If I send you to the cinema to watch a film of your choice, you will undoubtedly enjoy yourself and be entertained. If I send you again, and this time I ask you to write a half-page summary of the film when it’s over, you will still be entertained, but you are likely to pay more attention as you watch events unfold on the big screen. You will be more engaged with the material, more observant, perhaps even making mental notes of details you wish to record.
Now, what if I send you and ask you to write a half-page summary of what the film meant for you: How did you connect with the story or the characters? How did it relate to your life? What can you learn about yourself from your observations? And how might you apply that learning? All of a sudden the whole event takes on a richness which goes beyond mere entertainment. You are more immersed in the experience, and there is a feedback loop between you and the film which, when you pay attention to it, may reveal aspects of yourself which often escape your attention.
Of course, it’s possible we don’t want to see or acknowledge some of those aspects – which is one reason why people are reluctant to look too closely at themselves – but those traits and habits are there nonetheless. Furthermore, they are visible to others, no matter how hard we try to ignore or suppress them. So why not examine them on our own terms, before life compels us to do so? Especially as seeing is often enough for change to occur.
There’s another reason why people tend to refrain from this work: the effort involved. As we saw with the first cinema option, normally all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself. Passive engagement, without any real exertion. The second option, however, is more active; and the third demands even more involvement from you. Initially, such close observation can seem like too much effort. It can be quite tiring. It feels unnatural because you are too busy with yourself to enjoy whatever is happening. Fortunately, that fades as you become less self-conscious and more tuned in and connected. Soon, the rewards far outweigh the effort as life repeatedly draws you in, piquing your curiosity about yourself and the world, promising to give up its treasures in return.
Within days of beginning a daily journal (and it need only be 5-10 minutes each day) you naturally become more observant and more curious. There are times when you look forward to writing because you have something to explore and you know the benefits it brings. As the weeks and months go by you find it easier to engage fully with life and simultaneously see the learning in each experience. And if you don’t see the learning straight away, you go looking for it because you know it’s there. Over time you become more focused, more mindful, and more effective. Most importantly, perhaps, you become more aware.