My perfect day begins perusing the headlines in the New York Times on my iPhone. I might chomp down on a good editorial or two by my favorite columnists Paul Krugman or David Brooks. After a quick check of my email, I head downstairs. My husband, an earlier riser, has a pot of strong coffee brewing. While I fix breakfast, we talk about our agendas for the day. When my husband, who isn’t a breakfast eater, disappears upstairs to get ready for work, I sit down to eat.
The kitchen soon settles back down into quiet calm. I pull up a stool at the breakfast island, grab my laptop and my ever-present 32 oz. bottle of water, and get down to writing in my journal.
I prefer to journal on a laptop. My typing is fast enough to keep up with my thoughts so it’s a simple way for me to get it all down. I can revise my thinking along the way, if I want to, and tuck it away in a folder on my desktop. Simple. Easy. There are also times when I carry a small notebook to jot down ideas that inspire me throughout my day so they are not lost. These fleeting insights mean something to me in that moment. I trust my intuition to know they are worth capturing to revisit later.
I don’t like those early moments of staring at a fresh blank page wondering what to write. They make me fidgety. Yogic breathing is helpful for calming my body, centering my focus, and grounding myself fully in the present moment. If I’m really starting on empty, I might rely on help to get started. Mary Pipher offers a good list of soul-opening questions in her book, Writing to Change the World:
What do you want to accomplish before you die?
What is beautiful to you?
What do you most respect in others?
What excites your curiosity?
If you were ruler of the world, what would you do first?
What makes you laugh, cry, and open your heart?
What points do you repeatedly make to those you love?
What topics keep you up at night, or help you fall asleep?
What do you know to be true?
What do you consider to be evil?
I find it easiest to write one of these questions at the top of the blank page and refer back to it so I don’t get pulled off on tangents as I write. Usually, I go for depth rather than breadth. When something is troubling me, though, I use my journal to explore. I will let myself go wherever my feelings take me.
I write until I feel the topic is exhausted in the limited time I have to write that morning.
There are times when I am grappling with emotions that need to be expressed. Emotions can be difficult to bring up, even to ourselves. We resist them because they can feel overwhelming or scary. They are edgy. Everybody experiences this. But when we simply describe our emotions—”Today I feel...,”—we begin to figure out what they are telling us. Joan Didion put it best when she said,
We write to discover what we think.
We also write to discover what we feel. Discovering what we think and feel is knowing our own minds. It’s our truth. Your values and principles come of it. A new direction to build your life can come of it. Knowing what’s true for you gives you the strength of your convictions, deepens your emotional intelligence or propels you to take that next step toward the life you’ve been dreaming about.
Journaling is an individual process. Make it your own. Change it to suit your needs. Be creative with it. There is no right or wrong way to journal. There is only your way. Each and every day.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to start journaling. It just takes a few minutes a day, a little notebook, and dedication to your self-development.
Ordinary daily life is extraordinarily full if we slow down a little and notice. Noticing what we observe, how we react and judge, what we say or do, and the effect we have on others gives us a trove of information to write about. It also brings those confusing moments into insightful clarity.
It’s from that place of solitude that we begin the journey, little by little, into knowing ourselves fully. From there we can begin to transform our lives and influence the lives of others.
*Quote by author Tobias Wolff