practice of ‘Morning Pages’ was coined by artist Julia Cameron to mean just that: three pages written in the morning. She advocated this ritual practice, as one that doesn’t appear creative at first but intends to make space for documenting consciousness. This results in the development of new ideas and awakenings. 

Three pages of long-form writing are comparable to the thought-catching technique I mentioned earlier in the blog. Essentially, this process of tracking thoughts is incredibly beneficial for creating a renewed awareness of exactly what your internal monologue is saying. 

Granted, I have never made it to the third page. By the second page, I have most likely convinced myself that I have no more thoughts left to write about, which is certainly not true. However, the practice in itself is highly stimulating and certainly sets the tone for renewal at the start of the day. 

One of my favourite content creators, Ali Abdaal, recoins ‘Morning Pages’ as his ‘Brain dump’. For some reason, this transforms journaling from something previously archaic into a genuine practice where we can speak our truth. 

As a writer, it also feels essential to clean out any toxic waste piling up in my mental space, before I even attempt to start the day. Residual angst or harboured grudges tend to directly impact my writing style and even how productive in the day. 

I consider myself a morning person – whatever stereotypes of me that evokes, I write better in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not part of the 5 am club but, for me, it makes sense to wake up and almost immediately set intentions for the day. 

However, there seems to be no hard and fast rule, a daily journal works best when it is written, no matter the time. 

How Do I Write a Journal?

In my mind, journaling has always been such a personal thing, which leads me to believe that advising someone how to write one is somewhat counter-intuitive. 

At the same time, receiving guidance on how to structure my writing and thoughts has always been beneficial for me, as I’m sure it will be for you. 

I’ve found that separating your thoughts into three categories can be highly effective:

  • Thoughts: space for documenting your conscious thought-processing – any worries, anxiety, shame, guilt, joy, elation, can all be documented here. 
  • Intentions: once the entire spectrum of your thoughts have been released onto the page, then you can start to frame your focus on the day ahead. You might start to ask: what do I want to achieve today? What can I do for myself today? What should I prioritise today? 
  • Manifestations: once you’ve covered these short-term intentions, it’s good to remember your overall life goals that sometimes get lost in the daily grind. 

Take-aways

I hope you enjoyed this post and as always, thank you for visiting this blog page. 

As you can see, journaling is one of the most accessible methods of self-help that exist. Maybe as a writer, I am biased but I think there is something truly powerful in documenting consciousness and thoughts as they enter our mental landscape. 

Whether you explore this with a talking journal or alternative methods not suggested in this post, the ultimate goal is to reach a sense of heightened awareness. This means checking in with yourself regularly and building a stable foundation to operate from in daily life. 

Please comment, like and subscribe for more content about self-help and developing conscious awareness. 

Hiking in Los Guájares – How To Experience Nature For Healing & Growth

Stillness is disrupted by hazardous steps on the matted, pine needle floor, discarded by the canopy overhead.

Murmering crickets pause at my passing, a wondering wombat in their midst.

Here, nature is both constant and temporary; welcoming and foreboding, alive and dead.

Another paradox exists: a desire to observe nature and a will to document, record and articulate it.

Nature evokes a staggering awareness of ‘the self’, so much so that my restless mind feels out of place.

In the past I have, admittedly, avoided time in nature because it fills me with existential thoughts – I don’t have to say, do, or be anything in nature.

No expectations or standards here, and this is incredibly disarming.

Nature asks nothing of me.

Humanity & Nature

The notion of The Sublime, was one explored extensively by Romanticists in the Victorian era; captured by the sentiment that nature is magnificent, filling us with awe and terror, in equal measure.

In Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor’s description of the blasted tree always stuck with me:

I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak […] and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump.”

In nature, we are forced to confront the wild condition, the ever-changing fragility of things. We are positioned in dualities of comfort and danger – a thorn in my foot, or a new scratch on my ankle.

Comfort & Risk

In modern society, we create for ourselves a supreme value of ultimate comfort, security and safety. In turn, closing off the destabilising nature of risk and the inevitability of change.

