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The Practice of Reflective Journal Writing

Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, once said, “The unreflective life is not worth living.” Whether or not you agree with Socrates’ statement in its entirety, it is certainly true to say that the capacity for self-reflection indeed adds dimensions to our living that, as far as we know, are not present in other mammals.

This practice will introduce you to a variety of intentional reflection exercises, some of which I hope will help you nurture this aspect of your daily life. The practice begins with a new approach to keeping a reflective diary, but also suggests other forms of journaling that go beyond mere written reflections.

Of all the practices dealing with SelfSmart, journal writing deals most directly with developing an acute self-consciousness. It involves a deep and disciplined approach to a process that you may have tried at other times in your life, namely, keeping a diary. In his book, At a Journal Workshop (1975), Ira Progoff of Dialogue House, has explored journal writing as a method of personal growth and transformation. The practice that follows is a simplified adaptation of Progoff’s work.


Getting Started
This practice requires a formal journal. Probably the best format is a loose-leaf notebook; you can add pages as needed. Set up the journal with five dividers labeled “Daily Log,” “Weekly Log,” “Turning Points,” “Future Discourses,” and “Other Logs.” After each divider, include at least five blank pages for entries.

Basic Process
If you do not already do so, you will need to start a daily and weekly reflection on your life. I have provided suggestions for journal entries, but feel free to improvise. You are also invited to keep a journal about other dimensions of your life—turning points from the past and various aspects of your future.

Daily Log
At the end of each day spend a few minutes debriefing yourself on the day.

1. Write down three things that happened that you want to remember, three things you’ve been thinking about, and three difficult events from the day.
2. Give the day a title.

Weekly Log
On Saturday or Sunday, reflect on the past week.

1. Turn your journal sideways and make a chart which has seven columns. Label each column with the days of the week.
2. Under each day record the most important items from your Daily Logs for the week in the appropriate columns.
3. Divide the weekly chart into two parts. For each part, make up a title that in some way communicates what this week was like for you.
4. Finally, create a title for the whole week at the top of the chart.

Turning Points
Look back over any segment of your life that you want to understand in terms of its impact on where you are today.

1. Brainstorm a list of key events from this period that have in some way shaped who you are today (for example, a book you read that changed your thinking, the death of a friend, a memorable trip).
2. Arrange the events in chronological order, then write several sentences expressing how each event has shaped you and who you understand yourself to be.

Future Discourses
Reflect on your possible future.

1. Brainstorm a list of events you anticipate will be part of your future.
2. For each item, imagine that the event itself is doing the writing in your journal. What would it record in your journal for today? Following are some possible future events to get you started:

• the coming year
• the next decade
• the birth of your great-grandchildren
• a trip to a place you want to visit
• an experience you want to have
• the year 2005 and beyond
• an encounter with a future acquaintance

• an outing with a future pet
• an exercise session
• your retirement years
• an event of a club or organization
• a future decision
• a family reunion 25 years from now

Don’t try to do this activity in one sitting. Get started, then let it happen and grow naturally as your journaling becomes more interesting to you. Create your own list of possible events. Choose aspects of your future to dialogue with that would benefit you.

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