THE EVENT: The stimulus for a particular journal entry can be anything that you experience, for example - a meeting, a conversation, as television show, an accident, a misunderstanding, or even a thought or feeling. Your goal is to depict whatever occurred as objectively as you can, which can be a challenge in and of itself, since we all almost automatically think in evaluative or interpretive terms.
For example, your first inclination might be to write “Jim/Jane is difficult to get along with,” which is clearly full of personal interpretation. A more objective description might be “Jim/Jane said s/he wasn’t ready yet to give the information I wanted, and then s/he interrupted me three times when I tried to explain why I needed it immediately.”
YOUR REACTIONS: In this part of your entry your attention is focused on how you reacted - your actions, your words, your internal thoughts and feelings - any response that are noticeable and important in your mind as you think back to the event.
The pace of therapy is often experienced as intimidating. Some have described it as akin to trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose!
The challenge that the pace of therapy brings to you, is to find responses in you to enhance the likelihood of capturing as many of the learnings - large and small - as possible; from blinding flashes of the obvious to more subtle and profound insights that link different and unconnected bits of your reality.
The personal learning journal is just such a tool. It is a discipline which can open up new depths of useful insight beyond therapy into the most meaningful and varied experiences of your life. These insights in turn, give you better information on which to base future decisions and actions.
The form and content of the journal is a matter of personal choice; there is no “one right way” to do it. There is a general rule-of-thumb that most people have found helpful for organizing their entries: DESCRIBE THE EVENT/EXPERIENCE, YOUR REACTIONS, AND YOUR LEARNINGS.
Sometimes this can require some work and some patience - playing and replaying your memory’s “videotape,” attentively watching for reactions you might wish to ignore or distort. Here are four questions that can help you get at your reactions, with some illustrations based on the example above:
WHAT DID I WANT TO DO?
“I wanted to hit him.” “I really wanted to get ‘straight’ with him.”
WHAT DID I ACTUALLY DO?
“I frowned at him and walked away.” “I told him I’d had enough delaying tactics.” “I asked him when he would be able to give me the information.”
WHAT WERE MY THOUGHTS?
“I thought, ‘Oh God, why does this have to happen to me?” “I thought to myself that he was trying to pull a fast one on me.” “I thought, ‘Well, George’s doing the best he can.”
WHAT WERE MY FEELINGS?
“I felt angry and frustrated.” “I felt anxious because I really needed the information.” “I felt sad that our working relationship was so poor.”
YOUR LEARNINGS: Here you begin reflecting upon questions like:
“What does this event and my reactions tell me about me and issues I need to work on?”
“Are there signs here that I’m progressing and making headway on a particular issue?”
“Is there a pattern here that I haven’t seen before?”
“Is there something to be learned from this that might help me understand past events
more fully or that will help me in the future when something similar happens?”
Sometimes you may not have immediate answers. Or your learnings may change or evolve after some time has passed. And in this fact lies the major advantage of keeping a journal, for you now have a written record that you can return to again and again, adding to it as you insights and learnings emerge. One format for your journal which accommodates the evolving nature of your learnings is dividing the page or entry into three sections (eg., labeled “Event,” “Reactions.” “Learnings”). That way, you can easily leave the third one blank and fill it in later.