Journaling & Habits


Last week I talked about journaling and broke it down to the very basics. My hope is that if you read that post, you’ve picked up a journal and maybe even written your first entry. Maybe you used the prompt and wrote like the wind. A girl can dream, right?

Today, I want to talk about habits. Now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the “it takes 21 days to start a new habit,” bit. I’ve heard it for years. I don’t even know who originally started it but today, for the purpose of this blog post I decided to research it. Today, I learned some things. The 21 days to build a new habit was said by a plastic surgeon who noticed that his patients would take 21 days before getting used to their new nose or they would experience phantom limb for 21 days after amputation. He also realized he took to new habits after about 21 days and then wrote a book where he quoted the 21 days thing and boom, everybody now thinks 21 days is the magical answer to habit forming.

Well, University College London did a study with 96 participants studying how long it took for these guys to start forming new habits. If you’re interested, the article I read is here, but on average it takes 66 days for a new habit to form. That is twice as long as the original 21 days business. If I’m being honest, it isn’t easy trying to stick to something for 21 days. I’m currently doing a 30-day yoga challenge, and I already want to skip a day. (I’m on day 13.) Building habits are not easy. Anything in life that is good and worth having is not easy. The phrase “it’s too good to be true” is a saying we’ve all heard a thousand times for a reason. We all know things will take hard work, it’s just getting ourselves to put in the hard work.

I remember when I was first starting journaling, I had to do it as part of homework assignments. I would sit down with my journal begrudgingly and write superficially. Why did it matter what I wrote? Nobody was reading it anyway. One day I had a rough day and I started spilling my emotions onto my paper, letting my paper fill with all my hurts of the day. I allowed my paper to hold the weight of my day instead of my brain. When I was done writing, I felt better. I felt lighter. The weight of the world wasn’t pressing on my shoulders anymore because I moved them to the pages of my journal. My journal became my safe place to dump the scary things of the world, the things I internalize, the fears, the negativity, the sadness, and the good stuff. I have a place to put it all. While it is nice to leave all the crap in my journal and be able to walk away from it, I firmly believe my journal is a place of joy. I don’t ever want to go through one of my old journals and only find bad stuff, so I always make sure to add the good. I write about it all, the good, the bad, and the in between. Life isn’t perfect and I want my journal to reflect that.

Going back to habits, while journaling is something I would say is a habit for me, I journal more days a week than I don’t, it still isn’t an everyday habit. Habits are hard, even when things come naturally to us, I feel like we still forget them. I’ve been wearing glasses for 3 years now and there are still days I forget them. As humans, we are not perfect and there is always room for improvement.

Maybe you’re new to journaling and want to start doing this thing for real or maybe you’ve been journaling for a while and want to dig deeper, or maybe, you used to journal and stopped for whatever reason, and maybe now you want to start again but don’t know how. Well, my friend, let’s start together.

Let’s take the next five days and commit to journaling. It’s only five days and apparently, it takes 61 more than that to develop a new habit, but I like to start small. Just grab a notebook if you don’t already have a journal and write. For the next five days, I’ll post a journaling prompt on my Instagram for inspiration if you get stuck. Don’t worry, I’ll be writing along with you.

Journaling 101

Buckle up ladies and gents. This is going to be a ride.

I’m very passionate about journaling. I believe journaling can solve most problems. Unsure of how you’re feeling about something? Journal it. Can’t make a decision? Journal it. Feeling anxious? Have you heard of this thing called journaling?

I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I used to check out books from my school library that were like journals of girls who came across on the Mayflower and other ships. Those books discouraged me a little bit, nothing in my life was ever that interesting. I wasn’t sailing on a ship to a new world. I wish I could remember the title of those books because I’m pretty sure they were fiction even though I thought they were real as I read them. Still, regardless of the fiction status of those books, I stopped journaling sometime during elementary school. My life wasn’t interesting like those girl’s whose “journals” I was reading. I didn’t know what to write about even when I did journal. When I first started journaling, I didn’t care what I wrote about, I just wrote. I enjoyed it. Once I started thinking about what I was actually putting in the journal, I got self-conscious. I started comparing what I was writing to what I was reading in the books. I doubted the importance of what I was writing. I struggled with writing because what did it matter what I did on June 4th? Who really cared? I wasn’t sailing from England to America, trying to make sure I didn’t fall ill to whatever was circulating around the ship. I have it easy when you put it in that perspective.

Journaling, even when I wasn’t actively doing it, has always been there for me. Even as a teenager, when I didn’t know how to deal with something big, I would write about it. I might not have had a designed journal, but I would still write how I felt. Sometimes, I would turn it into a story and save it to my computer. I still find bits and pieces of random writing. Some of it, I can place what triggered the piece. Other pieces, I have no idea what caused it and I wonder what happened. Some of the pieces might have just been random writing. I’ve always been a writer, even when I didn’t tell people. I never realized I could do something with writing. It makes me laugh when I say that because I have bookshelves full of books of authors who have done something with writing. This is why it has probably taken me so long to finally be pursuing my passion, but I digress.

