Becoming a Polymath: My Progress Report

 

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I have written about my life-long goal of becoming a polymath before. It’s been a while since I wrote about that topic, but I’ve been doing more experiments and research, and gaining further clarity on my own goals. So over the next few weeks I will do a series of posts about becoming a polymath. This is more of a progress report, as to where I am, and also why it matters.  Next week, I will talk about what I have learned over the years, since I first consciously decided to be a polymath in 2012.

The reasons that first got me into pursuing polymathy have not changed. I still want to learn too many things. I still want to do too many things, and though I have found my own specialisations, they are not – and are never going to be – very narrow streams. Because I simply like too many things. And I am okay with that.

I also find that more and more people I admire, particularly the historical figures I find fascinating were either polymaths or close enough to it. Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin being the obvious examples. But I recently finished my MA dissertation, and discovered that Arthur Conan Doyle was a polymath too. He was qualified and practising doctor, a writer of crime, adventure, historical, journalistic, spiritual and other non-fiction materials. He boxed, and played cricket at a county level. He travelled widely, lectured, wrote a play (or two), and all in all, accomplished a fair bit across multiple disciplines.

So what is this being a polymath all about?

Dictionary.com defines it:

Polymath (n.) – a person of great learning in several fields of study

A common risk in pursuing polymathy is that you may end up becoming a dabbler. A generalist without in-depth knowledge of anything. There is nothing wrong with that, but it depends on your goals. My personal opinion is that pursuing polymathy for some of us is not a choice, but a result of personality traits. If I focused just on one thing, single-mindedly for the rest of my life, I would be utterly miserable. It does not mean I want to flutter about from one thing to another, but simply that I want to excel at several things that matter to me, and are in fact complementary and serve my overarching goal of creating a Kaizen Life.

My initial Becoming A Polymath project lists 7 goals. You can read them in detail in the original article here. In this article, I’m just listing the headers, and a progress report:

Becoming a Hyperpolyglot

I am still learning Spanish. I started teaching myself before I went to Ecuador, and it improved immensely while I was there, volunteering for three months, teaching in Spanish, and working with children who only spoke Spanish. But after that massive improvement, I returned to the UK and neglected it for over a year. So now I am covering some of the old ground. After finishing my MA, I’ve once again started giving daily attention to Spanish. It’s not a lot (because unfortunately, it’s just not a priority at the moment), but it’s consistent so that I feel that whatever I learn and practice is settling in. My intention over the next 12 months is to make considerable, measurable progress.

Writing (Fiction)

Fiction also took a back seat while I was doing my intensive one-year MA, but now I’ve returned to it with a vengeance. Despite the slow work though, there has been progress on fiction front. I finished a novel, which I am now editing. I also finished several short stories and poetry, some of which have been published, or accepted for publication. (You can check out my writing bibliography here) I currently have several rough drafts on the go, which require rewrites and edits, and I am brainstorming a new novel, which I hope to start writing for NaNoWriMo 2015.

Writing (Non-Fiction)

I did a lot of non-fiction writing during my MA. It was an interesting challenge focusing on Master’s level English academic writing, particularly after years of colloquial writing (they are very different!). But I feel like I have learned a lot. There is also of course writing for and related to Kaizen Journaling that continues. Non-Fiction, at least for me, is easier than fiction because I feel it either comes from research or knowledge/experience that I have acquired. Either way there is a sense of authority in it. When I write non-fiction it’s because, at least to a certain extent, I have a level of expertise in that field. Fiction is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Journaling

Journaling – by which I mean, my personal experiments with journaling, continue. Here, I’m always experimenting, and there is always more to learn. Things I learn through my journaling processes are the lessons that eventually get shared with Kaizen Warriors. There is just so much to journaling, so many benefits that I am continuously discovering that this is certainly a lifetime process.

