Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal spotlight: Dream journal

One of my favourite things about journaling is learning more about myself – my values, desires, goals, fears, strengths and weaknesses. For me, journaling is a tool to dig deeper into who I am and what makes me tick.

One of the best ways to learn more about ourselves is to look into the symbols and themes in our dreams. Keeping a dream journal is a great way to record our dreams so we can better understand what they might mean.

I’ve always wanted to keep a dream journal, but whenever I’ve started one in the past I’ve never kept it up. After writing this post, I think I’m going to have a go, at the very least, at incorporating more dreams into my daily journal.

I have pretty vivid dreams most nights, and I certainly have repeated places, people, events and themes in my dreams. I love the idea of recording them to reread later and interpret some of the deeper meanings.

One of the best description of dreams I’ve ever heard is from one of my favourite movies, The Giver:

Dreams: A combination of reality, fantasy, emotions and what you had for dinner.

So what is a dream journal? Basically, you record the dreams you have at night, when you wake in the morning.

Why keep a dream journal?

There are lots of reasons to do so, but here are a few that resonate with me:

  • Greater understanding of yourself. You can uncover deeper feelings, desires, concerns and other things about yourself that are usually below the surface of your awareness. Recording them will allow you to dig deeper and possibly figure out what’s happening down there.
  • Inspiration. There are some really cool things that come up in our dreams due to the fact that our logical mind shuts down at this time. If you’re a creative who’s looking for ideas, you could stumble on some interesting things in your night time adventures!
  • Get better at lucid dreaming – that awesome state where you know you are dreaming so you can control what happens!

How to start your own dream journal

Choose a journal you want to record your dreams in and keep it beside your bed, or somewhere else you will remember to pick it up first thing.

Set the intention before going to sleep that you will remember your dreams.

First thing upon waking, record whatever you remember. It doesn’t have to make sense, just get it down – even if you have forgotten big portions of the dream, record what you can remember. Be as detailed as possible.

Don’t judge what comes up, just record it.

You can use drawings as well – you don’t have to stick to words! If you want to capture a certain place or feeling, you could draw it or use colour in your dream journal. Combining written and visual elements may also help to stimulate more dream recall.

Give the dream a title or sum it up in a sentence. This is a neat idea I read about here.

Practice – the more you do this, the more you will start to remember your dreams in more detail. Keep going.

And then what?

After you’ve been doing this for a while, you may like to look back through your dreams to get a better understanding of yourself. Certain images, themes, words, colours, events or people may reoccur. You could go through and highlight some of these, then journal about what they could mean.

You could use a dream dictionary for guidance, but personally, I believe that we are the experts on ourselves. You will start to notice patterns in your dreams that you will probably be able to interpret yourself. If you also keep a personal journal, you could possibly match up what has been happening in your life with what has been appearing in your dreams.

Try not to take it too seriously. While I think there most certainly are some deeper meanings we can uncover from our dreams, I also think that some of them are simply, as The Giver says, ‘what you had for dinner’.

Do you keep a dream journal? What do you enjoy about it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Creativity, Self Empowerment

How journaling can change your life

I’ve been journaling since I was ten years old, but it wasn’t until I committed to a regular journaling practice that things in my life began to really shift.

I’ve maintained that practice for four years now and in that time a lot has changed in my life. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these positive changes have happened since I’ve been journaling consistently.

In fact, my experience has shown me that regular journaling is one of the best tools we can use to transform our lives.

It might sound a bit too easy, but it’s true: anyone can use their journaling practice to create positive changes, overcome fear and bring their dreams to life.

Early on in my journaling practice I noticed some pretty massive changes in my life. In the space of two years, the following things happened:

  • I’ve begun and maintained a creative practice, including making and sharing my art
  • I’ve left a full-time job that was slowly sucking the life out of me
  • I’m more at peace and happier than I have been in a long time (as someone who has been through many depressive episodes in her life, I’ve not even been close to feeling that way since developing my journaling habit)
  • My relationship with my partner has improved dramatically (as a side note, he proposed to me shortly after I began my journaling practice, which I also do not think is a coincidence)
  • I’ve started and maintained a writing practice through a blog, something I’ve wanted to do for years
  • My partner and I have made our tiny house dream a reality – building our own house together after years of talking about it
  • I’ve created an online business using my writing, teaching and coaching skills
  • My partner and I have found a way to purchase our dream property and move to the countryside

In short: many of my long-term dreams have become a reality.

