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.

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Creativity

Creativity: lover on the side or lover in the center?

In Page after Page, Heather Sellers asks, ‘Is your writing life going to be a lover in the center of your life? The thing you pulse toward, the fever in your soul? Or is your writing life more of a casual crush, something you think about, but don’t do much about?’

I would ask you the same thing, but about all creative pursuits – whatever sets your heart on fire. Is it a lover at the center of your life?

For me, it’s creative journaling… and a bunch of other creative interests I have difficulty categorising:

  • Painting
  • Writing fiction
  • Creating found poetry
  • Creating inspiration cards
  • Blogging
  • Typography/handwriting
  • Collage and mixed media
  • Visioning journals
  • Crafting – using stamps and washi tape and stickers…

These are the things I ‘pulse toward’. These are lovers at the center of my life. How do I know? Well, it’s much like a love affair:

  • I can’t focus on my job.
  • I don’t want to make plans in case I can spend that time with my ‘lover’.
  • I need to see my lover each day.
  • I feel complete with my lover, like I don’t know how I lived before.
  • I get a rush of excitement at the thought of spending time alone with my lover.
  • Instead of checking my phone for texts, I’m checking my instagram and browsing blogs for inspiration.

Sometimes, the feeling is almost too much to bear. I want to spend every spare minute with my lover, but other things get in the way. Work gets in the way. Housework gets in the way. I’m tired after a day of taking care of others. We try to steal moments together, but it never feels like it’s enough.

I wish I had a solution to offer here. But I don’t. All I can say is that this feeling is so delicious, so exquisite; I have to keep following it. Nothing sets me alight like it. Even though I can’t spend all the time in the world with my lover, I know we are meant to be together. I need to just keep following my heart.

What is the lover at the center of your life?

What Inspires Me

Wild inspiration

Sometimes I like to share the wonderful things I stumble across online. Here’s what I’ve loved lately.

I can’t get enough of Mary Ann Moss’s journals. This flip through is ewild nzspecially gorgeous.

This is such a good idea!

A reminder of the power of creativity.

It’s been two weeks since I began my year of journaling dangerously, so reading about others who’ve journaled for a year is inspiring.

Akiyo explains why writing morning pages won’t always make you feel good, but are still worthwhile

Or if you’re not a morning person, or don’t like morning pages, what about night notes?

Creativity

Simple journal prompt for when you’re short on time

Today when I got home from work I didn’t really feel like writing, but I still felt drawn to my journal.

When we are super busy or stressed it can be easy to feel like journaling is too much effort, or takes too much time.

Today I used a really simple journal prompt to just check in with how I’m doing, without writing pages and pages. It took all of 5 minutes.

I got this idea from a random piece of scrapbooking paper I had floating around.

All you do is simply this: create the following headings and jot down whatever comes to mind for each.

  • Loving
  • Wishing
  • Dreaming
  • Feeling
  • Thinking

It was great to help me get some of my thoughts and feelings down. Here’s a few of the things I came up with:

  • Loving – sleeping, glasses of wine, journaling, cuddles with my pup, cups of tea
  • Wishing – the holidays would get here faster (less than a week to go!)
  • Dreaming – about living in the tiny house with my partner and working less
  • Feeling – tired, stressed, overworked, grumpy
  • Thinking – about business ideas

Some positive, some not so positive. But it has made me feel better to get some of it off my mind and onto the page, even though I’m short on time and energy. And it has provided a concise little snapshot of where I’m at today.

Another thing you could do is add some prompts to include your senses:

  • Hearing
  • Seeing
  • Smelling
  • Tasting
  • Feeling

So a journal entry could look like this:

  • Hearing – the rain on the roof, the ticking clock
  • Seeing – the blank paper, the lamp light on my page
  • Smelling – dinner cooking
  • Tasting – a sip of coffee, sweetness
  • Feeling – the soft and warm blanket over my knees, the chair under me

If you’re short on time or energy, try using one of these lists/prompts to quickly and easily check in with yourself.

