Journal and pens

Ever thought of journaling? It’s a great time to start.

I love journaling. Journaling’s my favorite.

It is!

I started journaling in 10th grade and have been doing it off and on since then. I’ve had times of great journaling consistency and times of inconsistency.

But lately, with a few strategies I’ll share with you today, I’m on a journaling roll and believe in its value now more than ever.

My Journal(s)

I’m particular about my journals (I keep a few). For example, I have an simple, plain, black, leather-style notebook that I keep notes about my writing projects and other work-related things.

But my personal journal is different. I like a personal journal that stores little surprises for me, like quotes or drawings, that help me focus and reflect. I’ll give you an example.

My recent journal

My most recent journal has pink flowers and gold flowers on the cover. I picked it out in a rush and wasn’t crazy about the pink flowers or the title on the cover, “Always Be Kind.” (I know. So cynical.) While I believe it’s important to be kind in principle, I wasn’t sure I wanted the daily reminder. Sometimes I journal when I’m angry and not feeling so kind.

But it also has quotes, which I really like and it’s been one of my favorite journals ever.

The quotes are about being kind, like this one,

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love.” JRR Tolkien.

What a great nugget of truth.

Some people like to journal electronically, like in a journal app. I prefer writing longhand in a notebook. It feels more intimate to me. My handwriting is unique, like my fingerprint. 

What’s the purpose of journaling?

Journaling is great for:

  • mind dumps
  • clarifying what’s on your mind
  • chronicaling a journey
  • writing practice
  • venting

Mind Dump

Sometimes when I’m feeling conflicted about something or struggling with an issue, journaling helps me clarify my feelings about it. That sounds strange to say because who doesn’t know what they think about things? But many times, I don’t. I’m a very “Living in the gray” kind of person. Things are rarely absolutely black and white.

Sometimes I can have an opinion about something but something about that opinion still doesn’t feel right. Although, to be truthful, I rarely write about current events or issues. I mostly write about me, my thoughts, my feelings, and my impressions about what’s happening in the world. 

Vent

I don’t expect my journals to be read by anyone else, except maybe when I’m dead. They’re for me. 100%. That frees me up. I don’t have to hold back or think about what I can say without hurting someone else’s feelings.

I think maybe I’ll write a disclaimer at the front of every journal, something like: Please understand that I write in the heat of the moment. If I vented about you, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means I was angry, frustrated, or annoyed with life in general and maybe you in particular.

Purpose?

Journals can be like a “Dear Diary” or can be a chronicle of a trip or journey toward a goal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal in which I wrote specifically who and what I felt grateful for and why.

I keep a notebook of writing ideas, story issues, plot points, and blog ideas.

If you’ve ever thought about journaling but have never gotten past the first page, here are some tips I recommend to get you started. 

Decide how long you will write.

Start by setting your timer for a designated time. Work with what you have. If you only can set aside 5 minutes a day, then 5 minutes it will be. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes. You may be surprised at how quickly you fill the pages by writing just a short time several days a week.

Also, decide how often you will write.

3-5 times a week may be good to start and set the days you’ll journal, like Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Or you can shoot to journal every day for 5 or 10 minutes. No worries if you miss a day. Pick it up the next day.

Remember, it’s for you.

I used to write for hours when I was feeling down or angry and I’d look back on those journals and actually feel bad for that angry, discouraged girl. It may have helped at the time, but I can’t say for sure.

I definitely vent and mind dump all over my journal, but I also use the space to gain perspective for a more positive outlook on whatever’s on my mind.

What do I do with it?

Keep it if you want, but you don’t have to. Put it in a time capsule, in a lockbox, will it to be buried with you. 

But you might be surprised at how interesting your experiences may be to some one in the future. We are, after all, living through a historic event.

I just finished reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Great book and one of the most compelling things about it are the personal accounts of the harrowing Antartic journey as written in a log book, or journal. The details fill in the blanks of their incredible story of survival.

Here’s one historian’s view on the value of journals: Historian: Why We Should All Be Keeping Coronavirus Journals

If you’ve ever thought about keeping a journal, now is a great time to start.

And remember, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Find the way that suits you best and then keep it going!