Journaling is for your mind what exercise is for your body. Exercising helps keep your body healthy. I feel like journaling keeps your mind healthy. There is some notion that journaling is sitting down, with a notebook and a pen and starting with,

“Dear diary,

Today, I ate a piece of toast. I think I like Tom. But Brad has been giving me glances across the hall lately and I’ve been digging it. Also, yogurt is cool. Maybe I should dye my hair.”

No. No. No. No. Stop. No. Do you walk into a gym, pick up a couple of weights, move them around nonchalantly, put them down and maybe stare at a treadmill and hope your body will be healthier? No, you go in with a plan of attack, parts of your body you need to work on. You spend time at the gym. You don’t take ten minutes and hope for the best.

The same approach needs to happen with journaling. You need to spend time with yourself in journaling. You are checking in with yourself. It’s almost like yoga when your instructor is telling you to listen to your body, but instead, you are listening to yourself. You are checking in with you. How are you really feeling? This isn’t superficial. If you are feeling crummy, let the pages have it. They aren’t there to judge you. What is the paper going to do? Laugh? Tell you that you have no right to feel that way? It’s paper, let the blankness of the page be filled with all your emotions. The paper can take it. All the thoughts that you push away during the day because you tell yourself you’ll deal with it later, this is the later. This is where you deal with it. One of the reasons I love journaling so much is because through writing, bearing my soul to paper, I learn how I’m truly feeling. I process situations fully. I can look at a situation where someone may have hurt me, and maybe even see it from their perspective. If I can’t, I can at least start to forgive them. Journaling frees my mind from all the crap. I’m allowed to hope and dream. I’m allowed to be mad and sad. I can praise and rejoice. Journaling also gives me a peek at my past and I get to see how far I’ve come. I get to see how I’ve gotten through things and where I am now. Sometimes, I’ll go through old journals and see how things were just a year ago and be amazing at how different they are now. Actually, I could just go back a couple of months and be amazing at how different things are. Life is always changing and journaling helps me see that better. Day to day we don’t see the changes, but when we look back, a lot of things are different.

But Ashleigh, I don’t know how to start! I want to journal but I don’t know how to start! You might be thinking. Well, that is why this is journaling 101. I want to help you get started. I also want to help you alongside your own journaling journey. Try saying that 5 times fast! (I just did, nailed it!)

First, get rid of any ideas you already have about what journaling is. Journaling is different for everybody and looks different for everybody. Journaling doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re an artist and want to doodle in your journal, awesome! You go, girl! If you cannot draw a stick figure with a ruler like me, you’re not alone and rest assured, your words are enough. If you really want your journal to have something special though, you can always tape pictures inside of it. That’s what I do. When we do fun things, I’ll tape pictures, movie tickets, concert tickets to my journal pages.

Second, just write. You don’t have to start off any certain way, like with “dear journal,” just start writing. A few of my recent entries have started with “Night one with…”, “I had to….”, and, “I write this….” There is no formula to it. I just sit down and write. I’ve been journaling for a few years now. When I first started, I felt like I was pulling teeth just to sit down and write. Now, the words cannot get out fast enough. You just have to stick with it. Just write.

Third, get a notebook and a pen. This can be a cute notebook, a spiral notebook, a legal pad, a stack of printer paper you stapled together. My point is that you are physically writing and not typing on your phone or computer. Could you journal on your computer? Sure, there are probably apps that would help you do it. There is something about the act of physically writing though, that slows you down, that allows your thoughts to process a little bit better. You can actually feel just a little bit more when you physically write. Your fingers can almost keep up with your thoughts when you type. When you are physically writing, your hand cannot keep up with your brain and it allows you to fully go through each thought. I think physically writing is just better. It makes the journaling experience better. Journaling is a form of self-care and you don’t want to cheat yourself out of anything. Take the time to spend with yourself and just write it all out.

Now, I will leave you with a prompt, in case you need it, and if you want more, I have a writing Instagram where I do prompts on Sundays.

journal prompt for journaling 101

Writing & The Big Why


I have always loved writing. As a kid, I had countless diaries and journals, including the super high tech Password Journal. I thought it was super cool until I opened it to find a small pad of paper for the journal and felt ripped off. 

downloadAnybody remember these? I thought I was the coolest girl with this gadget. I’ve also always loved tech. With this journal, I thought I was like Tony Stark, without knowing who he actually was or that he had gadgets that blew my little password journal out of the water. Also, since my little password journal was a gadget made in the ’90s and did not have Jarvis protecting it, my friends could mimic my voice and still could break into it about half the time. It also came with a backup key. Jarvis didn’t have a backup key. I digress.

