Published in 2004, The Toastmaster Magazine
The Write Way To Success
by Patricia Fry
Do you recall keeping a diary when you were a child? Did you abandon it like you did your jump rope and little red wagon? Or have you carried this practice into adulthood?
Journal-keeping is not just for kids. Many professional men and women use personal writing as a means of solving problems, organizing their thoughts, establishing and meeting their goals as well as overcoming grief, fear and anger.
Documenting your thoughts and feelings helps bring them into focus so you can manage them. What happens when you attempt to solve a problem in your head? The more you try to force a solution, the more overwhelmed and confused you become. If, on the other hand, you talk to someone about the problem or write about it, you feel better and a solution will appear as if by magic. In fact, journaling is often more effective than talking to someone, because you're not inhibited by the fear of being judged.
Just Ramble. There are a number of techniques for effective journal-keeping. A popular one is what I call, rambling. You might use this method when you're trying to make a decision. To ramble, just start writing your thoughts about the situation. Most likely, you'll discover a solution within your words.
Maybe you enjoy your Toastmaster meetings, but dread Table Topics. You cringe at the thought of being called on to speak. You realize that practicing Table Topics in a supportive environment will help you to overcome your anxiety, and so will journaling.
Quiet yourself and then start writing your thoughts and feelings about Table Topics. You might write, "I'm afraid that if I'm not familiar with the subject, I'll sound stupid." "What if I can't come up with anything to say?" "I just don't think that fast, anymore."
Knowing the reason for your fear is the first step. Once you feel confident that you've discovered the problem, list what you can do about it. One solution to all three of these scenarios is practice. You might write, "Practice speaking on an assortment of topics at home." "Become more knowledgeable about current events." "Rehearse various methods of changing from the Table Topic given to an issue that's more familiar to me." "Ask my Toastmaster mentor for tips to help me feel more at ease when speaking off the cuff."
Make a Journal List. Written lists are enormously helpful in problem solving. Let's say you are trying to decide whether to run for a Toastmaster office this year. Sit down and list the pros and cons. On the con side you might write, "It would take more of my time." "I don't know if I'm really qualified to be an officer." "This commitment might interfere with the new project I just took on at work."
The pro side might read, "Taking a leadership position in Toastmasters would further hone my leadership skills and that would help me in my career." "It would look good on my resume." "I think I would enjoy being more involved in my Toastmaster club."
When you review the list, the answer to your dilemma should become apparent.
Use Your Journal for Goal setting. The first step toward meeting a goal is to identify it. You might decide that you want to complete your Basic Manual this year. Put that goal in writing and watch it gain momentum. Writing it gives it credibility. It becomes real, thus obtainable.
The second step in meeting a goal is to chart your course. Outline your strategy. This might mean scheduling your speeches so you can finish them all within the year. Perhaps you'll need to plan some outside speeches in order to meet your goal. Brainstorm about possible speech topics.
Third, Define potential obstacles. Most goals come with built-in obstacles, which is another reason why journaling is so valuable. When writing about goals, you're more likely to become aware of potential obstacles.
Ted's goal was to become president of his Toastmasters club. And that's what he wrote in his journal book. When he began to chart his course, however, he realized that he had never told anyone that he was interested in running for office. Another roadblock for Ted was the fact that he only attended an average of two of the four meetings each month. Through journaling, Ted learned that he was creating his own obstacles and he began drawing up a plan to make his goal a reality.
Journal to solve problems. Writing is an excellent way to handle personal dilemmas. When we try to work something out in our head, we tend to think in circles. The same thoughts keep coming up again and again and we're hard-pressed to find a solution. When journaling, you're laying the possibilities out in front of you, helping you to see more options.
Let's say that you're upset about a club member who gives harsh evaluations. You've had your feelings hurt a couple of times by her insensitivity. First, write your thoughts and feelings about the problem. Then write some possible solutions. Don't hold back. Write the ridiculous as well as the practical.
