Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Making yourself happy

This has taken me years to learn, and even now I need to keep reminding myself of this truth:

It is my job, and mine alone, to make myself happy.

lesson 16It is not my partner’s job to make me happy. It is not up to my friends to make me happy. It is not my family’s job to make me happy.

Of course, that’s not to say that these things can’t make me happy – they certainly do!

But ultimately, it is up to me to make myself happy – it is my job to fill myself up.

That means, when I’m feeling crappy, the first thing I need to do is check in with myself. I need to know what my core needs are, and I need to check that they are being filled – and here’s the hard part – by me.

Some of my core needs are:

  • Love
  • Security
  • Solitude
  • Freedom
  • Creativity
  • Self-expression
  • Inspiration
  • Contribution

How do I know my core needs? Because I’ve taken the time out to think about these things, to work out what really fills me up. If I’m not aware of the things I need in my life to be happy, then I can’t make sure I’m happy.

If I’m feeling crappy in my life, most of the time it’s because I’m not meeting my own core needs. It’s not fair for me to pass the expectation onto my partner or friends to make me feel better, when I’m not doing that for myself.

There’s something really empowering about being able to fill yourself up. It doesn’t mean you can’t accept help or anything from others, but it means you don’t need it. It totally changes the nature of a relationship when you come to it already satisfied with your life. You have a lot more to offer others.

>>> Prompts:

What are your core needs? Start by making a list of all the things you like to do, the things that fill you up, big or small. Then, try to identify the core needs underneath. Usually it will be stated as an abstract noun.

In what ways do you rely on others to make you happy?

How can you do more to fill yourself up and meet your core needs?

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: What lights you up?

We all get bogged down by the necessities of daily life – working to pay the bills and put food on the table, sitting in traffic, arguing with others, catching up on sleep, and trying to find time to exercise, and so on.

But what about finding time for the things that you really love?

If you’re exceptionally lucky, then you are one of few the people who manages to make a living doing what you love – you get to do it every day. But I would guess that most of us don’t fall into that category.

So it comes down to making time whenever possible (every day?) to do the things we love – be it knitting, meditation, learning a language, painting, hiking – whatever.

Sometimes, though, after doing all the necessary tasks of the day, we just don’t have the time/energy/resources to do these wonderful things.

I lived this way for years. I had an lesson 15interest in writing, in being creative in some form, and sharing that creativity with others. But I got so bogged down with working full time (or more, if you consider teachers also work on their weekends and evenings) and so exhausted that I could do little other than work. Sure, teachers get regular ‘holidays’, but after working non-stop for ten weeks, all I could do was sleep and try to rest (when I wasn’t marking piles of essays).

Perhaps it’s my own fault for going into teaching. I guess it doesn’t matter what I was doing, all that matters is that I wasn’t exploring the things I loved, the things I felt most pulled to.

I carried on this way for years. Slowly I became more negative, more depressed, more bitter and more cynical about life. I was disillusioned and felt that growing up sucked, basically. I felt like there was no joy in my life, nothing I was doing just for me.

Since taking Susannah Conway’s Journal Your Life course where we were encouraged to journal every day, I started to learn about what was missing from my life. I got back in touch with myself and reconnected with the parts of me that had been ignored. Mostly, that was my creativity.

But then I hit another road block: fear and resistance. It became abundantly clear through my daily journaling what I wanted to do – to write, to paint, to create, to share my work. I got back in touch with these desires, but for a while didn’t do much with them.

Why? Because I was afraid. I didn’t really believe I could start a blog, that was terrifying. And painting? I had no formal training, who was I to attempt painting, let alone share it with others?

It took a lot of hard work, mostly by working through it in my journal, but I found a way to feel the fear and create anyway. I found a way to admit what I really wanted and start taking steps towards it. I reasoned that the fear of taking these creative risks could be no worse than the terrible feelings of ignoring these desires.

Now my life looks a lot different. I have a regular daily creative practice that ensures I remain creatively fulfilled, and a regular journaling practice that means I know when I start to feel like something is missing from my life.

>>> Prompts:

What lights you up? List or brainstorm everything that absolutely makes your heart sing with joy. Are there some things you are afraid to write down? Why?

How often do you do the things on your list? Are there some that you don’t allow yourself to think of, or that you actively avoid? Why?

How can you make more time for the things on your list?