Read more about keeping a gratitude journal on the blog: Make every day better with an attitude of gratitude

Do you journal? What’s been your experience with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter of journaling in the comments.

Music

Music – The great escape

Music can change the world because it can change people. ~ Bono

Do you ever feel like sometimes you just want a little, tiny, minuscule vacation? Like the old bubble bath commercial catchphrase, Calgon, take me away.

Music does that for me.

And sometimes, one song can change everything and speak to me in a way that touches my soul. 

What gives a song that power?

Sometimes it’s a memory of the song or some nostalgia built around it, like Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” First of all, Aretha, Queen of Soul, that big, soulful voice. But when I hear that keyboard intro to “Think” my mind immediately shifts to Aretha’s killer scene in a neighborhood diner in “The Blues Brothers” as she sang in a pink waitress outfit and house shoes, made all the more memorable by the girls who jumped off their dining stools to sing back up.

As the song continues and she sings, “Freedom!” I’m dancing. I managed to channel my best Aretha singing “Think” at Karaoke last year. I butchered the song, but did my best Aretha pantomime. So fun.  

Deep thoughts put to music

Sometimes it’s the heart of a song that speaks to my heart, like “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls. It’s a catchy tune with great vocals and acoustic guitar, but for me, the song is about our search for truth and clarity and for some assurance that we’re on the right track in life, but there’s not one “right” answer.

It’s in the journey that we discover our truth for ourselves.  “The less I seek my source for some divinity, the closer I am to fine.” 

Timely reminder

One of my very favorite songs of all time is “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, first released in 1979.

I know. It’s an old song, but it’s amazing and also, as I was reminded the other day, completely relatable.

I was cooking dinner, listening to music, when the familiar baseline came on: 

Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon.

Clap. Snap. 

Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon. 

Pressure. 

There’s a lot going on in the song, music swells, random lyrics:

Umboon, bah, bah, beh

People on streets. 

That’s okay.

And always goes back to the bass line: Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon.

Then around the middle of the song there’s a swell and overlapping of lines and sounds. 

And then goes to snapping fingers to the beat. Snap, snap, snap. 

Then the lyrics, “Turned away from it all like a blind man. Sat on a fence but it don’t work. Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn.”

Then another swelling of sound, drums, Freddy Mercury’s falsetto, guitars. 

And then one word rises from the chaos,

Love, love, love, love, love,

repeated in a rush, as if in a flash of revelation, like, Yes! That’s it! 

And then the lyrics that always gets me:

Insanity laughs and the pressure we’re breaking. 

Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love one more chance?  Why can’t we give love, give love, give love?

It’s like a great release and simple answer to life’s pressure and the feeling that the world is closing in on us and there’s chaos and wondering how we can protect ourselves and our family and still be okay. 

And David Bowie sings in the rush of words

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of (join voices and crescendo) caring about ourselves this is our last dance this is our last dance. (Slowly and more quietly) This is ourselves ….under pressure. 

Baseline. Snapping fingers. 

I think I love this song more every time I hear it.

When the music wells to the big ending it’s as if all the scattered thoughts and concerns — people in streets and good friends screaming let me out—and you feel the desperation and searching. All that stuff pushes down on you until the rush and realization: 

Love, love, love, love, love. 

This is our last chance, this is ourselves …under pressure. 

Whoa! Yes! This!

Mindshift through music

“Under Pressure” is pretty much the perfect song right now, a great reminder of our connectedness and the call for getting back to the basics of love, for each other, for ourselves.

Or maybe it was the perfect song for me to hear at that moment when I wanted to shift my mind from negativity and bad news.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged or have just had enough of all the “latest news,” put on some music to transport your mindset to a lighter level.

It might provide the perfect short but great escape and may even have a ripple effect of goodness you’re need right now.

For more ideas about how to lift your mood, read Tips to Shake Off the Blues here on the blog.

Why you can’t seem to get started (and what to do about it)

Why you can’t seem to get started (and what to do about it)

When you know you want to do something and you’re not sure exactly what that something is, how you would do it, or if it would work, it can be really easy to think it to death.