"Quit Toastmaster so I don't have to face her evaluation." "Give her a really cruel evaluation for her next speech." "Talk to the president about doing an educational on evaluations." "Take the individual aside and tell her how her evaluations hurt."
If, after documenting your possible solutions, you still need more insight, write potential consequences to each of them. For example, "If I quit Toastmasters, I'm losing out on an opportunity to grow professionally. I'd be hurting myself." "If I resort to vindictiveness instead of solving the problem, I'm probably creating a new problem." "I like the idea of arranging for an educational on evaluating. It just might help this woman give better evaluations and probably all of us could use a refresher."
Write to Generate Ideas. Use journaling to come up with good speech topics and Table Topics. If you feel like your ideas have dried up, pull out your journal and you'll be surprised how fast the well-spring will be replenished.
Don't hold back. Write whatever comes to mind. Sure, you'll probably end up with some dumb ideas. Just remember that bad ideas often create a pathway to some really good ones.
Journal Your Way to Better Communication. Journaling provides the opportunity to practice the language skills that we use in everyday communication as well as in public speaking.
I know a professional storyteller who writes her stories before telling them. She says, "My stories often come from journal entries reflecting my thoughts. I just embellish them right on my journal pages before ever bringing them before an audience."
Your personal journal is a good place to practice using new words as well as old words in new ways. I was once in a Toastmasters club with a man from China. While learning public speaking and leadership skills, this man was also trying to master the English language. He often wrote down words that he heard during meetings to study later.
Establish New Habits Through Writing. Who hasn't struggled to change a bad habit? If you want to stop a habit in it's tracks—eating sweets, for example, procrastinating, using slang or clichés, speaking too softly or too much, turn to your journal. The act of committing the words to paper is more powerful than just thinking or speaking them.
Let's say that fellow Toastmasters have recently pointed out your overuse of the phrase, "you know," and you want to stop saying it. List ways that would help you to change that habit. You might write, for example: "Think before speaking." "Speak more slowly." "Pay more attention to each word as I speak." "Rephrase a sentence each time I use that term." "Ask friends, spouse, coworkers to tell me when I've said, ?you know.'" "Penalize myself every time I slip." Penalties might include, putting a dollar in a jar, doing without an iced mocha or a dessert each time you slip and so forth.
Your Journal as a Daily Record. Keeping a daily journal will help you to recognize patterns and to change those that aren't working. Over time, you'll become aware of your progress in Toastmasters, for example. Maybe you feel nervous about giving an upcoming speech and you wonder if you'll ever be a poised public speaker. After reading the entries you wrote upon first joining Toastmasters, however, you may realize how much you have improved.
Your Journal as a Confidence Builder. Each of us needs that pat on the back, that sincere applause, those feel good moments. You can build them into your journal book. How? Create a "feel good" section. This is where you write down your more prominent attributes, the positive things people have said about you and the good things that have happened in your life. These are your pages of positivity. Anytime you feel a bit low, turn to these pages and read about how much you are loved and appreciated, what a great friend you are, how eloquently you gave the talk on saving feral kittens and so forth. This will raise your spirits and boost your confidence.
Journal for Health. Journaling has long been known as good therapy. And now there's evidence that it can also improve your health. James Pennebaker, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, conducted a study involving thousands of men and women who kept journals over a period of a dozen years. He found that those who write regularly about their emotions, suffer less anxiety and depression. His studies also show that journal-keeping can have a positive affect on your overall health.
Other studies reveal that, while writing about stressful events can be unpleasant at the time, the journalist experiences an almost immediate positive physical affect. Over time, those who journal regularly suffer fewer colds and other common ailments. Why? Experts believe that when we manage our emotions rather than ignoring them, we are less stressed and our immune system becomes stronger.
Journaling is like having a heart-to-heart talk with yourself. It can be a problem-solving tool and a guiding light. It's a mirror full of useful reflections. The next time you need a friend or want a peek into your psyche, open your journal and just start writing.