One of the things that's both freeing and, yes, terrifying about journaling is that it forces you to reckon with who you are via ballpoint pen (or Word doc, if that's your style). In What's Your Story: A Journal for Your Everyday Evolution, co-authors Rebecca Walker and Lily Diamond ask you to take a closer look at your conception of who you are so you can start to peel away the stories that don't fit the person you want to become.
"Neurologist V. S. Ramachandran says the right side of our brain is responsible for self-awareness, and that this self-awareness gestalts, or brings together disembodied moments and symbols from everyday life, and then juxtaposes them in all different kinds of ways," says Diamond. "We call this idea of gathering these moments and symbols 'imagination,' and as we do this over and over again, we basically begin to imagine ourselves. We stitch moments and memories together into this abstract idea [of self], but by repeating those and stitching them together, we create this story that we call ourselves or who we are."
Over time, these threads of information solidify into what Diamond calls a "fabric tight enough that it can hold our self-consciousness"—and something powerful happens when we take charge of that process through writing and re-writing our stories.
When we start to look for uncharted ways to tell our stories, Walker says that we will also begin to seek experiences that are entirely new to us. "Part of why it's so hard to change the story is because we don't really understand that we need to start looking at other moments, other experiences, other objects, other things that inspire us and allow our imagination to weave those things together. We're so caught in the groove of looking at the same thing," she says.
For example, when I speak to Walker, she has just moved out of New York City to spend time in the wilderness—and, she says, she's learning to redefine herself through that experience. "Right now, I'm looking out at the mountains and trees, and I'm just thinking about how you have to choose to look at new flowers, new shapes, new forms that tell you something different. Obviously, that is very different from what I looked at when I lived in New York... I told myself a New York story, and now I'm telling myself this," she says.
Throughout the journal, Diamond and Walker hold your hand as you discover new ways to look at who you are. And their prompts are more than just an exercises that offers you the brain benefits of journaling; they're a way to take charge of your own narrative. "There's something beautiful and life-sustaining in saying, 'I am not just that story.' But you have to make that shift and learn how to exercise that muscle, and that's really what the book is trying to help people learn how to do," says Walker.
Two self-expression journal prompts from the authors of What's Your Story?
Walker and Diamond recommend reading each question and then spending at least five minutes writing in response. If the words are flowing, continue. If not, put your pen down, read over what you wrote, and consider it without judgment. Then continue on to the next question or take a break and come back to it later.
Prompt 1: Why do you think you are here? What are you supposed to do with the time you have?
Prompt 2: Are you living in sync with those beliefs? If not, why not? What choices can you make today to honor your purpose?
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