I first wrote about journalling quite a few years ago, and there is a description of it in my first book "Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play" (2000). What I wrote then was:
"My own experience of writing like this for a period of about eight months, during which I hardly missed a day, was quite incredible. I described it at the time as like having a new brain. My mind became full of ideas, which seemed to bounce off each other. I became much more energetic and problems of procrastination fell away of their own accord. Although for various reasons I now write in my journal far more sporadically, I remain convinced that the practice left me with a permanently raised intelligence and far more self-awareness."
In spite of the benefits I had received from journalling, I didn't succeed in re-establishing it as a regular feature of my life for years. Then finally on 26 August this year I decided that I was going to adopt a "No Option" attitude to it. Since then I haven't missed a day.
There are many methods of journalling but the one I use is the one described in Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way": three pages a day in a spiral-bound A4 lined notebook, written without stopping to think. I'm writing this review to celebrate the completion of my first notebook this time round!
Ideally the writing is done first thing in the morning, which is why Julia Cameron calls it "The Morning Pages". Although it's good to do it as the first thing one does, I don't regard it as essential.
So what has been my experience of starting up again a practice which I found so beneficial six or seven years ago? My excuse for not doing it was that I had already got as much benefit from the practice as I would ever get. Did that prove to be true?
My experiences since 26 August have in fact been exactly the same as I experienced at first:
- my mind has been noticeably sharper
- ideas have started to flow again
- procrastination has vanished
Let's say a little bit about each of these:
Sharper mind. I have found again that my mind is working much quicker when thinking through ideas. I also have more confidence in being able to think on my feet when needed. Before I tried journalling for the first time, I would often find it difficult to think what to say in meetings or how to reply when asked a direct question. This hasn't been a problem since, but I have definitely found less mental fog since re-starting. I can usually measure this by the number of times I have to ask myself through the day "What am I trying to do?" because I've lost the mental thread.
Flow of ideas. This has been a major change. In fact at one meeting I attended a couple of weeks ago, people were remarking in amazement at the number of ideas that were coming to me in the course of the meeting. I have made major changes in the direction of my business since re-starting journalling - and this blog is just one of the results.
Procrastination. I remember well how when I journalled before, how procrastination suddenly disappeared. I think it was because I got really enthusiastic about all the new ideas I was having. When you're enthusiastic about something, you can't wait to see how it works out. Starting journalling again had exactly the same effect this time. I've developed loads of techniques to overcome procrastination over the years, but suddenly I found myself not needing the techniques.
In short, the experience of re-visiting journalling has been that it is everything that I remember it being.
I know that many other people swear by journalling, but I also know that some have tried it and not got much out of it. This may well be a matter of individual temperament. However one thing I have found is that it is important to avoid two extremes when writing one's journal. One extreme is to make it nothing more than a factual list. I have known some people make their journalling into not much more than writing out a to do list. This may be a very useful thing to do, but it is not journalling!
The other extreme is to make it an endless exploration of one's feelings and emotions. This is very easy to fall into, especially if you are in the middle of a break-up of some sort, but doesn't really get you very far.
My own experience is that ideally journalling should consist of both facts and emotion, and above all of concepts and ideas. Journalling should be where you wrestle with ideas in the context of your own values and convictions.
And finally, there is some evidence that writing in this sort of way can stave off mental deterioration due to age and even increase one's life span. I'll report back on that one in ten or twenty years' time!
For those readers who live in the USA or Canada, the international paper size A4 is the equivalent of the American paper sizes Letter (slightly smaller) and Legal (slightly bigger).