Journaling is a Dialogue with Yourself

A great dialogue can unfold when you seek to truly understand your partner. If you go into conversation with an open mind, ask meaningful questions and listen deeply, you can come away with powerful insights about the topic (and the speaker). With this framing in mind, I offer that the most meaningful journaling is really conducted as a dialogue. With yourself.

Previously, I mentioned the importance of making journaling a routine. But what exactly are you putting on the page?

Just as there’s no singular way to engage in conversation, there are just as many possibilities for journaling.

Positives

In her 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal, Nancy Adler suggests leading your reflection time with some positive takeaways:

  • What was I thankful for today?
  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?

Responding to questions like these helps put your brain in a positive state of mind. The brain is easily threatened. Threat dampens your creativity, decreases your understanding of options, and leads to reactive, rather than proactive thinking. When you reduce threat and increase positivity, you increase your field of possibilities, engagement and motivation. In short, you raise your confidence and productivity.

Self Awareness

  • What made me laugh today?
  • What upset me today?
  • Did I feel successful today?
  • Did I disappoint myself today?
  • What inspired me today?

Self-awareness questions give you the chance to be a truth teller. You can acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly, and your true thoughts and feelings about it all. You can improve your emotional intelligence by assessing your responses to various circumstances. You’re not judging yourself, you’re simply learning more about yourself. Gaining self-awareness helps you to become more intentional over time.

My Leadership

  • How am I leading?
  • What do others think of my leadership?
  • Am I reflecting my personal values?
  • Am I supporting my organization’s values?
  • Were my people better off today because of me?

Questions like these allow you to assess your impact and how it can be improved. Again, this is not the time to beat yourself up. Based on your observations, interactions, gut feelings and so on, what did you notice or learn about your leadership today?

My People/My Team

  • Who needs my attention?
  • What might my team be feeling?
  • What techniques/support/resources worked best?
  • What techniques/support/resources didn’t work?
  • Who has been consistently dependable / non-dependable?

Answers to these will shed light on how to manage talent better.

My Goals

  • Did I get closer or farther from my goals today?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What did I prioritize today?
  • What were the results?
  • Are my goals still appropriate?
  • What is the purpose of my work?
  • What fulfills me?

In particular, when I felt my time did not reflect my priorities or values, I reflected on questions like this quite a bit. It helped me to be more proactive with prioritizing and scheduling. It also led me to do some exploration of my values to find out how I could express them more at work.

My Day

My current favorite is the quick run down. I do a check on the day and set an intention for tomorrow:

  • What were my goals for today?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What will I do differently tomorrow?

The categories and questions here are just a guide. I recommend you try journaling a few days and then decide what kinds of questions are most meaningful for you.

If you’re stuck and feel unsure how to begin, you can simply ask yourself one question: What happened today? As you answer, really listen. Pay attention to yourself. Just as in a dialogue, you’ll naturally pose relevant follow-up questions. After a few days you’ll have a good idea of the questions that will make journaling most meaningful for you.

The most important thing is to start. 

A Journaling Habit

Journaling works if you work it.

Journaling is a powerful practice. But like any practice, it only works if you work it. That means your goal is to do consistently, not just when you feel like it. You don’t have to carve out a lot of time, but you will need to carve out some time.

If you’re not sure how to make the time, a coach can help you rethink and redesign your day. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, journaling allows you to document ideas and work through hunches. It allows you to keep track of otherwise fleeting, yet potent thoughts, and it also improves your thinking. These benefits accrue to the degree you can make journaling a habit.

Plan Ahead

Building a habit can feel daunting, so it’s important you set yourself up for success. Consider a consistent time or trigger that will alert you to journal. For instance, set a recurring meeting with yourself for first thing in the morning or perhaps as you close the day.  

You might also consider your work ebbs and flows. Look ahead several days, and see if you have short breaks between longer meetings. Block 15 minutes for yourself and commit to journaling during that time. Midday journaling is more difficult for some – especially those without as much control over their calendars. The important part here is to plan ahead and schedule reminders to keep you on track.

