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The Power of Journaling (Chapter 3)

Keeping a journal will absolutely change your life in ways you’ve never imagined.

– Oprah Winfrey

People use journals for many reasons. They use them to: get to know themselves better, work toward life goals, create a safe place in times of crises, have fun, enhance creativity, preserve history, access the subconscious mind, observe the synchronicities of life, heal the past, get in touch with nature, find spirituality and live fully and deeply within the context of their lives.(1) These are just to name a few. Because they are created by those who keep them, their diversity has infinite potential.

In light of the above, journaling poses challenges to the rigid confines of science. Nonetheless, there has been substantial work that shows that journaling is beneficial and even therapeutic. Studies have found that:

Journal writing improved overall well-being including mood and general sociability.(2)

Daily writing (even just twenty minutes per day) can create a more positive outlook, increase health and improve memory.(2)

College students who wrote about traumatic events in a journal went to the health clinic half as much as those who either didn’t keep a journal or only wrote about superficial topics. This trend continued to show itself up to four months afterward.(3)

In the world of online journaling, a recent Taiwanese study sampled nearly 700 bloggers and found that those who shared their “experiences, thoughts, and moods through self-disclosure” had greater feelings of well-being. The study concluded that “as the journal blog becomes merged into the user’s daily life, it can bring forth many positive benefits through extension of substantial relations, building relations with others, and emotional expression.”(4)

Writing (and the written journal) is in no danger of disappearing. However, the video journal offers the infinite opportunity presented above along with a brand-new tool. It”s not a question of “instead of” but rather “yes, and now let’s see what we can do with this.”

With the video journal, rather than writing about life events, feelings are expressed to an impartial listener – the camera. There is sound and image. We meet our reflected selves in a space of color and motion. Keeping feelings locked up has been shown to have a range of harmful effects. Expression through speech changes perspective and heals.(5) Further, speaking problems aloud is as beneficial as writing them down.(6)

There is also the opportunity to review our recordings later, and re-experience these moments frozen in time, perhaps from a different perspective. Recent studies have demonstrated that people who were able to review videos of themselves managed to break through negative self-perceptions and reduce their anxieties. For example:

The University of Manchester had socially anxious teenagers deliver speeches to a video camera. Some had the opportunity to review their performances on tape afterward; others did not. Those given the opportunity to use video feedback found that their negative self-images were inaccurate. In other words – they didn’t suck as badly as they thought!(7)

Teenagers who used video feedback had significant positive changes including reduced anxiety, higher confidence, and more accurate self-perception. Significantly, these improvements remained even when video feedback was no longer provided during subsequent speeches.

Supporting the above findings, a study with adults at the University of North Carolina found that video feedback was superior to using “imagining” to correct distorted self-image.(8)

In other words, even though we can envision doing something, it is much more powerful to see ourselves. This doesn’t only apply to anxiety-provoking activities such as public speaking. We often hold inaccurate ideas about ourselves, sometimes without being fully aware of them. Video offers the chance to review and revise these faulty self-perceptions.

Creating a video journal reclaims video (and media in general) as an expression of our inner lives. However, video journaling is often colored by people’s views of the media, especially television. One critical difference between keeping a written versus video journal is that video involves our physical bodies. In our appearance-obsessed culture some people assume that video journaling isn’t much different from sitting in front of a mirror and chatting with one”s image. Ignore those people. It”s the personal engagement in the process that”s important.

– The Myth of Narcissus –

According to one version of the timeless legend of Narcissus, the nymph Echo falls in love with an obnoxious kid named Narcissus who is a complete stud and knows it. If he lived now, he would probably land a modeling gig and be plastered across Times Square billboards. When Narcissus reaches puberty, every boy and girl in his village falls in love with him, but he wants nothing to do with them. Not a single one, out of the entire village. Talk about tough to please!

One morning, Narcissus is alone in the forest hunting deer. Unknown to him, Echo has snuck behind him the entire time. She darts unseen from tree to tree as she struggles to gather the courage to speak. Eventually, Narcissus hears a branch break and shouts out,”Who’s there?” Too shy to answer, Echo shouts back, “Who’s there?” in response, and this echoing goes back and forth several times until Echo finally shows herself.

Echo walks up to Narcissus and timidly reaches out and holds his hand. She is about to profess her love for him, but he yanks his hand away. He tells her to get lost and tosses in some other cruel things to make it stick. Echo is heartbroken.

One day, the God Nemesis hears poor Echo’s cries and decides to punish Narcissus. During his next hunt, Narcissus finds a crystal clear pool of water in the forest and stops to drink. As he leans over the water, he sees his reflection for the first time. (If they had known about mirrors this would be a much shorter story.) He immediately falls deeply in love with the beautiful boy he sees, not realizing that it is himself.

Eventually he recognizes that the image in the pool is his own. Seeing that he will never be able to act on the love he feels, he kills himself. Narcissus’s soul is banished to the underworld and Echo plants a flower, thereafter named a narcissus, in the spot where he dies. According to the story, Narcissus still gazes at his image in the murky underworld waters of the river Styx.

Though some believe that those who video themselves must be falling prey to the same deadly trap as poor Narcissus, it’s interesting that people don’t tend to have the same reaction to the written journal. There”s an implicit understanding that goes along with keeping a written journal that seems absent from video. But there’s no reason for this to be the case.

Narcissus looked to his appearance for something that it couldn’t give him: a relationship with another person. He didn’t have love in his life because he lived a lonely existence and rejected anyone who tried to get close. Keeping a video journal or blog is a way of understanding ourselves so that we can more easily connect with others. This is the opposite of narcissism.

Being unable to encounter your video self isn’t humility – it suggests healing is needed on some level. And on the other side, there is nothing narcissistic about being comfortable with the way you look and on friendly terms with your own image.

In the end, as with many activities, it”s all about intent. Using video to reach a clearer self-understanding, record for the future, or express oneself is not narcissistic. As you”ll find later, many video bloggers gain a better understanding of both others and themselves when they courageously reveal their vulnerability to the world. The video image encourages intimacy and connection.(9)

On the other hand, if you notice a touch of narcissism in you, why not take a look at that as well. Whatever is ignored tends to grow stronger. The more comfortable you are in your own being, the more harmonious your relationship will be with the world.

In the next chapter you”ll learn a few of the many other benefits to “being” on-camera.

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