How Getting to Know What You Know Can Set You Free
Not to be a smarty pants, but you don’t know what you know until you know it. Of course, claiming what one doesn’t know is pretty easy—for me that feels like most everything. But what about knowing your own heart? In a situation where we daily encounter what we don’t know, it seems we owe it to ourselves to at least know what we know about ourselves.
If the prospect of knowing yourself leaves a ringing in your head and you feel unsettled, you’re not alone. I’d venture to say there are so many who experience uncertainty about life and who they are—so many, in fact, that it’s an epidemic. Can this really be shocking in a world where we have a constant intake of stimulus and information? It’s pretty noisy out there. Taking the time to know and identify your thoughts requires introspection and some space and time to do it.
Nonetheless, it was that desire that compelled me to launch the mini-habit of free-flow journaling for a few minutes every morning. I hungered for quiet time to reflect on topics before I forged into the routines of my day.
Keeping to that goal has been a success overall, but after several weeks of journal entries I’ve noted a trend—the initial thoughts I consider each day are stale and boring even to me. Admittedly, I write about concerns and things I plan to do, which provides a kind of catharsis, but my hope had been to ponder ideas more deeply.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT CLARITY?
You might ask, what is the point of this deep thought, and I’d say that the end game is something that’s part comfort and part clarity.
With clarity in mind, I considered what clarity might look and feel like if I achieve it. I’ll start with Deepak Chopra who (I paraphrase here) explains that trying to force clarity—in this case an organization of thought—will NOT actually work to arriving at clarity.
In fact, in his post From Hazy to Clear: How to Gain Clarity About Your Life, he explains that silence (i.e., calm state) and A LACK of processing any specific concepts during the quiet of meditation is the path to feeling calmer and achieving clarity of thinking.
I believe in the power of silence and find that, for me, meditation of a sort can be reached through a walk alone, sitting quietly in a sunny room, or listening to meditation gongs and peaceful music. When I do these things, as I infrequently do, I wonder why I don’t make more time for silence. The quiet of the mind can allow for the space of more ordered thinking. It makes sense that sometimes, in not trying to overthink directly, we can solve the bigger goals we strive for in our lives.
Clinical Psychologist Nick Wignall offers a substantive and concise piece titled, “Emotional Clarity: 6 Key Principles for Managing Your Emotions.” Wignall explains that, for many of us to arrive at clarity, we first need to identify what we are feeling—which most of us don’t find easy to do.
Emotions are fleeting and usually a mixed bag as well, with many causations including physical discomfort and so many things we never think to consider. But first, we need to become adept in knowing what it is that we are feeling, because only then can we address the underlying causes.
My favorite takeaway of the principles Wignall highlights is the last addressing validation. Wignall explains that once we recognize the emotions and have assessed where they derive with deeper introspection, we can finally acknowledge them. Many of us fear emotions, particularly those emotions that reveal we are vulnerable. Wignall suggests that once we identify our emotions, we can get comfortable with their presence and move on with other thoughts as our emotions shift (which they will).
JOURNAL EXERCISE TO CLARITY
Both Chopra and Wignall describe processes to arrive to clarity—of thought and emotions—that are worthy of incorporating into practice. Here I’ll add in the exercise of putting in a little journal time to answer questions. These can be questions you have in mind or prompts you retrieve from books or other resources. By considering ideas outside your routine thoughts, you spark your creative to kick in and just might find some clarity for other matters.
As I’ve mentioned, I have already discovered that my first thoughts in the morning veer to routines and concerns—my mind’s habitual thinking. I needed a resource to offer ideas, so I opened a journaling book and found the prompt, “Write down 10 big dreams that haven’t come true yet.” I opened a fresh page and began to write.
Immediately I noticed that the thought of big dreams provided several benefits—most significantly it lightened my mood. It was lovely to think of those aspirations I’d like to see come into reality. I recognized that some of those dreams simply won’t come true (i.e., world peace), but thinking about them changed my center of mental gravity.
In an earlier post I spoke about how applying problem-solving to smaller problems when you’re faced with big challenges can actually boost your coping and processing skills. This answering of questions is similar. By using mental energy to answer a variety of questions during journal time, you might enjoy the benefits of a shift to more positive emotions, and a “refresh” for more important reflection.
I advocate answering those questions in your journal that fall outside your mental wheelhouse of thoughts. The side benefits of calm and thinking more deeply may help you achieve a better sense of knowing what you know.
Need some ideas for your journal? We recommend you purchase your copy of Tell Me Another. Not only will you have inspiration to write for entries, you’ll also have a great game to play with friends and family.
Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
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