Of all the gifts I received these Holidays, I know which I will use most. I got given a beautiful leather-bound journal. I love the process of journaling. I often attempted moving with the times; electronic journals had the attraction of synchronizing with calendars and email. Paperless had the appeal of less clutter and being more environmentally sound. And there is always the allure of new technology. Yet, somehow, I always return to pen and paper, and now I am shameless. Two influential books, experience with adult learners and my reality helped me realize that there are five compelling reasons why this old-tech journal will be my best companion in 2021.
There are all sorts of journalling that people do; creative writing, learning journals, journals for organization and planning. My journal is a hybrid of "all of the above". (That's one of the great things about blank paper - you can change the form infinitely, with no required fields or the pre-determined structures of many of the apps I've downloaded over the years.)
My hybrid journal consistently delivers on five promises;
1. Recall. Writing helps you remember. The process of physically writing engages our brains differently. Even if I can't find the page, or God-forbid, my book, the chances are if I wrote it down I'd remember it. And if I forget, with something of a system in my journal, I could probably find what I was looking for.
2. Realism. Our minds are cluttered. Thoughts occur when they occur. I know that my PC belongs to work, the iPad is mine, and I have a work and a personal phone, but no one told my brain. I am as likely to remember, in any one moment, that I need to get Chris an appointment with the dentist, that I owe Sergey a blog and that I need to prepare a report for my boss. Our personal and professional lives are blurred. In my journal, my hairdresser's phone number and ideas for the company newsletter, harmoniously coexist. Whereas our technology has owners. I don't have the comfort that others may feel about using office technology to record all facets of my life. Backed up and available to the IT Department in perpetuity. No. I like my privacy. And life is messy. Blurred boundaries are real. In my journal, my thoughts are my own.
3. Reflection. It is hard to find time to review. The conscious process of self-evaluation and introspection requires (for me at least) two rare commodities; quiet and time. With my journal, I can be opportunistic. I can reflect and capture my thoughts "in-the-moment". Studies confirm reflection is key; it helps us develop and mature as adults. In my journal, I can reflect on, and consolidate, learning. Whenever that elusive moment presents itself. I have seen first hand the value of written reflection as a tool for adult learners. I use it as an invaluable part of my approach to coaching executives. All reflection is good, and shouldn't be rushed. Typing is faster than writing. Even if you are a two-fingered typist. The goal is to accelerate learning. Not to expedite the recording. Writing down your reflections provides greater time to internalize events and take accountability for outcomes.
4. Relationships. In this context, I am talking about patterns and connections. My journal allows for free-writing, the process of writing continuously, ignoring structure and grammar in favour of a stream of consciousness. In the process of free-writing, I have found that insights abound. I see relationships between ideas that I didn't previously see. I am at my most creative when I am free-writing. And my journal enables me to take advantage at any time. I can generate ideas, formulate my opinions, create content … at a moment's notice. "Free-typing" doesn't have the same ring to it.
5. Relevance. Much has been written on the importance of meaning creation. To the extent that journal is a record of the goals I set, the accomplishments I make, the joys I experience, the tasks left undone and the daily ups and downs, it consolidates my life. It records my identity. My role as a mother, a worker, a teacher, a learner, a shopper, a gardener … this little book documents it all, much of it mundane. But all of it is meaningful, to me. And meaning matters.
My approach to journaling has developed over time to be uniquely mine. But two books made a positive, impactful difference. I read "The Accidental Genius" by Mark Levy so long ago I can't remember when I didn't have his wisdom. The techniques I learnt from that book are my constant companions. A few years ago I read "The Bullet Journal Method", by Ryder Carroll. This minimalist approach couldn't be more different from Levy's techniques but met another equally important need; staying on top of life's noise and demands.
Until I sat down to write this blog, I hadn't conceptualized the benefits as being 5Rs (Recall, Realism, Reflection, Relationships, and Relevance). Nor had I recognized that they are a hierarchy, at least in my mind. At its most basic, my journal is my "to-do", keeping me somewhat organized. At its deepest, it lays out my meaningful life. The thought process behind these insights started in my journal.
If you didn't get a journal for the Holidays, go out and gift yourself one. Make it of good quality. It will hold your thoughts. They deserve a good home. But not too expensive. Only buy something you are happy to write over, draw in, scribble on, cross out and generally leave your mark.
Wordsworth said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” To the friend that gave me my journal, thank you. Like you, it is truly a gift. And as we collectively look forward to 2021, with everything a New Year promises, know that I am excited to turn a new page.