Categories
Creativity mental health Psychology Writing

Bullet Journaling for Wellbeing

A Guide to Getting Started

What you will need:
  1. A notebook with dot grid pages. Some notebooks come with an index and page numbers, but one without is absolutely fine.
  2. A favourite pen. Possibly a ruler. A pencil is handy too. Coloured pens are optional, as are highlighters, stickers, stencils or washi tape.
What you won’t need:

How to Bullet Plan: a Practical Guide, Everything You Need to Know About Journaling with Bullet Points by Rachel Wilkerson Miller. I’ve read it so you don’t have to! (But if you would like a guide, this one comes strongly recommended.)

Dot grid My Notebook journal by Legami Milano (shown below).
Why Bullet Journal?
  • It helps you to organise your life and keep track of important things.
  • It builds executive functioning skills, like memory and planning.
  • It can be useful when trying to challenge negative thinking biases.
  • It creates focus, supports goal setting and increases goal attainment.
  • It is a place to celebrate your achievements, increase motivation and positive emotion, connect with your values and practice self-care.
  • With careful planning it can take just 10-15 minutes a day to fill in.
The Bullet Journal Method is an analogue system designed to track the past, organise the present and plan for the future.

It was originally conceived for organisation. To give an overview of how it works – and because good organisation is conducive to positive wellbeing – we will spend a bit of time in this area before delving into the wellbeing tips. It should be said that countless interpretations have evolved from this basic method. There is no ‘wrong’ way to bullet journal. The only prerequisite, for it to work long-term, is that it makes you more productive and/or brings you joy. If you are focusing on bullet journaling for wellbeing then you may prefer to skip over this section.

A brief overview of the bullet journal method by its creator Ryder Carroll.
Here are the core tools:
  • Index points to where information on different topics is located.
  • Rapid logging. Events/tasks/notes/lists are logged using a system of symbols to simplify, abbreviate, categorise and organise information.
  • Logs. These are for your events and tasks (known as “spreads”).
  • Collections. These organise related types of information by category.
  • Migration. This is the practice of periodically updating lists to new lists, such as carrying over one month’s unfinished tasks to the next.
Future log:

This log helps you to forward plan and keep track of key events/tasks, such as birthdays/holidays. It is the spread that goes first, either as a list or calendar (or both), and it can be 3-monthly, 6-monthly or 12-monthly. Spread the log/calendar across as many pages as you think you’ll need.

Monthly log:
  • One-page or two-page spread (or more for 6 or 12-month spread).
  • Layout can be a list (dates/tasks/events), or a calendar plus a list.
  • Copy the relevant dates, tasks and events from your future log.
  • Write your monthly tasks list – essentially you are using this space to note down everything that you need or want to get done that month.
  • Add-ons: important events/don’t forget, mood tracker, monthly goals.
Weekly log:
  • One-page or two-page spread.
  • Schedule all upcoming activities by referring to your monthly log.
  • Make space to keep a to do list and (optional) notes section.
  • Add-ons: habit trackers, main focus, meal planner, quotes, reflections, sleep tracker, weekly goals and review, and so on.
Daily log:
  • Log entries using short, bulleted sentences and organise by category (task/event/note) using symbols. Mark priority entries with a star.
  • Migrate any outstanding or incomplete tasks over to the next day.
Your bullet journal is a to-do list and planner and diary in one.

It makes capturing and organising information really fast and it helps you to focus on the things that are worth your time. Stress can impact on productivity and poor organisation can increase stress, so it’s win-win.

The productivity part kicks in when you take the time to evaluate your logs. At the start of each new month, look back over your weekly/daily logs to assess your tasks and timescales. Scan for open tasks and ask yourself, “which are worth my time?” Only these tasks get migrated. This process weeds out distractions, allowing you to focus only on what you consider valuable. It can be a helpful goal setting activity too.

Collections

At this point you might decide to log related tasks in a collection. For example, if you are working on a specific project, you would copy all related tasks on to one page (remembering to record the page number in your index). You can refer to your collections when planning your month or week. They can include reminders, like things you are waiting on, shopping/wish lists, or low-priority tasks you want to keep track of. Collections help you to organise your thoughts and plan your time.

