When my lifestyle editor asked if anyone wanted to try Chicken Soup for the Soul's Guided Journal: Explore and Embrace Your Inner Strength, I was hesitant because I already write in my own "unguided" journal and would probably never pick up a guided one on my own. But that, incidentally, made me the perfect candidate to try it.
Besides a good friend and a glass of wine, I believe writing in a journal is the cheapest form of therapy in existence. Often, when I start an entry with something as mundane as the details of my workday, something will spark a memory or a philosophy, and I'll end up veering off into some deep, introspective breakthrough about how my choice in Netflix shows is actually a subconscious reflection of my relationship with my mother.
Through keeping a regular, unguided journal, I’ve learned so much about myself. But I can't say I've learned much about bettering myself through it.
I still make the same mistakes I made a year ago. Now, I just know why I did them.
So, when I picked up this guided journal, I hoped that, in teaching me to "explore and embrace [my] inner strength," it would also guide me to the tools to stop making those same mistakes. I quickly found those tools in the form of written activities in the guided journal, such as daily gratitude lists, storyboards, and affirmative statements.
These were tools I would've never sought out on my own because, not only did I not know where to look, but until they were literally laid out in front of me, I didn't even know they existed.
Navel-gazing, for all the well-intentioned introspection it may inspire, can only do so much. Because each activity in the guided journal was inspired by real stories from real people, I was able to think about my past achievements and future goals in a larger, more meaningful context. Their stories taught me to be proud and thankful for my achievements, while still remaining humble and focused on working towards my next goal.
Because I like to write in my unguided journal in the morning as sort of a warmup for writing articles like, well, this one, I decided to work on the guided journal in the evening, usually right before reading a few chapters of a book before bed. Each night, I took out the journal and spent about twenty minutes reading some of the entries and completing their accompanying activities. I worked through the guided journal in bits and pieces, without any deadline or final destination in mind.
I purposefully didn’t want to start and finish the journal in a single week because I don’t believe in quick fixes, especially when it comes to bettering myself.
The book, as I soon learned, also isn't built for that. While some of the activities took five minutes, like listing five goals I'd achieved over the past five years, other activities required you to be in it for the long haul. One of my favorites was writing down a single "daily miracle" that happened to me each day on a piece of paper. They didn't have to be anything big. In fact, it was better if they were small, simple things, such as "had a good hair day" or "got to share jokes with my grandma." The journal encourages readers to do this every day until the page fills up. Then, you get a new one and keep on going.
Doing this every day for just a week has already reminded me that all of the small, normal, boring parts of my life I usually overlook are really the ones I should be the most thankful for.
Once you take the time to notice it, the ordinary starts to feel a tad extraordinary.
The most surprising, and perhaps most difficult, part of using this guided journal to harness my "inner strength" was actually acknowledging that I had any to begin with.
Both those who know me too well and not at all tell me I'm too hard on myself. The guided journal's writing prompts gave me specific and continual permission to be proud of myself — something I don't usually get from the self-deprecating entries in my unguided journal. Instead of focusing on all the mistakes I've made and why I've made them (repeatedly), I finally felt "allowed" to focus on everything I've done right and even applaud myself for it.
Being encouraged to be nice to myself was, well, just that — nice. And, I realized, something I should do more often.
I still think making mistakes is an important and necessary way to grow and change and become better, though we often don't know what "better" means until we already are. But after this experience, I also know that we're usually a little "better" than we think we are, and we should give ourselves more credit for wherever on the yellow brick road to "better" we happen to be.
Maybe I'll finally know I've reached "better" when I finish that love letter to myself or finish the guided journal, no matter how long that might take. Or maybe, "better" is the place on my fridge I'll hang that letter for anyone to see and, most importantly, for me to remember every day. Honestly, I don't know — it's too soon to tell. But I'm doing what I can to get there.
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