By Ramon Barajas (Follow us on LinkedIn)
An important part of my mental health regimen includes maintaining a semi-regular journal. I do this to help keep my thoughts organized and to keep my plans on track. Our modern world is so rife with noise, distractions, and stressors (both internal and external) that can cause havoc on your personal well being, if not held in check. My way of dealing with the stressors of the world is by dedicating time to writing down my thoughts. In the coming year, I’m going to make every effort to do this daily.
My journal entries follow the exact same formula beginning with the same opening line, which is sort of my own personal declaration:
Day 362. Today is Wednesday, Dec 28th, and it’s a beautiful day to be alive.
What comes after my initial “today is” declaration follows the same format:
- about 20 minutes of free-writing,
- a to-do list,
- and I close the day’s journal entry with a 10-point gratitude list.
I have settled on this format after years of journaling. It was not by design, but rather a natural arrival at what simply felt like a good flow.
My free-writing technique is loosely based on something called “Journal Speak”. If you’re not familiar with the concept of journal speak, head over to How to JournalSpeak to learn more. I once suffered from debilitating chronic back pain and journaling was one of my ways of treating my condition… along with a couple of other unconventional mind-body treatments that I won’t go into at this time. Please reach out if you want to learn more. Whereas traditional free-writing is based on putting pen to paper and writing down whatever comes out, journal speak attempts to address specific themes. I incorporate the discipline of journal speak by picking a topic that is weighing on me, and free-write until my pen cathartically spills out of whatever is on my mind. The beautiful thing about this method is that there are no filters, no self-conscious attention to spelling, grammar or punctuation. It is free flow, a stream of consciousness at its finest. The writing does not always magically reveal an answer. However, the exercise allows me to access angles that I might not otherwise consider.
After cleansing my mind of whatever is troubling me, I make my to-do list for the day. This includes both work and personal items without distinction. After making the list, I prioritize the to-dos based on a loose interpretation of the Eisenhower Matrix. Some of the high priority items get immediately promoted to MS Outlook Tasks, while others I can scratch off before closing my journal.
After my to-do list is complete, I set my intentions and gratitude list. Even after years of practicing gratitude lists, this can still be the most challenging part. There are some days when my mind is so clouded by distractions and negativity that I am prevented from closing out the noise and opening myself to gratitude. In these instances, to refocus I keep it simple and write the most basic acknowledgement: “I’m grateful for this cup of delicious coffee.” I know that sounds contrite, but the act of committing that line to paper does something to the psyche and is often enough to open the gratitude floodgates. For me, a good gratitude list is an important part of setting the tone for the day. Fellow NBU co-blogger, Jenny Silbiger wrote a fantastic post on the complexities of gratitude in everyday living.
This is how I start most days. It’s a formula that works for me, and it keeps my mind & body in tune and balanced. If you’re struggling with finding focus within this noisy modern world, I hope you give journaling a try.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.