So, you have gone out and bought a journal and a brand new pen to go along with it. You’re now sitting in an overstuffed chair in the back corner of a used bookstore that smells of dust and old leather. You open your journal for the first time and hear the spine cracking as it reluctantly reveals the treasure it’s been successfully protecting until now—the first blank page!


Don’t freak out. Here are some suggestions to help you begin filling up those pages. These suggestions start with what I hope will be very basic information that provides the least amount of intimidation before gradually moving into deeper and deeper levels of self-awareness. Find a level you’re comfortable with and stay there for a while. You don’t have to start out by swimming in the deep end of the pool!

1)    Data—Start with simple data; just information like the time, temperature, a description of the room you’re in, the clothes you’re wearing, the events going on in your life, people who are influencing you and so on. I do this on every new entry in my journal. In the upper left corner I write the time, the date, where I am, the temperature outside, and something about the weather. I’m always surprised at how easy it is to go back to those pages years later and be able to remember those exact details! This is great stuff to write when you’re on a trip or vacation, or are doing something out of the norm.

2)    Effects of the Data—What is happening because of these activities or events or people? You may keep this at a purely physical level or you may go a little deeper and talk about how these events and people are affecting you personally. Keep it in third person if you want, and talk about how you see other people being affected (good or bad). What types of actions are you or others taking or wanting to take based upon the situation?

3)    Questions about the Data—Why is this happening? What did that mean? What should I do? Don’t worry about the answers just yet. Simply keep track of all your questions. Remember, your ultimate growth will be measured by the questions you ask, not the answers you have. This is a deeper level and requires a little more interaction with your surroundings. Archie Bunker, for those of you old enough to remember, never went to this level! He just saw in two dimensions. He would see and he would interpret, and most of his interpretations led him to interpret that everyone else on earth was an idiot!

4)    Statements of Value—This is when you begin to engage in the process of discovering why you believe what you believe, when you start digging in to your conclusions and discovering the beliefs leading you to those conclusions. “This is what’s going on. This is how it’s affecting me. It raises these questions in me. And these are my answers and conclusions to those questions. Why am I coming to this conclusion? Are my conclusions appropriate in this situation or for this time in my life?” This discovery isn’t always easy and most of the time will require an objective point of view to help you see it. Left to ourselves, we will continually come to the same conclusions: “Everyone else on earth is an idiot.” You will need a trusted influencer in your life to help you see past your conclusions and into your belief system. (See chapter five for a fuller discussion on the importance of a mentor.)

5)    Feelings (Emotions)—This is usually the reason people don’t want to journal to begin with—they don’t want to “get in touch with their feelings.” I was asked that one time by a person who was pushing just a little too hard on me—“Clay, what are you feeling?” they asked. “I’m feeling angry and like I want to punch you!” came my reply. Well remember, this is way down on the list of things to write about in your journal, so don’t let this vulnerable, touchy-feely stuff intimidate you. You don’t have to go here if you aren’t ready.

6)    Thoughts and Fears—This level can take a while to get to, and you’ll definitely want to have a mentor or an influencer in your life help you navigate these deep waters. Most people walking around today are controlled by their fears. It’s not always a bad thing, but it can eventually erode your perspective on life and cause you to come to consistently negative conclusions, which become the engine for all your decisions and actions even towards people you love. How you think is the most important thing about you. Using your journal to dig down to this depth of self-evaluation can truly transform you into a new person—and that person may be the person you have always felt you were, but never could connect to. Few people are able to tap into this level of self-awareness; I have found journaling to be a wonderful tool to aid in the process.

As you move from level 1 to level 6, you may recognize the process of TFBAR! Levels one and two mainly address the external results and actions of yourself and others. Levels three and four move deeper into the beliefs and feelings we act upon. And levels five and six tap in to the very core of who we are… How we think!

Our thoughts will always determine our feelings.

Our feelings shape our beliefs.

Our beliefs motivate our actions.

Our actions produce the results we experience in our lives.

So how you think is the most important thing about you! At it’s very best, journaling helps you get in touch with how you think!

Clay Staires