Reflection and “Intentional Living”

It is possible to bullet journal without a daily log. In fact, you probably won’t need to use both. If you have a particularly busy day ahead then you could use a daily log; otherwise you can rely on the weekly spread.

It is helpful for this reason to leave enough space for a task list in your weekly spread. Once the week is up you then create a new weekly spread, where you migrate any relevant events and outstanding tasks.

In my case, I do a mini-review of my week every Sunday to establish which tasks are important. Only these are migrated over to the next week. Low priority tasks get migrated to another month or collection.

Carroll calls this process Reflection. If reflecting weekly feels too burdensome or time-consuming, try reflecting monthly instead. Use it as an opportunity to refocus your attention on what matters to you. This is known in the Bullet Journal Method as The Mental Inventory. It forms the basis for goal setting, weekly planning and “intentional living”.

If intentionality means acting according to your beliefs, then the opposite would be operating on autopilot. In other words, do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing?

Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method (4th edition), page 29.

Making to do lists addresses the overwhelm of decision fatigue too, with the benefit of having the lists all in one place so you can organise them.

The Bullet Journal Promise: “accomplish more by working on less”, page 16.
The Test: for each item on your Mental Inventory list ask yourself “is it vital?”, page 41.
Bullet Journaling for Wellbeing

“The power of the Bullet Journal is that it becomes whatever you need it to be, no matter what season of life you’re in.”

Carroll, page 44.

The bullet journal method is designed with flexibility of both form and function in mind, insofar as you set up the pages as you go along. The effectiveness of your bullet journal will depend on the simplicity of your method. This is especially true of your weekly spread, which you will use every day. These are my suggestions for making a bullet journal work for wellbeing, based on my experience of setting up my own.

The Weekly Spread
  • Weekly calendar spread: create this over two pages and schedule your daily activities a timeline order (symbols are optional). Reflect at the end of each day by adding anything else for an accurate record.
  • Choose a Main Focus. This is something you would like to keep in mind or work on throughout the week. It could be wellbeing related, like “aim to get more early nights”, or “catch myself catastophising.”
  • Goals. These can be more specific and measurable than your focus and could support monthly goals e.g. go for a run 3 times this week.
  • If you are using Custom Bullets and Signifiers (a key with symbols to denote different tasks/categories) keep them as simple as possible.
Daily Reflection: Improve Productivity and Boost Your Mood

I can only improve my time management if I know how I have spent my time. So, at the end of each day, I add in retrospectively any tasks I have completed but not logged. This gives me an accurate record of my day.

Having an accurate record challenges my negative self-perceptions. For example, I sometimes get a gut feeling I have not achieved enough with my time. It is difficult to buy into this negative thinking when I have evidence to the contrary! If I don’t have the time or energy for weekly reflection, seeing my achievements accrue day-by-day is motivation enough. And if I have genuinely achieved very little, then I still benefit from the bullet journal ideas for positive wellbeing (discussed below).

Journaling vs Bullet Journaling

There are several ways you can incorporate the qualities of a traditional diary or long-hand journal in your bullet journal.

  1. Write your diary entries in between weekly logs or after daily logs.
  2. Dedicate a page or two to record reflections, thoughts and feelings.

Alternatively you might decide to keep a separate reflective journal and keep your bullet journal for planning, positivity and progress.

One key benefit of the bullet journal is that it brings everything together in one single place, but it can still suit the multiple-notebook person who wishes to use a separate bullet journal for health/home/study/work.

In this video Carroll explains the differences between journaling and bullet journaling and shows how to combine the two.

Journaling vs Bullet Journaling by Ryder Carroll
Habit Trackers
  • These are great for motivation and reinforcing behaviours. You could consider including one with your weekly spread, starting with just three habits. Mark the relevant box for every day you do them.
  • You can change the habits from week-to-week or month-to-month.
  • Specific health and wellbeing trackers could include meal planners or sleep/water trackers. You might choose to include these if/when you have a particular health goal (mine is often “no caffeine!”).
  • You can track TV/smart phone usage, step count, days you cooked from scratch / packed a lunch / met your savings target – anything!
Bullet Journal Habit Tracker by Lynne G. Caine.
Mood Tracker

Mine takes up one landscape page for each month and looks like this:

