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.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Forgive yourself

I doubt not one of us can say we don’t have a single regret.

I spent many of the later years in my 20s feeling full of regret – for the things I hadn’t done (finished a novel, traveled the world, built a business, figured it all out) and the things I had done (studied the ‘wrong’ thing at university, lost friendships, hurt people, spent too much money, continually lost and gained weight).

forgive yourselfIt wasn’t a conscious choice to feel regretful about decisions I’d made, but if I let myself think about it for too long, I noticed an undercurrent of unease.

But the truth is, we don’t have it all figured out (newsflash: nobody really does), so we will make mistakes. We will do dumb things, miss opportunities and basically wish things could have gone differently. That’s life.

What matters is what you do with this. You can let these regrets continue to pile up as you go through life, creating a laundry list of reasons to feel bad, or you can shift your perspective.

Recognise that at any given point in life, you are only doing the best you can.

When I look back at my 20 year old self making foolish mistakes, instead of letting that familiar feeling of regret well up inside me, I look at her with compassion. Sure, she drank too much, didn’t try all that hard at university, couldn’t quite keep the weight off, and never finished writing her novel, but she was having a hard time. Being young and out in the world for the first time is hard. She was doing her best.

It took a long journaling session to unpack these feelings, but slowly I came to see myself this way – not some idiot who had made a string of mistakes and missed a bunch of opportunities, but a young person finding her way in the world.

If you look back on your past and feel you’ve made a lot of mistakes, try to be as compassionate as possible. Recognise that you were doing your best, and that it is never too late for what might have been.

>>> Prompts:

What are some of your regrets, mistakes, missed opportunities? What do you need to forgive yourself for?

How is not forgiving yourself serving you? How might you feel different if you forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made?

Complete this sentence: If I was to look at my mistakes through the eyes of compassion, I would…

Write a letter to your younger self. Offer wisdom, compassion and gentleness from your older self. Forgive your younger self.

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: Home

I’m a real homebody. I love winter time, because it’s the perfect excuse to stay in, wrapped up warm and cosy.

I think it’s important that we make our home a safe and comfortable space, especially if we spend a lot of time there.

This is particularly important for people like me – HSPs and introverts. We need a safe space to retreat after being out in the world. We need a place to feel that we can just relax and be ourselves, a place where we are inspired and our creativity is nurtured, and a place to be safe.

For me, the feel of my environment home 3is important. At home, I want it to feel inviting, warm, inspiring, cosy, light, safe and comfortable.

A lot of this comes down to the way the place looks, including the colours, images, light, and arrangement of the furniture. I’m careful to include images on my wall that make me smile or think. I use colours that lift me up and also colours that soothe. I keep the place tidy and have objects on display that inspire me.

Besides my desk, where I do most of my creative work, my bed is my favourite place. It has to be just the right level of comfort – it’s a little like Goldilocks – not too hard and not too soft. I have a lovely duck down duvet (or ‘comforter’ for my North American friends), big pillows and a beautiful bedspread cover. I have extra blankets for winter and hot water bottles.

Some people see the kitchen as the hub of the home, a place to entertain guests, the most important part of the house. For me, the bed is the symbol for a cosy house. As a highly sensitive person, I need to know that I have somewhere warm, safe and delicious that I can go when the world becomes too much. The bed symbolises rest and renewal, safety and security.

This way, when I am out in the world dealing with stress at work, traffic jams, difficult people, bad weather or just a plain bad mood, I know that I have my wonderful haven to come back to – my home – and things seem a little more manageable.

>>> Prompts:

What does ‘home’ mean to you? What do you associate with the word?

What do you love about your home?

What would you like to change about your home?

Describe your ideal home. Include the way it looks, sounds, smells and feels.

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: Being different is a good thing

We spend most of our youth trying to fit in, to find our place with others.

And if we feel we are perceived as different in some way, often that’s cause for concern. We don’t want to be different – we want to be the same as everyone else.

I know I spent a lot of my youth this way – trying to fit in with my peers. As I’ve mentioned before I always felt a little bit different, and this lead me to think that there was actually something wrong with me.

being differentIt wasn’t until I became an adult (and by this I mean, around age 29) that I actually realised that being different is ok. Not just ok, but good.

Instead of seeing all my strange quirks as imperfections or flaws, I started to see them as characteristics of who I am. These are the things that make me, me.

