Tag Archives: Journal writing exercises

Get a coach? Or write a journal?

The last thing you want to do when you’ve hired an expensive coach is waste lots of valuable coaching time trying to identify what you want to be coached on. I’ve experienced hundreds of coaching conversations (some of which as a client rather than as the coach) where the whole thirty minute session has gone by and the closest we’ve got to articulating a particular goal has been “I think that’s what I want to do.”

It’s not because the client doesn’t want to be coached. Nor is it because the coaching is ineffective. It’s much more because the client hasn’t really done much reflecting of their own beforehand. They haven’t really got themselves COACHING-READY.

As a Certified Professional Coactive Coach I have worked with business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, educationalists, public sector workers and private individuals. I have also been coached myself, and I have found that across the professions and occupations people generally share similar progress blocks.

Often we say “I can’t do that” or “I don’t know where to start” or “What would people say if I did that”?

No matter what our circumstances or our personality, the things that hold us back are largely:

  • our confused view of ourselves, our experience and our potential
  • an inflated sense of the task ahead
  • our own ability to self-sabotage.

I’ve also noticed our reluctance to respond to questions like “What do you want?”, “What does success look like?”, “How will you know when you’ve made it?”, “What is your unique talent or skill?”

Coaches are very well-trained to coax out answers  to these questions. They are remarkably patient and compassionate human beings who want so much for us to succeed: they talk about championing and challenging us to get us to the next level, the place we wish to be. But the onus is still on us to make things happen, and if they aren’t the right things for us, they ain’t going to happen.

So before you think about hiring that coach and making all that investment…

GET JOURNALING!

And no, not just writing about what you did in your day, who nicked your milk from the office fridge, or how many times you changed your toddler’s nappy.

Journaling is much more about being able to reflect on your experience, your purpose, what’s important to you, what you want from life and work, and what’s the best way you’re going to go about getting it. The best way for YOU, that is.

Writing a journal is a fantastic way to get to know ourselves and to begin allowing ourselves to admit to our dreams and aspirations. It’s also an amazing way to build up our inner resilience, and to trust that deep down inside we do actually have all our own answers.

By spending a few pounds on an inviting notebook and a smooth-writing pen, and then by investing some time working through kick-off phrases, inquiries and journal writing exercises, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with your coach.  If you’re clear on WHO you are and WHAT you want to achieve, your coach can help you with HOW you’re going to get there, and you’ll get a lot more bang from your coaching buck.

 

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The feel good formula familiar to journal writers

In a new book entitled “Curious? Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life”, positive psychologist Dr Todd Kashdan has defined a formula for happiness – and identified that heightening our levels of curiosity and open-mindedness about our experience is helpful to our well-being.

Who knew?

Well, if you’ve kept a journal for any length of time you will know that nurturing our curiosity is not only vital to garnering enough material to write about, but it also enhances our lives in other ways too. Curiosity makes us slow down; it makes us question things more keenly; it makes us look closer; it makes us appreciate more, and gives us greater opportunity for understanding and empathy. Think about Alice in Wonderland. “Curiouser and curiouser” were her watchwords. And she breezed through some pretty bizarre experiences without a single shred of angst or stress.

And what of the happiness formula itself?

Check this out:

(Mx16 + Cx1 +Lx2) + (Tx5 + Nx2 + Bx33)

The key is:

M – live in the moment; C – be curious; L – do something you love; T – think of others; N – nurture relationships; B – take care of your body.

Reflective writing is a positive step in the direction of all these factors, helping us be more mindful. Here’s a reminder of a few exercises to tune in to each of them:

  • Live in the moment

Spend five minutes becoming aware of your environment, the sounds, smells, air temperature, the things you can see around you. Make a note of them. Turn your attention to your body. Write about how it feels, where you sense any tension. Every time your mind is tempted to stray off into other thoughts and imaginings, bring your focus back to the page, to the feeling of the pen between your fingers. Keep writing. What’s important about this moment?

  • Be curious

Take a fresh view of an object that is familiar to you. It could be a trinket, an appliance or a piece of furniture. Get curious about it. Write it down.

  • Do something you love

What’s the thing that brings you the most joy and satisfaction? How often do you experience it? What promise will you make about the thing you love to do? Write it down.