 Tues 1st Weds 2ndThurs 3rd
6+ Fruit & Veg    
8+ GlassesxWater   
Fatigue / Lethargy   
Headache   
Nausea   
Nightmares   
Poor sleep   
Socialised   
Anxious   
Dissociated   
Flat / Numb   
Sad   
Sensitive   
Agitated   
Angry   
Distracted   
Irritable   
Paranoid   
Calm   
Content   
Elated   
Energetic   
Focussed   
My Monthly “Mind & Body” Mood Tracker
  • You could use ticks, crosses, coloured boxes – any method you like. I separate habits from physical symptoms by using different colours and I colour-code each mood type too (positive/negative/neutral).
  • It is possible to record morning and afternoon separately by using two different colours and splitting each box in half diagonally.
  • Another idea, if you want to capture the emotional intensity, is to use block colour for strong emotions and shading/dots for not so strong.
  • Keep it simple, though. If it’s not working for you, the next time you set up your monthly tracker try simplifying it and see if that helps.
Three More Monthly Trackers
  • Housework – list all the different chores and dot when you’ve done them. This might not be that fun, but it does remind me to clean!
  • When Did I Last? – e.g. car MOT, dentist, eye test, oil bicycle chain.
  • Workouts – each time you exercise record it in your bullet journal. Even if it’s a short walk, that still counts. I use mine as motivation.
Habit tracker by Martha @marthasjournal.
Bullet Journaling for Wellbeing: Collections

“Creating Custom Collections is a creative, enjoyable, and rewarding aspect of Bullet Journaling because you’re empowering yourself to solve your own challenges!”

Carroll, page 237.
Action Plan

Create an action plan for a particular goal or project using these steps:

  1. Define the goal/objectives
  2. Set a realistic schedule within reasonable time frame.
  3. What are the barriers/obstacles I might encounter?
  4. What strengths/resources do I have already to help overcome these?
  5. What will be my first step/s? Make this manageable!

This is ideal for turning a Mental Inventory into more actionable steps.

Brain Dump

Take up 1-2 pages and get all your thoughts out of your brain and on to the page. You turn all your worries, ideas and dreams in to a list or a mind-map, which you can then turn into actions (if you choose to).

Celebrating Small Wins
  • On one page list the dates of the month down the left-hand side and beside each date, on each day, write down something you achieved.
  • If this seems challenging at first then start by doing it once a week. It’s about congratulating yourself on the small wins and celebrating your accomplishments, no matter how insignificant they may seem.
  • Remember that once complete your tasks turn into accomplishments! An achievements page gives you a dedicated place to celebrate these.
Check-In

Use one page of your bullet journal to do a mental health check-in. Divide the page into four sections and assign a category to each quarter e.g. physical/mental/emotional/spiritual). Do this as often as you’d like.

“Every day, once a day, give yourself the present of savouring the good in your life.”

Carroll, page 187.
Gratitude Practice
  • List the dates of the month and on each line write down something you are grateful for. Or fill an entire page by writing a list in one go.
  • Gratitude lists work best if what you record is specific and genuine. So if you can, noting it down as soon as you think of it can help.
  • Try the Three Good Things exercise. Write down three good things that happened that day. Next to each positive event, answer one of the following questions: “why did this good thing happen?”, “what does this mean to you?” or “how can you have more of this good thing in the future?” Do it every day or three days times a week.
Random Acts of Kindness

Make a list of ideas for random acts of kindness, marking them off each time you do them. Or simply notice when you perform a random act of kindness and note that down during your daily or weekly reflection.

Carroll, “Less, but better”, page 236.
More ideas for your bullet journal toolkit

The possibilities are endless, but here are some of the ones I like:

  • Books – list the titles you’re reading and tick them off when you’re finished, or break it into smaller chunks by tracking chapter progress.
  • Films / TV shows – use this collection to list all the things you plan to, or want to, watch. Again, tick them off once you’ve seen them.
  • Turn this into a goal by choosing one thing to read/watch each week.
  • Mental health toolkit – list some coping techniques that help most.
  • Self-care – list all the things that do/don’t increase your wellbeing.
Some final words on persevering with your bullet journaling

This wasn’t straightforward for me at first. Sifting through all the available information and making a start was slightly overwhelming (and, I’ll admit, on some days it still is). It took some perseverance and I had to keep tweaking things until I found a set up I was happy with. It was worth it, though. (If you’re interested, I’ve written an essay on how I got started.) I still search Youtube and Instagram for inspiration (without overburdening myself) and I don’t keep any tried ideas that don’t bring me satisfaction or joy. Above all I keep it simple. Happy journaling!