We can curate nature with a simple potted plant and refine the garden to our liking. We can make the wild thing more palatable and acceptable for human consumption.

But by entering the mountains, we can reach a level of awareness, freely provided, where we can decide whether we are satisfied with ourselves, the way we lead our lives, and our current path.

By sitting on a rock instead of a comfy sofa, the sharp, craggy edges prod and poke us into the realisation that we are in a constant state of being.

Life is constantly in motion, but it’s only at the moment of pause that we can reflect on the journey thus far.

Take-aways

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, I really appreciate your support.

This article was a little different to my previous ones, so do let me know what you thought in the comments section below.

If you weren’t previously, I hope you are now feeling inspired to venture into nature! 

The Great Underpaid – Essential Advice for 2021 Graduates

Let’s start with a song. Frank Sinatra take it away please:

“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet

A pawn and a king

I’ve been up and down and over and out

And I know one thing”

I could not sum up my experience of job hunting more accurately if I tried. 

Except my anthem might sound like this:

“I’ve been unemployed, 

Job searching for hours, 

Oh, the bane of it. 

Worked in a call centre, 

selling old people raised toilet seats, 

Listening to their qualms,

About Covid”. 

It doesn’t quite resonate in the same way, does it?

Throughout the pandemic, I was determined to find work, despite the financial shortcomings of businesses in every UK sector. Needless to say, being unemployed is already a huge knock on your confidence, and when combined with the hours spent filling out online applications, it can appear demotivating to say the least. 

As I write this, things are certainly looking up. 

Now that the job market is opening up again, it’s time to share everything I wish I had known when I began my year-long search. 

The Problem with Graduate Schemes

Graduate schemes – what a wonderful invention. When I witnessed the extensive marketing strategies targeting young, budding graduates, I thought so too.

I applied to Frontline, Charity Works, Teach First, IPSOS Mori, The Civil Service – to name a few – with varying levels of success. Nevertheless, I felt eager to start a rigorous, tailored programme. But when I started to get my foot in the door regarding the recruitment process, I realised just how long it was – most often a six month to a year wait before you start your first day. 

Are they all this long? I wondered. 

After initial interviews, application forms, role plays, more interviews, and psychometric tests, my enthusiasm – along with my will to live – dwindled.

Finally, I reached the ultimate stages of Frontline’s tests but was rejected a week later. Honestly, graduate schemes had severely tested my patience and I resigned from applying altogether. 

Take-aways: 

  • Graduate schemes are akin to The Hunger Games of UK universities. It’s highly competitive and the probability of you not landing one is more common than securing one. 
  • Be selective about the schemes you apply for since the process could take up to a year. Give yourself time to research the company culture, values, and career development programmes. 
  • Rejection from a graduate scheme is less of a personal attack, and more a manifestation of abundant graduate talent, with a lack of suitable positions available. 

“Entry-Level” Jobs

After saying a firm “no” to graduate schemes. I began my search for standard full-time jobs, as a streamlined route into my desired company. I was confident that my degree and graduation from a “top ten university” was a sure-fire foundation for career success.

LinkedIn became my playground.

Below is a real LinkedIn example I found in my search today of the key competencies required for an entry-level position as a researcher.

I have experience in researching climate change, human migration behaviour, and identity, but somewhere along the way, I forgot to apply myself to learning Python.

Frankly, I had undergone research for the past three years, even maintained my use of foreign languages but now I had to learn programming languages too!

Take-aways:

  • Apply for jobs, even if you don’t completely fit the description. Maybe you don’t claim to be a programming genius, but there’s no harm in stating that you are “developing [your] competency in Python through an online course”. 
  • Utilise the Apply Easily feature on Linkedin, to save time while tackling the job hunt. Applying to 20 jobs a day, rather than two has significantly increased my response rate from recruiters. Whether the response is detailed feedback or outright rejection, you are furthering your knowledge of the roles in the sector you are applying for. 

The Unpaid Internship 

With no luck securing a “proper” job, I resigned myself to the idea that yes, I was in need of some relevant, holistic, industry experience. Despite my extensive writing experience, I would have to secure an unpaid position at a reputable company.

