Category Archives: Motivation to Journal

Clarity Heals Suffering

I teach a twelve-week course titled, Journaling for Passion, Clarity and Purpose. In Week #7, participants engage in some writing exercises for gaining clarity, especially in areas of life where there is persistent suffering, confusion, or unresolve.  I never ask participants to reveal their personal situations, but I coach journaling techniques for getting the clarity they seek to identify new choices and actions to take.

This is a true story about a student (I’ve named him Dan) that I share to illustrate the power of journaling for clarity. Dan was plagued with acute sinusitis — the sinus passages connecting his ears, nose, and throat were extremely narrow, and got easily clogged. All his life, from childhood into his late twenties, he feared the changes in seasons because it meant certain, unavoidable, and chronic sinus infections. Pollen, a runny nose, or a few sneezes were a sure sign of the oncoming suffering. Left unattended, the sinus infections would affect his hearing, and give him excruciatingly painful headaches and earaches until treated with a 10-day course of antibiotics. For prevention, he took decongestants so often they lost their potency on him. He frequently used a salt-water neti pot (an instrument used to wash the sinus canals) day and night to try to keep his sinus passages free of the smallest obstruction. Dan has been angry, anxious, depressed, and miserable about this for years, and compounded by the feeling of being doomed and trapped because except for a very serious surgery, it seemed like there was never going to be anything he could do to get rid of it.

When we got to Week #7 in my course, Dan spoke to me about his condition.  I could see that he identifies with the topic of suffering. I’m not a doctor, and I didn’t have any medical advice for him, but I did recommend he write about his suffering in detail, and use it as an experiment for clarity. I encouraged him to be specific as possible, to write out everything, including how his first sinus infection happened, every step of the process in learning about his condition, everything he could remember about treating it, everything. Dan came back a day later and showed me his journal: seven pages all about his sinuses. “Feel any better?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “It’s miserable. I hate it. In fact, writing about it has only made me realize how weak and unfortunate I am. Maybe this technique works for emotional conditions, but I’m still suffering, and I don’t think this will ever go away.”

“Keep going,” I replied. “Seven pages is a good start, but you’ve got more than that. When you meet with any anger, frustration, and all those stories about being weak and unlucky, try focusing more on the facts. Blame and shame are a roadblock to clarity. Sometimes anger and frustration are mind-numbing drugs designed to insulate your suffering. It’s good to acknowledge them because they signal this is important to you. But our path to clarity requires we let go of ‘how we think things should be’ and focus on the truth, the way things are. Did you include your first doctor’s visit? When did you learn that it was called acute sinusitis? Write about the first time that antibiotics seemed to be the cure.”

Dan went back to his journal and kept going, amazed to realize that there were still more details he had left out. He came back to me a couple more times to brag about how many pages he had written (now ten, now thirteen!) and complain he still felt no relief. All week long, I sent him back to his journal to re-read, and double- and triple-check that he hadn’t left anything out. He got better and better about writing out the facts, and eventually he created a complete chronology of his condition from as far back as he could remember, to the present day.

By the end of the week, Dan came to me with a giant grin. “I got it, Nathan,” he said, “I got clarity. What an amazing exercise!”

I asked what he meant, and what he learned.

“Two nights ago, I was re-reading the whole thing, from beginning to end, adding in details in the margins. I found I was repeating some parts, and it wasn’t organized well, so I re-wrote it, this time much more factually. I haven’t written about anything else this whole week.

“About halfway through my re-write, something within me shifted. I saw how ridiculous I was being. I literally burst out laughing at myself. I threw down my pen because writing it down just didn’t matter to me anymore. I finally realized: I have acute sinusitis. It’s a known condition, and I have options with how to deal with it. Period. Everything else is just me being upset about it!”

To this day, Dan still has very narrow sinus passages. He is still careful to keep his nasal passages clear during a cold or allergy attack. But one thing is different. He has let go of the suffering. He is clear about his condition, and clear about his choices. And at a deep psychological level, he is clear that complaining offers no relief. This journaling exercise on clarity literally cleared up the trouble with Dan’s sinus condition!

