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! 

Rating iTalki as a Teacher AND a Student – An Honest Review

So, what’s italki?

I’m glad you asked – it’s an online language learning hub made up of a global community of teachers and students. 

As both a student and a teacher on the platform over the past six months, I have completed 15 learning sessions and taught 70 students from over 30 countries. While cooped up in my home office – aka my dining room table – I visited China, Russia, Chile, Norway, Kazakhstan, and Japan without crossing my doormat.

Aside from the main objective of language learning, it’s a phenomenal platform to meet individuals from around the globe. Hence, it’s no surprise that italki is one of the most popular choices for those on a budget, looking to encounter natives in a global marketplace. 

Being a Student on italki

What’s to love?

Speaking to Natives

For me, the fundamental pillars of language learning are speaking and listening. As the name suggests, italki is centralized around these two elements of language acquisition, where natives facilitate your knowledge of the language by correcting your errors in real-time and providing you with space to experiment naturally with the target language.

You can ask questions about slang or curse words, teachers are happy to help and explain the most outrageous parts of the language. After all, by learning a language you are adopting another cultural mindset, so the freedom to wonder and enquire about strange linguistic phenomena is a must.

Low Pricing

Due to the extensive market of teachers available, you can select the most compatible teacher regarding their pricing and their specialisms. All the teachers I have encountered so far make a real effort to create innovative lesson plans that differ immensely from the “textbook technique” we’ve become accustomed to in school.

Flexible Booking

One thing is for certain: italki is reflective of the unprecedented nature of life. Unlike Lingoda’s Language Sprint sign up for three months of consecutive language learning, italki allows for rescheduling, cancellations, package deals, or single slot bookings. When attempting to juggle the reality of life, the flexibility enabled by the platform suits the majority of people. 

But is it the most effective platform for learning a language from scratch?

What’s to be improved?

Structure-less Learning 

Coming from a background in mainstream education, jumping headfirst into spontaneous discussions about the environment or world politics can provide a challenge in a foreign language. Italki appears to be most beneficial when you have already grasped the foundational grammar points and concepts of the target language. Without this, most of the lesson is realistically spent in silence, contemplating verb conjugations or the correct usage of masculine and feminine nouns. 

Believe me, I’ve been there.

Learning from Scratch

While the bulk of your progress in language learning often happens in the beginning stages, it’s frankly exhausting teaching learners at this point.

Unlike other supplementary learning apps like Memrise and Duolingo, it’s not feasible to decide one day to learn Polish and the next day start speaking with a native. You must be willing to dedicate time to first building your foundation in order to utilise platforms like italki to the greatest extent. 

Being a Teacher on italki

What’s to love?

Work from Anywhere

I am all for this new wave of working from home, or as I understand it, working from anywhere in the world. For many people, it can feel isolating, but teaching online has only made me feel more connected to others and their lives.

Theoretically, teaching for italki can be comfortably conducted from anywhere, provided there is a stable WIFI connection and a quiet space. 

Cultural Learning

I’ve always considered myself as a somewhat well-travelled individual, but through teaching on italki, I quickly found that I had barely scratched the surface of the global insights that still awaited me.

I was in the middle of a lesson with a lovely woman from Kazakhstan when I had to abruptly stop. I was so embarrassed that I knew less than a single fact about her country, so we got talking about life in Kazakhstan.

If nothing else, italki enables you to meet and connect with a global base of students who are determined, enthusiastic, and well-informed.

What’s to be improved?

Unpaid Time

Although it doesn’t appear to be so, hours spent organising lesson plans, responding to students and rescheduling lessons are not recognised as official working hours. They soon rack up when you are providing constructive feedback or supporting students with queries, which italki does not adequately reward teachers for.

If they did, I think this would only improve the quality of teaching on the platform, resulting in a better experience for students and teachers alike.

The Pricing Predicament

Since the italki model targets a global network of individuals, the vast market of teachers available forces those already on the platform to drive their prices down to stay competitive. 

Simply put: the teachers on italki are the reason the platform prospers, but sadly they’re not aptly rewarded for the substantial value of their work. As an intermediary, italki deducts a 15% commission rate, after which Paypal then takes a 2% fee (regardless of your home country). To top this off, payment made in dollars must be transferred to your local currency to have any form of utility in daily life with an extortionately high conversion fee 

The bottom line: You can’t live effectively in the UK with the salary from italki unless you are willing to give up weekends, evenings, and your free time. Best to work at it on the side, and enjoy it for what it is – great conversations with interesting people. 

