How Journaling Helped Me Make Better Decisions

musings Feb 08, 2018

The first time I used journaling as a tool for personal growth was after reading Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way". She explains a technique called morning pages.  The process is simple. After getting up in the morning, before doing anything else, write three pages of whatever you're thinking about. Even if it's totally boring. Write what's on your mind and in your brain. Write one letter sentences, if that's all you can come up with. Put your thoughts down on paper. Don't worry about being repetitive. Let the stream of consciousness flow. 

I practiced her morning pages for quite a while when I was living in Vienna, Austria, during my time as a musical theater actress. At the time I struggled with the fear of not knowing when I'll have my next job, how I'll pay the rent, which song I'll sing for my next audition, which auditions I should go to. It was a scary time.

The morning pages didn't help much.  I still wrote them. I'm a diligent student. I do as I'm told. (It took me years to learn to question tasks I was given.) To Julia's defense, I'm now realizing that I didn't do the morning page exercise correctly back then.

I've kept a journal for pretty much my whole life, sometimes writing an entry every six months, sometimes daily. I'm definitely not consistent. I see it as a tool, not a chore. If I get something out of journaling I will. If I feel it's another thing on my already overflowing to-do list, then I let it be.

Recently, I've started to reach for my journal when I need help with a decision. Mostly on weekends, I need help deciding how to best use my free time. I've suffered from adrenal fatigue this past year and I need to use my energy carefully. Even though today was this beautiful sunny day with a few inches of fresh snow, I had a hard time convincing myself to go outside. Two months ago, nothing could have kept me inside. I would have hiked, skied, or gone for a snowshoe hike. But I overdid it last fall, and my energy had gotten worse again after I had worked hard to recover. 

I was torn about going outside and enjoying nature, which is something that usually recharges me, and staying inside, resting my body, and mostly being pain-free. On top of the adrenal fatigue, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my neck this past week and am considering surgery. Interestingly, the only place that I've managed to be pain-free was on my sofa. It's where I'm writing at this very moment. (Life's way of showing me that's what I should be doing?)

I reached for my journal and just started to write down what I was thinking about. I listed all the options I was considering, the pros and cons of staying inside versus going outside. As I was writing I came to realize that I felt guilty about wasting a beautiful day inside. I noticed I felt sad about the pain in my neck and arm that prevents me from enjoying an outing. Driving has been triggering the pain regularly, so the thought of getting up from my sofa (where my neck doesn't hurt) and sitting in my car to drive to a hiking trail and then having to deal with the pain for the rest of the afternoon, gave me a clear understanding of where my resistance was coming from.

I don't see myself as a person who's spending her weekends on a couch. But I have to recognize that this is not a normal situation, and I have to wait for my neck to get better before resuming my usual activities. Do I wish it were different? Yeah. But I'm making the best of it. Even though what I really want is spend time in nature, I know that right now that would make me feel worse, even though it usually makes me feel great. It's about being flexible. 

I assume this is probably what Julia had intended with her morning pages. Finally, after only 15 years, I understand how to journal to reap the benefit. One of the most important things I had to learn was that all my feelings and emotions are okay. I don't have to be ashamed of my feelings and thoughts. On the contrary, they are guides to our selves. No matter how destructive they seem at first. Following your thoughts with questions, "Why am I feeling guilty about this?" or "Why am I not giving myself permission to do that?" can help reveal your underlying desires.

What are your experiences with journaling?

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