Fun bonus prompt: If you won the lottery and never had to work again, how would you ideally like to spend your days? Describe what a day would look like (after you did all the fun stuff, like shopping, travelling etc – what would your daily life look like?)

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: Love

As a romantic, I’ve never really had a problem with this.

In fact, in the VIA survey of character strengths, I got ‘loving and being loved’ as my biggest strength.

I was a little disappointed when I got that as my biggest strength, to be honest. And when my partner tells me all the time that he loves how caring and loving I am, while it’s nice to hear, I feel like it’s not such a big deal.

But actually, it is. I guess it just comes naturally to me, but I’ve come to see that I’m lucky for that.

Without allowing myself to be vulnerable and open with people, I don’t think that I would make the connections with others that I can. Not to mention, with my partner. He and I fell in love very quickly – within a month. We’ve been close ever since.

loving and being lovedI think one of the reasons I have such a great relationship is that I’m open to sharing who I am, in all forms. I let myself be vulnerable, again and again. I’m vulnerable in the sense of showing my true self and hoping it will be accepted, and vulnerable in the sense that I love my partner so deeply and allow him to love me so much, that it almost seems like a risk – if I should ever lose him that would crush me.

But how else can you truly love someone else? Hiding parts of yourself, keeping a wall up, second-guessing your happiness in preparation for the worst case scenario?

I think it takes courage to really love someone – to wholeheartedly let your guard down and risk being seen, and to risk letting yourself get used to having someone love you, getting used to relying on them.

But the rewards are so worth the risk.

And opening up to loving others and being loved has meant learning to love myself. I’ve been lucky in that my partner loved me before I truly learned to love myself. He taught me how to love myself, and in so doing, I’ve allowed him to love me even more.

>>> Prompts:

In what ways do you allow yourself to be loved?

In what ways do you love others?

How do you stop love from coming into your life?

How would you like to love others 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: Rest and self care

This is something I’ve talked about before, but I don’t think it can be said enough.

It is ok to rest.
It is ok to take time out for yourself.
It is ok to be unproductive and just do nothing.

In fact, I would go so far as to say it is not only ok, it is essential. It is an act of self care.

What is self care? It is any intentional act to care for yourself – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This means self care can take many forms: one day it might be going for a run, another day it might be sleeping late. One day it might be making a green smoothie and taking time out with a novel, another day it might be having a drink with a good friend. It all comes down to doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

lesson 12An essential aspect of this is listening to your body, and tapping into your emotional needs. The reason I’ve singled rest out is because, while I don’t think anyone would argue against you going for a run or making a green smoothie to take better care of yourself, I do think that our culture has an absolute abhorrence to rest and being unproductive.

But sometimes, what you need most is rest. Sometimes what you need is to sleep late, or get some early nights, or say no to social engagements because you just want to stay in your pajamas and watch a movie. If this is what you feel you need, then do it. I can guarantee that denying that overwhelming urge to sleep because you’re just too busy will only come back worse later. Remember the oxygen mask – if you look after yourself properly, you are of better service to others.

>>> Prompts:

In what ways do you already practice self care? Consider how you do this mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

How balanced is your current self care? For example, do you spent a lot of time at the gym but no time tending to your emotional needs? Or do you take care of yourself emotionally but do little to look after yourself physically?

How could you introduce more self care into your life? What might be some obstacles to doing so, and how can you overcome these?

What does the word ‘rest’ mean to you? Do you view it as positive or negative? Why? For example, some people associate it with laziness or sickness. Challenge any negative beliefs – how could they be wrong?

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: It’s ok to say no

This has taken me years to learn. I must say that I’ve had a little help in getting there faster with some words of wisdom from Brené Brown:

Choose discomfort over resentment.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before. It’s become my personal mantra to ensure I don’t over-commit myself. As an introvert and HSP I need lots of downtime, lots of alone time. This entails saying no to people.

Basically what Brené means is to choose the discomfort of saying no to someone at the time, rather than committing to something you would rather not do/don’t have time for and resenting it later.

This makes perfect sense, but in reality it can actually be pretty hard to do.

The more I have learnt about who I am and what makes me tick, the more I have come to see how important it is for me to honour my needs. This means saying no to people sometimes, even if it disappoints them. At the end of the day, I find that this statement (attributed to Dr. Seuss) is so true:

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

Saying no means offending or usay nopsetting some people, but I think that is ok. Those closest to me know I need a lot of time alone and if I say no to them they are usually pretty understanding. They know that is part of who I am. The more that people get angry at me for not committing to doing what they want me to do, the more I feel like they don’t understand or appreciate who I am, and potentially don’t matter as much.

