After a number of “life-challenges” in 2018 I found myself a single dad with a beautiful 4-year-old daughter to take care of.
I was an attentive parent from day one and I really think I found my calling as a Dad but this new situation I found myself meant I had to kick things up to a new level. I knew I had to be there for her (emotionally and for the school run) and that meant changing my career, my prospects, my aspirations, my life. It wasn’t easy and change didn’t happen overnight. I had my dark moments when I questioned whether I could carry on, but I had to keep going for her. In order to do this I needed to find a way to support myself mentally and physically.
I have always been interested in personal development, positive mindset and mindfulness but it was time to put theory to the test. So with support from my close friends and family (and following a predictable but thankfully brief period of self-pity) I managed to take action by slowly creating a set of powerful daily habits. These included exercise, nutrition, meditation, gratitude, and I focussed on just doing just one thing a day, a single press-up, and extra glass of water, a 1 minute meditation. But pretty soon I was able to build up each habit and it slowly turned my life around. Sounds simple now that I write it down but God it was tough! What was the answer? Small steps. I found that if I took my focus off the big goal and instead stayed mindful about each tiny step i could manage it without becoming overwhelmed. The key habit the foundation that underpinned it all was… keeping a journal.
The Power of Self Expression
Journalling is widely considered beneficial to maintaining a healthy, positive outlook. The positives are widely know, and some very high profile individuals extol the transformational effects, including Oprah, Tony Robbins, and Matthew McConnaughey (not that famous people are necessarily the beacon of light for us all, but those are familiar names. My Auntie Sandra also keeps a journal, but you don’t know her, so…)
Journalling offers the opportunity to understand your own inner desires without the influence of other people’s opinions expectations and beliefs. What you write in your journal is yours and yours alone. You know this as you scribble and scrawl your innermost thoughts, so you feel liberated to offload your anxieties, goals, and demons completely free of judgement.
A growing number of GPs, therapists, and addiction experts across the world now advise their clients to journal. For example I recently received an email from one customer who suffered from fitness addiction, multiple eating disorders and depression that their GP had advised them to start a journal. We would all benefit from this simple process of self-expression through writing.
NHS UK tells us that…”reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.”
Journalling creates self-awareness of your values, beliefs, your world, and your place within it. The very act of journalling keeps you in the moment, creative and focused. Let’s face it most of us know we should journal or if we already do, we know that we should do it more regularly. But where do you start? That’s where the essential skill of habit creation cannot be overestimated.
The Power of Positive Habits
Our lives are run by habits. Once created they allow us to run on autopilot and free our minds while we take care of practical things, driving, food preparation, technology, what we eat, where we shop, our local coffee shop, the friends we speak to. The list is endless and it is all habit. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into bad ones when life gets tough, excessive drinking, smoking, lack of exercise, bad eating patterns, bad relationships.
The good news is that by choosing to form positive, life-affirming ones we can walk a happier path and enjoy the journey. After all we are not always in control of what happens to us yet we should always remember that we hold the power to choose how we live.
Building the Habit…
We all have big ideas and good intentions about changing our lives yet we often create overwhelm by setting expectations that cannot be met. Not achieving them leaves us disappointed, remorseful and guilty about our inability to succeed and so we give up.
So here’s a tip: start small. Think like a tortoise and take one tiny step at a time. Simple daily repetition will create neural pathways in your brain that rewire you for happiness. Those tiny steps and the sense of achievement you feel will eventually add up to one almighty journey.
Top Tips for Creating a Journalling Habit
Here are 3 steps to follow that will help you on your path to journalling (don’t concern yourself with what to write, that will come. Habit creation comes first).
Step 1: Create a Visual Cue.
As humans we are influenced by what we see. Marketing companies know this so well so think smart & take advantage of this by placing a notepad or journal on your bedside table (with a pen). You’ll see it at night and in the morning. Eventually, you will write in it.
Step 2: Be Grateful
It’s your journal so you can write anything. No judgement. However, some people are overwhelmed by this blank page syndrome. So start with short lists. Simply write down three things that you are grateful for. It could be anything, your car, a friend, your career, a soft pillow. The very act of thinking positively will steer your mind in the right direction and you’ll most likely find many more than three.
Step 3: Take Tortoise Steps
Spend only 5 minutes of self-reflection in the morning and 5 minutes before your head hits the pillow at night. Setting an expectation to capture perfect prose or poetry can be more overwhelming than helpful so just write a gratitude list instead. If you just need to write a shopping list then do it. Remember, first you need to create the habit and trust the process.
Write anything, even if it’s a single word to sum up your current mood. Once you start writing, your mind will begin self-reflecting and it’s this process which is key to understanding yourself. Do it at the same time and same place every day to help embed the habit and remember, small steps like the tortoise! There are loads of additional tips and practical wisdom and advice to create a holistic approach to creating habits. These will benefit you if you are going through any kind of emotional life-change or if you just want to be happier in your own skin.
Whoever you are and whatever you’re going through, journalling and mindfulness will enhance your life experience. It’s a practical way to help you notice the life you are already living.
Have a grateful day!
Co-founder of The Way of the Tortoise.com