Kristen Smith on The Power of Journaling
Speaker 1: (Singing).
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Today, we're going to talk about journaling, which I find to be, oddly, a very polarizing topic that I didn't actually realize was so polarizing. Today, we have Kristen Smith here to talk about that. I'm Rebecca Fleetwood Hession, host of the Badass Women's Council podcast and I'm super glad that you're here. Welcome.
Kristen Smith: Well, thanks. I'm happy to be here.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Yay.
Kristen Smith: Yeah, yeah. Thank you. Thank you.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Journaling, polarizing, odd, and I can't wait to unpack because you were middle- of- the- fencer about journaling and it was a part of a much bigger year of living intentionally, so tell us a little bit about the year that you created for yourself and why.
Kristen Smith: Sure, sure. Yeah, and I will just agree, Rebecca, journaling, I find it to be true with my friends, they either love it or hate it. And, I'll be honest, I hated it, and I knew it was good for me, but I didn't like it. And I tried multiple times to do it and I just was like, " This isn't for me," right? But, yeah, how I ended up journaling this year was, in the year 2022, I turned 50, and so 2020, 2021 were some challenging years. We all know about the pandemic and things were crazy. For me, with work. I was super busy, which I loved, but I was also tired because I'd been working a lot, and I also had some health stuff going on in 2020 and 2021 and had a couple ear surgeries, so I had that going on. There was just a lot that had gone on those two years. And as I was thinking about, " Gosh, we're going to hit 2022 and I'm turning 50," things look a little different than what I thought my life would look like when I turned 50. And, as I was thinking about it over the holidays, in 2021, I was like, " I'm a little bummed." And I thought, " You know what? I need to change this." I don't want to be bummed. I don't want to turn into this next decade feeling sad because there's so much good in my life, if I'm willing to let myself see it. And so I started thinking, " What could I do to have a more positive focus?" And the first idea that came to me was what if I just started doing yoga, because that would be a positive thing to celebrate turning 50. They always say that, as you get older, you need to make sure you're flexible. Okay, I'll do yoga, right? Well, then, as I started to think about doing yoga, I thought, " I've been trying to be better about letting people into my world and inviting them into my world." As an introvert, I'm not great about that. And so I thought, " Okay, what if I put this on Facebook? That sounds scary," but I knew it would be good for me.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: That's big for you.
Kristen Smith: That's very big for me.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: I put stuff on Facebook every 20 minutes, but, for you, that's huge.
Kristen Smith: Yeah. No, not a lot, not a lot. And so then I thought, " Okay, I could yoga, but then what?" Maybe I want to do some other fun stuff too." And so what ended up happening was, just in my head, it became let's pick something every month that is a positive thing, whatever it is. And, as a recovering perfectionist, I intentionally did not put any parameters on it. Whatever the thing was going to be, I was going to do it and I wasn't going to say I had to do it so many times or whatever, just let it flow, let it come, right? And so, to your point, I chose one month to focus on journaling because I knew I didn't like it, and I also knew that there was value in it. And I thought, " Okay, instead of seeing journaling as the enemy, how about we see it as a helpful tool, right?" And so that's how I stepped into it.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: I love this so much. I'm literally scribbling notes, so quick, of things that I want to dive into. A little context, it's not surprising to me that you took this approach on turning 50 because you are a talent and development professional. You've been in this space for many, many years. You are an expert in your field of talent and development, largely pointed at organizing teams and leaders to organizational success, so it's what you do naturally for everyone else. This was an opportunity for you to say, " Ooh, I could probably use a little of this too."
Kristen Smith: That's right.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: And I think that's an important thing because, as a coach and I also have been in the leadership development space for many, many years, there is sometimes this phenomenon of the cobbler's kids have no shoes, and we're so busy just serving everyone else that we don't turn and allow us to reflect on ourselves. First, let me applaud. The tagline of this podcast is, "Reflection and connection for high-achieving women." That's what you did. You went to reflection and connection to yourself and to others, and so that, in and of itself, I'm a huge fan of. But one thing that I want to highlight that you said is you acknowledged that you wanted to steer away from your tendency of perfection and let it just flow. And the third key of my book, Write Your Own Story: The Three Keys, the third one is rhythm, and the tagline is literally, "Flow, not force." And so I love this beautifully structured, yet still organic way that you framed this out to give yourself that opportunity to just let it flow.