It is true that within the writing industry, evidence of your craft is the writing itself, rather than your claims of being the next Steven King

Recently, I’ve received great interest from companies offering unpaid internship positions, the idea being that graduates eager to prove themselves produce high-quality content in exchange for training and a platform to showcase their work. In my head, this is an excellent proposition, but there’s still one problem – how am I going to pay for my coffee?

Not only was I shocked at the concept, but I found that it was the norm. In fact, the world’s most recognised inter-governmental organization, The United Nations, explicitly promotes a model of unpaid internships, just for the privilege of working under their name.

Although, that still doesn’t solve the issue of how I would pay for my coffee – or any of the necessities that support a basic level of human existence. 

Why is unpaid student labour the norm when students have completed at least three years of high-quality tuition and proven their drive throughout the duration of their degree?

Is it because we still believe that students live on baked beans, coffee, and other substances, that their labour is under-valued and unrecognised?

Take-aways:

  • As a student, companies will expect you to work for little pay or even for free. While this can be a fantastic method of gaining experience in a specialised field, keep sending out applications for paid positions on the side. 
  • Just because you are inexperienced, your time, efforts and labour is still of value to a company, so make sure there are incentives to the internship: letters of recommendation, credit for your work, or cover for your travel. 

Final Thoughts 

Granted, you may yourself in the sea of internships, temporary jobs and freelance work very soon, but don’t lose yourself there. 

Take a moment to be proud of your achievement: you have a degree, you earned a degree. 

When applying for positions, it’s almost impossible to measure progress, so make sure that you allow yourself to succeed in other areas of your life. 

The idea of getting ahead of the game, or falling behind others is an illusion. Opportunities will arise and you will apply yourself to them, with the resources you have available to you at the time. 

Stay motivated and take care – let the process continue

Systems That Keep me From Spiralling – Wellbeing Week Edition

Spiralling – The act of continuously feeding into irrational and illogical thoughts, that do not – in any way – serve us.

Picture this:

Sweating, heart palpitation; disorientation, muscle tension; irregular breathing: a list you might rightly identify as the body’s instinctual reaction to danger. Otherwise known as the fight or flight response.

So, you can imagine the kind of confusion I felt when I experienced this reaction walking through my school corridors, sitting in Spanish classes, or even when trying to sleep. Instinctually, one might actively start to avoid situations causing such an adverse reaction, and so, I did.

I negotiated more time off school, disappeared from Spanish class, and even stopped sleeping properly. But clearly, avoidance was not going to tackle the root of my problem.

After some reflection, it seemed that I was having this inflammatory reaction to life itself. 

What to do?

What I Talk About When I Talk About Mental Health

Oftentimes, we talk about acceptance of mental health, neurodiversity and dismantling the stigma that surrounds it. But we don’t necessarily admit the sheer amount of work that we must perform on ourselves to function at peak mental health. 

Throughout the past year, this pandemic really catapulted us all into a reality where optimal health is a true priviledge. 

I’d like to share some genuine systems that I use every day, to not only stop me from spiralling but allow me to function as a fulfilled human being.

#1 Thought Catching 

We can envision “thought catching” through two concepts: the thinker  and the observer

Close your eyes, and tune into your thoughts for a second – what can you hear?

If you streamed your flow of consciousness on Spotify, it might sound a little like this: “Did I lock the back door? I should probably check – this is a pretty safe area though, nothing would happen. But what if it does? Better safe than sorry, right?”

Playing back every thought that popped into our head in the last hour, would likely result in a highly anti-climactic experience. 

So, how come we attach such great meaning to our thoughts, when they are so fleeting? 

Instead of holding onto them, internalizing them, believing they are intrinsic parts of ourselves, we must become critical observers of them. 

As radical as it seems, I prefer to refer to myself and my mind as We rather than I. I am the thinker of the thought, and the observer of its existence. 

At first, the thought appears: “I don’t deserve my success”, then the observer responds with a rationalising behaviour: “I have worked hard for my success, I am worthy of being here; I accept every success and failure that arrives”.

