Tag Archives: getting into action

What has journaling helped you achieve?

I’m curious. For all you dyed-in-the-wool journal writers out there – what are the things that you have made possible for yourself just by keeping a regular reflective record of your thoughts and experience?

Maybe it’s something small but incremental. Or maybe it’s something way more significant and challenging.

Recently I got some feedback from one reader that The Journal Writer’s Handbook had made her think so differently about what she was doing with her life post-retirement that she went out and booked a 3 month round the world cruise. Wow.

And another reader who struggles with insomnia was simply delighted to have had a good night’s sleep after spending a few minutes scribbling down her thoughts before turning out the light.

For me the reflective way has helped me cure my back pain, supported me through times of grief and disappointment, and continues to inspire me with new ideas for writing.

So over to you – what would you never have done without your journal?

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3 steps to transformation

OK so the title of this blog sounds very “Deepak Chopra” but I promise my insights have arisen by way of something rather more prosaic than spiritual enlightenment.

This has been a month of record temperatures in the UK – and of major house renovations at my home in Wiltshire.

In fact the whole of 2013 so far has seen rather a lot of paint-rolling, wallpaper stripping, stud-wall installation and stud-wall removal as we’ve tackled décor projects in our bedroom, family bathroom, ensuite bathroom, lounge and downstairs study. The building dust has been inches thick. And it’s all this work that has triggered my insights into what it takes to truly transform. I’m wondering if they work for personal growth as well as for domestic DIY.

First of all, the destruction phase brings a certain amount of euphoria. Ripping off wall paper, emptying rooms, knocking down walls all carry a certain no-going-back thrill as you realise you forgot to book a skip or cover up all the furniture you don’t want to be affected by dust. Oh well.

Next the transition phase means you have to make good the surfaces to be painted or papered. For us this time there has been proper plastering to do – which in the absence of a professional my hubby decided to take on himself. Needless to say the first attempt didn’t pass muster, so the whole lot had to be re-sanded and prepared from scratch. There was much tearing out of hair.

Transition also means making choices – what paint colour? What style of wall paper? What floor covering? What colour of tile? And then the painstaking process of the first coat, the pasting, the grouting, as the space begins to shift towards its new state.

Finally the delicious restoration phase. This is the time to splurge the credit card on soft furnishings! To reconstitute the space in the way you want to live going forward. This is where you get to see the fruits of your efforts, when you finally try on this transformed skin and feel what it’s like to  move about in. This is my favourite part – though I also realise that I try and live too long in restoration mode and often it’s time for destruction again before everything’s been properly restored.

As for personal growth, do these steps apply? Often it’s necessary to slough off an out-dated attitude or habit in order to make way for something new. Next we need to make choices about what the new approach will be, and make the first steps in the transition.  Then we need to find out what life feels like within that newly created approach, and include the right support and resources that will restore us to balance and calm, enabling us to make progress on our chosen path.

So transformation is an active process that requires some key stages within. What do the three steps to transformation entail for you – and how will you use your journal on the way?

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Filed under Creative process, Journal Writing

In fear of false imaginings

My Facebook wall has been full recently of pithy aphorisms promoting wisdom, self-awareness and spirituality. They are invariably accompanied by an inspirational photograph depicting a lone tree clinging to a barren rock or dawn silhouettes of people doing yoga or tai chi, and I enjoy glancing at these messages and pondering whether or not they hold anything for me.

The other day I saw one whose entire text and picture I cannot recall, however I do remember the surprising phrase ‘false imaginings’ and it hit me hard. I took that phrase away with me and allowed it to percolate in my brain for a while. I felt the jabbing finger of my inner critic taunting me about the false imaginings of my journal, the place where I allow my creative mind to run riot and come up with all sorts of weird and wonderful dreams and schemes.

The fact is the very thought of false imaginings terrifies me. To me it means day-dreaming, egotistical fantasies unlikely to come to anything realistic, time-wasting, unfocussed dabbling, navel-gazing even. The very idea makes me go rigid with shame.

