Make Your Journaling Legit

For years and years and years, I’ve been a journaler. I can remember little diaries with locks and keys that my parents gave me when I was a child, with the words My Diary written in gold on their covers. At six or so, I filled the pages with sentences like “Today was good.” “I am sad.” “I love Rosie.” “Rosie loves me.” (Rosie was our dog and the subject of many of my — thankfully brief — early diary entries.)

When I was thirteen, though, I really started to journal. That is, I wasn’t just recording what happened that day — I was delving inward, trying to understand myself.

I have never, ever, had to force myself to journal. It comes to me as naturally as breathing. Anything goes in my journal, so I’m never concerned with whether or not what I write there is “good” or “right.” I have a compulsion to record, to notice, to reflect, to make connections. It’s a practice that grounds me and reveals me to myself.

It is different than, say, working on my novel. When I write fiction, I’m not delving into myself. When I write fiction, “I” disappear. Sure, all my experiences are there for me to draw upon, and they feed the fiction. But my novel is not concerned with my own self. It’s a story coming through me, filtered through my self, but really, I’m not creating it. I’m just the channel.

With journaling, I sometimes get to the place where I feel like a channel too. These are the sessions I call hardcore. As I wrote previously, I can get to a place where I know that if I allow myself to sit down with the journal, the floodgates will open. All the other days of showing up to the journal — maybe a lot of the time I’m just writing something like “I’m not sure what’s going on with me today, but I feel like crap” and going from there — allow for these glorious hardcore journaling sessions, where something I really need to know is moving through me, but I’m not controlling it. It’s usually the culmination of a lot of struggle, a lot of wondering, and a lot of surrendering — having to admit, hey, I don’t know. And then it comes through on the page and I do know.

When I was in grad school, in the awesome writing program at Columbia College Chicago, we used our journals to write about what we noticed in the published work we read, and what we noticed as we worked on our own stuff. There, too, I can remember connections being forged in a particular way on a particular day, and suddenly something I really needed to know about what I was writing would be apparent to me.

But in order to get to this place of connection, of that really cool thing opening up and coming through onto the page, I had to show up for all the days when nothing much seemed to be coming through. “I’m sad.” “I love Rosie and she loves me.” A lot of days, I don’t feel so different from that six-year-old. But it’s still important to show up, to fill the pages.

Sometimes I hear writers (including me) say, “Well, I didn’t do any real writing today. I mean, I only wrote in my journal.” Guess what? That means you did some real writing today. Recognize your journaling for what it is: It’s legit. It’s real writing, and connected to all the other writing you do. Make room for it, learn from it, be totally in love with it. It’s you.

Image is DESERT © Loredana Marchesin |

The Message of Hesitation

What’s happening when we’re not sure, when we actually find ourselves stopping on the way to something we thought we wanted?

I asked myself this question today when I found myself feeling agitated and hesitant in the face of an opportunity that presented itself. And, to complicate things further, that age-old question I tend to torture myself with reared its head: Am I just procrastinating?

As I’ve written about previously, when we are truly procrastinating, there is a simplicity to what is going on. We know we want, or need, to do something (say, the laundry), but we’re enjoying sitting on the couch. Or, maybe I know I want to work on that chapter of my novel but I’m not sure where to go next. So I find I’m not getting over to the desk.

Today was different, though. An opportunity showed up and a part of me said, “Maybe I should jump on that.” But I couldn’t seem to do it. My body actually seemed to move away when I tried to move myself toward the opportunity. And then it didn’t move at all. I stalled.

The first tip-off was my use of the word should. Should is often (though not always) an indicator that some part of me is afraid. Yes, believe it or not, should frequently equals this: I’m afraid I’m going to miss out. I’m afraid someone (maybe me) is going to think poorly of me if I don’t. I’m afraid this might be my last chance to do X.

When I hear myself using the word should, it’s very likely my inner lizard is freaking out. “Should” is one of those words that almost always requires some investigation.

The next tip-off was my use of the word “jump”. Now, jumping can feel fun and exciting, but in this case, I noticed it was frought with a kind of urgency, a tangle of knots in my stomach that felt heavy as bowling balls. Some of my worst decisions have come from that urgent place. I highly recommend not making decisions (especially big ones) from a place of urgency or panic. If you’ve ever been in a true emergency situation, you probably noticed in retrospect that you simply acted. You grabbed your child or your cat or your goldfish and you left the house where you smelled smoke and called 911. You felt a pain in your stomach and you knew something wasn’t right and you got yourself to the ER.

Urgency and panic come up when we feel like we should be acting, but we’re not clear enough about what we want to know which action to take. And our minds start spinning out stories of future deprivation, poverty, hopelessness, madness, isolation.

When I noticed today that I was feeling urgent about taking a certain action, but hesitated in the face of it, I knew my hesitation was good. It was a message: you’re not clear. What do you need? Do you need more information? Do you need to give yourself a day to think about things? Are you trying to deny or ignore your intuition?

