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10 Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading My Past Journals

10 Important Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading My Past Journals

I was sixteen or seventeen years old, drinking coffee in my habitual diner. I scrawled into my journal, as the waitress came by to refill my cup of diner-strength (read weak) coffee. She asked if I was keeping a diary. When I told her yes, she smiled and said, “That’s so important. Keep it up.” I started being more diligent about it after that, and I’m so glad I did.

Getting things out onto paper helped me stop obsessing over them, or just helped me vent in a safe way.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the breadcrumbs to my psyche I laid out for myself. Sifting through my past, I’ve found enduring truths about who I am and how I can improve my interaction with life now.

Here are 10 important life lessons I’ve learned from reading my past journals.

1. Things always seem way worse in the moment

As I go back over the situations I struggled through, I remember feeling really crumby, desolate even, over things that don’t seem like a big deal now. As time has marched on and I’ve come further along my way, things that used to seem huge fade into the inconsequential past.

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All that emotional pain and agony has become something I can barely recall; sometimes it even makes me smile to think of how worked up I was over silly things.

2. Not all relationships are meant to last forever

The people who have come into my life formed who I am in various ways. Wrapped up in my current day-to-day, I sort of forget that there are people out there, whom I don’t talk to anymore, who really know me. I feel autonomous and self-contained a lot of the time, but I’m not. I have affected people and people have affected me deeply.

In some ways it’s saddening to realize that you’ve connected with others on such a level, and you may never see them again. But the truth is, it’s okay. Some relationships serve a purpose during a season and then when that season passes, it’s normal and healthy to move on. They are what they are and when they’re not anymore, it’s really okay. You don’t have to stay connected to everyone.

3. It’s easy to demonize people when you’re hurt

Reading over past scenarios, I can see through my own hurt feelings and spot potential misunderstandings. In the moment I was blinded by what I wanted, what I was afraid of, or I simply had a myopic perspective based on my own mental maturity at the time.

Looking back, I can completely understand other’s motivations for things which seemed nothing but hurtful at the time. It makes sense. They weren’t trying to hurt me, they weren’t just huge jerks for the sake of it. There were circumstances I couldn’t grapple with; that’s all.

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4. It’s easy to idealize people when you’re infatuated

Conversely, there were people in my life whom I had on a pedestal and repeatedly tried to make relationships work with, when it really made no sense. Caught up in infatuation, or wanting to fit in with a particular group, I would excuse and dismiss obvious signs that showed incompatibility or pure disinterest.

I would try to force friendships or romances where there simply wasn’t a natural draw. From there I would beat myself up over never feeling accepted by these people, when I should have just accepted that they weren’t all I imagined them to be or at least not in how they related to me.

5. It’s important to write the good things down

As cathartic as journaling can be, one of the best experiences I have reading over old entries is when I come across something funny or just a nice day or happy time in my life. Sometimes I have completely forgotten about some really beautiful holiday I had with family, or a hilarious phrase one of my nephews said, and I get to recall it through my diary.

I wish I had written the good stuff down more than the bad stuff I was dealing with. I’m doing this more now.

6. Your biggest looming challenges will be accomplishments one day

It’s so encouraging to read about things I was so nervous about that I couldn’t sleep, which are now in the books. Things like going to college, getting to travel or moving to a completely foreign city were all intimidating things I wanted to accomplish so badly; now I’ve done them.

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I still have a ton more learning to do, literally thousands more destinations to visit and don’t see myself settling for just the one foreign city, but my new goals seem so much more achievable when I reflect on the fact that I’ve already conquered so many.

7. Mental maturity develops gradually

As insightful as I thought I was at the time, every single time I go over my old journal entries, the me who wrote my thoughts and opinions about things, seems like a younger and younger child. There’s nothing wrong with the way I was thinking back then, it was just where I was or as far as my mind had expanded at that stage in my life.

This is encouraging because any time I feel overwhelmed, I remember that there was a time when I would’t have been able to deal with things that are old hat to me now.

8. The path to your true passion can be full of detours (and that’s okay!)

There was a time when I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, I think a doctor was in there somewhere too. One consistency was my desire to explore. I was always curious and wanted to to see and experience more; to never feel like I had limited myself. In the long run, I’ve found that what I really am is a writer, but it wasn’t always clear from the beginning (even though my incessant journaling and writing stories might have tipped me off).

I studied film in college and then toured for a while playing in a band with my best friends. Through all of these ventures I was finding what fit. Everything I engaged along my path lead me closer to where I am now, to knowing more exactly what it is I’m shooting for.

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9. Finding patterns in your behavior over the years can help you check your behavior now

Like any habit, it can be difficult to recognize in the heat of the moment. The principle of writing things down and analyzing them to find patterns is recommended for people who are trying to pay attention to what they eat. It’s easy to convince yourself that you eat “pretty healthy” but when you actually write everything down and then review it, you might be surprised with the amount of not-so-healthy things slipping into your menu.

The same thing applies to other behaviors, like relational interactions. Everything seems justified in the moment, and in retrospect you can always fudge details in your favor. But when I’ve written it down and then read over it again later, I can see recurring ways I didn’t deal with things as well as I could have, or said things I didn’t need to say. It’s eye opening, and helps me check myself when I’m in a current conundrum.

10. You have to do it yourself

I’ve found that a lot of the time I was waiting for something: waiting to be picked, discovered, revealed. Not necessarily by any person in particular, but almost by life itself. I waited for things to unfold instead of diving in and figuring it out myself.

No one is going to tell you what it is you really want in life and exactly how to get there. How could they? It’s hard enough for a lot of us to nail it down with certainty for ourselves. Stop waiting. If something interests you, dig in and find out all you can. Through this refining and exploring, you’ll become more focused and life will open up in a way you couldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Featured photo credit: Close-up of a young girl writing into her diary, in the park via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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