From Richard Franklin to Winston Churchill, many of history’s greatest achievers have kept a journal or diary at some point in their lives.
Now of course, I’m not saying that journaling is what made these great figures what they were. Nor am I saying that journaling alone will be enough to make you ‘great’. But what I am saying is that they can’t all be wrong. And actually, there are a ton of very valuable benefits to journaling that make it worth your consideration. Here are just some of them…
It’s a Record
When you write a journal, it of course means you have a record of everything you’ve done and this in turn is something you can look back over in order to learn important lessons and to put your life in perspective.
It can sometimes be a great feeling looking back and seeing all the exciting things you’ve done. But if that’s not the experience you get from your journal then perhaps it can highlight that something needs to change. Either way, this lets you honestly appraise your life.
And imagine being able to read over this in 20 years – there will be so much detail that you would otherwise have forgotten! This is a way to immortalize yourself and to hold tighter onto those memories.
What’s more, is that it keeps a record for others and means that they can potentially learn from your experiences.
A lot of what most of us do on a regular basis will involve using technology, working on things that make us stressed and otherwise being wired and on the go. Writing a journal at the end of the day is an excellent alternative to those activities that is almost meditative in its ability to encourage focus. It’s quiet, it doesn’t involve a glaring screen and it’s a great way to unwind before bed.
It Can be a Powerful Tool
You can also use a journal as a tool. As well as writing about your day, why not also write down what you ate? Or what you dreamed? Or make a note of each day you worked out? You can even just make a note of your mood. This lets you assess your performance in any goal at a glance and also to get some useful contextual data that might help you to find correlations in your routine and the way you feel/act.
If you’re trying to cut back and simplify your life, then you really need to understand the impact that your activities have on your brain and how this alters the very chemical balance of your grey matter.
Once you recognize this, you can then start to be more aware of what you’re doing to your mind and of how you can make sure you’re getting the rest and recovery that you need.
Focus, Alert and Stress
Whenever you’re working, whenever you’re being productive and even when you’re playing games or watching TV, your brain is in a state of focus and alert. What this means, is that it’s wired and fixed on what’s going on because it thinks it must be important and must require your focus. In these circumstances, our brain acts just as though we’re facing off against a lion or otherwise doing something that is a matter of life and death. Our brain therefore produces cortisol, dopamine, norepinephrine and we become highly focused on whatever is happening right in front of us. This also causes our heartrate to increase and means blood is directed away from the important-yet-less-pressing functions in our body such as our immune system and digestion. In the short term this makes us more focused and productive, in the long run it takes its toll and makes us ill.
A flow state is what happens when you’re incredibly engaged with something because it’s dangerous or just fascinating. Similar chemicals to the regular ‘stress’ state are produced alongside others like endorphins and anandamide. In this state, we become so focused on what’s happening in front of us that we stop thinking and lose our inner monologue entirely. This results in heightened performance and feelings of exhilaration. In neuroscience the term for this state is ‘temporohypofrontality’.
Default Mode Network
Conversely, the default mode network is what happens when we’re in the opposite state. This is when our brain is allowed to wander and we find ourselves daydreaming or making plans. It often occurs when walking or when engaging in menial tasks like washing up.
The default mode network is just as important as these other states as it lets us recover and helps us to overcome stress. What’s more, it’s associated with heightened creativity.
The point is not that one of these states is ‘better’ than the other. Rather, we need to get all three in equal doses and everything in between to have a happy, calm and relaxed mind.
If you’re trying to live a calmer, less cluttered and less stressful lifestyle, then going for walks is a fantastic way to achieve this.
Walking has a vast number of benefits for your body and your mind which we will look at here. What’s more, is that it’s something anyone can do and that anyone can fit into their routine. Read on to find out more.
The Power of Walking
Going for a walk is right away one of the best things you can do for your health. This is a very gentle and low-impact form of exercise that will help you burn calories and keep your heart rate up. If you sit for long periods during the day, then it’s very important to ensure you are occasionally getting some exercise as otherwise you can actually shorten your lifespan!
What’s more though is that walking has a number of powerful benefits for the brain. When you walk, it causes you to activate your brain’s ‘default mode network’. This is the series of brain areas that come to life when you’re not focusing on anything particular. Using the default mode network allows your brain to recover from lots of focus and it helps you to come up with creative ideas. It’s almost meditative!
This is only then heightened when you additionally start taking walks in scenic areas. Studies show that simply being in the presence of greenery is enough to help us lower our heart rates and to instill a sense of calm. What’s more, it also further enhanced creativity.
If your life feels constantly busy, rushed and hectic, then a walk might just be the perfect escape that your body and mind are crying out for.
How to Fit Walks Into Your Routine
So how can you make this work within your current routine?
One option is to go for more walks while doing other things. A particularly good example of this is speaking with a friend. If you have a friend over for tea, why not suggest catching up while going for a walk? Alternatively, if you are on the phone, why not take it with you for an amble?
Another option is to walk places that you might otherwise have driven or gotten the bus. The old tip is to try getting off of your bus one stop earlier and then just walking that last stretch to work/your home.