I know that when I answer these questions and come to a place of relative peace, I will know what to do. And if this opportunity wasn’t the right one, I can be sure that more will present themselves. That’s the cool thing about opportunity: not only does it knock twice, it knocks every freaking day, if you’re open to it.

Defining Creativity

Yesterday I was chatting with my coaching buddy and awesome fellow coach Marte Gehlken and she mentioned how often she hears people say this: “I’m not creative.”

I hear this a lot too. Or, “I used to be creative, back when I did a lot of artwork.” Or, “I would be creative if I had more time.”

We need to expand what we typically define as creative. Marte said during our conversation, oh so wisely, “Creating your own reality is creative.” Yeah, it is! But we tend not to see creativity this way. We think it is something outside of us, something we “should” be doing, but (frequently) aren’t.

I remember the summer of 2008, which was a very low, “dark night of the soul” place for me. Now I realize it was what we coaches who went through Martha Beck Life Coach Training call a “liminal period”, or Square One. You’ve shifted out of a place that felt really good for quite a while, because it no longer fits. But you don’t know where you’re going yet, nothing new and solid has emerged in you to guide you on your way, and it kind of sucks.

So one day in 2008 I was feeling crappy and uncreative and I was on one of my very early morning walks and pretty soon, lo and behold, I got into The Zone. I became unattached to my thoughts and was just kind of watching them and my body moved me along and I felt my breath coming in and out. And I looked down and saw this little house sparrow hop into a puddle, in which he dipped the ends of his wings and the underside of his tiny body and then shook himself off.

I felt actively engaged in my observation of this sparrow. I could feel what it was like to be the sparrow, the warmth of the water that had been sitting out in the sun on my feathers, and what it must feel like to know you’re going to take off and — fly! — in a moment.

And a message bubbled up in my chest and translated itself this way: This is creativity! Actively observing this sparrow, I had the exact same sensation I do when I write, when I paint, when I do all the things we typically label “creative.”

Creativity is a way of being in the world. It’s a way of interacting with our surroundings. We’re soaking it up. We’re actively engaged. We’re feeling it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write, paint, act, dance, or do whatever it is we typically label “creative.” Absolutely you should, and you must, if it calls to you. But don’t say, “I’m not creative” just because you are not doing these things. Notice where you ARE creative — which, my friend,  can be everywhere — and then do whatever you’re inspired to do.

On that note, on my walk this morning I came upon some birdseed the neighbors one street over regularly scatter on a square of sidewalk. Except today, mixed in with the birdseed, were some large cheese curls. You know, the big fat puffy Cheetos. That, I thought, is creativity.


Let Your Wisdom Come Through

I’ve noticed that when I’m getting close to some kind of major insight — some piece of wisdom about myself or my life that I very much need in order to move forward — I usually become resistant to receiving it. That is, I have a hard time allowing myself to be in “receptive” mode, where I can access the insight, and I crank up my activities.

My latest way of distracting myself is by playing Galaga. If you were also a kid in the ’80s, you might remember this was an Atari arcade game that came out around 1981. I’ve been playing it on my TV, for old timesake, remembering how much fun it was to shoot rows of insect-like creatures who rain fire on me.

It’s fine, and joyful, to play Galaga when I’m not using it to distract myself from something else. But lately I’ve noticed I’ve been intending to write in my journal around 9 p.m. or so, when I suddenly think to myself, I’ll just play Galaga for a few minutes and then I’ll write.

Only I end up playing Galaga for two hours, and then I’m very sleepy and the journaling doesn’t get done.

And the reason my journal has been calling to me — in that subtle, quiet voice it has — is because it’s time for some wisdom to come through. And the way that often happens for me is through journaling.

But I’m not letting it come through. I’m distracting myself, and not just with Galaga. And I’ve been feeling distanced from myself, agitated, even kinda hostile and angry with myself.

If history is any indicator, there’s a very good chance that when I actually sit down with my journal for a good amount of time and let whatever wants to come up come up, come out, move through me, I will feel a hell of a lot better. What I’ve learned is that the bigger the insight that’s ready to come up, the more I avoid being open to receiving it.

Why? Because it isn’t necessarily easy to sit still, to write, to be, and get in touch with whatever it is. There’s usually some scary stuff hanging around the insight, protecting it, and I need to chip away at that — or, even better, be very gentle with the scary stuff and let it know it’s okay to unclench itself from my newborn insight and deliver the insight into my arms.

Eventually, I know I will step away from the Galaga game and be with whatever it is that wants me to know it. And I also know, if history is any indicator, that it is better if I can do this sooner rather than later. Though I am aware, too, with deep certainty, that the wisdom that wants to come through always arrives at the perfect moment: when I am ready for it.

Do you find yourself avoiding opening up to your insights, getting quiet enough to hear them? What allows you to listen? I’d love to hear how this process works for you.