Journaling Does Not Require Washi Tape

It’s the cusp of 2023 and the algorithms know me too well. They know that this is the time of year when I demonstrate a personal weakness. The time of year when I will spend hours if not days searching for the journal and calendar that will change my life. The algorithms have logged my clicks and so now, as the year races towards its end, photo essays of the hike you took with your family or that tearful video of the little boy receiving a puppy for his birthday are being replaced by scrolls of ecstatic people thrilled that what they hold in their arms is the journal that will fuel their productivity and help them become the version of themselves that they see in their mind’s eye. Over the years these journals have seduced me with their assurance that in exchange for my hard-earned $39.95 plus shipping and handling they’ll send me the key to achieving all my goals. All I need is a few rolls of washi tape and a dozen fine point markers in rainbow colors. 

I spent the first half of 2022 packing for our move and what I found in the dusty recesses of our storage locker were half-a-decade’s worth of Bullet*, Wellness, Productivity and Law of Attraction journals in various sizes, colors and bindings. Most began the year that I acquired them on solid footing but by late February were abandoned like a New Year’s Resolution that made little sense in the first place.

The lesson that I had to learn – that I finally learned – is that these pseudo-magical journals are nothing more than spiral-bound sheets of paper with calendar dates, faint horizontal lines and the occasional affirmation or Mary Oliver quote printed in pretty pastels and sandwiched between jewel-toned embossed vegan leather. They are nothing more than little naked emperors ruling kingdoms of dreamers.

It turns out that all the color-coding and tracking and planning and washi-taping takes too much time. I mean it really takes time. Time that might be better spent doing what we want to do rather than doodling about what we want to do.

This doesn’t mean writing down our dreams and goals and aspirations is a bad thing. It isn’t. Journaling is a contemplative act. With practice and commitment it becomes a ritual that supports our mental health by helping us to process our past, shift our perspective and plan for our future. Writing down the vision of the life we see for ourselves is like drawing the road map that will lead us to our destination. Even as the vision we have for ourselves morphs and changes. Even as we are blocked by obstacles and dead ends. Journaling is a way of discovering how to navigate through unexpected difficulties. Keeping track of the goals we aspire to and the steps that will take us to those goals holds us accountable. It also provides that clarity we need to determine when our set goals no longer have heart and meaning. Seeing the seven days of the week laid out before us reminds us to take time for self care. To make certain we’ve given thought to holding sacred the present moment and the relationships we have with others that mean so much.

But don’t let any slick online advertisement convince you that it’s their product that provides the one true way of journaling, increasing productivity or keeping track of what day of the week it is. If you believe that putting pen to paper will bring clarity to your intentions then what you need is simple. You need a pen, some paper and some time alone.

And so…

I pull out a notebook and my favorite ultra fine point pen and write ‘2023’ at the top of the first page. I begin to think about this new group of twelve months we launch in a few hours. I don’t want to write a list of resolutions. But I need to put down on paper a written sketch of sorts for my life in 2023. I decide a theme for the year will provide focus and without too much hesitation choose, ‘grounded wellness’. What that means is allowed to unfold as the new year progresses. What is your theme for this coming year?

I divide my life into four quarters: health, wealth, my creative heart and my loving heart. If you divided your life into four quarters what would that look like? In each quarter I take note of what is important to me…fitness…writing a will and health directive…committing to the art workshops I’ve enrolled in as an act of self-care…building and maintaining community…being open to love and friendship…remembering that I am a good person doing my best. What’s important to you?

When I finish I have a broad list of objectives to complete that need to be set in stone and ideas to embrace that are more fluid.

On the next page I write, ‘Practical Goals for 2023’ because I’m nothing if not practical. These goals are a list of ‘action items’ for the year. A breakdown of the objectives and ideas that I was able to determine for the four quarters of my life. This list is a cross between a guideline and a series of goal posts. If I want to create, if I want to write and if I want to continue to teach yoga with any small amount of success then the action items on this list need to happen. Do you have a list of ‘action items’ that you want to see complete?

But it’s all a bit overwhelming. So I break it down even further, until everything is bite-sized. Until everything feels doable. If there’s something you’re stuck on, what can you do to break it into bite sized chunks?

From here it’s easy to find order and clarity. I write the word ‘January’ at the top of the next page and ask myself, ‘what needs to be done?’.

What needs to be done? What do I need to do in order to move forward in my life in a way that is profound, life affirming, celebratory and self-actualizing? What do I need to do in order to be a positive force in the world?

And to think I did it all without spending $39.95 plus shipping and handling! With no washi tape! No color coordinating! Venting about algorithms in this post took WAY longer than creating my 2023 Journal. We’ll see how it’s all working for me in February but I have high hopes.

In the meantime, I’m wishing all of you a very happy 2023. May you find heart and meaning in all that you do.

*full disclosure: I actually appreciate and still employ some of the organizational tips learned during my ‘Bullet Journaling’ phase…

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