Defeat Decision Fatigue

I recommend clients go so far as to picture where you will journal and make sure your notebook or favorite app is handy at the time and place you’ll need it. As you go through the day, each decision you make takes a toll on your brain. As a result, you become more likely to do what’s easiest, rather than what’s best.

Having a clear plan of action in place minimizes your chance of being foiled by decision fatigue.  Journaling by hand is great for slowing down and processing, but digital journalingis certainly a viable choice as well. So whether a special colored pen or a stylus, select your tool ahead of time and have it ready.

Silence the Inner Critic

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty. Since you’re journaling for yourself, not for a broader audience, give your inner critic the day off. This is not the time for judgments about spelling, grammar, formatting or content. Avoid editing. Really. You’re thinking on the page, and analyzing those thoughts. You’re not trying to win a contest or create a post to display on Pinterest. Don’t stifle your thinking. Just write.

This is your leadership development time. Use it to better understand and nurture the leader within.

What do you think? Are you making a routine to journal? Are you seeing benefits from journaling? Let me know what you think. 

On Leadership Journaling

Black woman writing in a diary on a wooden desk.

In today’s digital world, there’s one analog practice I cherish. Journaling.

Now to be fair, you can journal on your phone, tablet or computer, but I’ve long found that my best thinking comes when I make time to put pen to paper. This age-old practice isn’t just for personal insights and daily documentation. It’s also a great tool for leadership growth as well.

On first thought, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest leaders find time to journal, of all things. The business climate changes day by day and there’s pressure from all directions – superiors, stockholders, customers. You have to be ready, agile, quick. But you also have to be visionary, innovate, creative and smart. And that’s where journaling comes in.

Nancy Adler, an expert in arts-inspired leadership, writes:

Extraordinary leadership requires seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act.”

Wise leadership requires careful reflection of evolving ideas and feelings that may be forgotten from one day to the next. Mental processing is difficult enough without the added distractions from push notifications, information overload and more. Let’s face it – deep thinking seems impossible when you can barely keep up with email!

But we encourage leaders to try journaling as a way to retell, review and understand the events of the day. Just the act of recording what happened and what you thought, felt, or noticed will give you perspective over time.

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty in a busy life. You’re not sharing your notes with direct reports, peers, or anyone else. You’re writing for you, so you can tell the truth as you know it. Document ideas you want to revisit, research or refine. Acknowledge, observe and work through feelings, gut reactions, and hunches.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, but it also improves your thinking. Research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that settled brains are better at processing and problem solving. Journaling quiets the mind so you can think more clearly in the moment. I sometimes refer to it as meditation by writing.

Take a few minutes to document and digest your day.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. As you relive thoughts and feelings while journaling, you reflect on them. Such reflection is a key step in increasing self-awareness, as well as better understanding the world around you.

Dan Ciampa, author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge In a New Leadership Role (Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), believes journaling what’s working and what’s not throughout the day is great for learing. There are lessons in your successes and mistakes, and with a little practice and diligence, you can discern when and how to implement positive changes. 

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

If you enjoyed, Sir Ken Robinson’s epic 2006 TED talk on creativity, you’ll find this one equally satisfying. For those who require an introduction, a brief excerpt as Sir Robinson discusses the alleged ADHD epidemic facing American school children:

If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget, you know? Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition. They’re suffering from childhood. And I know this because I spent my early life as a child. I went through the whole thing.

Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them. And by the way, the arts aren’t just important because they improve math scores. They’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.

Step One: Purchase a Machine

The Domestic LadyBuddha has already cooked a few new recipes, ala The Grit vegetarian cookbook and the Better Home and Gardens famous cookbook. Those happened a few weeks ago and I didn’t have the tools or foresight to document my process. But now, thanks to HoneySnaps, I have an iPhone. That means finally, a working camera! Yes!

And with that, feast your eyes on this:

Meet my new Singer 2263. I can’t say I did a great deal of research to pick this machine. It was a happy marriage of convenience, price, and brand loyalty. I seem to remember my mother sewing with Singer, and I’m pretty fierce about sticking with childhood brands (marketing gurus, take heart).