But false imaginings also means things we make up that don’t serve us. My inner critic’s conviction that day-dreaming is a waste of time is in itself a false imagining. Another is that the wilder the plan the less likely it is to ever come to anything. After all how can we adapt and change and try new and exciting things if we believe our inner critic and never let our minds wander and our creative imagination run loose?

Nevertheless I have a couple of ways of testing the ideas that my inner critic would have as false imaginings. The first is to blurt them out in public and see how they catch. Sometimes with a fair wind they have sailed high and far and continue to reward me still. The second is to allow the idea to sit in my head, and to see if it repeatedly shows itself to me over a period of time. Sometimes it will nag and nag until I figure out a way of making it real, and suddenly the falseness dissipates like summer clouds, revealing a beautiful and shining new thing.

So yes I do live in fear of false imaginings – but I’m also afraid of never having them at all. Our minds are endlessly creative and part of the fun is sifting out which bits are false – and which bits are the nuggets of gold.

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Journal Power!

I am so thrilled to have been invited to lead a mini journaling workshop at Swindon’s International Women’s Day event on 8 March.

IWD poster

The event organiser, a wonderful lady named Rosa Matheson, who’s a historian, author and keen charity campaigner on behalf of a Nepalese orphanage and for the empowerment of Nepalese women, has triumphed again with her fabulous ideas about tapping into the talents of local creative women for the benefit of those on the other side of the world.

The 100 Women Book Project first saw the light of day about two years ago. It was the result of an a-ha moment for Rosa – an idea about getting women here to help women there, by writing about a day in their life and compiling the stories into a book to sell.

One of the entries in that book was written by yours truly. I was honoured to be asked to contribute, and to feel part of a creative endeavour that is so much greater than a book. The more I think about the concept of women creating something together for the sake of other women the more excited I get.

So in early March we will begin to wake up more Swindon women to their own inner resourcefulness and creativity. There will be the opportunity to try both artistic and reflective journaling on the day, and it remains to be seen what new project ideas might spark as a result.

Journaling enables us to express our “real me”. It gives us the tools to begin to make our dreams a reality, and to get really clear on what actions we can take that give us most joy and fulfilment. And here in the west we can readily find the means to achieve our heart’s desire, receive an education and find sustaining employment. Whereas in the east, and particularly in Nepal, women are expected to be at home, bringing up families or looking after aging parents, often in the direst poverty, resulting in more and more children having to be “abandoned” to orphanages or to fend for themselves on the streets.

So to be part of an “empowering women” event is a great privilege, and to explore what that means through reflective journaling is even better.

Our journals help us uncover powers we never knew we had. Who knows what Swindon women might yet unleash on the world?

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Filed under Activism, Journal Writing

Journaling to find our unique talent

I’ve been getting involved with my village’s campaign to save its surrounding countryside from development.

As a local journalist I have key questions to ask to make sure that the readership is properly informed about the plans. As a resident I’m heartbroken that the rural home of wildflowers, butterflies, deer, foxes, red kites and horses at pasture is under threat. But I’m also determined that developers and our cash-strapped council don’t get away with pulling the wool over the eyes of local people.

It’s interesting to meet people in the village I never knew before. Common causes unite people and enable us to make friends we might otherwise not have made. And it’s fascinating how people have different strengths and gifts that come to the fore when the pressure’s on.

One of my fellow campaigners is an absolute whizz at contacting people and engaging them. She knows everybody in the village (I guess growing up here does help) and is extremely proactive in picking up the phone to talk to national agencies and the local press. As a result she’s coordinated radio interviews with two different local radio stations and made contact with the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, as well as generating a swathe of Facebook followers that are well over 100 strong.

So I wasn’t surprised that her Twitter profile describes her first and foremost as a connector. She’s a wife and mum too and runs a party hosting business, but before all this she recognises her greatest strength is to connect with people, and them to each other. She’s an absolute gift for our community group.