  • Think of others

Bring to mind the first person you saw when you left the house today. Write a brief pen portrait of them. Allow ourself to step into their shoes and see the day through their eyes, maybe write a short paragraph in their voice. How have your perceptions shifted?

  • Nurture relationships

Write a letter to someone special to you whom you haven’t seen for a while. What do you want them to know? As you write, what feels like the best, most nurturing  way to reach out to them? Make a plan of action to do that thing and write it down.

  • Take care of your body

Initiate a ‘conversation’ with a part of your body that is causing you any concern or discomfort. What message does it have for you? What steps is it asking you to take to look after it better?  Make a commitment to do the thing your body is ‘asking’ for and write it down.

Our journals can become our handbooks for happiness. Between our minds and the page, the physical act of writing helps us integrate the feel good formula into our own lives. Get curious!

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Metaphorically speaking

A neat journaling exercise which works well when you think you’ve got nothing to write about is to pick a seemingly mundane object or activity and explore how it is a metaphor for your current experience.

One of my wonderful participants in this year’s Spring workshop series had a lot of fun with this, and found herself writing about her bowl-of-soup-life, her lantern-life and her smartphone-life. But the best one had to be her kazoo-life: “narrow at both ends and big in the middle, with a lot of input from the top.”

Kazoo

For me my own metaphorical insight happened today as I was rolling paint onto the bathroom walls. (I am purposely redecorating – this wasn’t some insane aberration, though it might be close.)

It struck me that to paint the walls is to take on new habits and new perspectives. When you reach a point in life where a new lick of paint is needed, something to freshen up tired old attitudes and beliefs, the paint roller is your friend. Although it often takes more than one coat to completely eradicate the previous colour, and you’ve got to be careful that you’ve made good the wall, so you’re not just papering over the cracks. (Oops, guilty!)

Sometimes you try a new colour and hate it. I always regret the colour I’ve chosen after I’ve covered two thirds of the wall with it. And I step back and wish I hadn’t bothered. But of course this is when the new colour is still patchy with the old colour showing through, and when the new paint hasn’t dried yet. You’ve got to give new thought patterns time to bed in, to get established – at least time for the paint to dry.

Then there are the edges. How I hate the edges. Messing around with masking tape and then using a brush that’s never the optimum size. And then realising that you hadn’t quite cleaned the wood work properly so the brush gets covered in dust and fluffy bits which you’ve got to pick off really carefully by hand before wiping your paint soaked fingers on the jogging bottoms that weren’t quite your scruffiest clothing item when you started but which definitely are now.

I guess I’m more of a broad bush, not too much attention to detail kind of person. Impatient. Wanting to roll the paint on in quick-sticks and not too fussed about neatness round the edges.

However, when it comes to peeling off the masking tape oh boy! How I love a neat edge! It’s so satisfying to see the join where the two colours meet, and realising “I did that.” Figuratively and literally.

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Journaling exercises for International Women’s Day

It’s been a wonderful day celebrating womanhood with other Swindon women here in our corner of north east Wiltshire.

The workshop was warm, companionable and productive, with everyone participating in journaling exercises using the following kick-off phrases:

The best thing about being a woman is…

I can’t imagine living without…

The most important thing to me is…

The simplest step I can take next is…

And we also tried communing with our creative selves using the prompt Dear Creative Self. Two or three of our number discovered that our creativity is a bit narked that we aren’t making better use of it!

Before the Day draws to a close, try writing a letter to womanhood, addressing it Dear Sister. What message can you glean from her?

And last but not least thanks to all those lovely ladies who came along to the workshop today. You make my work a joy.

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A blast from the past

Nearly 5 years ago I put together an article for E-zine, or some such content farm, on the subject of writing to redress the balance of our brain. I wanted to reproduce it here but couldn’t find my E-zine login. Nevertheless the piece was picked up and reproduced on the blog of writing for well-being practitioner Ellen Taliaferro, back in May 2008. (Geez have I been banging on about this stuff for that long?)

Anyway, I thought it was worth another outing here:

http://ellentaliaferro.com/redressing-the-balance-%E2%80%93-writing-with-the-whole-of-our-brain/

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‘Dear Journal’ – journaling insights #2

I like to practice what I preach.