Image: Can Bullet Journaling Save You? The New Yorker (September 2019)
Categories
Creativity Music

7 Brilliant Podcasts for Mental Wellbeing

plus 4 more featuring music or comedy (or both).

Podcasts have got me through some tough times in recent years. Hearing a good podcast episode can bring with it the feeling of being understood and supported, I think, without the pressure to respond. If we are feeling low or anxious then podcasts demand very little of us.

“[In LA] I had the idea for the How to Fail with Elizabeth Day podcast…I had been downloading a lot of podcasts, because listening to music post-breakup made me feel sad, but listening to nothing made me feel alone.”

Elizabeth Day, How to Fail

Listening requires less attention than reading, but engages the brain more than television. Playing podcasts can motivate us to complete activities we might find challenging – such as cooking, housework, or gardening – or we can play them while we are running. Podcast conversations connect us with other people at times of self-isolation, a term that has taken on a new meaning this year, despite being a symptom – and a self-preservation tactic – for social anxiety sufferers long before coronavirus. Such podcasts have the added benefit of challenging self-stigma too. Hearing others open up about their experiences of mental illness helped me to find the self-acceptance, courage and language needed to share my own.

These are my favourite podcasts featuring mental health content, plus four more that don’t. I have included my personal selection of the top-ranking episodes and their runners up; and, since they all feature authors, poets or lyricists, I’ve added some book recommendations too.

1. Made of Human with Sofie Hagen

Winner: Harriet Dyer – We’re all the weirdos on the bus.

Sofie Hagen talks to fellow comedian Harriet Dyer about making comedy from mental health issues, childhood abuse, bereavement, being bipolar, creating community, (literally) thinking she was Kat Slater from Eastenders, establishing boundaries and having a lovely home-life.

Runner up: Jo Brand – I was surprised the heroin addict was unfaithful.

Sofie talks to comedian and former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand about mental health, heroin addict boyfriends, drugs, depression, psychopaths, politics, teenage mentality, Scandinavian dramas and friendship.

Read: Born Lippy by Jo Brand; Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen.

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World.

Winner: Matt Haig.

Bryony Gordon is a journalist, broadcaster, author and marathon runner. I referenced her latest memoir, called Glorious Rock Bottom, in my essay on running and sobriety. In this episode Bryony talks to fellow author Matt Haig about his own memoir Reasons to Stay Alive.

Runner up: Fearne Cotton.

Because Fearne is such a skilled interviewer herself, it is refreshing to hear her on a podcast as the interviewee (she also makes an appearance on Elizabeth Day’s podcast How to Fail, see below). She has come out of the mental illness ‘closet’ slowly but surely and as a well-known mental health ambassador she continues to share her struggles publicly.

Listen next: Frank Bruno, Jade, Mandy Stevens, Mel C.

Read: Reasons to stay Alive by Matt Haig; Happy by Fearne Cotton.

3. How to Fail with Elizabeth Day

Winner: Marian Keynes.

Marian and Elizabeth discuss many things, including writing, feminism, low self-esteem, depression, alcoholism and sobriety.

Runner up: Lemn Sissay.

Poet, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay talks about searching for his birth family, the power of human resilience and why he gave up drinking.

Read: My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay; Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes.

Listen next: Black Sheep by BBH (featuring Marian Keyes) and Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, whose guests talk about how they turned incredible adversity into powerful positivity, just as Katie did herself.

4. Happy Place

There are so many brilliant guests on Fearne’s podcast it’s impossible to choose a winner. Here is a selection: Bryony Gordon; Catherine Gray (author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober); Alicia Keys, Davina McCall; Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert; Glennon Doyle (author of Untamed); Megan Jayne Crabbe AKA bodyposipanda; Stephen Fry; journliast and memoirist Poorna Bell; and Russell Brand.

Listen next: Under the Skin with Russell Brand, in particular How to be a Loving Man with Karamo Brown from the US TV series Queer Eye.

