Perfect for you if:
- You’ve ever felt confused or overwhelmed by an emotional situation.
- You’re struggling to make sense of a difficult idea or topic.
- You’ve tried keeping a journal but never made it stick.
Have you ever had a great conversation? Perhaps you got everything off your chest. Or felt like you took the world’s weight off your shoulders. Perhaps you solved a difficult problem you’ve been struggling with for some time. Or got some level headed advice or encouragement when you most needed it.
What if I told you there was a way to have conversations like that every day? That you could have them whenever and wherever you want? And that the answer is cheap, simple and available whenever you need it?
A Simple Experiment
To illustrate the point I want you to try a simple experiment.
First, find a nearby pen / pencil and a piece of paper. It doesn’t much matter what the paper is; a fresh piece or the back of a torn up scrap with writing already on it. Whatever’s to hand. If you’re really stuck: load up your favourite digital note taking app.
Ready? O.K. Now start a timer for 10 minutes. Use a watch, phone, tablet, computer or a good old fashioned wall clock. Whatever.
Now, wherever you have room to write, start with the words “What I am feeling now is…”. If you just rolled your eyes then try to reserve judgement. I know how you feel, trust me. Just go with it for now, even if it feels stupid.
Now Write – Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.
Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. Don’t worry about neatness, straight lines or readability. Don’t worry about getting off topic or whether to talk about or to yourself in the first, second or third person. Don’t even worry about having nothing to write about. Just write whatever feels right.
Write even if you have to write something like: “What I am feeling now is that this experiment is stupid and a waste of my time and I don’t have anything to write about anyway and what I should really be doing is working on my …” – BOOM. Now write about your “…” – let your brain off the leash. Go crazy.
Write until the timer goes off. This is the only rule of the experiment.
For some of you ten minutes may not feel like enough – if so, feel free to keep writing. Otherwise, when the timer goes off, feel free to put down your pen.
How are you feeling now? Excited? Surprised? Shocked? Angry? Happy? Sad? Calm? Clear?
Great! Transfer any next actions to another piece of paper or your productivity system.
Now take your piece of paper and shred / burn or tear it to pieces.
The Art of Journal Meditation
There is something about the power of “Journal Meditation” that never ceases to amaze me. I’ve been using it to solve problems big and small for the last 10 years.
I use it for anything from 10 minutes to two hours. I use it first thing each morning, last thing at night and frequently between.
In fact, over the last ~15 years I’ve used it almost daily to help me:
- Deal with regret, anxiety, loss and grief;
- Solve difficult conceptual problems at work and in my learning;
- Bring me up when I’m feeling low / bring me down when I’m flying too high;
- Clarify the unclear, identify false assumptions and make difficult decisions;
- Become friends with uncomfortable parts of myself I didn’t understand or like; and
- Better understand and empathise with the people around me.
Why is it so powerful? There are a few reasons. Among them, Journal Meditation:
- Slows you down;
- Concentrates your mind;
- Acts as a cathartic release;
- Unloads your mind of facts and feelings; and
- Opens a dialogue with your subconscious.
As a result its benefits include helping you to:
- Identify, acknowledge and let go of your emotions;
- Move forwards in your thinking; and
- Teach you a huge amount about yourself and others.
Journal Mediation vs. Journaling
There are two main reasons that people journal:
- To record things for posterity.
- To bring order (a story) out of chaos.
For many people, Journaling serves both purposes. They get great pleasure from recording and recalling the events of the day. At the same time, the act of writing forces them to make sense of their emotions and impressions to those events.
But committing to a regular record of the day can quickly become an overwhelming burden. You need enough time, at the right time, and with the right equipment. You need to stay on top of it. You need to make it legible. You may even feel the need to make it profound and interesting.
As a result, many of us give up on our initial attempts at Journalling. We start strong but before long the prospect of catching up on a few days of backlog just doesn’t seem worth it.
That’s a shame, because giving up on Journalling entirely means losing out its second and arguably most beneficial aspect: story telling.
Unlike standard Journaling, Journal Meditation does away with the need to keep a record of past entries. Instead, it isolates precisely the second aspect of the process. Its power comes not from the output but from the process of writing. This gives it some curious properties and advantages.
Think about it: how many of the life changing conversations you’ve had were powerful because you kept them and listened to them over and over again? My bet is very few. The power of those conversations wasn’t in recording them – it was in the act of having them.
The same is true of Journal Meditation. The fact that nobody (not even yourself) will ever read what you’ve written again means:
- It doesn’t matter when you do it;
- It doesn’t matter how you do it;
- It doesn’t matter what you write.
This gives Journal Meditation two distinct advantages over standard Journalling:
- It is much easier to turn into a habit: you can do it any time, any way, any where with whatever you have to hand.
- You can be far, far more honest with yourself: harbouring unspeakable thoughts? Go crazy. Now destroy the evidence. No one will ever find out.
In past years I’ve used Journal Meditation as a safe way to explore my most vulnerable self: from my closest relationships to my deepest values and sense of purpose. Challenging yourself constantly, tugging always at “Why? Why? Why?”, relaxing in to the things that make you most want to scream and run away: these are the only ways to get smarter in life.
Journal Meditation is magical because it is one of the most effective, cheap and reliable ways to do just that.
How to Journal Meditate like a Ninja
One of Journal Meditation’s most magical properties is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Test, review, adjust, repeat. These are all the steps you need to become a Journal Meditation Ninja.
For now though; here’s a quick cheat sheet of my own practice as it stands today. Hopefully it should be enough to get you started:
- Morning: ~10 mins first thing. Usually a no rules brain dump of whatever’s on my mind.
- Evening: ~10 mins as part of a PM review. Usually oriented around the day: “What went well? Badly? How can I make tomorrow 1% better?”
- Whenever I’m overwhelmed, confused or procrastinating:
- “What I am feeling now is…”
- “The reason I’m procrastinating is…”
- “I can’t work out XXX and it’s driving me nuts…” etc.,
- Sit down with pen and paper.*
- Set a timer (ideally for ≥10 minutes).
- Write non-stop until the timer goes off.
- Re-write any next actions on a new piece of paper.
- Throw the original piece of paper away.
* Writing on paper is slower, more deliberate and harder to go back over than typing on a keyboard. This is exactly why it is more effective than digital alternatives. That said, a paperless solution is better than no solution at all!
- Keep hold of what you’ve written;
- Worry about making it neat or profound; or
- Overthink or try to get too much from the process.
Do: Write about…
- Feelings: “What I am feeling right now is…”
- Thoughts: Whatever’s on your mind.
If you’re feeling Zen consider reflecting on:
- A thought starter such as:
- “What motivates me is…”
- “What I want more than anything is…”
- “I sometimes feel afraid that…”
- “I worry because…”
- One of your values; or
- An inspirational quote.
Also try inverting your reflections:
- Internally vs. Externally:
- “What I am feeling now is…” vs.
- “What XXX is feeling now is…”
- Blessings vs. Challenges:
- “I am grateful for…” vs.
- “I am struggling with…”
- Make a note of 5 things you’re grateful for before you start.
- Run/swim/meditate/do some yoga before or after your session.
That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post you might also like this one on how to turn anything into a new habit.
Have you tried this exercise or some variation before?
- What extra tips can you share?
- How and when do you practice Journaling?
- How did you find the experiment?
- What did you like?
- What did you write about?
- What did you find challenging?
I love being corrected and learning new things so if you have anything to add then let me know in the comments!.