One form of physical activity – Changed to overall physical fitness, trying new activity, challenging the body

My original goal was to be good at one form of physical activity, such as yoga or running. However, I’ve now changed that goal to focusing on overall fitness, trying new activities, and challenging my body. While there is not definite progress on a particular form of physical activity, there has been a ground-breaking (for me) development within last 12 months. I’ve begun to enjoy gyms. For someone who’s always looked at exercise as a necessary evil (when I could be doing something more productive with my time, as my old self would say), this is a major development. A part of me still likes the glamour of running – the ease with which some people manage to put on a pair of shoes, and run – rain or shine. The pleasure they seem to get out of that torture. The mental zone they seem to go into, and the sadistic pleasure they get from painful marathons. A part of me wants that. But I have come to accept that I like the idea of it more than the thing itself. I don’t want to go running in cold, wet, English weather. I don’t want to worry about whether I should carry a bottle of water, or if I could actually manage without having anything to drink. How should I carry my keys, and my phone. I like gyms – the conveniences and comforts they offer. So, I’m just going with what I enjoy.

Human Behaviour / Body Language / How the Mind Works

This is the one area where I have no measurable progress. Measurable is a key thing because I set myself no specific goals. I know I have learned a lot about human behaviour in the last three years, but it’s been through life experience rather than conscious attention to learning. So in this area, I definitely need to set some goals.

Learn to write with my right hand as well as I do with my left hand

I have not been treating this as a priority either, so my efforts have been quite lacklustre, and half-hearted. Considering how much torture my left hand gets with writing, I probably should focus more on this. My only excuse is, I’m too impatient when it comes to “mindless” tasks that simply require a lot of practice to improve as this does.

 

So what does this mean in terms of Polymath progress? These goals are for a lifetime, because in itself, they contain numerous goals – some big and some small. So clearly, I’m not expecting to simply tick them off the list. So far, there has been progress, but it has been more haphazard. My plan going forward is to have more definite projects and mini-goals for each of these main categories. Priorities also need to be constantly kept in check, because it is impossible to do it all at once, so my plan is to have no more than three main priorities (the less the better) at any given time. 

When pursuing polymathy, it’s not just about the subjects or the goals. You also need to be more efficient in processes, be good at time management and organisation, as well as be able to multi-task without losing focus. Whether or not you reach your destination, on the path to polymathy, you will certainly end up acquiring or developing a lot of skills. 

 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY

Journal about polymathy today. Does being a polymath appeal to you? Why or why not? If you intend to develop your specialism, what is it? How does it serve you better than being a polymath?

 

 

7 Ways to Use Journaling to Light the Fire in Your Belly

 

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Do you wake up every day, feeling like your life is filled with purpose? Do you feel like there is a reason to get out of bed? Do you want to be up and about, doing things, because the fire in your belly is burning hard?

If you do, great. If you don’t, then there is a problem.

To be alive does not mean just breathing. To be alive means being filled with passion. Passion to work. Passion to live. If you don’t have that fire burning within you, driving you towards something then something is missing. But just because it’s not there, does not mean you can’t discover it. Here are some ways to use journaling to light that fire:

1. Make a list of what motivates you

What are you motivated by? What really fills you with intense desire to do something? Is it money? Fame? Pursuit of happiness? Dig deeper. Some people run after money because they think having more money would make them happier. So it’s happiness they are after, not money. Some people run after happiness, only to discover that it’s contentment they want. What is your base motivation? What is it that you actually want? You will need to reach a high level of self-awareness before you can accurately figure this one out.

2. What do you feel passionate about?

What are the topics that get you heated? If someone starts talking about orphans, or poverty, or literacy – do  you get all fired up? Perhaps it’s creativity that drives you, or travel, or politics. Figure out what pushes your buttons. Then figure out how to incorporate your passions in your daily life in a positive way. There is no point whining about the state of society. If you actually care, do something about it. No matter how small, an action speaks louder than words.

3. What were some of the most intense days of your life?

When you are intensely focused on something, it is usually because you have a purpose and you are driven to achieve something. Perhaps it was university dissertation, or a project you did at work. Perhaps it was planning your wedding, or renovating your house. Whatever it was – even for a day, or a week or a month – think back to the days when you were intensely focused on something. Be specific as to what these things were and why you were driven to achieve them. Find the motivating source for that kind of focus.

4. What demotivates you?

If you are currently not all fired up about life, if you are not really motivated to get out of bed, and just living for weekends and holidays, then figure out why. Why do you feel this way? Do you feel stuck? In what: work, relationships, routine of your life? What exactly demotivates you? What does this demotivation feel like?