5. The Happiness Lab

Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos takes the listener through the latest scientific research and shares some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness. Start with Episode 10: How to Be a Better Ally, in which Laurie looks at the psychology underpinning the reluctance to act in the face of injustice and the ways in which we can match our moral beliefs with concrete actions.

6. What Makes Us Human with Jeremy Vine

In this BBC Radio 2 podcast series, guests deliver their thoughts on the essence of human existence, reflecting on their own lives.

Winner: Akala (on art).

Runner up: Stephen Fry (on language).

7. Have You Heard George’s Podcast?

George the Poet delivers a fresh take on inner city life through a mix of storytelling, music and fiction. Popcorn (episode 2) is especially good.

More music…

8. Song Exploder

Song Exploder is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Start with Meek Mill “Trauma” or Robyn “Honey”.

9. Distraction Pieces Podcast

The Distraction Pieces Podcast is a weekly conversation between Scroobius Pip and a wide range of guests, discussing all sorts of things. His conversation with wordsmith Kate Tempest is wonderfully deep, made all the more interesting because they know each other personally.

Comedy…

10. The Adam Buxton Podcast

These “rambly conversations” are described by comedian and host Adam Buxton as being “sometimes funny, sometimes more serious with funny bits.” They are very, very funny.

Music and comedy…

11. Hip Hop Saved My Life

A comedy podcast about hip hop presented by comedian Romesh Ranganathan. Start with Kano, Little Simz or Tinie.

Honourable mention…

Under the Skin with Russell Brand

I adore Russell Brand – and I love his podcast. I’m not sure why this hasn’t made it on to the list, actually. Maybe because its in a league of its own. It does communicate some complex ideas, which is why it might not be the easiest of listening if you are struggling with your mental health – unless you would appreciate the intellectual stimulation. Under the Skin asks: what’s beneath the surface – of people we admire, of the ideas that define our time, of the history we are told. Russell is an excellent host and conversationalist – and if you’re not already subscribed to his Youtube channel, watch this endorsement of his podcast by Eckart Tolle. Among its distinguished guests are Brené Brown, David Eagleman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Julia Cameron, Marianne Williamson, Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, Sam Harris, Sharon Salzberg, and fellow comedians Mae Martin, Simon Amstell and Ruby Wax.

Photograph: The Next Web.

Categories
Creativity Psychology Writing

In praise of… Bullet Journaling

Despite the challenges of life in lockdown, this “new normal” has presented some unexpected opportunities. Previously, I’d been an intermittent diarist. Each January I would resolve to record daily my every negative thought and feeling, resulting in very little progress. As meditators and neuroscientists alike will tell you, “where attention goes, energy flows.” Attention has the potential to change the structure of the brain (ever considered the less catchy ‘where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows’?). I didn’t look forward to diary-writing and after a few half-hearted entries I would soon get fed up and leave the remaining pages untouched. One issue was uncertainty about my diary’s purpose. Should I be writing down the content of my dreams, or focussing on my waking life? Do I want to record my day, or forget it ever happened? How do I make my goals SMART – and do I even want to?

When this pandemic was in its early stages I found myself aimlessly browsing my local library’s creative writing section. I came across a book entitled How to Bullet Plan: Everything You Need to Know About Journaling with Bullet Points by Rachel Wilkerson Miller. I had heard of bullet journaling – a creative colleague I had worked with uses it (she loves Ali and Finn’s Positive Bullet Diary*) – but I still didn’t really know what it was. Is it a planner? A to-do list? A diary? It turns out it’s all of those things.

Bullet journaling, so-called because it uses bullet points as its core structure and utilises dot grid paper, was devised by Brooklyn-based digital product designer Ryder Carroll as a personal method of organisation to manage his ADHD. Encouraged by a friend, in 2013 he began sharing his method online. By the end of 2018 it had been the subject of 3 million Instagram posts. As Carroll explains in his book The Bullet Journal Method, it is an individually-customisable system: a way of tracking your past; ordering your present; and planning your future. And, as I’ve recently discovered, it is excellent for promoting and maintaining wellbeing.