This was a technique I developed through meditation: watching thoughts pass through my consciousness and being unafraid to criticise my often wayward, child-like, and misguided ego.

So, while you cannot choose your next thought, you can be selective about the ones you listen to.

#2 Letting Go of Narratives That No Longer Serve You

While medication is a standard response to mental health, I think there is also something to be said for Asian philosophies like Taoism that teach us the things we have forgotten in Western society. 

Notably, Lao Tzu uses the imagery of a simple cooking pot to suggest that we must not hoard our thoughts as if they were old records, but let go of those that no longer serve us. 

Lao Tzu’s empty pot

He says: “the usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness”. In essence, through cleansing ourselves of our past narratives, we allow ourselves to become who we actually are. 

After my first session of yoga, I just laid down in Shavasana (the final pose) and cried. I’m sure my family thought something dubious was going on – I don’t blame them.

I was undergoing such a drastic change in my mind, arriving at this idea that: we waste such vast amounts of energy holding on to stuff. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before but: let them [your thoughts, worries, precocupations] go. 

What a relief. 

With further yoga sessions via the Downdog app, I integrated this outlet for anxiety into my day, creating a daily system to deal with built-up stress.

I would highly recommend this practice since there are so many platforms that guide you – even with little to no experience. I’m sure you’ve heard of her, but Yoga with Adriene is a favourite of mine when it comes to online yoga sessions.

#3 “Hell Yes, or No”

As an adult like myself at the ripe old age of 22, we must be selective about how we spend our time. 

Maybe you’ve seen the film “Yes Man” with Jim Carey. As the title suggests, he transforms from a hermit, into a man that says “yes” to anything and everything for a year. As you can imagine, this presents fantastic opportunities and dire consequences for him. 

Saying yes to every opportunity, was definitely a strategy that I applied to my own life as I navigated my university years. But thanks to Florence Given, I read up on the concept of boundaries that we can employ at an emotional, personal, and professional level.

You can say “no”, and not owe anyone an explanation. You own all of your time.  

We are entitled, and owe it to ourselves, to form boundaries between friends, jobs, screens, pets, and even our family. While going with the flow is excellent, the boundaries that you write on the tapestry of your life, ensure that you have a say in the flow.

#4 Doing Things You Enjoy, Not Just Things To Relax

While it’s important to recognise and identify our mental health needs, I do think we must avoid the temptation to reorganise our lives around that sole fact.

In my case, I subconsciously avoided any activity that might function as a potential trigger of my anxiety. To the point where I refused an invitation to a good friend’s party that was happening just across the road from me.

What a bummer.

After washing off the stress of the day, it can be tempting to fill our free time passively consuming TV shows or flicking social media. And while these things are certainly less anxiety-inducing than bungee jumping, for example, that doesn’t mean there is a unanimous method of relaxation.

You know the drill: walking, playing sport, reading, writing, playing an instrument are all great alternatives to how we traditionally conceptualise relaxing.

In fact, I am sure there is nothing more stress-inducing than trying really hard to relax. Often, when we are physically mobile, our mental attention returns to the body rather than the thinking mind, which effortlessly calms us with added enjoyment.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for making it this far. 

I hope you enjoyed this brief summary of my learnings about mental health and preventative coping mechanism. I compiled these systems from a year-long period of journaling and reflecting on the psyche and the mind. 

I would love to know what you think in the comments below!

As always, take care and look after yourselves.

 

Making an Impact: Why Everyone Needs a Personal Blog

I started this blog about two weeks ago now. And a lot has happened in those two weeks, not least that I now have my own sacred place on the internet ready to be transformed into a curiosity shop of wonderful things. In the 16th Century, it was entirely normal to fill cabinets or entire rooms with a scattered assortment of flamboyant and eerie items: human skulls, sea coral, ribbons, or stuffed pigeons. 

Now, we have the internet. 

… 

So, you might be thinking: there are already so many bloggers out there documenting their lives – why would anyone be interested in what I have to say?

