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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
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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 July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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