It helps to be surrounded by people who love you unconditionally. And if you find that you are not surrounded by these kinds of people, then you need to be that person to yourself.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are awesome just as you are – even (especially) if that means you are different from others. You only get one life on this planet, why would you want to spend it being like someone else?

I love this Oscar Wilde quote, even if it is over-used:

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

If you struggle to accept your differences, the sooner you can make peace with them, the sooner you will feel a million times better about yourself.

>>> Prompt:

What are the things that make you different from others?

Which of these things do you already celebrate? Why?

Which of these are you unhappy about? How can you change your perspective about them?

Pick a person you admire. List all the things that make them different, and write about why you admire these things about them.

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: Vulnerability

Since embarking on my creative journey, I’ve been very interested in fear and courage. I had never really given vulnerability much thought, until I stumbled across the work of Brené Brown and her talk The Power of Vulnerability.

Our culture places a high value on having it all together, being strong and not being seen as weak. But I’ve found that allowing myself to be vulnerable, and sharing that vulnerability with others, has changed the way I approach my life.

Instead of feeling fearful and letting vulnerabilitythat stop me from doing things, I can acknowledge the fear and accept that it’s ok to feel that way. Instead of trying to make things perfect and get everything right, I accept making mistakes and feeling a bit uncomfortable about that.

Why?

Because with vulnerability comes growth. Vulnerability comes when we take a risk, dare to do something, and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

And, vulnerability leads to real connections with people. It is the act of opening ourselves up to be seen, as we really are, that allows others to connect with and love us as we really are.

It is not a sign of weakness in any sense – how can taking a risk and daring to make a mistake be a sign of weakness?

As Brené Brown says:

Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.

One thing about our imperfections is that we often try to hide them from others – we feel vulnerable when they are exposed. I have found it incredibly empowering to share my imperfections with others – especially on my blog and through my art. It allows me to take control of who I am, and embrace all parts of me. And, it helps others to see their imperfections are perfectly ok, and when they reach out to tell me that seeing me be vulnerable has helped them, well that makes it all worthwhile.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to be vulnerable. Pouring your heart out to your boss or the guy who makes your coffee simply because you want to be vulnerable is probably not the best idea. You need to consider who you can be vulnerable with, especially to begin with. Think carefully about who you trust to support you as you share a little more of yourself.

How can you practice vulnerability?

  • Try saying no to something when that’s what you really want
  • Tell someone how you really feel
  • Let another person see a talent or skill you have
  • Share an embarrassing story of yours
  • Tell someone what you are afraid of
  • Share your biggest dreams and hopes with someone

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘vulnerability’ mean to you? What does vulnerability feel like or look like to you? Does it have any negative associations? Write about this.

Write about a time that you have felt vulnerable.

How could you see vulnerability being a strength? Why might you want to include more of it in your life? Explore this idea. (If you’re stuck on this one, I really recommend Brené Brown’s work.)

In what ways would you like to (safely) allow yourself to be more vulnerable? Who could support you in this?

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: Move your body

I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t like to exercise.

I’m not exactly the fittest person in the world. I don’t enjoy running and I loathe going to the gym (I can’t think of anything more absurd than driving to the gym to walk on the treadmill).

But that doesn’t mean that I hate moving my body. I’ve found ways to do so that I enjoy.

move your bodyIt took me a while to get to this place, though. Because I used to be so focused on losing weight, I exercising solely for this purpose. It was all about burning the most calories, regardless of how much I might have hated every second of it. Exercise was simply a chore that needed to be ticked off the list to remove a little more guilt for being bigger.

Funnily enough, I’ve never really managed to maintain a regular exercise routine. I guess that’s because I kept forcing myself to do things I didn’t enjoy.

At around the same time I quit dieting, I also quit forcing myself to do exercise I didn’t enjoy. Now, I move my body only in ways that bring me joy.

Does that mean I’m not burning the most possible calories? Yep.

Does that mean I’m not the slimmest, fittest person ever? Uh, yeah.

But does that mean I enjoy the exercise I do? You bet!

So instead of pushing myself to go to the gym and run on the treadmill, I now go walking outside, in nature – with my pup. I do yoga using an app on my phone/computer. And when I have the time, I go cycling – outdoors. (Note – I have nothing against the gym. If you love the gym then that’s awesome. I just have something against forcing yourself to do exercise you don’t enjoy, which, for me, is the gym.)