5. What is on your bucket list?

Our long term dreams and objectives can often be the driving force we need. If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Not just a mental one, but in writing. Put it out there in black and white. Stick it on your wall so that you are constantly reminded of things you want to achieve.

6. Be self-aware

Often the sense of unfulfillment comes from not having fulfilled dreams and objectives that other people or even the society sets for us. Know yourself. Do you feel a lack of purpose and lack of drive because you have nothing of your own to drive towards? Do you feel resentment because the things you are required to accomplish are the things determined by others? What burdens of responsibility are you bearing? Whose dreams are you  carrying?

7. Know that not having THE life purpose is okay

Seriously, most people don’t have just one single purpose. And it’s okay. You don’t need to have a mega thing that encapsulates your entire life. Your life purpose can be driven by emotions, by a sense of purpose, by achievements, by familial relationships. It can be anything that makes you feel fulfilled and that makes you feel alive. It can also be transient. Your life purpose today may not be your life purpose five years from now. And that’s okay.

Keep a record of things that drive you. Note changes overtime. Are they organic changes, or are they forced upon you?

Journaling gives you a deeper awareness. Our memories are malleable. When you keep mental notes, those notes may change to suit circumstances and you may find it easy to make excuses. However, once you have written things, and discovered your motivations in black and white on the page, then there is not much room for argument.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

-Friedrich Nietzsche

So light that fire. Don’t just plod along in your life. Live it. Live every day to the fullest, because you never know how much time you’ve left. 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:

Make your journal your personal development tool. Start with one of the seven exercises mentioned below. 

 

5 Reasons to Keep a Travel Journal

 

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I have written before on how to keep an effective travel journal. However, if you still need some convincing about the benefits of keeping a travel journal, then this article is for you.

Whether you are a regular jet-setter, or travel once in a blue moon, a travel journal is an incredible tool to capture those memories in a creative way. But that’s not all. You can also use your travels for life-enhancing experiences, and use your journal to to embrace those lessons.

The problem with us humans is that we often have selective memories. Often, when you go on a trip, you may remember selected highlights of your experience. Usually things that were either very good, very bad, very familiar, or very alien. That’s fine. But there is a range of experiences in-between those extremes. Such a conversations you have with strangers, navigating your way around a new city, the weather, doing ordinary things such as ordering food. Even that is barely scratching the surface.

When you travel, you see more than tourist spots. You see people all around you – both locals and other tourists. You see (but perhaps do not observe) things which are not on your itinerary. You have interactions – starting from airport at the arrival, all the way to the airport at the departure, which include meeting a multitude of people who somehow disappear from your travel narrative when you are telling your friends back home about your trip. 

A travel journal captures these deeper experiences. Seemingly unimportant things, which will probably become even more important than the tourist highlights few months or few years down the line.

So here are five reasons why you should keep a travel journal:

1. Learn to see and observe

I’m all for visiting the tourist hot spots. After all, they are popular for a reason. But don’t close your mind and your eyes, in-between one highlight to the next. Pay attention. What else do you see? Make notes in your travel journal as you go. While you are looking at the tourist spots, what are the locals doing? How do people dress? What is the condition of the buildings? What kind of food is commonly available? How do people interact with each other? Have you noticed any interesting customs or traditions? Did you come across someone’s wedding or funeral? What have you observed? What things have surprised you? What things are very different from what you are used to? What things are similar to home? How do the locals react to tourists? Look deeper. Observe. 

2. Capture the uniqueness of your experience

Your experience will be different from everyone else’s experience. No two people see the same thing. If you and I stand in the exact same spot for 5 minutes together, in silence, and compare notes, we would notice different things. Even more importantly, even when we see the same things, our perspective may be different. You may see a beggar on a street and feel compassion, whereas I may consider him a nuisance. You may see a museum and think how dull it is to waste time on old relics, whereas I may think about thousands of years of history I can experience. And thus, the differences continue.

Generally, most people who travel talk about their experiences in a superfluous manner. Eiffel tower was awesome, or the Buckingham Palace was beautiful. The pyramids were less impressive than expected, while the London Dungeons were spooky. Sure. But what does that really mean? It doesn’t tell us anything beyond what any travel guide could have told us. How did you actually feel while you were looking at these things? How can you capture that feeling? 