This amazing thing you want to do might be the best idea ever. You may be talking about it, and even planning it out in your head, but you’re never quite ready to take action, never ready to do like Nike says and “just do it.”

I get it. It’s hard to take action when one minute you think it’s the best idea ever and the next minute you’re thinking: Maybe it won’t work; people will think it’s stupid; Yeah, right. Me?.

That’s resistance holding you back.

And at the heart of resistance is fear … fear of rejection, ridicule, failure. (“Resistance” is wonderfully addressed in Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. Click here for book review.)

Fear plays a tremendous role in what we do and a huge role in what we don’t do. Instead of getting started and taking action we think about it and consider it over and think about it more and in all that time of thinking, we do nothing.

Here’s an example. I’ve had this blog for a few years. It’s changed a lot in that time, especially as I’ve shifted my focus to writing novels. In the Spring of this year I got very involved with my second book, A Song for Love and was in the revise/edit mode for a while, wrestling with the manuscript. I felt like I really needed to focus on that, which I did.

Maybe that was an excuse, but I stopped blogging and focused on the rewrite and publishing. I published the book and then, instead of getting back to the blog, I started another project.

It’s hard to admit this, but I’ve been thinking about this for months and every time I started writing a blogpost, even if it was in my head, Resistance shut me down. I’d think, I don’t have anything important to say. And besides, who cares what I say? Do my thoughts even matter?

I wanted to get back to it and I thought about it a lot, but no idea was good enough, so I did nothing.

I’ve thought about my inaction a lot (too much actually. That’s one of the pitfalls of being an analytical person.) and thought maybe what I’ve learned from this most recent experience can help someone else.

These are a few lessons that helped me and may help you, too.

Get started already!

I often wonder which is harder–starting or finishing? It depends, I suppose. But I do know that you’ll never finish if you don’t start. And you have to start from where you are. It’s okay if you have to start small. Little by little adds up to a lot.

Aim for progress over perfection.

Most first attempts are awkward and far from perfect, but don’t let that stop you from working to improve. Celebrate your victories and all you’re learning along the way.

Nothing says commitment like action.

Thinking about and planning your way toward your huge, audacious goal is important and necessary, of course. But at some point, you have to stop talking about it and DO IT!

Give yourself a chance.

This idea is a little harder to communicate, so please bear with me, but it relates to the notion that whatever it is that you feel like you want to do was put in your heart for some other purpose. In other words it’s not really about you. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about resistance and how something flashes in your head, you get an idea, and then you get a surge of resistance that just makes you think, Oh that’s a stupid idea and you kill it before it has a chance to come alive. He gives the example of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, those first four notes, Duh, duh, duh, dah. Three of those notes were the same. That must have seemed silly on some level. He could’ve said, That doesn’t even make sense. But he didn’t do that.

Not convinced?

I was watching a story about the creation of the soundtrack to the movie, Jaws. When John Williams first presented his idea to for the soundtrack, Steven Spielberg thought he must have been joking. It was only two notes … Duunn, nuh, Duuun, nuh. It wasn’t until they matched those same two notes with the film of the circling, man-eating shark, that they were like, Holy cow! It’s perfect!

The Jaws soundtrack became iconic. It still is. You hear those two notes in that sequence, Duunn, nuh. Duunn, nuh, and you know that means something bad’s about to go down.

So the point here is that even though you may not think you could create something as amazing as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or the soundtrack to Jaws, no doubt, neither did they.

So what are you waiting for?

Stop waiting for the perfect moment. Identify what is holding you up and keeping you from taking action. Then please put those reasons, excuses, and obstacles aside and start were ever you are. Take the first step because that is the only way to gain momentum, to move forward. You never know where it will go and what you can do.

Time is relentless. It just goes and goes. Think about this: If you take action toward your goal today and do a little something every day toward your goal, how far would you get in a week? A month? A year? Crazy, right?

Now, think about not acting and what it will be like a year from now when you look back and think about today, this very moment as you’re reading this. Will you be saying, If only I would’ve started. Where could I be now?

Cue “Jaws” soundtrack and get moving.