Creativity

Journaling vs. morning pages – what’s the difference?

 

I’ve kept a journal sporadically for twenty years and written morning pages on and off in the past.

Throughout my teens I wrote about crushes, friendships and fights, my biggest dreams for the future. In my early twenties I wrote about my disappointment with the real world, my struggle to meet ‘the one’ and how much I wanted my life to be different.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned my journal could be so much more than simply a place to pour my heart out. It could be used to transform and change my life dramatically, and that’s how I’ve been using it ever since. My goal with a year of journaling dangerously is to really focus this powerful tool into creating an even better life for myself.

I got the idea for the project from the awesome book, Paris Letters. The author has a ‘year of journaling dangerously’ where she writes morning pages every day for a year. Her life is transformed in unexpected ways.

What I’m doing isn’t strictly morning pages, but I am hoping for the same outcome: a life that looks different in a year’s time. The more I thought about how I wanted my project to look, the more I thought about journaling and morning pages and wondered, what really is the difference?

Morning Pages

The term ‘morning pages’ comes from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. She defines morning pages as: ‘three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness’. Unlike journaling, morning pages have a set of rules:

  • Write every day
  • Write by hand
  • Write first thing in the morning, before doing anything else
  • Write three pages
  • Write whatever comes to mind, without stopping, until you reach three pages (even if that means writing ‘I don’t know what to say’ for three pages)
  • Write whether you feel like it or not
  • Do not reread the morning pages

That’s a lot of rules, but Cameron assures us that doing so will lead to great insights, unblocked creativity, inspiration and a better relationship with ourselves. It’s designed as a sort of ‘brain dump’ – to get all the whiny, petty nonsense out of our brains and onto the page, so we are free to focus on other things.

Journaling

This is a very broad term and cannot be as easily defined as the morning pages. While morning pages are focused entirely on stream-of-consciousness writing, journaling can take many different forms. It’s up to each individual to define what their own journaling practice looks like, but here are some of the most common approaches to journaling.

Types of journaling

  • Written journaling, which can include:
  • Art journaling using some or all of the following:
    • Paint
    • Pencils
    • Pastels
    • Crayons
    • Stamps
    • Collage
    • Inks
    • Writing
    • Photos
  • A combination of any of the above

Journaling is entirely up to the journaler to define. We can journal in the morning, the evening, the middle of the night, or all of these times. We can start and stop, leave a page for days, pause to reflect, and reread as much as we like. Journaling is entirely open to interpretation, and I think the reason for this is that we all have a different purpose for journaling.

The purpose of journaling

The purpose of journaling goes beyond unblocking our creativity, which is the primary goal of morning pages. Journaling can include any and all of the following goals:

  • A form of creative self-expression
  • A way to connect with our inner, wiser selves
  • A way to connect with God
  • A way to process emotions
  • A place to explore goals and dreams for the future
  • A way to keep track of day-to-day appointments, events, goals, etc
  • A place to record favourite quotes, song lyrics, sayings
  • A way to learn more about who we are and what we desire
  • A method for tapping into inner resources such as courage and determination
  • Creating a channel to receive inspiration
  • A place to play with colour, composition, media, language – whatever we like

I’m sure there are many more reasons that people journal that I’ve not covered here. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

The difference

While journaling is very open to interpretation, morning pages come with a set of rules. We could certainly include morning pages as part of our journaling practice, but the same could probably not be said the other way around.

It seems to me that the greatest difference between the two is the rules with the morning pages, and possibly the purpose of each.

What matters, really, is that you find a way of journaling that works for you. If you find the guidelines of morning pages helpful, then do that. If you prefer the freedom to approach the page differently each day, then let yourself do that. The important thing is that you enjoy the process and that it brings some benefit to your life.