So having set my workshop group some homework before our next session in a few days’ time, I thought I’d get on with some homework of my own.

One of the exercises which generated the most excitement at last week’s workshop was the ‘Dear Journal’ piece. The idea of it is to address yourself to your journal, explaining what kind of a week you’ve had, and to ask your journal for any advice. In the second part of the exercise you write back to yourself as your journal, and see what advice emerges.

I did a similar version of this exercise a couple of years ago, addressing a letter in my journal ‘Dear Creative Self’. I got some awesome results that time too, and really learned a lot about how far I can rely on my own creativity.

So this weekend, having got some great feedback when I posted the Dear Journal exercise on The Journal Writer’s Handbook Facebook status, I decided to give it another go myself.

There was a lot of rambling to start with. Just going through my week and what’s been happening. (It was a great week by the way.) But then I got into some more juicy stuff about where I was feeling stuck, and how I was wanting to make progress but somehow felt resistant.

All the time I was writing I was aware that my journal was ‘listening’. And in this I found the courage to begin outlining some stuff that has been floating around in my head but which I hadn’t up til this point been able to articulate. The words really started to flow and in the end I found that I’d written a straight 14 sides, and come up with three brand new ideas!

The question I then posed to my journal was “How far am I kidding myself?” And the answer came that none of the stuff I’d written down was new. It was all stuff that I’d shared with my journal in the past, but without as much clarity and concrete purpose. I could see that everything I’d written was absolutely based in the knowledge, expertise and wisdom I already have, but hadn’t yet figured out how to present.

IMG_6240

The particular notebook I’m using right now has an anchor on the front. So in keeping with that my journal reminded me to focus, and to stop drifting from one idea to another. And then she thanked me for talking to her, and reminded me that that’s what she’s here for.

It’s a strange exercise, but its effect is really powerful. I have this sense that I am not alone, that I have an inner reservoir of wisdom that is always accessible to me. This I believe is a truth for every human being, but we frequently forget how to use it. For me, I choose to access it in my journal.

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Journaling insights #1

Last night I hosted the first session of a brand new journal writing course here in Swindon, UK. It was a great evening and I’m already thrilled and honoured to be working with a very energetic and engaged group of writers.

As usual insights started popping not very long after we began working on the exercises I’d prepared. With the right intention journal writing never fails to take us places very quickly and directly, and there were a number of a-has, enthusiastic nods and knowing eye-rolls as realisations began to occur. One participant even broke off part way through their writing and beamed “I love this!” There you go – I love it too.

And one of the most intriguing insights for me came during our discussion of left-brain/right-brain approaches.

Check out a famous demo here.

Typically our left-brain is very logical and rules-oriented, enabling us to express ourselves in coherent, intelligible language, and understand strucutured arguments. Yet it can also be a bit of a control freak, ‘bullying’ our more elusive qualities of intuition, imagination and emotion into submission.

Our modern western culture is in itself a product of left-brain dominance, and has moulded us in the main in its own image (for more on this read Iain McGilchrist’s fabulous book The Master and its Emissary), which often means that it can take a bit of an effort to coax our right-brain attributes out to play.

To tackle this right-brain elusiveness, writing tutors often give their students an exercise to distract their logical mind and allow the imagination to flow. This might be a timed exercise with a question to answer, or an acrostic poem, or a phrase to complete. In journal writing these are known as prompts, springboards or kick-off phrases, and they usually work like a dream to get people writing.

Except sometimes they don’t. Perhaps if you are a creative and intuitive person, or a poet, or someone for whom right-brain sensibilities are already to the fore, then maybe the tricks to distract the left-brain back-fire. Instead of distracting the logical mind such tricks might arouse it and cause it to thrash about trying to make itself useful, or drawing attention to itself like a petulant, over-stimulated child.

Perhaps. But this brings me back to a key point about each of us developing our individual reflective writing practice. There are no rules, there is no right way or wrong way. Any type of prompt, inquiry or kick-off phrase might work beautifully, or it might crash and burn. The important thing is to be aware of what doesn’t work for you – and find something that does. Maybe adopting a different perspective, or using metaphor, or writing in the third person, or using a different voice. Or something else entirely.

Journal writing is a good prescription, but it never is prescriptive. Give it a go a see what works for you.

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