The magic of gratitude

The magic of gratitude

Gratitude can change your life. It’s like magic. And even though I truly believe this, it still catches me off-guard when I experience how amazing it is.

Willie Nelson said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

Wow. Can it really do all that?

Gratitude. It’s a simple thing: being thankful for what you have.

Plug in to your gratitude funnel

So what’s so special about gratitude and if it’s so great why isn’t everyone doing it? It’s free, doesn’t require any special training or certifications.

The truth is it takes practice to be in a constant state of gratitude, especially if you’re the type of person who tends to notice what’s wrong before noticing what’s right.

Sometimes we’re just not all that thrilled about the way things are, sometimes we just want to complain about about any number of things we let get under our skin: mundane tasks, people who don’t do/say/think what we think they should, unexpected setbacks, an uncertain future. Some of these things are big, life-changing events, some are small, regular, petty things.

Yes, it takes practice to have a mindset of gratitude. For some of us (ahem), lots of practice.

Take this example: I was doing laundry the other day and I really didn’t feel like doing laundry. I was just about to say out loud, “Oh my gosh, I hate doing laundry,” when I remembered my goal to practice gratitude, especially when I want to complain about something.

So I said, “I’m grateful that I can do laundry, that I have clothes to wash, that I’m physically able to do it, that I have machines that do most of the work.”

All of a sudden, I felt pretty good about doing laundry.

I realized that gratitude doesn’t actually change anything (I was still doing laundry) except percecption (having the ability to do my laundry is a good thing), thereby changing the experience (instead of feeling cranky about it, I was genuinely happy that I had the good fortune to be doing my laundry).

Where’s the magic?

The magic is real and it’s all internal, not external. Gratitude transforms the way we experience our circumstances.

I recently read Jen Sencero’s book, “You Are a Badass” (which is awesome, by the way) and she said that when something happens that sets you back, try being grateful for that thing instead of being frustrated and angry.

I thought it was a crazy idea, but I thought I’d try it when I got the chance.

And my chance came soon enough. It was a silly, petty thing (aren’t those the things that can be most upsetting at times?) I was trying to leave the house for an appointment and was running late. I remembered I’d filled a glass of water to drink before I headed out the door and when I reached for it I knocked over the glass, spilling water all over the counter and on myself. Great! I thought, If I take the time to change I’ll be even later than I already am!

But then I remembered Jen Sencero’s advise. Okay. Stop and think about this. No, this is good. I’m glad this happened, I thought to myself.

I had to laugh because by me saying I was glad about it meant that I had to come up with a reason this was a good thing. It forced me to think about what was happening and allowed me to stop before spouting off a few choice words and, instead, I decided to take a deep breath, slow down, and relax.

There is no need to rush. Everything will be okay. It’s water. My shirt will dry. I’m grateful to have clean water to drink every day.

Practice, practice, practice

Practicing an attitude of gratitude takes concious and continuous focus, but I’m discovering that it’s well worth the effort.

Try it and see if you agree that gratitude is like magic.

photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on rubymontalvo.com

Start strong, finish stronger

I’ve often thought about the idea of “starting” and whether it’s easier to start or finish. (I think I must’ve been a deep thinking philosopher in another life.)

It’s a little like the chicken and egg question and doesn’t seem answer-able because you can’t finish if you don’t start, but that doesn’t make it any easier to start.

And for the sake of discussion here, I’m talking about starting and finishing things you want to do for your own personal fulfillment.

Possibly to improve your life, possibly just for the joy of doing it, possibly for the satisfaction of checking off your bucket list, anything that requires you to get out of your regular routine, kind of get away from “Auto-Pilot” mode to disrupt your regular routine.

You’ll have to commit time, energy, and maybe even money.

The challenge of starting

For the purpose of simplifying the discussion, let’s pick a project. Let’s say we want to run a marathon.

A marathon is 26.2 miles. Let’s say the furthest you’ve ever run in your life is a 5k, 3.1 miles.

Here are some things people might say when you tell them you’re thinking about running a marathon:

Why would you want to do that?

Do you know anything about it?

You’re crazy.

Why the hell would you do that?

You’re not a runner.

That’ll be cool. You can cross the finish line like “Rocky”!

