Written by Nicholas Salvemini, Journey Home Mentor
I started writing on a daily basis a couple of years ago at a cliff-side coffee shop on top of the red rocks in Sedona. Same time, same coffee, same chair, same view. It was that familiar environment and surrounding that I found to be my “safe place.” That’s what journaling is… a safe place. At first, it was difficult to know where to start, what do I write about, and why do this at all? In my more cynical moments, I questioned myself. I didn’t see immediate positive effects or worse, I’d write about what was wrong and what hurt, and having that self-awareness was difficult to tolerate and entangle with at first. Some days I felt like I didn’t have anything to write about but I knew I had to sit down and write at least one page, no matter what. Why? As I wrote about myself, detailing what happened the day before, what my intentions were for that day to improve from who I was the day prior, what I am grateful for, how I can benefit the community, etc. I came to know myself slowly but surely. I often even wrote to the people I loved and cared about as if I were to send it like a letter. Every week that passed I read what I wrote throughout the week and dissected it carefully. I kept questions for myself in the back of my mind while skimming these personal segments. What I noticed is: my goals weren’t as lofty, I adjusted how I showed up as a person, I dug into myself where my insecurities hid and my poor habits allowed me to escape. What’s remarkable about the journal is that it’s entirely personal, a place for vulnerability and truth and isn’t done at someone else’s expense... and that’s humility. It allows us to take our future selves into account constantly because we are a community stretched out across time. There is nothing negative that comes with this habit of writing about ourselves and I think that's the definition of good. As we learn to define and judge ourselves, we allow ourselves to reveal our full potential and eradicate what makes us weak which doesn’t only better us but betters the communities we are surrounded by. The journal is on the side of you that is directed to making things better while tactfully separating and identifying the things that are restraining your potential; opening the door to net positives for yourself. In time, it will become unfiltered with true transparency and no longer include unconditional positive regard.
This is an extremely difficult concept to grasp because we think we know who we are, but many of us, especially young people, live in the fog, bury their insufficiencies and insecurities, and hide… but there is no hiding. No one can hide from loneliness or pain and that’s why we need to know how to conduct ourselves to prepare for life’s moments of catastrophe that are bound to come. It’s the ability to talk to ourselves in the third person, a mirror-like tool that isn’t the same as peer reflection or exterior criticism. I incorporate that into my work as a behavioral specialist, I know my lecturing moments are also directed to myself. I practice what I preach to these teens to the best of my ability because I believe that’s the only way to activate their belief in these habits. This is equally as important as physical activity and exercising our muscles. Journaling is an exercise for the brain and our personal development. For example, if you retreat and ignore physical health and eat poorly you will fall into delusion and eventually get to a point where it’s too late to break patterns. As you journal continuously, you begin to articulate right from wrong, what’s important and what’s dead wood holding you back. You will gradually sharpen your aim toward what you find meaningful. The goal is authenticity, and that means pursuing all you can be and burning off what about you is dead and no longer useful. In time, you start to redeem yourself from previous errors and learn from them at a faster pace.
I know parents out there are asking, “How do we convince our youth to put down the phone and truly make this a habit or even write genuinely?” Well, I believe it starts with us, the parents and adults, role modeling the habit and being open with our written expression. We need this outlet; to shine light on the darkness within all of us, a chance to be honest with ourselves while encapsulating our day to day life and a place to release what hurts us and forgive others and forgive ourselves. The up-and-coming generation has it harder than we ever did. They have judgment circling them at all hours of the day, buzzing in their hands, notifying them every minute to look at posted facades of reality through social media. This is one of many holes in our educational system. We don’t allow them to think freely, challenge ideals, or come to know themselves. As a society, we have forgotten the importance of this. The teens I work with are so scattered and lost in ambiguity. Students are never told to write autobiographically and that’s a critical mistake. There have been multiple studies done that show if you give teens a platform to write about themselves, identify goals they have, and define what they want to obtain, their chances of going to college and graduating increase by 40%! That’s an unbelievable stat and these juniors and seniors are always asked what do you want to do when you “grow up,” but that’s too difficult for them to answer without guidance at the age of 18. This ties back into the importance of journaling consistently, so that we find out who they really are and what they want. The reason most people don’t get what they want is because they don’t know what it is that they want. That brings up the next question when considering wanting something and that is, what does it mean to want it? What it means is one must be willing to sacrifice whatever it is that is necessary to get it. If you’re not willing to sacrifice for it then you do not want it... Imagine if young people started journaling at 13 or 14 years old, how aware they would be of themselves and who they are? Even if they started off writing nothing but nonsense, that doesn’t matter. By the time they are 17, 18 years old they will be unstoppable as they enter the defining moment of going to a university, beginning their adult lives and pursuing their destiny. For that reason, it is essential for our youth to begin this practice.