How is this possible? What is it about journaling, the simple act of writing down our thoughts and feelings regularly, that has allowed my life to change in such dramatic ways?

It comes down to a few simple factors.

Getting clear

Each morning when I open my journal to write, I find myself writing about what’s happening in my life: what I’m doing, how things are going, what’s working and what’s not.

I write about the things I dream of, what I hope for, what I long for.

This is what happens when you journal regularly: each and every day you show up to the page, you refine and clarify exactly how you want your life to look as you bring into your awareness the things that are and aren’t working in your life as it is.

You also get clear about the things standing between you and the life you want: journaling encourages you to dig deep so that you can uncover your doubts, worries and fears.

Before long, it becomes clear what it is that you want and what it is that is standing in your way.

It takes honesty and courage to get clear, but the more regularly you journal, the more clarity you will get.

  • Try this: make lists of the following:
    • What’s working in my life
    • What isn’t working in my life
    • What I want my life to look like
    • What I long for

Reread these lists as you journal over the coming days.

Connecting

Some believe that journaling, like meditation and other spiritual practices, allows you to connect with the divine or a greater power than yourself. Others believe that journaling allows you to connect with your own higher self, a source of inner wisdom. Some believe these two are the same thing.

God, inner wisdom, the universe, the divine… call it what you like, but something magical happens when you show up to the page often enough. You open up a channel to a higher source of wisdom, faith and courage to which you wouldn’t normally have access.

When you journal regularly, this connection is strengthened and can become a valuable source of guidance. This connection allows for inspiration. It helps you to feel strong and courageous. It reminds you to have faith even when you might falter.

Through this connection to something bigger, you can often find the answers you seek. By asking questions in your journal and being open, answers will come.

Fostering a daily connection with our highest and wisest self can only be a good thing.

  • Try this: take some quiet time alone with your journal. Decide how you would best like to address the source of higher wisdom you seek (e.g. God, inner self, universe, divine, etc). Then, write to this source asking a question you want the answers to. Be clear, direct and honest. Once you have written your question, take a moment to pause and sit in silence. Whatever comes to mind, write this down. This is the response. Be open to whatever you hear and allow it to come freely.

Overcoming resistance

So you get clear about what you want, you find the answers and guidance you need, but what about actually taking steps to make things happen?

The journal is a powerful tool to help you overcome resistance. Resistance is usually just fear disguised as procrastination, excuses, distractions, perfectionism, and other similar states.

Resistance is usually present when doing something new, making a change, or stepping out of your comfort zone in any way. Resistance is the reason so many wonderful dreams don’t become reality.

But I have found the fastest way to kill resistance is to expose it. Journal about it. Get honest and let it all out.

Why? Because when you write down your fears, when you put them into words and onto paper, they lose their power. They are no longer these big scary ideas floating around in your mind – they are mere sentences and words. And most of the time, you will see that they aren’t that scary after all.

  • Try this: in your journal, answer this question: what is stopping you from creating a life you love? Write honestly and let all your fears pour out onto the page. Don’t worry if they sound silly; just write whatever it is that is bothering you. When you have finished, write an affirmation encouraging yourself to be bold.

Staying in alignment

The daily act of writing means that you are regularly checking in with yourself. Instead of pushing through busy days without a moment to stop and think, the act of journaling forces you to slow down and reflect. It brings awareness to your life.

Each day that I show up to my journal and complain about something that is not working in my life is a reminder that I’m not doing enough of the things that bring me joy, that are taking my closer to my dreams.

Journaling daily – checking in with yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually on a regular basis – can help you to stay on track.

Why? Because it highlights areas of incongruity in your life. You may journal about how much you hate being in debt but then in the same entry write about how you love shopping. What may not be obvious in your daily life can be easily highlighted when you write it down – and especially so when you write it down often.

Journaling regularly reminds you of your goals and values and brings awareness to your thoughts and actions. Slowly but surely, the two will come into alignment and, as long as you keep journaling, they will stay that way.

