Beware all you journal writing enthusiasts. You might just get such clarity and independence of thought through your reflective writing practice that people begin to turn to you for your advice and wisdom. They might even begin to nominate you as a leader in their cause.
This is because once you develop a journaling practice of your own you will be engaging in such powerful conversations with yourself that you will discover great truths and inner resources you never knew you had. Plus you’ll be able to articulate your thoughts and feelings about issues that are important to you because you will have practised doing so in your journal.
An important asset of a respected leader is integrity. In whatever context, be it work, community or personal, we want to be able to gain the trust of those around us. By taking up our journals and documenting our points of view over a period of time we begin to see our own thread of integrity running through all the things we bother to write about. We get to know very clearly what our views are, and we see how we must live in order to be true to our innermost moral compass.
Another valuable asset of our journal writing practice is that, honestly done, it enables us to recognise and accept our vulnerabilities. The journaling space is safe in that it is for our eyes only. We don’t need to protect our delicate ego in this place, and we can have a rest from bigging ourselves up. With the pressure off we can take a genuine look at ourselves and treat ourselves gently, without beating ourselves up about this or that perceived weakness. A great leader is aware of their vulnerable side, and, crucially, is not afraid to show it.
Thirdly a great leader is aware of themselves and others. They are able to reflect on their own impact and on the reasons why others might behave in certain ways. This can lead to great magnanimity and tolerance, vital attributes of the best leaders, and key enablers in the practice of servant leadership.
If you’re not already a leader, be prepared to become one. If you are already a leader, don’t be surprised if your style changes once you’ve been journaling for a while.
Aung San Suu Kyi was the guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs today.
She’s an inspirational woman. And one thing she said in particular struck me:
“I’m not terribly fond of melodrama. When people have chosen a certain path, they should walk it with satisfaction and not try to make it appear as a tremendous sacrifice.”
What she said was in the context of choosing to stay under house arrest in Burma, alongside the people she would represent, rather than retreating to the bosom of her family, or even to the side of her husband who was battling cancer.
These are difficult choices. But they speak of principle and service, and a determination to stand up for the greater good of democracy in her country. It fills me with awe that a woman, a wife and mother, put these things above her family, and that they never reproached her for it.
There can be no question that the choices Aung San Suu Kyi made were not done with great clarity of consciousness. And this gives me an idea for some reflective writing of my own about choices, bearing in mind that we still choose by not choosing, that even though we may not consciously engage in a choosing process, we are still choosing by default, whatever our actions turn out to be thereafter.
So let’s use our journals to get conscious about the choices we’re making. Try these inquiries:
“What am I choosing? How satisfied am I with my choice? How likely is it that I can follow this path without melodrama?”
And if you’ve already chosen and are living with your choice, take a moment to reflect on all that is satisfactory about it with this kick-off phrase:
“I am satisfied with…”
Journal writing is a physical act in that it requires we use our fine motor skills to wield a tool that marks the page. It is also a mental and intellectual act in that in order to be intelligible the marks we make must conform to the conventions of the language in which we operate. It is a creative and intuitive act as we give permission to our emotions and imagination to express themselves.
In this sense journal writing is a past-time that immediately and simultaneously engages all those parts of our brain that are responsible for physical coordination, verbal and logical reasoning and emotional response. It is an integrally holistic exercise in itself, firing activity across the whole of our cerebral hemispheres. Add to that the act of reflection, reading what we have written, and we become aware of new insights that our whole brain is pointing us towards.
It occurs to me as I write that journaling might therefore be a form of dreaming. When we get really absorbed in our journaling session we have little control over what emerges at the end of our pen. Many writers of different genres report a similar experience once they get into the flow of their work, and the content of their writing seems to be directing itself, like our dreams. So it is with reflective writing. Once we let go of the stage directions of our conscious mind, our imaginations really do roam free and what we read invariably surprises us.
So why is this beneficial? In his seminal work on brain function The Master and his Emissary, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist highlights how a world which is run by too much left-brain thinking is one which is mechanistic, virtual, fragmented, and with a greater tendency to manifest exploitative practices. This is because our left-brain is more utilitarian, governing rules, language, and logic. Whereas a world which respects human artistic endeavour, and which acknowledges the more emotional and intuitive aspect of humanity, is demonstrating a prevalence for right-brain thinking.
McGilchrist’s point is that overuse of one set of cerebral skills at the expense of the other results in a very lop-sided world. We need to strike a better balance between the characteristics of our mind, including using our brain in a more integrated way, and acknowledging that our physical bodies are also part of the equation. Journal writing is one way of training our brain to fire on all cylinders of its creative and logical potential, and if more people achieved this the world could become a different place.
On one level keeping a food journal to count calories and stay in control of our diet is a recognised successful weight loss strategy.
However, research also shows that there is a deeper implication for weight loss by writing expressively about the things that are important to us.
In a paper published earlier this year Christine Logel of Renison University College at the University of Waterloo described how the way we think about ourselves is important to our sense of self-integrity, and this triggers greater control over our eating habits. For example comfort eating and snacking become less prevalent.
The paper (reference below) describes a study demonstrating how a population of female, overweight university students who were guided through writing about the values that are most important to them were found to lose on average 3.41 pounds over a 6 month period. The control group, who were asked to write about a value that might be important to someone else, gained on average 2.76 pounds over the same period.
Article reference: Association for Psychological Science (2012, January 4). Exercise is good for your waistline — but it’s a writing exercise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/01/120104134811.htm
Journal writing offers time and space for us to ‘work in our life’, to discover our underlying interests, talents and skills, and to recognise our own unique style and approach. This is as true for us whether we’re in business, whether we want to find a way to connect with other people, or whether we have a product idea that we’d like others to engage with and buy. Our journals are somewhere to do our homework, to reflect on what we want to achieve and how we want to get there. Without this thorough exploration and self-awareness under our belts our promotional efforts can be a bit hollow, and certainly unsustainable. The fact is authenticity is attractive and it sells.
So here’s what journal writing does:
- It helps us get clear on what we want to say – and how we want to say it
- It enables us to view the choices that are available to us and understand the pros and cons objectively (there’s nothing like a list!)
- It forces us to identify promotional approaches that work for us – you quickly come to recognise the physical feeling you get when you’re on to something
- It stops us from chasing wild geese ideas that intially seem exciting, but which quickly make us feel exhausted just thinking about them
- It develops our authentic voice and reveals the thread of our own integrity weaving through all our thoughts and activities
These things become more apparent over time, and through a well-established reflective writing practice. However with the right quality of attention paid to our physical responses, our energy level and the words that flow from the end of our pen, transformative discoveries can be made quite rapidly and our approach could change in a flash.