Kristen Smith: Yeah, yeah. That's right. That's right.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Did it feel like you hoped it would?
Kristen Smith: Well, I didn't know what to expect because I knew I had tried journaling before and it's like I couldn't make it work. And so I thought, " Okay, don't think about the past, don't think about what's worked, what hasn't," right? And so, when I started journaling, I got myself a new little journal and I went to-
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: That's the best part.
Kristen Smith: It's the best part, right? I got one that I love the cover and it makes me happy, and I got in the place that I feel safe in my house and comfortable in my house, be able to look outside and see nature and all these things, so I'm in my happy place. And what was funny was I have the month to do this, right, and I've done it since then, but I thought, " Okay, let's just start writing," right? In my new little book, I'm writing, and I'm writing very neatly, and I'm writing some thoughts that had been frustrating for me. Let's use this as a way to process, whatever. And I did it and was like, " Huh, okay, that's nice," and then I thought, " Okay, let's do it again." A couple days later, I thought, " Okay, let's do it again." I had something on my mind that I need to process. Okay, I'll do it. And so I was doing it again and I got done and I realized I'm holding back. I'm not getting real in my own mind with what's going on. What I was putting down was true, but I wasn't really getting to the heart of myself to process what was really going on in my mind and in my heart. And so then I think it was about 10 days in or so, I just had something really frustrating happen and I picked up that journal and picked up that pen and I was mad and I just started writing and I was like, " Oh, okay. This is a very different experience." The handwriting was not neat. I was not looking out the window looking at the happy birds and the pretty trees. I was focused on, " I got to get this out and I've got to process this thing because I don't want to stay in this place and I want to get to the other side of this, free of the angst that I was feeling," right? And it was so funny, Rebecca, after that time where I just got frustrated and real and just started letting it rip, so to speak, after that, it changed because I wasn't worried about is my handwriting neat, does it look pretty on the paper? It was about let's get real and let's focus. I think that was a big hesitancy that I had about journaling. I was afraid of the feelings and I didn't know this, right, until all this started happening in this month. I think I was actually afraid that my feelings were going to be too big and then I wouldn't be able to handle all that came out. And I thought, " Why am I afraid of my own feelings? I don't need to be afraid of my feelings," right? As I started doing this more freely and it flowed, I found that journaling actually helped me focus. This fear that it would be too big and too broad and too much, being open to my own feelings actually allowed me to focus and then be able to process and write and get the value out of journaling that I didn't know was there.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: We underestimate the power of those unexpressed feelings, in a variety of ways, in our lives, right? Whether we've been taught to just be a good girl or don't disrupt or whatever, or we're just, like you said, afraid of what happens if the bigness of it comes out, we underestimate. The feelings are still in our bodies and in our minds, they're still there, disrupting our ability to focus or disrupting our physical bodies or manifesting into... right now, I'm dealing with a clogged tear duct, which, when I look it up in my little mind- body book says there's something in my life I don't want to see. Our bodies and our minds are so connected. And what you experienced was, " Wow, once I got the big angry feelings out and stopped worrying about being perfect and pretty, it cleared the space so I could focus."
Kristen Smith: Exactly.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Amen, sister. I do an experience called Rise and Thrive where I'm with a small group of women for seven months and I give them these beautiful workbooks and journals to start with, and the number of times that someone is afraid to write in them because they're too pretty. And that's a part of it too. It's like I don't want any of my messiness to mess up the beautiful stuff around us. And, if we don't deal with our messiness, it doesn't turn out nearly as well as we think it's going to.
Kristen Smith: Yep, absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Yep.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Yeah. I love the courage that you had in it. And the other thing that you said I think is really important is you went into journaling realizing that, because you had seen it previously as hard or not helpful or whatever, you went into it this time and said, " Okay, I know it's about how I see it," right, because what you believe it to be is what it's going to be. If it was going to be awful and hard, if that was your belief-
Kristen Smith: That's right.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: ... andso you went into it with a different mindset and a different belief, which allowed you to have a different experience.
