Feeling Stuck in a Rut? Journaling [and Music] to the Rescue.

Depending on who you ask: journaling has been a trend for centuries, and serves a multitude of benefits:

  • In fifteenth-century Italy: diaries were used for accounting

  • Nearly 2,000 years ago, Ma Dubo (马笃伯) recorded his ventures as he trekked from the capital city of Luoyang to the legendary mountain, Mount Tai in China

  • The New York Times, however, suggests that "the first diaries of a consistently introspective nature were written by ladies of the royal Japanese court in the 10th century"

Regardless of the roots of journaling, however: one thing is clear among most popular thought - the mere act of writing down your thoughts helps you to prioritize your problems, emotions, and fears.

But I want to take things one step further: journaling can not only help us to analyze, and break down our innermost thoughts, but gives us a beautifully powerful opportunity to refocus our attention on turning the overwhelm, stress and anxiety into something empowering and positive - if we know how to do so.

Especially when we're feeling stuck in a rut. Let's break it down.

Stuck in a Rut

I think we have an obsession - particularly in Western culture - with tying our sense of self worth to what we do. Therefore: the minute we stop doing, and just sit and be: we instinctively start to freak out, and feelings of unworthiness start to knock.

So we justify our existence by do... do... doing. Constantly working long hours, creating new content 5 billion times a week, and mentally screaming out "I'm worthy" while trying to suppress the feelings of stress or overwhelm.

But then: we hit a wall, and are suddenly forced to simply "be" again. This might look like getting sick, and forced bed rest. This might look like complete and utter lack of motivation. This might look like a global pandemic forcing everyone and their dog to just... stay... home.

Whatever that rut looks like for you: it's easy to get stuck in the mentality of "how the heck am I going to get out of this hole?", or "I'm never going to get over this", or even "I feel like I'm going backwards".

But what if we could interrupt that disempowering thought process with just one question?

What if that stuck-in-a-rut feeling is actually the universe's/sources/God's way of not just giving you, your mind and spirit time to breathe, but - like a slingshot - just enough pressure to actually propel your forward in ways you could never have imagined?

Let me explain.

It's easy to think of the difficulties in life as indications that the world is conspiring against you. It's even easier to translate these thoughts into thinking that you're simply not worth having good things happen.

But, of course, that's simply not true.

There's a popular saying that goes along the lines of "when one door closes another one opens", or "the wind of one door closing often leads to an open window". The way I like to look at this is as an indication that the door that's closing is simply closing because you weren't meant to go in that direction... the second door that's opening is trying to guide you towards a path that's healthier, more aligned or more fitting for you.

The trouble is: we spend so much time looking at the closed door that we often completely miss the new opportunity. So we sit... and we wait... and we become overcome with feelings of dread, worthlessness and frustration.

But here's the trick: we can actually turn that discomfort into fuel. Like a slingshot: we can use that perceived stillness, or "falling behind" and "moving backwards" feeling into something beautiful. Something powerful. Something that actually propels us forward.

But how? Well, I'm glad you asked, friend. Because it really can start with something as simple as journaling - if you know how to use journaling effectively.

Let's dig deeper, shall we?

The Power of Habit

The trick to recognizing the newly opened doors when you're feeling frustration, and to finding new ways to get out of your mental or emotional rut is to first start recognizing the habits we've started to form, and figure out ways to interrupt that pattern.

Let me explain:

Historically, I've found myself forming habits around certain triggers such as being told to relax, or even my relationship with exercise. I associated the word "relax" with being gaslit, and the act of exercise as punishment for "not being pretty enough". Therefore: I started to feel stuck. Stuck in the loop of feeling angry towards whoever it was that felt emboldened enough to have the audacity to tell me to relax... or guilty about not being thin enough [because thin is beautiful, right? sarcasm].

In order to break these habits, I needed to form new ones - not just physically, but mentally. I needed to interrupt my thought processes so that I could go back and create new, more empowering thoughts, ideas and concepts that didn't just slingshot me out of my internal rut, but move me towards the direction of healing, mental health, and emotional wellness.

It begins with - you guessed it - journaling: but with a twist.

Instead of simply journaling about my personal struggles and overwhelm, it was important that I move in the direction of my emotional slingshot, and turn those previously disempowering thoughts into effective and positive steps forward.

Which is why I'm very particular about what kind of journaling daily prompts for self discovery I want to use.

