Journaling Through An Argument.

It sounds odd but hear me out.

Historically, during frustrating arguments or heated disagreements I’ve done one or all of the following:

  1. Clam up. Much like a roly poly, if poked in the right way at the right time, I’ll turn inward, clam up and zip up. My brain sort of just shuts down. Not good.
  2. Gotten defensive & word-vomity. I snap into defensive mode and without thinking, start doling out comments that I may not even mean. As the words fly out of my mouth, I’ll think “where is THIS coming from?!” or “I don’t think that’s even true!” I get overwhelmed and kinda go haywire. Not good.
  3. Taken forever to bounce back. After arguments or heated exchanges, it can take a loooong time for me to process everything, want to open up again, and/or apologize. Also… not good!

I’ve made it a personal goal this last year to improve myself in this area. I’m an intelligent woman and I should be able to clearly [and calmly] state how I feel & what I think during a disagreement. I don’t want to stay silent and I do not want to say things I don’t really mean. Finally, I want to be able to open up to the other person afterward with a clear head and understanding.

Photo by Jan Kahánek

So, as is my answer to almost everything, I’ve started journaling through it all.

No, I don’t pick up my journal in the middle of an argument. I pick it up after the other party and I go to our separate corners.

My aim with this is to teach myself how to think clearly and thoroughly while feeling angry or frustrated. Also, I always strive to examine things from all sides, so asking myself the following questions allows me to do that more easily.

  • What is it that’s making you angry/frustrated at this very moment?
  • What point were you trying to make before?
  • Do you truly believe in what you were fighting for? WHY do you believe it?
  • Do you have any idea why [the other person] feels the way they feel about this? Can you think of reasons they believe what they believe?
  • Pretend you are the other person. What do you think about the way that YOU are behaving? What do you think about the things that you are saying?
  • Do you feel frustrated that their view is different than yours? Why? Is there room for both?
  • Does your anger stem from something deeper, or is it JUST about this? What else could this possibly be about?
  • How is all of this making you feel physically? Are you tensing up in any areas?
  • Do you truly feel that any of this worth getting heated over?

After I’ve answered some or all of those questions, I feel a bit calmer and my mind feels less chaotic. I have a better understanding of what it is I’m fighting for and why my emotions are so attached to it. Lastly, and sometimes most importantly, I have given myself space to see and hopefully understand the other person’s perspective.

My ultimate goal is to get to a point where I can automatically ask myself these questions internally while I’m engaged with someone. For now, this practice is teaching me a lot.

=)

Why I’ve kept myself from setting goals.

Photo by Bekir Dönmez

For most of my life, I’d never been one to set big goals or “dream big”. In a journal entry a few weeks ago, I asked myself flat-out why I think that is. I was able to clarify at least a couple of reasons, and I’d like to share them. Perhaps others can relate!

  1. Envy. Until my early to mid-20s, which is when I began to gain some wisdom in this area, I always envied people that had “a lot” – a lot of money, a big gorgeous home, great beauty, great confidence, great talent, etc. The envy ran pretty deep and it is only recently that I realized how much I let it control me. Though I never begrudged anyone their happiness or good fortune, I put them on a very high pedestal in my mind. The gap I felt between myself and “them” widened over time and it ended up feeling like more of a weight. In my misguided attempt to lift this weight, I guess I somehow convinced myself that I would simply never have what they had. I convinced myself that those people were just lucky, I wasn’t, and that was that. I wouldn’t even let myself imagine what it would feel like to have what they had (and I specifically remember saying that so many times- “wow, I can’t even IMAGINE!”). It’s not that I couldn’t, I just wouldn’t. [Important sidenote: I have fantastic, supportive parents. They never, ever told me that anything was out of my reach. Introvert that I am – I hardly expressed or discussed the envy that I had with anyone for so long, out of embarrassment maybe (?) or to preserve my pride (?), so I think it just quietly chipped away at a part of me.]
  2. Depression. I’m prone to it, and one of the symptoms is the inability to clearly envision a future. I believe this symptom, which I’ve experienced MANY times in various depressive slumps, managed to stick to my every day thought patterns.
  3. Overthinking. This one is sort of related to the other two, but I felt it was worth clarifying. If I have the beginnings of an idea about my future and what I could possibly do with it, I’m able to talk myself out of it pretty quickly. I think about the reasons it may not work and sure enough, I become fearful and want to climb back into my comfort zone.

The abundance other people have has absolutely no bearing on my goal for more abundance in my life. I know this now.

If I hit a depressive slump, I try to journal my thoughts & feelings and keep them confined in there. I remind myself that what I feel during those times isn’t always real; that the depression is hogging my attention. I cannot allow it to follow me.

As for the problem of overthinking: I’m working on it! I’m working on my ability to concentrate and my ability to control my awareness. Like anything else, this takes practice, but I am already reaping the rewards. [I highly recommend this YouTube video about the power of concentration: Dandapani: Controlling Your Awareness]

Gaining clarity on why I haven’t set big goals for myself has been enormously helpful. I’ve been able to combat my unhealthy thought patterns and obstacles because I know exactly what I’m up against. At this point, I can confidently say that envisioning a future and dreaming up great, big, wonderful goals has never felt easier.

=)

Dear journals.

By the time I turned 30, I had a collection of about 9 journals. Between the 9 journals, spanning 20-ish years, I’d say there was maybe 13 full pages of actual writing.

I was 6 or 7 when I got my first diary. Part of what made me want to start in the first place was the romanticism I saw in it. I’d see girls in movies lying on their bed with their diary, pouring their hearts out onto the page. It looked like so much fun! It was like a club that I wanted to be a part of.

So many pretty journals later, the habit just wasn’t sticking. Part of my problem was that I’d sit down to write, and I’d think way too hard about what I was writing. I wanted to sound elegant and mature and interesting. It’s as if I expected someone to read it at some point, and I wanted them to be impressed. For these reasons, the practice never felt authentic or helpful to me, so I kept giving up.

I’d nearly given up on the idea of ever being a person who journals when out of nowhere, last September, I had a breakthrough. One day, I was feeling so bogged down by my thoughts and emotions that I grabbed a legal pad and just started listing each one. I didn’t overthink, I just listed. It looked a something like this:

  • I feel so out of control
  • I am so tired, I haven’t slept well in a week
  • I have no physical energy but my mind is racing
  • I feel so overwhelmed by all of the things we need to do for the wedding
  • Why can’t I get a grip? Where did this come from?
  • I wish I could just run away and be completely alone for a few days
  • What can I do to make this better?
  • Should I talk to my mom about it? She’s already stressed, I don’t want to burden her.

I think I took up about 4 full legal pad pages.

I’d been doing “mind-sweeps” every so often for months before that (à la GTD) but that was always for tasks that needed accomplishing. It never occurred to me to use it in this way. I felt so inspired! From that point on, I would sit down almost every day and write in this way. I’d simply list my feelings and never gave a crap about how I sounded. After a while, I gradually moved from listing to writing more traditional entries. Though I do still like to use the list technique from time to time, especially when I’m feeling mentally clogged.

It took years for me to hear my inner voice and just let her rip. She’s not always forthcoming, though. Sometimes the words don’t seem to come, but it’s okay. If that happens, I’ll simply write something like “I don’t have much to say, I’m feeling a bit blank at the moment. I wonder why that is.” I never force it. And that’s the key for me, it seems.

=)