How nice to finally give myself permission to enjoy exercise.

>>> Prompt:

What ways do you choose to move your body?

How do you exercise for pleasure, and how for other reasons?

Is exercise an enjoyable thing for you, or is it associated with negative feelings such as guilt or punishment?

What are some forms of exercise that you actually enjoy? What ways can you move your body that bring pleasure rather than pain? What would you like to do more of?

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: Sensitivity is a gift

I don’t really know how to say this without sounding dramatic, but it is the truth: all my life I have felt different from others. Even though I’ve always had friends and been part of a group of some sort, I’ve never fully felt the same as everyone else.

I noticed in high school that other people just seemed to ‘get on with life’ while I struggled with some of the most basic things – I would feel easily depressed after watching a movie, on a high and inspired for days from the words of a song, or I would take a comment or a joke to heart.

While other friends seemed to easily bounce back from breakups and bad grades, I would retreat to my room to let feelings of misery sweep over me. Not to mention I was easily overwhelmed and exhausted by life in general and spent a lot of time sleeping to recover. When I wasn’t sleeping I was writing, drawing or playing guitar.

I was told I took things too seriously and needed to lighten up. I was told I was too sensitive.

While I certainly knew that sensitivityadolescence is supposed to be a tumultuous time, I was also aware that I seemed to be having some issues that others around me weren’t. For years, I just assumed I was somehow defective. I learned to try and hide my sensitivity around certain people.

It wasn’t until recently, in the past couple of years, that I came across the term ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP). This opened up an entirely new world for me. I wasn’t defective, I was just one of the 20% of the population who was easily overwhelmed and more aware of the subtleties of my environment than others.

For HSPs, the brain works a little differently: they are more likely to observe before acting. It is an innate trait that is often found in other species too – such as birds, fish, dogs, cats, horses and other animals.

Learning more about this trait also gave me answers in other areas of my life – why I am more likely to feel the cold, struggle to pay attention with a lot of loud noise around me, get easily overwhelmed when I have a lot to do in a short period of time, why I am easily moved by films, books, music etc. This trait also explains why I can’t watch really violent or upsetting films, and this also includes watching the news. Yes, I deliberately avoid the news because it upsets me too much.

But aside from these difficulties, I’ve learnt how wonderful it is, for me at least, to be a highly sensitive person.

  • I easily feel love, empathy and compassion other human beings, not to mention animals. While this can be draining at times, I think it is one of the best ways for us to function on this planet. Of course I get mad and impatient, I get bitchy at times. But for the most part, I feel a strong sense of compassion towards others.
  • I have a rich inner life. I experience emotions strongly, which again has its downside, but it means that I get to experience the most intense and fulfilling positive emotions. I get to be overcome with gratitude and joy, struck by awe or filled with inspiration. I get to look at my loved ones and feel myself full-to-bursting with love. And when I do have to deal with the intensity of negative emotions, they always lead to personal growth, and often give birth to new creative ideas.
  • I am a very creative person. Not only do I experience strong emotions, but I have a vivid imagination and big hopes and dreams. I allow myself to spend time in my own inner dream worlds and I often turn them into art or writing. Having a rich inner life allows me to be the creative person that I am, creating and expressing myself in ways that I can hopefully use to inspire others.
  • I can’t hide who I am. I am an open book and don’t do well at covering up how I am really feeling (I could never play a serious game of poker!). While this may seem like a bad thing, I’ve found it helps me to remain authentic. It helps me to stay ‘me’; to be honest. I don’t find myself playing lots of different roles or putting on different masks. It also means that I can’t stay in situations that make me unhappy for very long, which can only be a good thing.
  • I’m very observant. I often notice details and specifics about my environment, other people or situations. I remember things clearly and this has been very helpful in many situations. As well as getting easily overwhelmed by the environment, I am also easily inspired.

These are just a few of the things that make me feel blessed to be HSP. It certainly comes with challenges, but I wouldn’t be anyone else but me.

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘sensitivity’ mean to you? Does it have negative associations? Why?

In what ways do you see being sensitive as problematic? How can you reframe this view?

List as many ways you can think of that being more sensitive than others is a gift.

In what ways can you honour your sensitivity 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.