By Anna Levesque
“Dear Diary… My summer is going really well! I’ve made some excellent friends and I’ve had amazing experiences. My latest trip was whitewater kayaking yesterday down Family Rapids on the Rouge River (Class II). I flipped while in the rapid and it was one of the scariest experiences of my life! I was going to panic and wet exit, but I changed my mind and told myself to stay calm and try to roll up. I could see the rocks under me going by at a fast pace and the water was pulling hard. I tried to roll twice before I finally succeeded. And then I did roll up! I felt like I could do anything! I was so proud of myself! I’m definitely hooked on kayaking!” This was my journal entry from July 20th, 1994, almost 20 years ago.
It’s easy for me to remember my first combat roll, but my journal entry enhances my memory with a vivid description of what was going on in my head. Not only does this provide great entertainment twenty years down the line, but it also gives insight into how much I have accomplished. Because I’m a high achiever I often expect immediate results from my endeavors, and I tend to get upset when things don’t go as I plan. Being able to look back gives me the opportunity to celebrate my journey and remember that every little step is an achievement. And, I don’t have to wait 20 years to look back either. I often open my journal from last month or last year to reflect on what has happened and how I handled a challenging situations that arose in my life.
What I’ve learned by doing this is that journaling is a powerful tool for getting clear about what I want to change and create in my life. When I work through what’s going on in my head on paper things get clarified and writing down new intentions and goals is a powerful practice. It is a much stronger commitment than just having a goal in my head. Reading about how stressed or frustrated I was in the past and then having the experience of passing through that challenge to achieve and create wonderful things enhances my faith/confidence in my Divine Path and in myself (and in the wonderful supportive people that I surround myself with).
And, reading about the same habit patterns/beliefs and outcomes over and over helps me to see patterns in my life that are healthy and those that are holding me back from achieving my goals. I’m then able to recognize the next time I’m engaging in a thought, feeling, action that is holding me back and remember that I don’t have to keep doing it the same way. I have the power to change my dialogue with myself and with life to help me achieve my goals.
“Dear Diary…When I got here (to North American River Runners – rafting company on the New and Gauley Rivers) today I was saying to myself: ‘Why am I here?’ I was stressing out because I thought that maybe this isn’t really the place I want to be. What am I doing here instead of doing something ‘meaningful’ with my life? I was so stressed I wanted to cry!” This journal entry from May 5th, 1997 reminds me that following my heart and my passions doesn’t always feel amazing. There is doubt, there is fear, there is uncertainty and there is a leap of faith. My time raft guiding and paddling in WV was very formative for both my kayaking skills and my personal development. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that my time kayaking and raft guiding there were in fact contributing to me ‘doing something meaningful with my life.’ Without these experiences I wouldn’t be the person I am today and Girls at Play wouldn’t be the business or the community that it is today. Now when I am going through a challenging time and questioning myself for following my heart I can look back at this entry and remember that even though the step I am taking feels small, scary and questionable (in relation to what myself or others think I SHOULD do), that if I’m listening to my heart and my intuition that I’m probably on the right path. Instead of getting all stressed out and suffering needlessly I can journal about how grateful I am to be where I am and about how exciting it will be to witness the unfolding of my new path before me. That’s a huge shift in energy, and much more helpful than being stressed out and wanting to cry.
If you have been keeping journals I encourage you to go back and read through them and see if you can pick out recurring patterns in your life. This will help you harness your strengths that assist you in achieving your goals and help you recognize where you can begin to change your response to the patterns that hold you back. If you have never kept a journal start now!
I recently worked with a client who was coming to me for private instruction with specific goals of improving her confidence and her skills in class III/IV. She had booked the lessons a month in advance so I had her start journaling after she paddled. At first she said she didn’t think that she would be able to do it because she didn’t know what she was going to write about. When she sat down and started writing about her day she found that things just flowed out of her. It gave both she and I insight into how she could improve. Don’t over think it, just put pen to paper and start.
This client is a high achiever, expects a lot from herself and is hard on herself when she doesn’t perform up to her expectations. She was telling me all of these wonderful stories about how she encourages other people in her life and so I asked her if she would ever speak to others the way she spoke to herself about her kayaking skill. She said ‘no.’ She was holding a belief that she was not deserving of compliments or of acknowledging her great kayaking skill. To help her be more encouraging to herself I gave her some journaling homework. And maybe this will help some of you reading this too… I asked her to draw a line down the center splitting a page in her journal in two quadrants. On one side I asked her to write down the statement “I am a really good paddler.” Across from this statement on the other half of the page I asked her to write down whatever thought comes to mind in reaction to her initial positive statement. I told her to not hold back – even if it’s really negative, disbelief etc… just write it down. The next step is to go back to the other side of the page and write down her positive statement again and then write down whatever first comes to her mind on the other side of the page. The work it to do this over and over again and until you notice that you run out of excuses to not believe in your positive statement. It may take 50 times, but it will happen. And then you can look at your beliefs and excuses as to why you’re not a great paddler and they may even make you laugh because you recognize that they just aren’t true. And may even be silly.
This is just one example of a valuable journaling exercise. Here is another example that we put together a few years ago based on my article Teachings from the River. We’ve put it into an easily downloadable PDF so you can work on it!