Whose Questions Are These?
The following questions could belong to anyone, and there are thousands of other questions one could ask, only once, or the same question daily for a period of time, to help keep a journal feeling fresh and as a way of checking in with oneself. The first of these questions is what Marion Milner asked herself daily in her journal, which resulted in her sharing her results in her book, A Life of One’s Own. I reviewed her book in my earlier post.
Some Questions (suggestions only)
- What made me happy today?
- What decisions did I make, and did I follow through?
- What stopped me, or how did I stop myself?
- How did I unstop myself?
- Did I like myself today?
- What am I grateful for?
Keeping the Journal Fresh Not Stagnant
There have been times in my life when my journal has flattened into a mere reiteration of what I did or what happened, or worse, a list of my complaints about my life, or even my complaints about me and what I wasn’t accomplishing. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with using a journal as a place to complain or list problems, and in fact it’s an appropriate place to complain if we want to avoid hurting people’s feelings, or seeming whiny in our more public lives, and writing complaints out gives one a chance to examine why what we’re complaining about is a problem. We all have complaints, and even if the journal complaining goes on for a while, well, that’s bound to happen now and then, simply because I’m tired or moody, something went wrong, I’ve been more busy than is good for me, or I have a bad day or week. But when I find my journal pages sinking into a continuous bog, as if I’m caught in quicksand, I like to start questioning what’s going on inside, in how I’m thinking about my life, and what I might do to change its direction, or the direction of my thinking about it.
Of course there are a thousand other questions one might ask, and anyone can come up with their own. But even one of these questions, trite as they may seem, if asked and answered thoughtfully and honestly once a day, can make a journal more of a journey than an exercise in stagnation. On a journey, the scenery changes over time.
What Self-Questioning Can and Can’t Do
I can’t make any promises about what asking oneself questions like these will accomplish, further than providing an opportunity for greater self-awareness. That isn’t always an easy or fun thing to accomplish. I find that those things I really need to see in myself and my thinking are often the things I least want to look at. In fact, I don’t have answers to just about anything, and I’m not a mental health pro. But I’m nearly always seeking answers myself, about my inner journey forward. Thus the questions I sometimes ask myself as I journal.
There’s always a certain amount of our lives that is out of our control. I like to think of that as life’s weather patterns. We can’t control the weather; we have to adapt and live our lives somehow in the flow of it. The same is true sometimes of other aspects of life, such as illness, grief, how others in our lives are doing or behaving towards us, and all those things that can happen, like losses, breakdowns and repairs, accidents, even plans that don’t go as we plan, and of course the real weather — all of life’s real and figurative tempests that have to be lived through somehow. Then there are the things that stay tediously the same over time, such as a job that doesn’t feel motivating or inspiring, or a chronic health problem.
But we are the owners-managers of our lives. I’m not always the best person at figuring that out about my life, at seeing how I get in my own way sometimes, or I’m not adapting as well as I could, and that’s why these questions can help me. They help me question my own thoughts, my flawed perceptions and my inaccurate assumptions.
If I’m not in a good place when I begin using questions like those above, or whatever other questions I come up with to challenge myself, they might make me feel badly about myself, at least when I start asking and answering them. But how I work with that matters, and that’s where being gentle with myself is important. Because what I did or how I thought about things in the past is in the past. Every step forward is new ground. I can let my answers cultivate self-loathing or victim-hood and leave it at that, or I can begin to see what it is I’m doing or not doing that I could change to be happier with myself, going forward. That’s the choice gained from answering questions that dig deeper into my thinking, question my perceptions, and help me see where I might be perceiving something in an inaccurate or flawed way, where I’m making assumptions because I don’t have enough information to know the answers, or where I might try an attitude change, or even seek professional advice.
Of course, a journal isn’t going to make someone happy, in and of itself. And by happy I do not mean always up on Cloud Nine, thrilled with life. I’m talking more about contentment and peace with oneself. But seeing myself more clearly can be a tool that helps me make the kinds of changes in my thinking that will help me feel satisfied more of the time, with how I’m doing, how I’m meeting life, how I’m adapting and growing, how I’m getting along with others. I can be more content going to sleep at night, thinking it was a pretty good day, that I got some things done that steer my life in the right direction, that I’m tired for good reasons, that I did something I love today, or at least made room in my life so that I can do something I love tomorrow. Asking yourself questions, whatever questions you come up with for your own journal, can help with that.
Books Can Help
One book that offers help through various personal setbacks or feeling blocked in one’s writing process is The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self Guidance and Expanded Creativity, by Tristine Rainer. It’s a comprehensive and somewhat timeless guide for keeping a journal. I first read it in 2012, and I’m rereading it now.
What About You?
Are there questions you ask yourself in your journal on a regular basis?