Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: I learn from journaling.
Early in January 1996, I was visiting my relatives in Bethesda, Maryland. One day as I sat at the table writing in my journal, my six-year-old nephew appeared at my elbow to ask what I was doing. I told Devon that I was writing about what I was thinking and feeling. He was fascinated and wondered if he could do that. I said yes.
Devon raced off to ask his mother for some paper so he could “write like Uncle Walt” and I remembered how I began writing my own journal at 13 after discovering Dad’s journal in the attic.
When Devon sat down next to me with his paper, he asked me how to write in a journal. I began explaining – and that led to these Seven Learnings.
My idea of Seven Learnings comes from the Seven Laws – which I first learned about in a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. There is an ancient tradition of developing seven laws by starting at the centre and then moving through a series of polarities to something that transcends the sequence.
Since I prefer Learnings to Laws, I use the process to develop Seven Learnings. So here, with thanks to Devon for the inspiration, are my Seven Learnings on Journaling.
1. WRITE NOW
Begin writing now and write about anything
The easiest way to begin writing is to pick up my pencil or pen and write something – anything. Sometimes I write: “I don’t know what to write. I wonder what I will write next”. As I write, something (whatever I am thinking or feeling) comes up. That is what I write about.
Why do I keep a journal? Three reasons: the Past, the Present, and the Future.
I keep a journal for the Past. I look back at what I wrote yesterday or last year or thirty years ago. I see patterns of thoughts and feelings that continue over the years.
I keep a journal for the Present. I write about what happened today or I just write – and discover what I think or feel as I write about it.
I keep a journal for the Future. I write about possibilities and dreams. I imagine the best that could happen. And I try to be as honest as I can.
2. WRITE REGULARLY
Write at a regular time each day
When I began my journal, I built the habit by writing every night just before I went to bed. Now I write each morning. Most important, I keep going even when I miss a day.
3. WRITE IRREGULARLY
Write at a regular time each day
As I got used to writing in my journal once a day, I began writing at other times as well. When someone says something interesting, or when I have an idea, I write it in my journal.
I copy quotations into the back pages of my journal and make my own entries from the front until the two meet in the middle.
4. WRITE WHAT I THINK
Have a conversation with myself
When I don’t know what to do, I can write about the situation and consider various possibilities. Often new ideas emerge as I write.
5. WRITE HOW I FEEL
Go beyond events to their impact on me
I write about what happened and about what I think, but I also write about how I feel.
If I have just talked with a friend, I write how I’m feeling (angry, sad, frustrated – or excited, encouraged, enthusiastic). Writing about my feelings helps me clarify how I feel.
6. GO BEYOND WRITING
Use colour, pictures, mindmaps, headlines
I used to write with blue or black ink. Now I use colours. I use green when I am learning. I use purple when I am happy and blue when I am sad. I use red to record a dream. Or I just choose a colour I like.
Sometimes I draw pictures instead of writing. I put photographs of my friends in my journal. When someone sends me a funny card, I tape that into my journal.
When I have had a busy day, I start a mindmap with one word in the centre of the page – then I draw lines from that word and write other words that connect with the first word. Or I use headlines to summarise the day quickly.
7. LIVE TO WRITE
Live life fully and then write in my journal
My friend George teases me that while he lives to eat, I only eat to live. I do write to live. But I must also live to write. So I go for a walk by the river. Or I have dinner with a friend. Or I work with a group of people who want to change their lives. From all these things I learn. And I write about the learnings in my journal.