Is this a harsh way to approach life? Maybe. But I think it is so essential that we look after ourselves and meet our own needs, because most often others aren’t going to do it. Besides, it’s my life and I get to choose how I spend my time. I want to do the things that make me happy, not just what makes others happy.

It might sound selfish, but I think of it as the whole oxygen mask thing – we need to look after ourselves first so that we are better help to other people. It’s an act of self care. I have more to offer others if I’m looking after myself properly, than if I’m rushing around trying to make everyone else happy.

>>> Prompts:

How often do you find yourself saying yes to people when you would rather say no? Write about why you think you do this.

What are the consequences of saying yes when you would rather say no?

What are some small ways you could start saying no to people, when it feels right to you?

How might your life feel different if you honour yourself and say no when you want to?

Write/print out the saying ‘choose discomfort over resentment’ and put it somewhere you will see it often.

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: Know yourself

The practice of journaling regularly has allowed me to get to know myself in ways unimaginable.

There’s something about the process of writing our thoughts, dreams and fears out onto the page, getting them outside of ourselves and having them there for us to look at, that enables us to better connect with and understand ourselves.

My journal is a mirror I hold up to myself, reflecting back my deepest values, highlighting my darkest fears and loftiest dreams, showing me who I am.

Through this process I have gained greater clarity about myself, about things I never knew before; I’m a highly sensitive person, an introvert, I often let resistance and fear stop me from doing things but paradoxically I also believe that anything is possible.

lesson 7When I began my journaling journey, I didn’t set out to ‘get to know myself better’, it just sort of happened along the way. And while I’m sure there are other ways of getting to know yourself and how you tick, I have found journaling to be the most invaluable tool to do so.

It’s like an ongoing therapy session with myself that I always have a record of to reread. Patterns and cycles become clear, images, symbols and words are repeated, certain themes emerge.

And by seeing myself on the page, I start to become a character in a bigger story, distinct from myself. I find this allows me to learn about ‘this person’ with compassion and acceptance, without judgement.

In short, journaling has deepened my relationship with myself. I can now listen to that small, quiet voice inside – the one that accepts me as I am and comforts me when the world is too harsh, that tells me when something feels off, when I need to rest more, when I need more self-love.

In fact, the small voice inside has gotten louder and louder. I now no longer look at my life and wonder why things are happening the way they are happening. Because I have a deeper sense of who I am, because I know myself and why I think and behave the way I do, I have a greater sense of purpose and control over my life. I find myself reacting less and acting more purposefully.

This post is a lot more rambly than I intended, so I apologise if you’ve struggled to follow my train of thought!

>>> Prompts:

How well do you think you know yourself?

What practices do you engage in regularly to maintain a good relationship with yourself? It doesn’t have to just be journaling, it might be painting, meditating, exercise such as yoga or running, seeing a therapist, etc.

What practices would you like to try to create a deeper sense of connection with 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: Dealing with dieting

This is a bit of a controversial topic, and I’m talking about it with the understanding that some people will disagree and possibly even get angry.

I’ve touched on this before, and I can’t possibly cover the entire topic in one post, but it is definitely one of my most important lessons.

dietingIn my personal experience over 20 years, dieting has never, ever worked. Oh sure, it gets the weight off, and usually pretty quickly. But it never stays off. Even when I’ve attempted so-called ‘lifestyle changes’ – for example with something like Weight Watchers, which seems pretty healthy and reasonable.

But over the course of my 20 years of dieting and hating my body (yes, it was around age 10 that I realised I was bigger than others and it wasn’t a good thing) I’ve learnt that it’s pointless.

It’s the same old cliche – lose some weight, gain back more. Steadily, over this time, I have gotten bigger and bigger.

You may be thinking, and indeed my thinking was similar for a long time – that it is my own fault, obviously, because if I’d just stuck with it, then the weight would’ve stayed off.

Maybe.

But given how much I have loathed being bigger, I can’t help but think that if it was just that simple, then I would’ve kept it off. I mean, it’s not a matter of being ill-informed; I know how many calories I should be eating, how many steps I should be doing, what foods to avoid, what foods to increase, what exercise is best, etc. I think most of us do.

The issue is not with a lack of education (although there are many conflicting and often confusing dietary guidelines out there, such as less carbs or less fat, 3 big meals or 6 smaller meals, etc).

