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Self-observation: Journaling as a tool to cultivate self-awareness

Why do this – what are the benefits?

Regard the personality type (that which you identify as you) as the horse you want to ride. i.e. as the rider, the more you know about your horse, the better you will be able to ride and master it. Some liken the personality to an automated response, much like a robot. A robot has mechanisms and is programmed for automatic reactions, so too the personality. When we are trying to develop ourselves we need to watch out for our automatic patterns, our emotions, and the situations where it is likely that our emotions will be heightened and our actions afterward. In mastering these skills of self-observation we become more familiar with our type based patterns and responses, our awareness increases around our strengths, our hot buttons and stress points. As we tune into this awareness, we begin to own these responses as something that are ours and can more easily see how they impact on us and others more clearly. By owning these responses we are more likely to take responsibility for our behaviour and identify where the choice points for behaviour change lie.

One of the best tools for cultivating self-awareness is right at your fingertips and it’s free!

Journaling is one of the most useful personal development tools around. Not only does it help us process emotions and experiences, work through internal conflicts and improve our self-awareness, it also provides us with a way to keep a day-to-day record of our lives. Journaling is a way to practice and deepen your awareness and access the wisdom you already have within you. In sitting down to write, your thought processes slow down. As you slow down the thought process, you allow your mind to access information you usually skip over throughout the day. You then give yourself or your dilemma “thoughtful consideration”. And this is often a way to discover new or deep insights, all without outside help from another source. For best results set yourself up in a distraction-free place to journal.

Exercise 1: Looking Back: growing your capacity for self-observation (1-2 hours per week)

Recommended focus for self-observation: qualities, pitfalls and the unconscious thought or belief patterns that form their foundation. Reflect on your experiences both in your personal and work life, this will give you a richer tapestry of experiences to draw upon for learning. Take some time at the end of each day/working week to look back over the day’s/week’s events and your responses to them.

  • Evaluate what has satisfied you about your responses or inner reactions and also where you think you require some further work/improvement.
  • Reflect on any incidents/interactions with others that stand out: What roles did you play in the incident/interaction? How did these serve you? When else do you play these roles?
  • What emotions bubble to the surface when you reflect now? Write them down and sit with them for a while, what other emotions might this be pointing to?
  • What patterns are there for you? What do they reveal?
  • What hard truths do you have to face up to now moving forward?
  • If this situation was designed to teach you something what might you learn?

Exercise 2 Daily Journaling (15-20 mins per day) 

– 3 Gratitude’s – By writing down three new things per day you are grateful for in 21 days you can train your brain to begin to scan your environment and experiences for the positive.

– Write about one positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours. This allows your brain to relive it and amplifies the effects of that positive experience.

Exercise 3 Weekly Journaling (1 hour per working week)

– 3 Gratitude’s – Reflecting on the past week at work what are the three things you are most grateful for? Thinking about the past week at home, repeat the exercise

– Thinking about the changes you are seeking in yourself, reflect on the past week at work/home and record: o Moments when you tried something new or different. Describe what you did, how you felt about it and what actions you took. Record your questions, half-formed thoughts and reflections. It is also good to record the following as applicable:

  • Your feelings, the tender and the terrible
  • Moments of stuckness, being withdrawn or shut down
  • Moments of anger, discomfort or uncertainty
  • Moments when you are “ checked out” or apathetic
  • What you are anxious or concerned about
  • When you hold back expressing yourself or your thoughts and why this might be
  • What did you do well, what impact did this have on you and on or for others?
  • What challenges with your thinking and feeling did you struggle with or overcome?

Exercise 4 Weekly Review (approx. 1 hour per working week)

Keep a weekly log of your experiences set aside some time to slow down and reflect – this will help you become more mindful and notice and observe patterns in your thinking, feeling and behaviour.

What were your strong points this week?

What skills, strengths or assets did you bring to the fore in your leadership practice? What thoughts, feeling and behaviours did you notice in yourself? What insights do you now have?

Review your coaching goals:

In what ways did you make progress towards the achievement of these?

Looking forward: What opportunities exist next week for you to refine your thoughts, feelings or behaviours to get a better result more aligned to your coaching goals?

Thinking: What belief systems and thinking patterns do I need to work on or adjust?

Feeling: What emotions do I need to manage differently, more effectively or more flexibly?

Doing: What changes will I make practically? What will I do differently?