  • Try this: for the next week, write every day for 15 minutes at the same time. Use this time to check in with yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually. How are you feeling? What is on your mind? What is your current energy? Note down anything else you want to.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago and it’s all because I pick up my pen to write and create for 30 minutes each day.

Why not give it a try?

Creativity, Self Empowerment

The problem with numbing (and how journaling can help)

I watch a lot of TV. Not on my television – I don’t actually have one – but online. I love comedies – Community, Big Bang Theory, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends, New Girl… I guess that seems pretty harmless, right? Who doesn’t love to have a laugh?

Except that I don’t always watch the show to have a laugh. And sometimes, I’m watching an episode for the second, third… fifth time.

So why is this a problem?

A lot of the time, I’m watching the show to numb.

What is numbing?

Brené Brown defines numbing as something we do to avoid feeling the feelings we don’t want to feel.

Numbing can take many different forms – watching too much TV, over eating, over sleeping, shopping, gambling, drinking, drugs, sex… some of these things are obviously more socially accepted than others. Things like watching a little too much TV, or comfort eating after a bad day, or buying yourself something nice when you’re feeling down don’t seem to be particularly dangerous.

When it comes to watching my shows, if I’m being totally honest, it can be a variety of feelings I’m trying to numb: boredom, emptiness, fear, fatigue.

This might not seem like too much of a problem – I mean, we all do things to comfort ourselves when we are feeling vulnerable, bored or just not great.

Why is numbing a problem?

The real problem with numbing is that we can’t just numb the bad feelings. When we numb ourselves to the negative feelings, we also numb the positive feelings. Brown says:

We cannot selectively numb emotions: when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

So while it’s all fine and dandy to take the pain of the moment away with a little retail therapy or a pint of icecream, if you do this often enough you’ll also notice a lack of joy in your life.

The other thing about numbing is that is that it can look a lot like self care. It can even start out as a gentle act of self care.

Having a some chocolate and snuggling under a blanket to watch a movie when PMS hits certainly can be self care. But usually this is one act that is part of a bigger self care approach. 

The key thing is how it leaves you feeling afterwards. If it leaves you feeling nourished and comforted, then it’s self care. If it leaves you feeling empty and craving more, then it’s numbing.

And there’s something else I’ve been thinking about, in between episodes of Parks and Rec: we can be numbing ourselves without even realising it. It’s not always a conscious decision – ‘oh what a lousy day, I don’t want to feel crappy so I’m going to drink a bottle of wine instead’ – sometimes we don’t realise we are doing it.

Like my TV shows – I don’t sit down to watch one thinking I feel crappy – oftentimes I don’t actually feel crappy to begin with. I might put on a TV show as something in the background while I potter around in my art journal. This in and of itself is not bad; it can be a lovely way to spend an evening. But if I do it too often, it starts to have a numbing effect, whether I mean it to or not.

And this is the third danger with numbing:

When numbing behaviours become habitual, we often turn to them out of habit and they create a numbing effect without us even noticing.

Before long we can be feeling, well, nothing, without even noticing it has happened.

How can journaling help?

The antidote, for me at least, is journaling. Some people might meditate, go running, or really do any number of things. But journaling is simple, and I can do it in my pyjamas.

With journaling daily, I cultivate awareness. The more awareness, the more I notice if I’m not feeling the good feelings – usually a sign of too much numbing or numbing behaviours.

Everyday when I sit down to write, since I don’t use prompts in my love and couragejournal, I wait to see what I have to say. I’m a firm believer that most of the time, we have plenty of things to say. I don’t know about you, but I walk around all day with a million thoughts going back and forward in my brain. I feel like a browser with 1567 tabs open at all times.

Strangely though, sometimes when I sit down with my journal I find the words aren’t coming. I feel empty, like I’ve got nothing to say. This to me, is a sign that I’ve been numbing too much. A sign that a few too many episodes of Community or a few too many sugary carbs has interfered.

I guess this could seem helpful in a way – I mean, numbing has a function of sorts, or else we wouldn’t do it. But the problem is that I can’t tap into my creativity or inspiration in this state. I can’t feel joy or gratitide for my life.

So when I find this happening in my journal, I know it’s time to step back from the TV episodes for a few days and go for a walk, read a book, and spend more time diving deep in my journal. I know it’s time to cultivate a sense of awareness in my life again.