You could argue it’s a lack of willpower. But honestly, having to force myself to eat less than my body seems to need forever, well… that’s doomed to fail.

Anyway, I’m not writing this to justify why I am overweight.

From my journal:

We are taught that we must try to be smaller to be good enough – we are not taught to question this. I had to find the idea and the permission to question it on my own. I had to dare to consider that I am not flawed – the whole system is.

You see, I simply decided to stop dieting. I decided to stop looking around the corner for the next diet, the one that would finally work. We are taught that if diets aren’t working, then it’s a problem with us – we just need to try a little harder, want it a little bit more.

I call bullshit. image

Dieting itself is the problem. Instead, I’ve chosen to love my body and stop punishing it for being imperfect. Does that mean I eat junk food? Sometimes, although after learning about intuitive eating, I’m eating less of it. Does that mean I’m fatter than I ‘should’ be? Yes. Is my health at risk? Well, I’ve had blood tests and they all seem to be fine. Not to mention I usually exercise several times a week.

And exercise is another thing – I now actually just do exercise I actually love, which is usually walks in nature, yoga or sometimes cycling. Gone is the guilt for not pushing myself to the point of almost throwing up – instead is the pleasure of moving my body in ways that really feel good.

I would like like to lose weight, I’m not going to deny that. But I just plan to do it gently, from a place of love, and if I don’t lose much weight when doing things I consider to be reasonable and sustainable, then that’s that. I won’t be pushing myself further.

I choose to love myself as I am, even if it’s bigger than I’d like. I believe I can love and accept who I am, but still work towards positive changes in a (mentally and emotionally) healthy way.

I once did lose a lot of weight and got down to a size smaller than I had ever previously thought possible. But I was so miserable, questioning and regretting every bite, and so insecure. I felt fatter then that I do now. Even though I am bigger now, I have more love and acceptance for myself than I did at my smallest size.

I have nothing against those of you that choose to diet, or to exercise for weight-loss reasons. Please don’t be offended by what I have said, this is simply a lesson I have had to learn for myself, about my own life.

To quote one of my favourite health at every size bloggers:

You are the expert on you.  You do not need to pay someone to tell you how to live your life.  You do not need to follow a blogger or weight loss success story to know what to eat or how to exercise.  There is no point in any of it unless it is something you personally are willing to continue for life.  What that is is necessarily different for each person.

I’ll leave you with that.

>>> Prompt:

What does the word ‘diet’ mean to you? Have you ever dieted? Did you manage to keep the weight off? If so, how? If not, why not?

If you were to reject the idea of dieting and perfecting your body, what else could you spend that energy on? How might your life look different if you chose to accept your body as it is, and focus on other things?

In what ways do you treat your body poorly? How could you do this less?

In what ways do you show your body that you love it? How could you do this more?

If you’re interested in learning more about some of the things I’ve discussed, I recommend the following resources:

Online:

Books:

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: Take action on your dreams

This probably seems insanely obvious. Dreams don’t just come into fruition out of nowhere.

But it wasn’t until I started journaling every day that it became clear to me there was a disconnect between my big dreams and my daily life. The act of connecting with myself each day made this absurdly obvious.

dreamsThe funny thing is, if you don’t make an effort in some way to check in with yourself, to generate awareness around your dreams and the way you are living your life, it’s easy to go months or years without realising this.

I’ve never had trouble with the dreaming side of things – that has always come naturally to me. I’m a romantic, a day dreamer, an optimist, and an ever-hopeful creative with a big heart. I’m forever dreaming up projects, plans, changes; ideal homes, days, lives.

I dream of travelling to distant lands, I dream of creating abundantly and helping others to do the same, I dream of living a sustainable life where I can live off the land and support myself. I dream of having books published, touring and inspiring thousands, leaving a mark on the world and making it a little better.

And the thing about journaling each day is that I found myself clarifying exactly what I wanted and when I wanted it. I drilled down to the bedrock of my deepest values and hopes. Suddenly, going about my ‘normal’ daily life, right after writing about the life I really longed to live, seemed absurd. Getting up to go to the same job each day to pay bills for a life I didn’t love almost became comical.

And that’s when I began to realise that unless I made conscious choices, each and every day, to take action, to step past my current life and into the life I wanted, nothing would change.