Journaling: A Fresh Tool for Effective Managers

Most new managers today are challenged to find ways to develop their management skills within the companies that promoted them.  Fifty-seven percent of new managers learn to be a leader primarily through trial and error, which can be a hair-pulling, bumpy, wild ride.  The new role often comes with little or no direction, not unlike being thrown into an icy cold lake and expected to deliver a team across to the other side (DDI 2011).  This “sink or swim” method of management training can be hazardous to self-esteem, team morale, and to the company itself.

Would you like a life-raft for support?  One very effective floatation device for new supervisors and managers for honing their management technique is to keep a daily management log or journal. There are dozens of remarkable benefits; I’ve outlined four of the most significant below, based on personal experience as well as feedback from people with whom I’ve worked and coached.

Fifteen years ago, I received my first promotion to a supervisory role at a real estate company.  I attended a two-day management workshop, sponsored by my employer.  I learned some basics in: conflict resolution, communicating motivation and deadlines, handling diversity, employee discipline, the importance of documentation, being tactful yet direct when delivering feedback, and some important labor laws.  I didn’t realize at the time how rare the opportunity, nor how fortunate I was.  My story is unique.  Very few companies (including where I work today) offer such support.  Somehow, the assumption is that a great, hard-working employee will naturally make a terrific manager.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a good management training program you’ll find that journaling will accelerate your learning and help you more quickly apply best practice techniques to challenging situations. If you haven’t had formal training, journaling will lead you to better decisions more quickly, help you overcome job stress, and promote effective planning.

Keeping a daily management log (or journal) does not fully replace a management training program.  But it is easy to use, takes only minutes each day, is literally accessible right at your fingertips, low-cost, and will help you:

  • Experience confidence — sooner,
  • Ensure proper documentation takes place (a very common problem with new managers),
  • Accelerate your ability to make sound decisions, and
  • Prevent yourself from acting too quickly in thorny situations.

Also, a few pages of journaling each day is one of the most powerful ways that new managers can take responsibility for the evolution of their own management style.

Here’s how:

  1. Keeping a log of difficult decisions.  When a manager writes out the thought-process leading to an important decision, there is a greater chance that decision will be based on sound reason.  Having taken the time to evaluate various options and opinions in a private journal before taking action boosts confidence.  Plus, a journal serves as a natural feedback mechanism.  The author can look back and reflect on their own choices.  This alone can advance management growth exponentially.
  2. Writing out plans for improvement will help a manager implement new ideas without overturning the apple cart.  Many employees have an ideal view of how their team or department should run.  When they first receive the responsibility to oversee that team, it can be a difficult transition coming to terms with the reality of implementing their original ideas.  A journal is a great place to work through that dissonance and develop mature strategies that improve the team’s goals not just for the short term, but for the long.  Also, many managers realize after a few months, that there’s more to the job than they first imagined.  Often, describing the challenges they face can help surface fresh ideas.
  3. Recording unusual events or anomalies.  Any Human Resources Department will remind us that documentation is critical before (and especially in prevention of) taking legal action.  There are times a manager should take note of a situation even if there is no action required in the moment.  For example: an employee calls in sick for the fourth consecutive Monday, or a vendor makes a questionable remark.  A journal can be a resourceful and informal log of events, should the manager need to escalate the situation, or provide factual examples in preparation for an employee performance review.
  4. Developing personal awareness.  The best managers are those who are aware of their own biases and opinions, who make effective decisions based on clear thinking.  A journal is precisely the place where most self-discoveries are made.  It is a personal and private playground of thought, where one becomes powerfully acquainted with their own struggles, and takes responsibility for their limitations.

Making journaling a daily habit does not have to take too much time.  Just 20 minutes, at a calm time of the day or evening, can grow a new manager into an experienced manager in a fraction of the time, and is far more effective than simply assuming auto-pilot.  Journaling can also grow an experienced manager into a accomplished manager in the same ways.

Nathan Ohren /
P.O. Box 1246 / Goleta, CA 93116
Follow @Write4LifeCoach on Twitter and “Like” him on Facebook!

Nathan Ohren is Director of Client Services for a worldwide software company in Santa Barbara, CA.  He has been keeping a personal journal for over 27 years, and enjoys coaching people and facilitating groups for creativity and effective life management.  Nathan is the founder of Write4LifeCoach, a resource for “passion, clarity, and purpose through journaling.”