Note: This is a guest post by Andrea Nordstrom, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, with a degree from the Royal Holloway University of London. She’s also a professional success coach and a blogger @ The Art of ADD. She loves to write while the rest of the neighborhood is still sleeping.
If you want to change the direction your life is taking, positive journaling may help you steer it down a new path.
For many years, I felt like a helpless character in a story written by fate – reacting and responding to whatever came my way, but having very little control over the plot. If things were going well, I felt great. If life got more challenging, I felt anxious, defeated, or worse: helpless.
Journaling was one way I could console and cajole myself through the harder times. It didn’t always change the situation, but offloading on the pages of a tattered notebook offered relief.
Human beings have been telling stories for millennia, recording history and imparting wisdom through a myriad of mediums – painted symbols, oral narratives, folk songs and written word. Journaling is nothing more than another form of storytelling. It documents the story that we tell ourselves about our own lives. For many, it is therapy in the form of pen and paper, a way to process thoughts and feelings.
In recent years, I have discovered a powerful way to take control of my own narrative, through Positive Journaling.
While journaling can take on many forms, as Nicole Gulotta’s previous post highlights, positive journaling has a distinctive flavor. Rather than telling the story of what has occurred and how we feel about it, positive journaling creates a new story. As we write, we focus on the positive aspects of our lives, digging up every morsel of our experience that we appreciate, no matter how small.
We bring those good feelings into focus and savor them with words. Though it may seem frivolous, positive journaling has the ability to shift paradigms and transform mindsets. We become the authors of our own experience, rather than passive bystanders reporting circumstantially.
We become the authors of our own experience, rather than passive bystanders reporting circumstantially.
Why Positive Journaling is Powerful
The ancient philosopher, Epictetus, proposed that people are disturbed more by their own points of view than the things that happen to them. The story we tell ourselves about our experiences can either help us or hold us back.
Author and cartoonist, Scott Adams, describes the ability to control your own attitude as a “minor superpower”. He suggests: “the best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface… imagination is the interface to your attitude.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always fancied the idea of having a superpower. I also like the idea of being in charge of my own mind, not a puppet to circumstances. Positive journaling offers direct access to that “moist robot”, using imagination to steer ourselves towards greater happiness through focused attention to the positive.
We create our own realities by choosing what we focus on. The more we focus on the positive aspects of our lives, the more positive experiences (and thus, feelings) we generate. It’s not magic – its logic. What you see is what you get.
Finding My Superpower
For years, I lived at the mercy of this annoying chatterbox who incessantly complained that nothing in life was good enough. (Hint: she was me!)
Nothing I achieved, accumulated or experienced was sufficient. I was never smart enough, kind enough, or lucky enough to be the kind of person I wanted to be. Stuck in a rut, the harder I tried to move forward, the more rooted in the mire of inadequacy I became.
Positive journaling was one of the tools that helped me find my way out of that bog. You see, while I was busy focusing on all the things I didn’t have, I was neglecting to notice all the things I did have.
When I shifted my focus, something miraculous happened: the more positive aspects I deliberately looked for, the more I found. It wasn’t quite a superpower, but having that kind of control over my own mind was the closest thing to a superpower I could imagine.
If you want to find your own power through telling a new story, here are three topics to start writing about through Positive Journaling:
What you appreciate
Research shows that gratitude lists have the ability to raise your happiness baseline. Appreciation logs take this concept one step further. Take stock of everything that brings you joy and pleasure – not just the things you are grateful for.
For example, I really enjoy my first-morning coffee, how the first few sips dance on my tongue as they wake up my senses. I like writing on my deck in the early morning, while the rest of my street slumbers. I love reading authors who combine words in magical ways. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m “grateful” for these things, but I sure do appreciate them when I focus on them.
What you value
I hate cooking, but I value nourishing my family through healthy meals (at least most of the time…) – so cooking is a conduit to fulfilling one of my values. I also hate being disorganized, but love being in creative flow. I accept my “scattered-ness” as a side effect to the creative process.
Use positive journaling to transform the meaning of your challenges by focusing on your values. You might not like what’s happening, but you can find value in the meaning you derive from them.
What you desire
Use your imagination to daydream about all the things you want in life, no matter how fantastical they seem. As Adams says: “your ideas for the future fuel your energy today. No matter what you do in life, higher energy will help you get there.”
Use your journal to tell a new story of how you would like things to be. When you write about these things, set aside all judgment. The aim isn’t to be realistic – it’s to raise your energy by honoring desires. We are all in a state of becoming: more than we were yesterday, not yet what we’ll be tomorrow. But today, we are the authors of our future selves, crafting new plots as we go.
If journaling is a new process for you or one you are getting reacquainted with, Bryan’s new course “The Art of Positive Journaling” will help develop a great habit to move your life forward – so make sure to sign up!
Positive journaling allows you to take command of your story by deliberately focusing on things that make you feel good.
Try it for the next month. Whether you see it as a mini-superpower or just a fun exercise, one thing is certain – you’ll never tell the “same old story” again.