3. Learn more about yourself 

We travel to learn more about ourselves. Most of us hope that by seeing more of the world, by looking at new things, and meeting new people, we may open up our minds in new directions. We hope that we may find a way of seeing things that we had not before.

When you are travelling, capture the things that challenge your opinions. Write down when you see something that you don’t understand or don’t agree with. Write down things that prove you wrong, but also the things that confirm your view of things. Write down what you learn about yourself.

4. Improve your ability to articulate

If you try to articulate what you see and feel in your travel journal then you will find yourself attempting to go beyond “awesome” and “beautiful.” You will find yourself trying to be more specific in your description. It’s not always easy, and you certainly don’t need to labour over every word. After all, you are there to travel, not to create a piece of art. And in fact, I wouldn’t recommend that you labour over your sentences. Just focus on describing  your feelings. Write regularly, and particularly write when you have visceral and emotional reactions to people and places.

The more you do it, the better you will get at articulating yourself.

5. Create a unique souvenir

Your travel journal is the best souvenir you can create. Sure you can buy the typical tourist items, but this will be the best thing you can bring back. It will have more memories than a t-shirt or a mug. It will last longer. It won’t cost you much money, and it will be something that you can enjoy for the rest of your life, and pass it down to loved ones. Your travel journal is your handmade, inexpensive, unique souvenir. 

Travel journals don’t have to be a specific type. Depending on your level of experience with journaling, you can go with  guided journals, or just get a blank notebook/scrapbook. It does not have to be, and in fact should not be, a stressful experience. It is not a chore. Look at your travel journal as a creative project that you can engage with during your trip, something that can take your travel experience to another level. Do your homework. Look up exercise and writing prompts. Work yourself up

If you need more guidance, I offer a travel journaling course through Kaizen Journaling Academy, which offers modules that guide you step-by-step. 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:

Plan a travel journal for your next trip. If you are not planning an actual trip, you can do the same with your own city. Look at your local surroundings with new eyes.

P.S. if you are not convinced about travelling, then read this post: 5 Reasons You Should Go Travelling 

 

3 Ways to Overcome Procrastination with Journaling

 

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Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.
– Christopher Parker

Procrastination is not a straightforward concept. Sure, you could be procrastinating out of sheer laziness, but there could also be a number of other reasons. The first step, therefore, is to know yourself. You need to figure out WHY you procrastinate, and how it affects your life. To-do lists and time management systems are essential and effective,but to eliminate procrastination as a habit you need to get to the root cause. You need to understand why you procrastinate. Then, you can practice effective time management and build systems that aid you.

However, a key thing is to change your perspective. If you are looking at deadlines and tasks you need to complete as a burden, then temptation to procrastinate will remain strong. You can use your journal to overcome procrastination habit. Here are three ways to do so:

What do you procrastinate on

Record your behaviour in your journal. Sometimes, we procrastinate on things that bore us, or things that make us uncomfortable. Figure out if you procrastinate about everything, or only about certain things. Are there specific tasks, or projects that you jump on instantly with focus?

Experiment for 48 hours. Create your to-do list – record everything that you do, and then everything that you don’t do.

How often do certain tasks stay on your to-do list? Are there things that have been there for days or weeks? What are these things? If you don’t want to do them why are they even on your list?

If you want to do those tasks (or have to do them) why are you not doing it? Be specific about your reasons and your feelings. Be honest.

Why do you procrastinate

Now that you know what you procrastinate on, it’s time to dig deeper. There could be numerous reasons including:

Poor time management – you may procrastinate because you can’t manage your time effectively. It may be that your perception for the amount of time you need to do certain tasks is skewed.

Overwhelm – this is a paradox. Not procrastinating would reduce the overwhelm, as you would then feel on top of things. However, stress or fear that you may be unable to do everything you need to, often causes you to feel overwhelmed, and procrastinate. It’s a classic ‘shove it under the carpet’ syndrome: if you can’t see it, it’s not there. Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Because when the deadline looms, overwhelmed or not, you have to deliver or face the consequences.