What is delightfully surprising though is that she is sufficiently aware of this innate talent of hers to name it. How many of us can really sum up in one word what it is that others can most count on us for? Something that reflects our special gifts and strengths?

Maybe this is something we can get closer to understanding for ourselves through journal writing and reflective practice. What is it that you can do so quickly and straightforwardly, with your eyes shut and without even thinking, that others might struggle with? What’s your particular talent that you can put to use to help others?

As I reflect on this for myself the words that keep coming up for me are messenger and truth-teller. I’ve often got into trouble for telling things like they are. It’s not that I enjoy rocking the boat, I just can’t help doing it sometimes, because I couldn’t live with the situation where the true story hasn’t been expressed, or where someone has tried to deceive.

Councillors and developers beware.

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Do you react or respond? How our journals can help us save our energy

This week has not gone according to plan.

My intention was to spend a couple of days doing some freelance writing for the local magazine I work for, then complete a short story ready for competition entry this weekend, then develop some more marketing ideas to make more people aware of The Journal Writer’s Handbook.

Hmmm.

Instead I spent longer than planned on my paid work (not such a bad thing) and then got involved in my village’s action group against the latest housing development idea that’s popped into the head of the Council.

Where did that come from?

So, one meeting, one news article, and one analysis document later, I’ve found myself creating a new Facebook page and writing another blog supporting my village in its quest to show the local Council that we’re not quite ready to roll over and die in the face of proposals that will drastically impact on our beautiful home.

Thank goodness I’ve got used to making distinctions between emotion and fact, reaction and response, by writing in my journal. My first reaction upon reading about the 1650 new homes that are destined to be built on my doorstep was to go into an emotional tail-spin about the loss of the landscape, about the traffic chaos that will ensue, about the machinations of a public body whose track record has been one of cloak and dagger developer deals delivering jam tomorrow and utter misery later on down the line. (You can sense the emotion here huh?)

However, having taken a few deep breaths, I then got some clarity about the real issues that need to be discussed right now. These are far more about the transparency and appropriateness of decision-making, and about the thoroughness of community engagement and inclusivity thus far (ahem).

I found  that taking a more considered response is actually a whole lot less draining. It’s exhausting to be reacting all the time and allowing our emotions to run riot over every issue and question that raises its head. When we allow our emotions to be in control we stop being curious, we stop being able to listen, and we relate everything we hear to our own particular difficulties and struggles.

Our journals help us take that chill pill that enables us to take a step back, reflect and consider things from a more reasoned perspective. What’s the most pressing issue? What’s the most effective way of handling it? Am I going to react emotionally or respond intelligently?

Sometimes our days don’t go at all according to plan. Better then to have the energy to go with the flow rather than exhaust ourselves through resisting. Being clear on the distinctions between reaction and response gives us that edge.

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How to take the stress out of to do lists

I don’t know about you but I always resort to writing a list when I start to feel tasks are looming. The trouble is it’s usually when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by all that I have to do that I start making the list. So even though list-making helps me clarify what I have to do and in what order of priority, it also often makes me feel something close to panic as I’m confronted with everything that I haven’t yet done.

The antidote to this is simple, but so effective.

Instead of writing a to do list when you start feeling that you need to prioritise your tasks, begin by writing an already done list. Write down all the things you’ve already achieved today or this week. It’s so gratifying and often quite amazing to glance over all the things we have been up to already, and it energizes us for our list of things yet to do.

It also helps us shift our perspective on time, and how long it takes to do things. Often we can discover that our perception of how long it takes to do fairly mundane tasks is magnified by how much we resist doing them, as the anxiety and procrastination demand way more of our energy than actually just getting on with the thing in the first place.

So to keep the stress out of ‘to do’ lists, to ramp up your energy levels for your next bunch of activities, AND to develop an awareness of the relationship between tasks and their duration, write an ‘already done’ list first. You’ll be astounded by how much more progress you will make more quickly.