During the past three months I have dedicated more energy to running, recording my distances and times in my bullet journal – leading me to run a half marathon. My mood has improved massively, which I attribute to this newfound love of goal setting (meditation, healthy eating and early nights have helped too). Imagining how I’ll feel looking back over this diligently-kept document of my past accomplishments, or dreaming up topics to devote future journal entries to, brings me joy. I actually look forward to opening my beautiful, brightly coloured journal every day and leafing through its thread-bound pages. Selecting the perfect pen and colouring in each square has become a daily ritual I relish. I am a true bullet journaling convert.

If you think this sounds overzealous or fanatical, there’s a reason: bullet journaling works. Here’s why. It’s a quick, simple form of regular note-taking (Carroll calls this “rapid logging”) that you’re more likely to stick to, because it’s flexible and uncomplicated. You make space to record all your appointments and important tasks in such a way that you can’t miss them, meaning you actually stay on top of things (imagine that!). Consider the principle that nothing need be lost if it is written down. You create one single place to list all those films and TV shows you’ve been hearing about, or those books you’ve been meaning to read. All too often my smart phone gets in the way of good sleep, so I prefer putting pen to paper before bedtime. It’s also very beneficial to get creative. And some have suggested that writing, as opposed to typing on a laptop, allows you to better organise your thoughts and can even boost memory.

Getting Started

The first step is to arrange your calendars, known in the bullet journaling world as ‘spreads.’ These are commonly broken down into annual, weekly and monthly. You can include daily spreads too, if you decide to use your bullet journal more like a diary (I’ve chosen to keep a separate reflective journal for this kind of thing). Then you start adding in your other sections. A key one for me has been my mood tracker (which I prefer to call ‘mind and body’). I also record my workouts, circling the dates on a one-page annual calendar spread using different colours to denote each different type of exercise (fancy). I log the good habits I want to stick to and the goals I’d like to achieve. I set a main focus every week and then review it at the weekend. You can even log when you do your chores, last visit the dentist, or take your car for its MOT – called a ‘when did I last…?’ log. At times when life is particularly hard this becomes an invaluable resource. It’s an approach that focuses on achievements and prioritising your values, rather than denying yourself or giving things up. By focussing your attention you create the right intention.

If this all sounds a bit too much to contend with, I can assure you it isn’t. I use about half an hour every Sunday to review my week and set up next week’s pages. It then takes five to ten minutes at the beginning and end of each day to fill in. The secret is keeping it simple; only keep the sections that work for you. Finding that you’re not filling in your daily diary? Write a weekly summary instead. Not sticking to the habits you’re tracking? Throw them out and set new ones. Mine went through three or four different setups before I settled on its current layout. And when things are more normal and I can hopefully return to work, I expect my system to change again. Unlike a traditional diary (which I found to be too rigid), you can purchase a blank grid page notebook that includes an index and page numbers, making your journal simple to navigate. The beauty of the bullet journal method is that you can change your system to suit you as you go along.

The Science-y Bit

Increased self-awareness can bring about change. This is a central tenet of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), a type of talking therapy developed by psychology researcher Marsha M. Linehan for people who experience strong emotions. By tracking your mood, sleep, exercise, energy levels and physical health status you can increase your awareness of thoughts and feelings in relation to your activities – and hopefully begin to see patterns. Goal attainment can increase positive emotions – and we will reach our goals sooner and more easily if our emotions are positive. Positive psychology pioneer C. R. Snyder first began theorising about this in the 1980s, going on to write six books on hope and its relatedness to optimism. He demonstrated that clearly conceptualised goals provide direction and an endpoint for hopeful thinking. His “hope theory” comprises three components: having focused thoughts; developing strategies to achieve goals; and being motivated to make the effort required. We can apply this theory to our own bullet journal method. Its four subcategories are goals, pathway thoughts (the routes we take to achieve our desired goals), agency thoughts (our motivation) and barriers (which make it difficult for us to attain our goals). Goals that are valuable but uncertain are described as the “anchors” of hope theory. This is because we need to reevaluate our strategies along the way. Barriers offer an opportunity to strengthen new pathways; when faced with barriers we can either give up, or use our pathway thoughts to create new routes.

So, when we use our journal to review our goals each week, we are looking for new ways (via pathway thoughts) to reach them. Snyder says it helps if you ask yourself things such as “what is going on?”, “where do I want to go?” and “what is stopping me?” These are typical pathway thinking questions. Research on brain plasticity has shown that we can increase our neural growth through our actions, such as asking questions and deploying good strategies. This is what is also known as the “growth mindset”, a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck to describe a type of positive attitude that, crucially, can be learnt and practiced to increase motivation and achievement. By recording and reflecting on our progress we activate agency thoughts, thereby increasing positive motivation. According to Snyder, if we view barriers to growth as challenges to overcome, using these pathway thoughts to plan alternative routes to our goals, we are said to have “high hope”.  High hope has been associated with many benefits, including increased wellbeing and academic achievement. Reflection is the foundational principle of bullet journaling as a practice. It declutters the mind, cultivates curiosity and helps us to remain focussed over time (for more on this see Carroll’s Tedx talk).

The “father of positive psychology” Martin Seligman has spent his life’s work researching wellbeing and happiness. His Three Good Things exercise, explained in his most recent book Flourish, invites you to write down three good things that happen each day. Next to each positive event, you answer one of the following questions: “why did this good thing happen?”, “what does this mean to you?” or “how can you have more of this good thing in the future?” These questions encourage us to really reflect on and immerse ourselves in the good event, which increases our degree of positive emotion. It’s possible to incorporate this exercise into your bullet journal – and you should, because once you start you’ll want to keep going. Alternatively you could keep a daily gratitude list or note down one achievement each day. These exercises may even support healthier thinking patterns, the same way Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) seeks to do. For example, by keeping a record of your achievements you are building evidence to challenge negative thinking biases. Another CBT intervention that is very effective is Behavioural Activation, which focuses on behaviour and environment, rather than thoughts. By tracking good habits and logging your daily activities – known as Activity Scheduling – you increase the amount of positive reinforcement you experience. This helps to reduce the negative behaviours that may provide temporary relief, but ultimately maintain your anxiety or low mood. Become your own therapist!

Why else do I like bullet journaling? Because it is associated with positive emotions, not negative symptoms. Our brains have a natural tendency to focus on what goes wrong in our daily lives, as my previous diary attempts had illustrated. Using a bullet journal for wellbeing encourages us to dwell on the good things instead. It’s not a CBT worksheet with a mysterious acronym. Or a mnemonic that’s actually not so easy to remember. Or a digital calendar on an app. It is a holistic tool: something you can choose to build and create according to your own unique agenda. And that’s very empowering.

Books

The Bullet Journal Method: Track Your Past, Order Your Present, Plan Your Future by Ryder Carroll (2018)

Flourish: a New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being – and How to Achieve Them by Martin Seligman (2011)

Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression: Self-help Strategies to Build Strength, Resilience and Happiness by Miriam Akhtar (2018)

The Right to Write: an Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron (2017)

Online

Action for Happiness: Find Three Good Things Each Day

Bullet Journal: the Analogue Method for the Digital Age.

Mental Health Bullet Journal by Rachel W Miller for BuzzFeed.

The Positive Bullet Journal by *Positive Planner (AKA Ali and Finn) can be purchased here (you’ll be supporting the amazing arts charity Arts at the Old Fire Station too!).

Getting Started

How to Bullet Journal, by Ryder Carroll. Start here.

Journaling vs Bullet journaling. How to add long-form journaling into your Bullet Journal practice and why it can help.

How to Declutter Your Mind – Keep a Journal by Ryder Carroll, TEDxYale (2017).

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the wonderful people at Restore and Oxfordshire Recovery College for their encouragement.

A big thank you to Ruth for reading earlier versions of this essay.

Photograph: Leuchtturm 1917.
Categories
Creativity Writing

In praise of… Writing

We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
Why do I write?

Writing has always been my preferred form of expression. Articulating my thoughts as an essayist is one of my favourite things to do. I disappear behind the words I write and come alive with them too. I realise this sounds paradoxical, so let me put it another way: it’s as if writing reveals certain aspects of myself I wouldn’t recognise without it. Writing helps to crystallize my thoughts and examine my feelings. Seeing my ideas spill out onto the page – transported from the mind at their inception (via hours of highly concentrated attention), before finally taking shape in their written form – is therapeutic for me. This process of translation, from ideas to words, prompts intense focus and a ‘flow’ state of mind. I am completely involved in the activity of writing for writing’s sake.

The act of writing also directs my awareness towards the reader. Publishing initiates a two-way process. “The Queen of Change” Julia Cameron, who brought creativity to the mainstream following the publication of her book The Artist’s Way, says this of self-publishing:

“I believe that our desire to write is a deep-seated human drive to communicate and that it is answered by an equally powerful human drive to be communicated to. In other words, for every writer there is a reader – or many readers.”

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, 156-157.

In an existential-phenomenological sense, reading and writing are transactional; they evoke intersubjectivity. Many features of existential therapy (honesty, relationship, understanding our internal selves and accepting reality) play out between the reader and writer – with the page as intermediary. Both reader and author take benefit from its reflective powers and potential for introspection. If the goal of transactional analysis (TA) is to ‘re-write’ our ineffective existential life positions, perhaps through the physical act of writing we plant that first seed of change.

Writing connects us to our values. Essays can be carefully crafted in such a way that they make clear what is important – and this promotes self-direction and agency. The process of essay writing encourages balanced arguments too, so it tends to help with black-and-white thinking. I love vlogging as a medium (my lengthy list of Youtube subscriptions can attest to this), but I appreciate writing because it allows me to express myself in a subtler and more considered way than video would make possible. Producing shareable online content allows me to build connections with others and form a community of like-minded people.

Creating something out of nothing to publish online lets me practice the craft of writing. There is a part of me that wants to develop a ‘voice’, for want of a better phrase. In this sense taking up blogging is a creative opportunity – one not afforded by academic writing. It is also a learning exercise, for myself and others (apparently there is even such a thing as ‘blog psychology’). If blogging can bring some clarity to my experience, distilling my own self-care practices and personal insights, then it will (hopefully) validate your experience too.

Writing serves as a marker for mental health and wellbeing. When I’m feeling low or anxious my writing is effortful; it seems impossible to weed out the waste thoughts from those that have value. A practice called stream of consciousness journaling helps with this (I suggest you start by trying Cameron’s creative recovery tool Morning Pages). When I am well I write with more ease. Some sentences I arrive at spontaneously. Something suddenly awakens and my writing becomes vibrant and determined, just as flowers flourish in springtime. Like a mental muscle memory, my writing practice grows stronger and I am able to achieve a more natural, creative state of being (it is in this ‘flow state’ that I produce flowery descriptive paragraphs such as this one). However – and here comes another paradox – it is also delicate and needs nurturing. Those closest to me are all too aware of the extent to which I am prone to perfectionism. I can commit to an endless series of edits (in fact, this sentence is an edit!) if I do not enforce a deadline. I tend to overexert myself without consciously exercising some caution. Sometimes this is possible; at other times I must simply ride the productivity wave until it crashes. Either way, in ‘flow’ my mind is calm, clear and content. You could say my writing is in full bloom, because my mind is doing exactly what it is designed to do. By channelling my creativity through writing I am challenging my mind, which rewards me with a lasting sense of happiness.

What will I write about?

My intention is to write about things that support good self-care, health and happiness, with this theme of wellbeing woven throughout. I want to shed some light on the connections between mental health and other disciplines, such as philosophy and the arts. I will be considering my own interests from the perspective of popular culture and abstracting the lessons in relation to self-care and recovery, drawing upon insights from psychology and psychotherapy too . This is why I’ll be discussing topics such as as creative writing, films, health and fitness, literature, meditation practice, philosophy, photography, music, psychology, psychotherapy and visual arts. I wish to explore the common threads and create a coherent collection of essays that when stitched together can form a comforting blanket to warm the heart, soothe the mind and uplift the soul.

To that end, so it stays somewhat coherent, I have summarised my aims for this site in the following statements.

Vision

I want representations of mental illness to be more visible. I want to hear discussions about mental health sound more authentic and nuanced. I want them to come up naturally in everyday conversation. I want mental illness to be acknowledged as both complex and commonplace.

Mission

1) To create an online community based upon common connections (with one being an interest in mental health). 2) To promote wellbeing and recovery by bringing psychoeducation and peer support together.

Values
  • Creating content of value by sharing knowledge that supports awareness and self-care.
  • Contributing to the conversation by expressing my personal experience authentically and honestly.
  • Honouring my experience and the experience of others, recognising that they may not be the same.

Thank you for reading. Rosie xox

Photograph: Interflora.