Aside from my journals, I used to make up stories. I would play pretend with my friends and we would make up some pretty good stuff. The difference is that I never would write this stuff down. I didn’t know I needed to. As a kid, I watched a lot of movies. A LOT. I would get all my friends together and try and convince them that we could make a movie and I would try to cast parts and script it all out on the fly. All of this I should have written down and I wish someone had just handed me a notebook at this point because I would love to know what 9-year-old Ashleigh was thinking. We had fun though. All this pretend playing. Granted, I ripped off worlds, like Hogwarts and the bus from the movie Speed. Everything else though, I changed. I don’t remember exactly how I changed it but we had trees instead of underground tunnels so things were definitely different. The crazy part is that despite all the books I read, in between all the movie watching and pretend movie making I did in my neighborhood, it never occurred to me that writing was a career. I know nine-year-olds aren’t concerned with careers or big life plans. Even as a kid though, people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I always said lawyer. I have no idea where the desire came from, but it was something I decided when I was five and it took a long time to move on from that one.

Aside from making up stories, I used to lie a lot. The worst part about it, is I never lied to get myself out of trouble or to like cover my butt. I lied to make myself sound cooler. I lied to try and be something that I wasn’t. I was really just making up more stories. I feel like if any adult had just been paying any sort of attention in my life and put me in a writing class as a kid, I could have known my love of writing a lot earlier instead of being an adult and just now figuring it out.

Writing is opening the door to infinite possibilities. There are so many types of writing: poetry, nonfiction, fiction, short stories, novels, novella, essays, journaling, each with their own set of possibilities. You are limitless in your options. You are truly in charge and can go wherever your heart leads and wherever the wind took you.

Writing allows you to look at things differently. You can change your perspective, change the order of events, you could technically rewrite history and that’s okay. You can do that and it would give you a different outlook on something. Have you ever read a book and walked away from it the same as you were before you started reading it? Probably not. At least, I haven’t. Writing is supposed to challenge you, make you see things differently. Not only is it an opportunity to see things differently, that’s the point. It’s the invitation and the purpose. Writing isn’t about status quo. It’s evolving, changing, and moving forward.

All of that applies to all of the forms of writing I mentioned earlier. Whether you’re journaling or making up your own fantasy world in a fiction novel, writing invites you to do look at things differently. It invites you to lay your heart on the floor. Writing makes you vulnerable, but it also makes you stronger. Writing is full of possibilities and that, my friends, is the big why.

Christmas & Expectations


We are in the final days till Christmas! Four to be exact. Does that make your palms a little sweaty? You’re in the home stretch now, at least. We’re almost there. Hopefully all your Christmas shopping is done!

November-December is usually my favorite time of the year. I love the cooler weather, the Christmas music, all the family events that start popping up all over town and I soak it all in like a sponge. I pack up my son and drag my husband along to everything and every single year we find real beauty in Christmas living in the desert. By now, I would be up to my eyeballs in Christmas plans, wrapping paper, ribbon, bows and gift tags and I wouldn’t have a single complaint. I would be watching my favorite Christmas movie for the 1000th time this year, while doing all of this and getting excited. Then my Charlie Brown clock would hit the hour and another Christmas carol would play from it and I would smile as I think about my mom and then vow to watch a Charlie Brown Christmas next because I need to show my son that movie.

This is all my usual Christmas time stuff. My countdowns are usually because I need to keep track of the never ending to-do list and the quickly dwindling amount of days to do them. This year, my mental countdown that started in the beginning of the month had nothing to do with making sure I could keep track of my to-do list. If I’m being honest, I’ve been tracking down the days because I’ve been wanting this whole holiday season to be over.

Am I officially the Grinch? I feel like it. Everything I just listed above, I haven’t been able to do this year. It is completely, 500% out of my control. It makes it hard to get into the holiday spirit when it suddenly looks like the opposite of what you do every year.

That’s the problem with expectations. It’s awful when the expectations crash and burn and you’re left with the ashes. The disappointment. The not being able to control whatever the outcome even though you so very wish you could. Maybe if I just….. and that doesn’t work either. I think the worst part of ruined expectations is the part where you know you should just walk away but you still try to come up with something that will be an okay version of the expectations. Like, if you can just get this and that, then it would be just as good as the whole expectation. It’s not though. You should have just walked away. Create a new picture. Walk away and get rid of the expectation.

I think that might be what God is trying to walk me through. I had bigger expectations earlier this year. Just a few months ago, to be exact and what I have surrounding me is nothing like what I had envisioned. There is nothing I could make of my ashes that would even come close to a “good enough” version of what I wanted. So I went the opposite direction and maybe tried to pretend that Christmas wasn’t a thing that was about to happen. Like, if I kept Christmas at arms length, I wouldn’t have to be disappointed again. I wouldn’t have to feel like I had no control. Maybe, it was even a way to feel like I had control again.

There is never a better time like the present, so I am going to embrace the next four days. While my limitations are many, is the love I am surrounded by is even more. While I’ve been looking around me, seeing how things aren’t how I thought they were going to be, other things have been happening and it has been so much better than I could have imagined. So I am going to trust in the vision of the person so sees it better than I do. He’s been doing it better than I have anyway.

Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash