We are the authors or sculptors of our lives, as I explained in my article entitled "Man’s mind is not a container to be filled but rather a fire to be kindled." To become the person we want to be, I suggested we reflect on our thoughts and actions and then make whatever changes we consider necessary. After all, our thoughts solidify into actions, each step of which helps to shape our lives. In this article, I take the art of self-creation a step further. Rather than merely REFLECT on our thoughts and actions, we now WRITE THEM DOWN. In other words, keep a journal.
The difference between reflecting on our thoughts and writing them down is just like the difference between sculpturing with a mallet and a sledgehammer. It’s a difference of power. Reflection is a mallet. Writing is a sledgehammer.
Thoughts are frail. Like cherry blossoms blown about by the wind, our thoughts scatter in every direction. That’s why mere reflection lacks power. But writing our thoughts down forces us to focus on the issues and reading them helps to keep us on the subject. If you wanted to burn a newspaper, you wouldn’t try to do so by puting it out in the sun, would you? Even if you left it there for 50 years, the worst that would happen is the pages would turn yellow. Yet, if you were to use a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun on the newspaper, you could set it ablaze in minutes. Writing is the magnifying glass that sets our thoughts on fire.
Keeping a journal and meditating are similar in four respects. First, both can substantially improve our lives. Second, nearly everyone has a vague notion of what it is to meditate or keep a journal. Third, few people know the specific steps involved in either activity. In other words, what is it exactly that I should do if I want to keep a journal or meditate? Fourth, there are hundreds of methods for engaging in either practice. To simplify, I will describe ONE way to keep a journal. It is the technique I use.
But first, what is the purpose of my journal? What is the purpose of scaling mountains? According to mountaineers, it is because they are there. What is the purpose of writing? According to the US novelist Thomas Louis Berger (born in1924), it is because it isn’t there! That’s why I keep a journal. Because it isn’t there. What isn’t there? My full potential. In other words, a new and better me. I am better today than I was yesterday and I want to be better tomorrow than I am today. That’s why I keep a journal. I do it to experience continuous growth.
Now to the nitty-gritty. What is it exactly that I do when I make a journal entry? What are the specific steps that I take? Any good teacher or supervisor knows that if you want someone to change their behaviour, you start with honest praise to let them know they have value and are appreciated. Next, you explain that they can become even better than they already are by doing whatever it is you are about to suggest. If this is the way I treat others, shouldn’t I treat myself in the same way?
So, the first thing I do when I make a journal entry in the evening is answer the question, "What have I done right today?" By reviewing my accomplishments, it encourages me to stay on course and do even better in the future. Now that I am motivated to do better, I go on to the second step by asking myself, "What have I done today that I could have done better?" Here’s where opportunity lies. I look for ways that I can improve by learning from my mistakes. Thankfully, I never run out of opportunities for self-improvement.
Each of the five steps I take in my journal grows more important than the step before it. In step three, I ask myself, "What actions can I take to seize the opportunities for self-improvement that I have found?" After listing action that I can take, I move on to the fourth step, which is to fit the action steps into my daily schedule. Depending on my schedule, I begin to incorporate them into my life, if not the next day, within a few days.
Although any changes I make for the better are commendable, they are not of much value unless they become permanent, or habitual. That’s why step five is the most important. This is the step where I monitor my progress and make sure I stay on track. I keep a watchful eye on new, good behaviour, making sure I repeat it for 30 days, so it will become a habit. Once it becomes a habit, I am free to forget about it and move on to new areas of improvement. Step five also blends into step one, for when I look at what I am doing right, I am actually monitoring my progress. So, the five steps form a cycle of never-ending improvement. The steps may sound complicated, but I find them easy to follow and never spend more than 30 minutes to carry them out.
There is something else I do. As I work in my journal, invariably, I will have a flash of insight, have a good idea, or just think of something I may want to consider in the future. None of these thoughts are directly related to my self-improvement regimen; nevertheless they are worthwhile. So, I immediately add these flashes of inspiration to another journal, which serves as a repository of good ideas. Keeping multiple journals and instantly flipping between them is a simple matter when working with a good software program, such as David Michael’s THE JOURNAL (http://www.davidrm.com). Once a week, I spend ten or fifteen minutes browsing through my collection of good ideas to see which ones I am ready to act on.
Keeping a journal will steer, focus, and use your thoughts to take you where you want to go. It will accelerate your growth and help in achieving your goals. It puts you in charge of your thoughts, and, therefore, in charge of your life. Once you get into the habit of keeping a journal, you will come to believe that living without one is like being a farmer who refuses to water his crops!
Did you like today’s topic? If so, stay tuned because in my next article I’ll continue by sharing other valuable ways people use journals. If you did not find my method of keeping a journal useful, stay tuned because I'm sure one of the other methods will work for you.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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