Reflection followed by journaling is an important part of the process for those engaged in shifting their ‘way of being’ and making positive changes in their lives.
By ‘reflection’ we mean creating an intentional pause during which real self-awareness is possible. Stillness enables introspection. And this is often difficult for clients. The demands of professional and business careers usually come with the expectation that being constantly ‘in action’ is the only way to achieve positive results. This also applies to those of us in leadership positions.
Reflection provides an opportunity to think about our cognitive, emotional and somatic states at any specific time. Thus we can more easily recognise the patterns in our lives and acknowledge the part we personally play in establishing those patterns. Thus reflection is an important element in changing ‘stumbling blocks’ into ‘stepping stones’. Please see the post, ‘Turning ‘stumbling blocks’ into ‘stepping stones’: the BIG picture’.
As an ‘integral coach’, I usually suggest that clients’ reflections involve stopping and thinking about what happened during the day and their role in those developments. How did they react – or how did they respond to situations? What were their feelings at the time? How does the response show something of their past, their present and their future possibilities? How are their self-observations, practices and exercises going? What are their great insights for that day? And which were their crystal-clear moments? And what did their bodies feel like at any of those times?
Without stopping to reflect we often go on blindly ignoring the way we are perpetuating patterns of thought and behaviour which may not be serving us well.
Journaling crystallises our thoughts and consolidates the process of refection. So we usually combine these two assignments or do our journaling immediately after our reflection on a daily basis. This critical habit is part of the integral coaching process. And for many people this isn’t easy. However the benefits are enormous. Journaling helps capture the insights gained in a meaningful way and generally celebrates progress and areas that we need to work on. Through conversation the coach can gain valuable information for building a programme where the practices and exercises are even more relevant.
When clients are battling with their journaling there are many ways to creatively make the activities more enjoyable – and thus more sustainable. Through my coaching experience I have noticed that often a slight change can make a big difference. Although I don’t see the contents of the client’s journal, we discuss their insights and progress at each session. Here are some of the areas I usually explore with clients:
- Journaling in writing seems to generate better results than capturing reflections on computer. Writing manually is quite a challenge for many who are accustomed to doing everything on computer or on their iPads. Audio recordings also do not seem to have the same benefits as ‘good old-fashioned’ writing. Try it!
- The choice of journal is important. Some clients choose A4 size, others prefer a book that will fit in their handbags. The colour and type of cover need to be appealing to the owner? Will it encourage you to pick it up and write? And what does it feel like? Is it hard and rigid? Or is it soft and pliable? And do you prefer lines – or blank pages? I have found interesting journals in the most unusual places. For example, I bought the one I’m using at present from ‘Mr Price Home’. And I love it!
- Mandy (*) a Chartered Accountant recently provided an excellent example of finding a creative solution regarding her ‘type of journal’. She has achieved great heights in her profession and other areas of her life. And she was committed to our ‘Executive Coaching’ programme and diligently following through on all our agreed assignments. However, she found the reflections and journaling extremely difficult. At first she tried capturing her thoughts each evening on computer. She couldn’t sustain that. So after the next session she tried writing in a new journal. That too was not working. But we persisted and she creatively tried to find a way that engaged her and was sustainable. She found the solution herself. The answer was using a ring-bound journal. Knowing that she could tear out the pages if she was not happy with what she had written made her feel less vulnerable. And her journaling became an authentic recording of her reflections. As far as I know she hasn’t yet torn out a page! But, knowing that she could remove a page if she wanted to was the solution to her uneasiness.
- Many of us are particular about the type of pens we use. So, if we are not comfortable with one type, it is worth persisting and trying a variety. Geoffrey (*) writes freely with gelwriters with rubber grips. Giving him a ballpoint does not bring out the best in him! What is your favourite type of pen?
- The colour of the ink is also important. Jane (*) has a set of pens and consciously decides which colour she feels like using that day. Some days she writes different components of her journaling in different colours. Things she is proud of might be red, areas that are making her nervous might be purple and growth could be green.
- I assign drawing Mandalas as a practice to many of my clients and these can be effectively incorporated into the day’s journaling. Please see my previous article, Mandalas to unmuddle the mind. It is the process of creating Mandalas that is important – and we do not set out to produce a masterpiece. In fact, we are purposely ‘non- judgemental’ in our approach. Including Mandala’s in our journaling certainly brings the pages to life. Here is a glimpse of one of the pages in my current journal:
- Many clients enjoy drawing pictures or patterns in their journals, too.
- It is better to have a set time of day to journal. Using suitable phone reminders helps us to establish the new journaling habit. And it is good to start small – possibly assign only 5 minutes a day in the beginning?
- Remember that we are doing our reflections and journaling primarily for our own self-development. Writing with the mindset that others will read what we have written destroys our ability to be authentic, to allow our real thoughts to surface. We need to be honest even when what we write may sound ridiculous, irrational and unlike the way we have been conditioned to think of ourselves. We need to let the writing flow and not look back during each session. We need to be curious, not judgmental.
- Don’t look back too often! In order to appreciate the progress we are making, it is important not to look back on our journaling too soon or too often. After a few weeks or months, go over the writings looking for patterns. It is amazing what surfaces. Try it – it is worth persisting in establishing this habit.
There will often be challenges in setting the time aside and in following through in immersing ourselves in the reflections and journaling. But there are creative ways of finding solutions. Find the way that suits you best and establish a sustainable habit. The benefits are enormous!
(*) Names have been changed to protect clients’ identities.