Journal prompts for dealing with numbing

If you find yourself showing up to your journal feeling unsure of what to write, and you suspect numbing might be the cause, the following prompts can help.

  • Lately I’ve been feeling…
  • I don’t want to feel this way because…
  • Sometimes I spend too much time (your numbing methods here) because…
  • If I were to stop (your numbing methods here) then I would feel…
  • It can also help to have a list of positive coping mechanisms when you have feelings you don’t want to face. Make a list of alternatives to numbing in your journal, for example writing in your journal, having a chat with a friend, taking a walk outside, playing with your pet, doing some yoga, speaking to a counsellor, listening to music, painting, etc. Instead of numbing, I could…

Remember to be gentle and kind with yourself.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Have courage

I think fear is one of the most dangerous things we can experience.

I’m not talking about real fear – the kind where we feel afraid of going too close to the edge of a cliff, or driving too fast, or not being able to afford food.

No, I’m talking about the kind of fear we feel when we face the blank page, when we dare to show our work to others, when we think about doing something we have always dreamed of, when we want to follow that deep longing inside. That kind of fear is a liar.

imageIf I had to list all the obstacles that got in the way of me pursuing my dreams of writing, painting, creating, sharing my work with others and generally building an awesome career and life that I love, it would be a very short list.

What has stopped me? Fear.

Sure, we give it fancy names: resistance, procrastination, perfectionism, planning, preparing, waiting until the time is right, following common sense, not being rash, etc. But really all it boils down to is that I have been too afraid to go after what I really want.

And I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this.

What have I been afraid of? At first, it’s hard to describe. But on closer inspection it becomes obvious: I’ve been afraid of looking foolish, of failing, of making mistakes, of being disappointed, and even of being successful.

Fear’s job is to keep us safe – safe from these imagined dangers. The key word here is ‘imagined’. That’s not to say those things couldn’t happen – of course they could – but rather, that I won’t know for sure that they will happen. Fear assumes the worst. Fear knows for certain that they will happen, and it’s just not worth the risk.

But fear is a liar.

We have no way of knowing for certain that these things could happen. It is also possible that wonderful things could happen – the most amazing things we could possibly hope for.

There’s a line from a poem by Erin Hanson that sums this up nicely:

What if I Fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?

Fear says, you will definitely fall.

The antidote to fear is courage. Courage says, you could fly. Let’s give it a try.

fear is a liarCourage is a nice word, and it sounds simple enough, but courage is like exercise: you need to do it consistently every day to see results. Courage is an active thing that takes deliberate effort.

Every day I have to ask myself, what would a courageous person do? I’m not exaggerating when I say this – I actually ask myself this question on a regular basis.

You see, journaling regularly made it abundantly clear to me that fear was holding me back. The more I journaled, the more absurd it became that the only reason I wasn’t going after my dreams was because I was afraid of imagined outcomes. So I taught myself how to be courageous, with that one little question.

Courage will look different to each and every one of us, but for me it looks like:

  • Sitting down with my journal even when I feel like I have nothing to say
  • Facing my journal when I have difficult things to deal with
  • Painting and creating often
  • Showing what I create to others
  • Opening up and expressing myself freely to others
  • Offering what I create to others not knowing whether they will like it (for example, the newsletter)
  • Committing to things that scare me, like the 100 Days Project
  • Singing in front of others
  • Owning my talents and gifts
  • Embracing the parts of myself I used to reject

Now I know not to listen fear, because fear is a liar.

 >>> Prompts:

How do you experience fear? How does fear hold you back?

What would/does courage look like to you?

How might your life be different if you had more courage than fear?

In what ways do you already practice courage? List anything you can think of, no matter how small.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Nurture close relationships

I’ve talked a lot about saying no, and taking care of yourself. I guess these are things I’ve come to learn quite recently. But I also want to talk about our relationships with others.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten busier and my time has felt more precious. It’s made me more careful with how I spend my time and who I spend that time with.

This has meant spending less time with acquaintances, or people that I don’t have a lot in common with, and focusing my time on those that really matter to me.

I’ve come to realise that I wouldlesson 29 rather have a few close friends – people I trust deeply, share my secrets and stories with, really connect with – rather than a big circle of people that I don’t feel so close with.