So what did I do? I started blogging and sharing my creative journey in order to connect with other creatives and develop a base from which to build an online business. I went from full-time to part-time work in order to have less stress and more mental, emotional and creative breathing room. I began the crazy process of building a tiny house with my partner. We purchased some land and moved a little further out of town so we could start to live a lifestyle more in alignment with our values.

In other words, I actually took steps to change my life. As long as I keep journaling I will maintain the awareness required to make sure my life is in alignment with my dreams.

>>> Prompt:take action

Set aside a little time when you won’t be bothered or disturbed. On an empty spread in your journal, make a giantbrainstorm (or list, or whatever method you prefer) of all the things you want. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are. You may want to visit every country in the world, or you may want to get a new piece of furniture for your home. You may want to be in better shape, or you may want to meet new people. Whatever it is, get it all out. Write until you fully run out of ideas.

Now, on another page, answer the following questions:

  • What are you doing each day to make one/some of/all of these dreams a reality?
  • What are you not doing to make them happen?
  • What is one small thing you could do today to take you one step closer to one of these dreams?

Write out this quote from Picasso and put it somewhere prominent:

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.

Try this: remember Venn diagrams from school? On a new spread in your journal, draw two big overlapping circles that take up most of the pages (see image in the link above). In one circle, write all the things you dream of for your life and yourself. In the other circle, write about the way your life actually looks/is. In the overlap between the two circles, identify areas where you are already taking steps towards, or actually living the life you want.

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: Nobody expects me to be perfect but me

I think this should be the mantra of every perfectionist.

How did I get it into my head that I have to be perfect? Because when I stop to think about it, this lesson is so very true – no one else expects perfection from me, just as I don’t expect perfection from anyone else.

But when it comes to myself – my own work, my own appearance, my own life – I want it to look and be perfect. Of course, no one else looks at me with such high standards.

Unconsciously trying to be perfect is one of the things that stops me from even starting things.

When I look back now, I done somethingrealise there are so many things I’ve not done simply because I feared I couldn’t do them perfectly, even if that fear was unconscious at the time (as I think it often is). I’ve started novels, paintings, classes, careers, hobbies of all kinds, only to give up when it became clear that I wasn’t doing it perfectly.

Like my novel – I gave up because it didn’t seem good enough so it sort of felt like, what’s the point? But imagine if I’d finished it! I would have a complete novel by now if I’d kept going. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would be done.

Perfectionism is very limiting in my creativity but also in other areas of my life – how I look, speak, behave etc. I find I am often judging myself against some self-created, unreasonably high standards.

So I try to remind myself – the only person who expects perfection from me, is me. And if that’s the case, maybe I can change my expectations of myself?

>>> Prompt:

What does perfectionism mean to you? What would it mean to you if you were perfect? In what ways do you expect perfection of yourself? How attainable is this, really?

What have you put off, quit or not even attempted because of a fear of not doing it perfectly?

If you were to embrace the beauty of mess and mistakes, what could you do?

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: I am enough

It took me a long time to learn this, but when I sat down to think about what I’ve learned in my 30 years on this planet, this was the first that came to mind.

lesson 1

We are repeatedly told by our culture that we are not enough – not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, funny enough, flawless enough, sophisticated enough, and so on. We are told we don’t do enough, we don’t achieve enough, we don’t help enough, have enough, etc. I could write so many many more examples.

But I realised something, which I noted in my journal:

It doesn’t matter how much I am overweight, how bad my skin is, how many dimples are on my thighs. It doesn’t matter that I’m ‘overly sensitive’ or ‘cry too easily’, that I’m terrible at geography, that I make mistakes, that I get irrationally angry at other drivers and am not doing enough to save the planet. I AM STILL ENOUGH.

You are too. Just as you are, right now. You don’t need to do more, change, improve, acquire more, shrink down or expand. You are enough as you are now.

Accepting yourself as you are now doesn’t mean you aren’t able to change. It doesn’t mean you must stay the way you are. But it means that you can see your inherent value right now, and any changes you do make will come from a place of love.

>>> Prompt:

I found it incredibly liberating to list all the things I tend to judge myself for and then write in bold letters, I AM STILL ENOUGH. Try this in your journal. In what ways do you sometimes thing you aren’t enough? Write them all out, then declare, I AM STILL ENOUGH!

If you realised you were enough, as you are, right now, how would your life be different? What would you do differently?

What are some things you could do each day, to show yourself that you love and accept yourself just as you are, right now?

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.