Take-aways

If you are thinking of booking a lesson on italki, go for it!

Overall, it’s been a fantastic experience, leaving me feeling more connected than ever to a global community.

I would absolutely recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their self-confidence and public speaking ability.

Thanks for reading as always, and feel free to like, subscribe and comment below 🙂

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.

 

How To Launch Your Blog in 10 Minutes – The Amateur’s Guide

Yes, it really is that quick!

Having recently made a case for why you need a blog in the digital age, you might be craving more actionable advice about how you can get started. When I first had the idea to create a blog, I was determined to learn the whole web design package: HTML, CSS, and Javascript, through various online courses (Udemy Academy for one). I wanted to stake my claim: this was my website and mine alone!

Six months down the line, and I’m knee-deep in ‘Ruby on Rails’ – the software that powers Netflix – and free coding challenges I found online. I’d completely forgotten the reason I decided to learn web development in the first place and I was no closer to launching my blog than the six months previous. 

My advice to all those of you who are not tech geniuses- yet – focus on the content creation, not the fancy formatting. In the beginning, creating content for your blog takes precedence over the appearance of your site. 

So, how do I get started?

Picking Your Hosting Site

Method #1 – I’m a Lazy Son of a Gun

If you’re anything like me, coding is not your strong suit. That’s why I chose WordPress, as a complete content building platform with a grand selection of themes, fonts, and even beautiful images. 

While the WordPress platform is free, domain registration and hosting are not.

So, why do I need them?

Well, web hosting sites are essential when creating content, to safely store all your articles, posts, and video data. You can’t have all that high-quality work just disappearing off the face of the earth – or the internet, I suppose.

It’s important to select the right hosting plan for your needs. Often when starting an online shop you will anticipate customer traffic flocking to your website. In this case, you want to ensure that the page runs smoothly and efficiently so that the customer buying experience is top-notch. Hence, you may have already budgeted for business services, like online payments or tailored advertising that monetise your website. 

What’s more, your domain name is what people will see whenever they search for your website or business. Domain names are about £6 to £10.50 to buy and can be renewed each year. I suppose it’s just like paying rent to the internet!

Method 2# I’m Watching my Wallet

For those of you who are still cringing at the idea of spending money on a website hosting platform, I had similar aversions to the idea myself. I would much rather spend it on coffee. Although, I found this article on NameCheap.com pretty helpful to understand the importance of reliable web hosting. 

Alternatively, creating your website might be a hobby or creative experiment – and that’s okay! You are likely more focused on building your craft and honing your writing skills, than a fancy page. There’s a multitude of hosting sites out there, including Ghost, GoDaddy, and Bluehost. Squarespace – which Youtube advertises to me about five times a day – is another great option. 

After extensive research, Bluehost seems to be – by far – the most popular hosting site, starting at £2.09 per month – you even get a free domain name for the first year. For a first or personal blog, this is a great investment and really is as cheap as chips (from McDonald’s at least). 

Selecting a Blog Title

As Cathrin Manning discussed in her video guide to blogging, your title defines you and is the first thing the audience sees when stumbling upon your page. For that reason, I chose my name and my full name at that – you can’t really miss it. But maybe your blog is for you to be anonymous, and speak freely about a number of topics.

The bottom line is: pick a name that you can stick to since you will build your identity around this title and your content will be a reflection of this. 

What’s more, Manning points out that your blog’s name will appear on social media outlets and discussion forums, flagged up whenever you comment, like or interact with other bloggers online.

Start uploading content

This is perhaps the most important step. If you are running a blog, you only need three pages:

  • About page
  • Blog page
  • Contact page

One to showcase all your recent updates, another to inform readers of your goals and background, and finally a page that enables readers to get in touch. A simple, easy-to-read format is one that users can get behind.

While the themes and extra features are important these days, it’s the power of your written or multi-media content that speaks on your behalf. So make sure that’s your focus above all else. 

Final thoughts 

And there you have it: how to launch your blog in under 10 minutes – there or thereabouts!

If you have any other questions about this blog, be sure to ask in the comments sections below 🙂