I believe that any form of journaling regularly (morning pages included) will bring all kinds of benefits to your life, regardless of what method you choose. Instead of worrying about whether you are doing morning pages ‘right’ or whether you are journaling ‘properly’ – just enjoy it, and keep showing up.

What does journaling mean to you? Do you do morning pages, journaling, or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Creativity

Join me in a year of journaling dangerously!

At the beginning of last year I was not in a good place. I was unhappy with my life and felt like something was really missing, although I couldn’t put my finger on what it was at the time.

On a whim, I enrolled in a journaling course. A friend of mine was doing it too, and we both fell in love with everything journaling.

After the course I continued to journal every day, and found my life turning around in unexpected ways. I no longer felt on the verge of tears for no reason every day. Instead, I wrote and poured my heart out on the page. I tuned into my own source of inner guidance and found out what my soul was really calling out for.

I tapped into a wellspring of creativity within that I didn’t even know existed. I kept up my daily journal writing, and began to blog, paint, collage, carve stamps… and my creativity blossomed. I felt constantly inspired to create, and I found courage inside me to try new things and share them with others.

For about a year after taking the journaling course that started it all, I was riding the inspiration high. Sure, I still had dark days and moments where I just wanted to crawl back into bed – but most days I turned to my journal for comfort and inspiration.

Notice there that I say ‘most days’. It’s easy when things start to feel good to let habits slide. It’s easy to relax into the things that bring pleasure without challenging yourself to move forward. And that is what happened to me: over a year later and my lovely daily journaling habit has slipped away. I check in with my journal a few days a week, but the joy and inspiration is short-lived, and fades quickly.

I know that the best way to tap into inspiration and courage is through my journal. And I know that these things come through a regular creative practice.

That’s why I’m launching my new project: a year of journaling dangerously!

main header

Simply put, I’m going to journal in some form every day for a whole year and I invite you to join me.

Some of you may remember that Journal Wild started out as Journaling Dangerously. Even though the blog has gone through some changes, the idea of journaling dangerously has never left me.

I see it as committing to showing up to the page every single day, even if all I do that day is write the date or swipe some paint on the paper. It is the act of showing up that makes it worthwhile.

So I send out an open invitation for anyone who wants to join me: all you have to do is show up to the page in whatever way you want, every day for a year.

Creativity

Practice makes imperfect

If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you will likely know that I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism – I struggle when things are imperfect.

Actually, I think a lot of people do. I think it’s symptomatic of an age of airbrushing and increasingly ridiculous expectations.

Nowhere is my need for perfection more apparent than in my creative work – my creative journaling, my painting, my writing.

Visual journaling is a real challenge for me because it’s supposed to be about letting go, playing, exploring and expressing yourself. It makes sense that the outcome of this process is not always pretty. In fact, I feel like visual or creative journaling is more about the process than the outcome – just like regular written journaling.

I don’t sit down to write a journal entry so I have a pretty page of words, I write because it helps me to process things and is healing. Visual journaling should be the same.

It’s been a real conscious process for me with my perfectionism in my art. I have to regularly remind myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that it’s ok to make a mess and not know where it is going. It is a very uncomfortable feeling, playing with my paints and not knowing how it will turn out. I have to deliberately sit with that uncomfortable feeling.

But I’ve discovered that the best way to get past this is practice. And I don’t mean practice so that I get better artistically, I mean practice being ok with not being perfect. Practice being in that state of discomfort. Practice being imperfect.

The more I can work in my journal and actively continue despite feeling uncomfortable and even fearful of what will happen, the more I start to become desensitized to that feeling. The less power it has over me. The more I can create freely.

Someone once told me that discomfort is a sign that we are challenging ourselves, that we are growing.

So the feeling of discomfort, as unpleasant as it may be, is actually a sign that we are doing something good for us. I like this. It means that when I sit down to work in my creative journal and I feel uncomfortable with not knowing how it will turn out, with making mistakes, that I’m actually growing.

Maybe one day there will even come a time when I can play without fear of what will happen. Maybe, with practice.