Lack of confidence – this is another reason why people often procrastinate. This could be lack of confidence in yourself, or in a particular skill which you require to complete the task at hand.

Perfectionism – you may procrastinate because you want to complete the task perfectly, and if you can’t do it perfectly, then you may as well not do it at all. Incidentally, sometimes, perfectionism is also related to self-confidence issues. There may be a feeling of inadequacy, that you would never be able to achieve the level of perfection you think you should deliver, and so you procrastinate.

Disorganisation – classic disorganisation is not having a firm idea of what you need to accomplish, or being all over the place. You may hop from task to task never finishing anything. Or you may not even remember what you need to do and when the deadlines are. You have no system to organise yourself.

Unrealistic expectations – Do you have a mile-long to-do list? Or unrealistic goals? Do you have ambitions, but without the foundation of the required time, effort, and skill set?

These are some of the key reasons behind procrastination. Whenever you find yourself procrastinating, journal about it. Be detailed about what you are procrastinating on, but also about your motives. Try to figure out your why. Is it one of the above listed reasons? Or is it something different?

Baby steps to breaking the procrastination patterns

Good news is that you can overcome procrastination – because it is a habit, a bad habit, like many others we humans somehow acquire. The bad news is it is not going to be easy (the utmost danger being of course that you will procrastinate about overcoming your procrastination).

Few ways to do break the procrastination patterns are:

Discover your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations – the things that you are procrastinating on, what is your motivation to do them? It could be that it’s the job that pays money, and if you don’t have the money, you can’t pay your bill. It could be writing 1000 words, which may eventually lead to a novel you want to finish. It could be running 1 mile, which may eventually lead to you becoming a fitter, healthier person that you want to be. What drives you? What really motivates you to do this thing? You may find that the answer is …nothing. In which case, why are you doing it? But if your motivation is strong enough, then you may find that is sufficient to overcome procrastination.

Reward yourself – Rewards work for many people. Depending on the importance and difficulty of your tasks, you can reward yourself with tangible items, or even intangible items such as an hour to read, or watch your favourite show. Others use punishment – such as having to give $5 away if they don’t finish a task by certain time. But that’s too much guilt concept. I think positive reinforcements are better than negative ones, so wherever possible, if you are setting rewards, try to do set positive ones. 

Accountability/Partnership – find someone who can hold you accountable, or find a partner. Get a running buddy, or a writing partner. Or if you are working on goals that are not the same as your friend’s, then each of you can still tell each other on a given day, or for a given week, what you are going to accomplish, and then report. 

Effective tools and methods – sometimes, you may have all the good intentions, and you try, but things just don’t work. If that is the case, then you may simply not be working at your most efficient. Perhaps tools you use, or your method of working does not serve you. Using popular systems like GTD is all very well, but if it does not work for  you, then it is not efficient. Also remember that just because you have been doing something forever, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it, or even that it is right for you. And just because one method works for someone else, does not mean it is the best thing for you. For some people time based schedule works (i.e. write from 8 to 9 am), but others (myself included) respond better to task based schedule (i.e. write 1000 words today). Experiment with new tools and methods. Continuously keep finding new ways of working until you discover what suits you. 

Remember to go easy on yourself in the beginning. You weren’t born a procrastinator. Somewhere along the way, you just picked it up. As you try to overcome this habit, there will be times when you fail. Don’t give up. Don’t hold your past failures against yourself. Treat each day as a new day, and start again. 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:

Grab your journal, look at your current to-do list, and write about something you are procrastinating on. Go through each of the three steps above, and be as specific as possible. 

 

7 Ways to Use Journaling for Creativity

 

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To journal is to tap into your subconscious. To journal is to connect with yourself. And when you are connecting with yourself, your creativity has maximum opportunity to surface and flourish.

In this article, I want to look at how you can use journaling to swept away the cobwebbs off your creativity, or just to enhance your focus on it so that you can feel your creative power at its full force.

1. Free Write

Free writing works wonders. It is an incredibly powerful tool that aids with almost all kinds of creative/brainstorming problems. Free writing is a straight forward concept. Set a timer – I recommend at least 7 minutes, though if you are used to writing or journaling then go for 10 minutes. Once the time goes off, start writing, and keep writing. Just write. Don’t stop to think. Don’t try to edit. Don’t second guess yourself. Just keep writing. Until the timer stops.