This little number (handpicked by Martha Stewart and labeled for beginners) came to her new home last night. I have two projects in mind to start. They are both courtesy of my cousin Avis, who maintains the familial tradition of sewing.

She heard of my interest to sew and sent me Amy Butler’s Sew-It Kit to encourage me. After many days of mulling, I picked out the sleeping mask and the apron as my first two projects.

I’m not convinced of their ease. I’m a *beginner’s beginner* and the directions say this kit is for beginner or intermediate sewers. o_O

Anyhoo…

I spent quite a bit of time finding all the materials any beginner sewer needs: hand needles, threaders, thread, straight pins, pin cushion, scissors…

But more than halfway through my shopping list, I found a handy beginner’s kit. I added a pack of safety pins for good measure, as well as a yardstick and some fabric pencils. I also needed a quilter’s ruler (specifically for the sleeping mask project). Quilter’s supplies are expensive (!!!), but thankfully I found one on clearance for only $5.

I’ll show you the fabrics I got now, although you’re definitely going to see them again when I blog about actually making something. Here’s what I’ll need for the sleeping mask.

And here’s the apron. I think the colors I chose for both are appropriately safe yet cute. It was actually pretty difficult to find stuff that grabbed me. But I was also a little overwhelmed trying to find the right materials (cotton, polyester, satin) in addition to the colors and styles. I decided to keep it simple as I get used to how fabrics even behave! I’ll be more adventurous next time, although, shopping in a store full of “Calico” and “Country Favorites” may not be the move either. Just sayin. But I was showing you what I got for my apron:

Totals

My Singer was $89 plus tax. The materials for both projects came to $16 (including thread since I had none, and an extra spool of ribbon since I was unsure about colors). My misc beginner’s materials (yardstick, the quilter’s ruler, safety pins, chalk pencils, and the sewing kit), came to another $43 bucks.

Grand total with taxes = $153.77. Your start up may be more or less, but there you go.

I’m excited and a little nervous about my first project. Because the sleeping mask requires quilting stitches, I’m thinking I may start with the apron. I should’ve bought a scrap of material to just play with. Surely there’s something in the closet I can use.

Until next time…

The LadyBuddha Goes Domestic

I threatened to cook more while I was working on my dissertation, teaching a new class, and simultaneously working on a huge research project. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen. I stuck to the things I was comfortable with cooking, drank plenty of green smoothies (worth its own blog), and tried to buy organic or otherwise healthy food when I ate out.

Once I moved back to my home state I found myself nesting. My apartment has the same stuff overall, but some of it’s warmer. There are even pictures of tulips up. lol. Still not the perfect place I’d like, but hey, I was still working on the dissertation and ANOTHER new class.

Well, now I’m done and I’m feeling the pull to increase my creative and feminine energies. Although some of this translates into “traditional, woman’s work” I don’t have those hang ups about it. I want to cook delicious and healthful dishes. It feels creative and life-affirming, and I like the combination of art and science it entails. I also want to sew (how about that) for the same reasons. Both of these things are inherently useful and engage both sides of my mind. (As an aside, I genuinely think sewing is in my blood, but more on that another time).

In addition to cooking and sewing, I’ve been working on expressing my feminine charms more outwardly. In short, I’ve been dressing and simply BEing sexier (Shout to Sojo). It’s a little harder to pull off in the winter (and with my pathetic wardrobe), but it’s fun learning to express my inner diva. I play with essential oils, engage in temple building (exercise) and general kicking it up a notch-ness. This is me heading out to a holiday party a few days ago:

It feels wonderful. I only wish I could go back to warm weather and sundresses. (Sexy AND easy!)

But I digress.

I think I spent so many years birthing my dissertation and expanding my intellect that it’s nice to shift energies to manifesting, creating, and loving. I was already a damn good catch before, but now that the LadyBuddha is going domestic? Well…let’s just say you’ve been warned.

So in addition to miscellaneous posts about life, love, spirituality, and the like, expect some pointed tweets on my adventures in sewing, cooking, and learning to up my shoe game.

xoxo