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How to use our journals to get into action this festive season

At 11.11 am on Friday 21 December 2012, the leader of the Druids, King Arthur Pendragon, made his Winter Solstice speech at Stonehenge, a little further south of where I live in Wiltshire, welcoming in a new cosmic era of peace, care and compassion, and calling for an end to suffering and greed.

The end of the world hasn’t come to pass. Personally I didn’t think it would. But, not unlike the Druids’ message, I am choosing to view this media-hyped Winter Solstice as a new opportunity, a time of new intentions, commitments and change.

And my journal is where I am devising the change I want to see in the world. However devising sounds like I’m going through a very deliberate process of planning and manipulating my thoughts and ideas about how I want life to be, then writing down a to do list or project plan of what I must achieve in 2013.

This would not be an accurate description of the process. It would be altogether too premeditated, too forced and analytical, too “left-brain”.

Rather I am allowing myself to write in response to what is happening in the world, and I’m being present to the emotions and feelings that real life events are evoking in me. What I find are ideas about how to do things differently, new creative ways to celebrate Christmas, and a quiet conviction that whatever needs to happen will present itself as the obvious next step. It’s an entirely different feeling from the concerted “I must be the change I want to see in the world” mindset. It’s much gentler, much more in the moment, and much more authentic.

One of the ideas that has most inspired me this festive season is the notion of “living well in your place.” So instead of sending Christmas cards this year I have chosen to hand out small parcels of Quality Street choccies to all my neighbours, complete with a folded note giving our phone number, and a thank you to one and all for being my neighbour. Although we have lived in our 25-home street for twelve years, there are some families that I have never met, and I suddenly wanted desperately to change that.

It was whilst writing about my current perceptions in my journal that this idea came to me. It was a moment of “clunk” when inspiration hits and you feel compelled into action. And it was such a simple idea that I can’t believe it had never before occured to me. My daughter and I walked round in the rain and knocked on everyone’s door, handed out the chocolates and our best wishes for Christmas, and basked in the smiles we received. It was truly heart-warming, and confirmed the spirit of Christmas for me and my little girl.

That’s how our journals can help us get into real, genuine and authentic action. And that’s how we can change the world.

With every good wish for the festive season.

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Journaling in the face of tragedy

Six days since Sandy Hook.

Throughout the week my mind has periodically reached across to Connecticut to be with the grieving families – the Mums, Dads, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. Periodically I have felt my own tears fall at the horror of what has happened – the desolation and the unimaginable grief and pain being suffered.

But I’m daring to imagine it. To put myself in the shoes of those who have been so dreadfully affected. To reach out with my thoughts and to say “I hear you, I feel you, I am so sorry, and I promise to tread on with love and conscious awareness in memory of all those that lost their lives, especially the children , so vibrant, innocent and full of promise.”

And I’m doing this in my journal, in order to bear witness, to acknowledge the precariousness of life, its preciousness. Our journals are where we can extend our thoughts to those who are hurting; where we can name and own our own vulnerability, and pledge our intentions and commitments in the name of the victims.

Don’t talk about the end of the world this Winter Solstice. Remember that for 27 families in Newtown this has already happened. And it’s happening all over the world too. In Syria, in Palestine, in Pakistan. Every day the world ends for someone as they lose their most precious loved one to violence, war, disease or poverty. Three out of four of these killers are man-made, and are the result of people not bearing witness, not reaching out with compassion nor admitting and sharing our vulnerability and our precariousness.

This Winter Solstice let’s use our journals to apply ourselves to the particular reality of the last days, months and years of suffering that we have escaped while others haven’t.  Let’s remind ourselves what it is to be grateful, and how we must treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. Let’s individually and collectively reflect on what we each might do. And let our shared appalled reaction spur us into making a new resolution for ourselves – to live well in our place, and to turn the horror into compassionate action for those people on our doorsteps.

The world will not come to an end this Winter Solstice. But let’s hope something does. Let’s hope it’s our tendency to sleep-walk through life without paying attention to what’s really needed, nor to the part we each can play.

RIP Sandy Hook victims.

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