Here's a list of typical journaling prompts that might find on Google:

Of course, there's nothing at all wrong with these, but what if we altered these a little bit?

By making a slight shift in how we use journaling prompts: we can stop focusing on the closed door ["what needs to change?" "did you stop yourself from doing something you enjoy?"], and redirect our focus on the newly opened window ["write a love letter to the feeling of fulfillment", or "look at how your fears serve you"].

It doesn't take much to tweak our approach to journaling, but by adjusting our focus just a little bit: we can move our focus from one of regret or frustration to one of looking forward to what you can do better next time, or how you can make the most of the next day or decision process.

Of course, it doesn't just stop there. Well, not for me, anyway. I have scores and scores of journals that I wrote as an adolescent and teenager, but - as we all know - quite often journal writing can easily turn into a downward spiral of a self fulfilled prophecy of negativity, hurt feelings, stress and frustration. Not helpful.

But even worse: I wasn't able to reflect on each journal entry effectively..... until I turned each journal post into a song. By looking at each entry as a beginning brainstorm or "word vomit", and recognize that there was a song lurking somewhere in there: I was suddenly able to identify - with clarity - how I could begin to cognitively reframe my "stuck in a rut" feelings, and turn them into a path forward. Through music.

This is what I did with my song "Dear Me" that I recorded and released with my old band Static Era back in New Zealand

I took my previously stuck-in-a-rut with depression feelings, and turned them into a letter to myself from my future 80-year-old self, and sang hope, love and positivity into my present-day self.

I'm not going to lie: it worked miraculously back then [in 2015], and continues to speak resilience and truth into my soul whenever I hear it.

That's also what I did with my song "Be Brave" - it's a letter to myself to remember that it's okay to cry, feel insecure, and even fail from time to time... strength doesn't come from never experiencing adversity. Quite the opposite... strength only comes from falling down, and finding the courage to get back up again.

In other words: Be Brave turned into my journal entry on feeling unprepared, scared and overwhelmed... yet serves as an evergreen reminder that I am more than strong enough to encounter and overcome any obstacle.

So, to that end: I've listed 10 journal writing prompts turned songwriting prompts for self discovery that I would love to encourage you to explore over the next days, weeks or months.

They could be as broad as overall themes:

  • A letter to your younger self - the lessons you would impart on your 5 or 10 year younger self

  • A love letter to your anxiety

  • An apology from your anger [as if they were a person] to your frustration or fear [as if they, too, were a person]

  • A prayer for your parents or caregivers

  • A song about the silver lining of something that went "wrong"

Or as specific as "make sure you include this line as one of your lyrics":

  • "I'm overdosing on information"

  • "I don't have all the answers, but I'm asking the right questions"

  • "On the other side of my [insert emotion word here]"

  • "Life can make you feel bitter or better"

  • "I'm not angry - I'm just setting my boundaries"

Whatever direction these prompts lead you in: trust the process. Trust your inner knowing, and let it take you on the ride, but recognize that you can redirect those thoughts at any point you want.

This last piece is the important part: feed your Inner Child. Author Ursula K. Le Guin said it perfectly:

"The creative adult is the child who survived after the world tried killing them, making them “grown up.” The creative adult is the child who survived the blandness of schooling, the unhelpful words of bad teachers, and the nay-saying ways of the world. The creative adult is in essence simply that, a child".

But you don't need to feed into that narrative! Journaling is a beautiful way to stay engaged with your inner child, as it engages multiple parts of your creative brain: your memory, your imagination, and the freedom to let your mind wander. Even better, however, when you are able to turn that mind-wandering, imaginative journaling into lyrics, and add melody? Not only are you able to empower that inner child to bring you out of that rut, but because music stimulates your memory even further, and can help you to - literally - rewire the brain from negative to positive... there are so many benefits to not just looking at and utilizing journaling prompts, but turning those same prompts into songwriting prompts so that - whenever you're feeling low, disengaged or uninspired: you can continue to come back to your songs.

Your life lessons.

Your gratitude.

Your roadmap out of the negativity.

Of course, I'd love to help.

If you are looking for new and creative ways to reengage with your inner child, to rewrite the narrative of your life's current trajectory, or simply find a way out of the rut you seem to be stuck in right now, I'm just a phone call away.

Click here to schedule a time to chat, and let's get you on the right path out of your mental fog, mind-blocks and any ruts you're currently stuck inside. You don't need to stay there - there's a way out, sometimes we just need a little help to find the right exit strategy.

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