This means that my time and energy is free to really connect and be present with close friends when I do see them. It means that I really enjoy my time with these people, and I always leave our catch-ups feeling happy, grateful and refreshed.

But it takes effort to make a relationship, of any kind, stay great. Don’t assume that a relationship will take care of itself – it requires ongoing care. This means scheduling time with that person, showing up ready to enjoy their company and being present during your time together. It also means being aware of yourself and what kind of friend you are being.

Sometimes the busyness of life stops me from spending time with friends. I often find that when I do have a moment free, I want to rest and look after myself. And while I do think that’s important, I also think that nurturing close relationships is equally important. It is about finding a balance between the two.

>>> Prompts:

Who are you closest with? Why?

Are there people that you find yourself spending time with, but not really enjoying it? How might your life be different if you spent less time with these people?

What does a good friendship look like to you?

Do you think you are you a good friend? Why or why not?

How could you nurture close relationships more?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: The opinions of others

What other people think of me is none of my business – Wayne Dyer.

This is a phrase he has used often and it is so true.

Another way that Dyer phrased it was when he was paraphrasing Abraham Maslow, and stated that a self-actualized person is ‘independent of the good opinion of others.’

none of my businessI spent years trying to fit in and get approval from others. I used to worry about saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong thing, liking the wrong thing… so much so that I forgot who I was, what I liked.

Maybe it comes with age, I don’t know. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realised that what other people think of me really doesn’t matter.

So what if they don’t like what I’m wearing? I like it.

So what if they think I’m strange or weird? I like me. I’m happy with myself the way I am. That’s all that really matters.

There’s a line in one of my favourite India Arie songs that goes,

No matter what anybody says, what matters the most is what you think of yourself.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time trying to please others or win their approval, it might be worth considering why this is.

I know that when I used to feel worse about myself and have lower levels of self esteem, it was certainly worse. Since I’ve spent time and effort learning to love myself, I’ve cared less and less what others think. I guess it’s because my self worth no longer relies on their approval, because I give it to myself.

The way I see it, I’ll never be able to please everyone anyway. There will always be someone who disagrees with my decisions. So I may as well please myself.

Provided I’m not harming myself or others, it is totally up to me how I live my life. All that matters is that I am happy with myself and my life. Those who disapprove, well, they don’t need to be around me. They can take their disapproval elsewhere.

>>> Prompts:

Do you worry about what others think of you? In what ways?

Why do you think you worry about the opinions of others?

How would your life be different if you could live independent of the good opinion of others?

What is your opinion of yourself? Be as brutally honest as you can. What do you judge yourself for?

If it is negative, how can you work to change this – to be kinder and more accepting of yourself? One way is to write a letter to yourself as if you were your own best friend. It is very unlikely that they would say the kinds of things you tend to say to yourself.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Authenticity and awareness

We hear the word ‘authentic’ bandied about a lot. It seems to be in the title of every new self-help book that’s released.

But I think it’s gotten a bit of a bad rap.

I actually think that striving to live an authentic life is a very worthwhile goal.

So, to that end, I say we make the word ‘authentic’ a little less self-helpy and a little more, well, authentic.

I think to truly live an authentic life means to know your values and live a life that reflects these. It’s about really knowing who you are and being aware of what matters to you, maintaining that awareness, and acting so that your life is in alignment with that. This means that what is an authentic life for me, will not necessarily be an authentic life for you.

You need to know yourself: I don’t authentic lifethink it’s possible to live an authentic life if you don’t really know what makes you tick.

I also don’t think it’s possible to live an authentic life without some level of self awareness. You can’t possibly live a life in alignment with your values if you aren’t aware of what they are.

And it’s not a one-off thing, either. You need to maintain the awareness to make sure your life continues to be in alignment with your values.

In other words, to truly live an authentic life, you have to cultivate awareness through a regular check-in with yourself.

You can probably guess what I recommend for this. Yes, it’s journaling. And not just any journaling, but a regular practice of tuning into that voice inside, that inner wisdom, to make sure you’re living a life that is authentic for you.

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘authentic’ mean to you?

To what extent do you think you live an authentic life? What changes would you like to make so that your life reflects your true self?

How can you cultivate more awareness?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.