We’re constantly being told to ‘say yes more’ and to embrace every opportunity that life throws at us. In fact, there is even a popular book and a popular film called Yes Man which is all about saying yes to things and living life more fully as a result.
And this is a very nice idea in theory. In practice though? It’s actually commonly counterproductive and can even end up being destructive!
The Problem With Always Saying Yes
In books like Yes Man, the main character finds himself accepting all kinds of exciting opportunities; going on adventures, meeting new people and learning new skills. That would be nice – but in reality it’s often not how these things pan out. Instead, we find ourselves saying yes more often and ultimately that just means that we go to the pub more and we go on every stag party/hen do.
The result? We get very tired, we spend lots of money and we have less time to spend doing the things we love.
The Power of No
This is where saying ‘no’ comes in.
The problem is that saying ‘yes’ to one thing, ultimately is the same as saying ‘no’ to another. Saying ‘yes’ actually limits your options more than saying no!
When you say yes to a night out for instance, you are actually saying no to a night in – and to a different night out. When you say ‘yes’ to helping someone move, you actually say ‘no’ to working out that evening, or spending time on your new side business.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that this is all really easy. The problem is that many of us feel compelled to say yes to people and as though we’re letting our friends down if we say no. This is a point of view that needs to change though.
While there are some situations where saying yes is the kind and helpful thing to do, we are in no way obligated to always say yes. What’s more, is that we shouldn’t find ourselves feeling guilty for saying no.
The secret is simply to make sure that you know what your priorities are and that you have a reason to say no. In other words, don’t say ‘no’ and then just watch TV – say ‘no’ and then use the time the way you want to.
And there’s a balance to be struck here too. The simple solution? Treat your solo activities with the respect they deserve. Book them into your calendar and then treat them like any other indelible appointment!
In many ways, the state of your home is a reflection of the state of your mind. What’s more is that this correlation can work the other way around too – so that the state of your mind ends up mirroring the state of your home.
How does this work? Well, when we’re very busy and rushed, we often find that we don’t have time to keep our home tidy and in order. As a result, it ends up looking a mess and we struggle to find things in the morning.
On the other hand though, when we’re on top of things we find that we are able to organize our belongings in a logical manner and stay on top of where everything is.
So with that in mind, one of the very best ways to go about improving your calm and focus is to start by getting your home organized. And one of the best ways to do that is to throw out unnecessary clutter.
The Problem With Ornaments
Most of us have several ornaments and other items in our home that we keep because we think they look nice. They adorn our tables and cupboards and other surfaces and for the most part look good.
But the problem is, the more we get, the more claustrophobic we start to feel. Light can’t move as freely around the room and we just end up feeling very busy and very stressed due to the amount of information that’s there to take in.
What’s worse, is that the more we have on our surfaces, the more there is to clean and tidy. This ends up resulting in our surfaces getting more and more untidy.
What to do About It
So what do you do?
The first tip is to go through your things and to just dispose of 60% of anything on a surface. That sounds like an extreme challenge but in doing this you will now be left with a much higher average quality of item remaining. What’s left will be only the things you really love and they’ll now draw more attention to themselves.
Moreover, having fewer items now means that tidying is a matter of just wiping around – there’s nothing to pick up and nothing to attract dust of its own.
Don’t put these things in boxes though. In fact, dispose of boxes under the bed and on wardrobes too. You’d be surprised what a huge difference this makes to you unconsciously!
Meditation is something that all of us can benefit from. And in today’s hectic and busy world, there has never been a more important time for us to give it a go. Unfortunately though, a lot of people don’t really understand what meditation is or how to use it. And many people even find themselves with some kind of prejudice against meditation – assuming that it’s only for people who want to ‘achieve enlightenment’ or that it’s a purely spiritual or religious practice.
What is Meditation?
In fact though, meditation doesn’t have to be about either of those things. Instead, meditation is primarily just the practice of focusing your mind and paying attention. Think of it like weight lifting but for your brain.
There are different types of meditation and these have different end goals. However, the main objective in any case involves focusing your thoughts and choosing what you want to focus on and what you’re going to think. Instead of letting your mind run away with you as you worry about things you can’t change or feel generally stressed, meditation teaches you how to focus on the things that make you happy and how to shut out the things that don’t help.
Types of Meditation
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to introduce some meditation techniques.
One is ‘mindfulness’. Here, the objective is not to stop yourself from thinking but rather just to detach yourself from your thoughts and to become almost like a third party observing those thoughts. The expression often used is that you’re going to watch them ‘drift by like clouds’.
The value in this is that you can prevent your thoughts from controlling your emotions. When you’re scared of heights, you can stop worrying about falling and instead just note that you’re having that thought in a detached manner. Mindfulness is also used by psychologists to help people better understand the contents of their own minds.
Another type of meditation is ‘transcendental’. This is the type that most people are most familiar with and that involves trying to ‘shut out’ your outside thoughts. Instead you’re trying to make your mind completely quiet and often this involves a mantra – a phrase that you repeat over and over.
Eventually, you can use this type of meditation to stop all and any stress: just quiet your brain for a moment of peace and relaxation!