That’s awesome!

The only good reason to run is if something’s chasing you.

Why?

You start to doubt whether you can really do it. You consider the investment of time and money and think, “Why do I want to do this?”

You list your reasons to go ahead with it:

for the physical challenge

I’ve always wanted to

for the satisfaction of starting and finishing.

Then you think,“Wow, all this figuring and mental ping-pong is exhausting!” And you haven’t even done anything yet! But, in a way, you have.

When you undertake a marathon-like project you have to know that there’ll be obstacles. And you’re sure to encounter some you hadn’t considered.

photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on rubymontalvo.com

It won’t be easy. The road will be long. Some people will doubt you can do it.

If you’ve considered all those things and gone back and forth about whether you should or not before commiting 100% and you want to do it anyway, and you decide you’re going to do it, that’s what will get you to the start. And you can’t get to the finish unless you get to the start.

It’s impossible to finish unless you start.

In our scenario, our enthusiastic but inexperienced runner goes out on her first training run and struggles to do 3 miles. In her mind she thinks, “How in the world am I going to run 26 when I feel like I’m dying after 3?”

Doubt creeps in, but she’s ready for it. She shakes it off and tells herself, “It’s okay. At least I got out there and did it. I have to start somewhere so I might as well start at the beginning.” (For more on this, see Believe in yourself when doubt creeps in)

That’s the spirit!

You have to start somewhere. Don’t shut yourself down before you’ve even started.

You have to trust the process (See Be patient and trust the process) and believe you can do it.

It’s okay if it’s a rough start. You knew there’d be obstacles.

Have a beginner’s mindset and be open to learning all you can. You may be surprised to learn of ways to make the experience more pleasant and maybe even fun. (See Embrace the Beginner’s Mindset)

Keep moving in the direction of your goal and you’ll gain momentum toward it.

Remember why you started. You may have had more reasons not to do it than to do it, but none of that matters because you’re committed. You knew it wouldn’t be easy going in.

I don’t know if it’s harder to start or finish. But logic tells us it’s impossible to finish what you never start.

When you start, knowing there’ll be challenges ahead and that it won’t be easy, but you’re ready to do it anyway, you’re more likely to finish what you’ve started. 

So how about you?

What marathon-like goal do you have? How close are you to starting?

When you’re ready to commit, remember, you have to start somewhere. Forget about wanting to be perfect and always keep in mind why you started. That’s your why and your why will move you forward when you feel you can’t go another step.

Let negativity roll off your back

Let negativity roll off your back

Negative and insensitive comments that can be hurtful and leave you doubting yourself and feeling stupid.

Little jabs like:

“Are you wearing that?”Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“You can’t/won’t be able to do ________ .”

“Can you try to pay attention, for once?”

Off-handed remarks can float around in our heads for a long time. We analyze them to death and think, “What’s that supposed to mean?” If you’re already self-conscious or lacking confidence, negative comments can have an even bigger impact. 

Positive vs. Negative

Negativity stings. Psychologists say it takes at least 10 positive comments to cancel out 1 negative comment.

Downloaded from Pixabay published on strong-woman.com

How can we get past it and not let it shake our self-confidence?

Is the negative comment worth my time and consideration?

If not, consider the matter closed. Visualize yourself walking away from it. Don’t let it get to you. If it starts to re-surface, remind yourself that you’ve put it behind you.

Understand that often people are negative because it’s easier to knock things down than build them up.

Don’t worry about it. Let negativity roll off your back like water off a duck.

Blow it off like bubbles in the wind.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay published on strong-woman.com
Words have power.

Do you trust the person who said it?

People speak without thinking. Feelings get hurt.

Consider giving people the benefit of the doubt instead of thinking they intend to shake your confidence.

I’d want that consideration. As much as I try to be encouraging, sometimes I speak before I think and wind up sounding negative or insensitive.

Words have power. We must choose wisely. And this applies to how we speak to ourselves too. Encourage yourself with positivity instead of speaking negativity towards yourself.

Stay focused on your goals. Be patient. Ignore negative comments. Don’t let them shake your confidence. Let them roll off your back like so you can’t remember them even if you tried.