Truly, the blogging world is highly saturated with content creators, but – as cliche, as it gets – there is no one with your particular spin on the world. You are experiencing the human condition in an entirely unique way. I had to affirm this to myself many thousands of times before I realised just how powerful that awareness is. 

For me, this recent year has been hugely isolating in many aspects, and I love to share. What I mean is, my greatest interactions with the world are social ones, such that my most developmental learning occurs in these social settings. So, with the recent barriers imposed on social life, a blog can be a great way to open up those avenues for sharing once again. 

So what happens when you start a blog?

Venturing Outside Your Village   

One thing I’ve noticed, especially over this period of Covid-19, is the shrinking of my social circles. Occasionally, I would meet up with friends and family and have the privilege of connecting with students across the globe. 

As for my creative work, on the off chance that anyone was interested, I might send them a poem or read one aloud at a poetry convention. But on the whole, my creations had a limited reach. 

Ali Abdaal uses a wonderful analogy for this: life in the metaphorical village. Say that, for instance, that Harry resides in the quiet village of New Haven, only interacting with individuals from the village – co-workers, family and friends. His exposure to new opportunities would be greatly limited. Whereas, if he were more adventurous, travelling to neighbouring villages, interacting with a multitude of others, his development opportunities would inevitably increase. 

Starting a personal blog is simply a way to connect with like-minded others in dispersed and far-reaching communities. 

You might watch on, with disappointment, as your blog post gets one view from Norway. But fear not! The fact of the matter is, that something you said mattered to someone for a time. 

Emancipation from Perfection

It’s funny how easily we apply an exceedingly high standard of perfection to ourselves, but not necessarily to others?

Austin Kleon, perfectly summarises a creative solution to this predicament of perfectionism, with the idea of rejoicing in our amateur selves. While the amateur has no formal training, they commit to life-long learning in the public eye, “so that others can learn from their failures and success”. 

Nowadays, our morbid curiosity leads us to wonder about the behind-the-scenes aspect of people’s lives, not only the final product – film, Youtube video, book, or Instagram post. After all, the creative pieces that we produce don’t just occur in a vacuum but the complex and chaotic landscape of life. 

If you are trying – regardless of failure – at something, the likelihood is, someone out there is interested in your experience. 

Documenting Life and Telling Better Stories

Recently, I’ve made a commitment to journaling about life. 

Firstly, when I’m not journaling, it’s terrifying how much of life I forget. Between one day and the next, there isn’t much to distinguish my experience of working from home: work, eat, sleep, repeat. Life appears to follow cyclical patterns, but journaling allows you to magnify crucial moments in your mind – why would you want to forget those? 

Secondly, documenting your life can actually make you a more interesting person. Bear with me on this one, maybe this rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Most certainly not Ronald at the party who’s always talking about his chaotic mayhem of a holiday, darling. Surprise, surprise, the best stories you can recount are not about your recent vacation. No one can relate to that, especially not during Covid. 

Dare I say, people want to know about the insight you had about that recent book, your future dreams, or what you really think about salmon fish cakes. I don’t know but I think it’s those thoughts you had in the shower that people are much more interested in. 

So, by documenting life through a personal blog, you can connect in the most fundamentally human way, practised since the dawn of time: storytelling. 

Sharing Good Work

Maybe you’re on board with me by now – maybe not – but nonetheless, you are wondering: what do I write about? 

Good question. 

You can start with what you know. Perhaps you are obsessed with the niche topic of curating bonsai trees or making wearable garments for labradors with arthritis. It doesn’t really matter: someone out there is interested in what you have to say. What’s more, the fact that you’re passionate about a certain subject or interest is highly contagious. 

We have a habit of internally devaluing the importance of our own experiences when they seem insignificant to the remarkable feats of others. There is, in fact, so much value in what you have to share if it can help just one other person by enhancing their worldview, or their understanding of themselves. 

Final Thoughts 

For now, I rest my case. 

Those were four very genuine reasons that prompted the creation of this very blog. 

Hopefully, this article inspired you to begin your writing journey. 

If it did, I’ll be posting a follow-up article with more practical advice about web domains, hosting sites, and how to schedule content very soon.