2. Creative Writing Prompts and Journal Writing Prompts

When you are at a loss for what to write, prompts provide an easy substitute. If you want to focus on creative writing – writing fiction, creative-nonfiction etc. – then creative writing prompts may be the way to go.

If you want to focus particularly on journaling, i.e. self-awareness, unlocking the answers from your inner self, then journal writing prompts may be more suitable.

3. Talk to Yourself

In your journal, have a dialogue with yourself – between Self A and Self B.

Self A is the current self, who is not as creative as you would like. Or perhaps is just temporarily feeling blocked. Whatever you feel is off with your creativity is a part of Self A.

Self B is the one that embraces creativity, is aware of its untapped creative well. It’s the self you want to be.

Your Self A will now have a conversation with your Self B. For this exercise, too, I suggest you set a timer. Start with 7-10 minutes, and keep aiming for longer and longer as you get used to dialogue exercise. Have an actual conversation. Let your mind flow, and be organic. Through this exercise, you will figure out how it feels to be Self A and how it feels to be Self B. What is the difference, and whether that difference is worth the work you need to put in to be more creative.

4. Doodle

Have you ever wondered why so many of us doodle? Particularly when we are just sitting in a meeting listening to someone, or talking on the phone? As David Robson writes in this BBC article, one study has found that “far from being a distraction, doodling can prevent our minds from wandering into daydreams about the past or future, boosting concentration and memory.”

Robson also references Neil Cohn of University of California, who studies graphic novels, and claims that “drawings can have their own repeated vocabulary.” This makes sense. If you read graphic novels, or read any comics as a kid, there is usually a big star for dizziness, a big blob of blackness if someone faints etc. 

A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology journal also claims improved recall from doodlers, compared to non-doodlers. 

However, you don’t need to read all the scientific evidence to know that doodling is therapeutic. Doodling is freeing. It lets you express yourself, lets you connect your brain with your instinct without having to think about it. Doodling regularly in your journal enables you to tap into often neglected ability to comprehend and retain information in a new way.

5. Write in an Unorthodox Manner

You don’t always have to write from left to write, top to bottom. You don’t always have to write sentences in a straight line. Go crazy. Be a little creative. Write in a circle, or in a square, or maybe just in a snaky line. Write in big letter, and small letters. Use different colours. Perhaps skip writing altogether, and express your feelings through drawing or a collage or whatever else you can think of.

6. Write a Poem

But I’m not a poet, you protest. It doesn’t matter. I’m not telling you to produce Poet Lauret level of work here. Imagine you are a teenager again, writing a love poem for that special someone. Or just be you. Just write a poem. About something. About anything. Don’t worry about the form, or literary techniques or whether or not it’s the right number of stanzas and right sorts of rhymes. Just write it. Writing a poem, the one that comes fully from your heart is a creative process. It connects with your emotions. The words coming out – regardless of their literary worth – are the words coming straight out of your gut. And if you want to regularly be more creative then get used to wrenching words and feelings straight out of your gut. 

7. Talk to Your Muse

Who better to talk about your creativity with then your muse? In Meet Your Muse, I devote two weeks worth of modules to doing just that. You don’t need to take the course to get familiar with your muse though. Think about your muse, and start talking to him or her. Your personal muse is at your disposal. Use your imagination. Picture him/her/it. See them as a real person. Then just have a conversation – in writing. Don’t just stop with one dialogue. Have a series of conversations. Get to know your muse personally, and let them be a conduit for your creativity.

 

Journaling by itself is an act of expression. It is a medium through which you can really express yourself in any way you like. When you journal regularly, particularly if you allow yourself to go with your thoughts, then it actually becomes quite difficult not to be creative. Using different exercises, such as combining letter writing with journaling, are merely different tools that enhance this creative practice. Don’t bind yourself with rigid routines in your journal. Just go with the flow, and do it regularly and you will soon find that journaling creatively is both immensely fun, and immensely useful. 

 

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY

Do one of the above seven exercises for seven days in your journal, or mix and match. But give yourself at least 10 minutes daily for 1 week, and give space to creativity in your schedule