Something to consider when you need to understand an issue or make a difficult decision is the idea of having a conversation with yourself in journal form. What do I need to know about this issue, and what do I with the questions I have? What is good about the decision I need to make, and what is bad about it? Talking from two positions is an alternative to making lists of pros and cons, and it brings the decision process to life—you play one role, and you let the other side have its own voice. I like to do this exercise with the other role being a good friend or my wise advisor (the part of me I would like to have active more of the time).
We all have a wiser Self somewhere inside us, but sometimes we don’t hear it very clearly. But if we stop to listen, we can find ideas and answers that are deeper and wiser than what we usually think. Part of the trick to hearing our own wisdom is to slow down: stop what you are doing and take the time to have a conversation with yourself. Write down what you think, and then stop to imagine what a good advisor would tell you. Label the two voices, yourself and the wise advisor, and give yourself a good amount of time to do this exercise. Writing everything down lets you see where you are stuck and gives you the chance to work out your problems.
Your journal entry might look something like this:
Me: “I am stuck and confused about my role at work and what I should do about it. Sometimes I am given a lot of responsibility, and I am expected to do a lot of work that needs doing right away. But then other times I am given boring assignments that don’t mean very much. I want to use my skills, but this company doesn’t have the kind of steady business that it needs to keep someone like me on staff. I hate the idea of looking for another position, but my career is at a standstill. I need to do something productive, or I am wasting my time and my skills.
Wise friend: “You have pride in your work, and you want to be busy. You want to do something meaningful, but your company is not successful enough for you to want to stay. I think you already have your answer, but you don’t want to face the uncertainty of starting over again someplace else. What holds you back?
Me: “I know I need to move on, but I have gotten to know the people I work with, and I dread having to fit in again somewhere else. I hate being the new kid on the block and having to prove myself again. It took me a long time to fit in here. I’m not the easiest person to get along with.”
Wise friend: “That makes sense. You don’t want to start over again, and the problem is not a professional problem. It’s about relationships and social skills. That’s not your strongest suit. Are you willing to work on it?
Me: “Well, what would I have to do? I guess I really do have to make the move and that means I’ve got to look at how I am with people. I’m better at work than I am with people. I know I’m not a very good listener…”
Wise friend: “You’re not much of a talker, either. You don’t give people much to go on.
Me: “O.K., I need to improve my social skills. I guess I need to pay more attention to people and give them a chance to get to know me. I could work on my temper, too. I don’t need to lash out at people when I get mad.”
Wise friend: “That’s a start. I think we need to talk more about this sometime soon. In the meantime, you could practice while you’re at work at the job you have now. O.K.?
Me: “If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it.”
What we see in this example is that there’s more going on than meets the eye. Often the wise voice we call upon brings up things we do not expect. The problem in this case was not looking for a job; it was worrying about fitting in with a new group of people. Once you know the real problem, it is easier to work on finding solutions. The solutions in this example came up right away, but the most important part was the final commitment to do the work that was required to fix the problem. When you make a commitment in your journal, you make it clear to yourself what you have to do. Then there is a place to start.
A little humor helps, too. You can make the conversation fun and still learn what you need to know. The wise voice may tease you a bit, but it tells the truth, and it is really worth listening to. Until you take the time to write down what the different parts of you know, you may not see things that should be obvious. This kind of dialogue brings out what is hidden, and it makes you look at sides of a problem you might not consider on your own. It is a very useful addition to your journaling toolbox, and I encourage you to try it. It’s a good way to dig deeper into your motivations or your resistance to doing things you know you should do.