Kristen Smith: Yes, yes indeed. And I would say with, that, Rebecca, probably, in the last year, I've thought a lot about transformation, and I have been fortunate to experience transformation in my own life at different times. And you talked about my day job is in talent development and helping leaders and teams transform, right, and so often we can think transformation comes from something big, but so often transformation comes from, in my opinion, showing up, doing the work, and letting the work create the transformation over time. And so, when I was thinking about the year of 50 and what are the things I'm going to do, these new things, or focusing on something, like with this, that I had tried before and it just wasn't a positive thing, I realized that I needed to see it as a gift to be able to do it. And, when I chose to see it as something positive, I think, to your point, it created space to become exactly that. Being willing to do the work and being willing to face something that maybe I didn't want to face that, oh, I don't really want to face my feelings, and, if you would've asked me before this year, was I afraid of facing my feelings, I would say, " No, not at all." But it's this growth in yourself when you realize, yeah, I was afraid of some of these bigger emotions, and I don't need to be afraid of them, and there are ways to process them in healthy ways. And no emotion is bad. It's what you do with the emotion that can be bad, right? And so, yeah, I think taking that transformation that I try to help others create and saying what do I need to do in my own heart and in my own life and how can 50 be a launching point into this next decade so that, when I get to, oh, my goodness, the decade that follows 50, can I say that I've transformed in some way, shape, or form, and I hope the answer will be yes.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: And, Again, the transformation over time is that flow, not force. And sometimes, especially with journaling, you said it wasn't like me staring out with the landscape and the birds. We want it to be this peaceful existence is what we are seeking. I just gave this a metaphor to a client this morning who was struggling a bit with this idea of the ugliness of transformation and self- awareness and getting into your own thoughts, and I said, "When I think of flow, not force, I think of a stream or a river, something that is flowing, but sometimes it's still and beautiful and calm with a little leaf flowing through it, and sometimes it's been a hard rain and it's raging and it's cutting the ground further out because it's raging so hard." And we have to rage sometimes in our flow as well and-
Kristen Smith: That's right.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: ...allow that space for all the emotions to be okay. As women, there's so many thoughts and things that have been written about what's expected of us from an emotional perspective. And I'm a huge fan, if you need to anger and rage and get it out, do it, but I've had to give myself that permission because nobody knocks on my door and says, "Hey, you want to be pissed today?"
Kristen Smith: Right. Right. It's so true, so true.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: And so we got to go inside. And, honestly, to some people, this is going to sound crazy, but it's my podcast so I can say whatever I want, this blockage in my eye right now, I think is because I also have some emotions and some anger and some maybe even roots of bitterness that I need to dig out, because I never want roots of bitterness to take over in my life. But I think this sign of what I'm feeling about my eye, something I don't want to see, I think I have some emotions in there, and I plan to spend the weekend allowing... if I need to go on one of my rage runs, which is one of the ways that I do it, where I just go to a place out somewhere and I scream out and cry and rage all of the things that I'm... people that I'm angry with, things that I'm angry about, and I just spit and cry and nose running and just let it out. We need that in our lives.
Kristen Smith: Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Rebecca. And I think you're right. I think we're taught, society, family, whatever, that certain emotions are good and certain ones are bad, and I wish I could change that for people. I wish they could understand the emotion isn't what's bad. The emotion is acknowledging what's happening for yourself. And what I found was, until I was able to, in this journaling process, be able to really look at and acknowledge and say, " This is what I feel right now," and not judge myself, because of these things that I've been told over my life of, however it comes, right, that, well, these are the good emotions, these are the bad. There's a freedom in being able to say, " This is what I feel right now." Me, right, I can work through that emotion. I don't have to stay stuck. But it's almost like, until you can acknowledge it to yourself that this is where you are and what you're feeling, you can't really do anything with it and it stays stuck in you-
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Stuck.
Kristen Smith: .. andit has a way of flowing out into everything else and you don't even know it, right?
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Physically manifesting in ways in your body. I believe in the studies that show it actually causes illness and inflammation and disease, and unprocessed emotions are not good for your body. There's a wildly popular book called The Body Keeps the Score, I can't remember the author off the top of my head, but it's that concept. And one of my business partners, Eliza Kingsford, who's on the show often, she talks about there's the state of things, what is, and then there's the story we attach to the state of things, and you've just articulated that all emotions are a part of the human experience. We are personal, emotional, and social. We're supposed to have all those range of emotions, but the story we attach to various emotions, like I shouldn't be upset, or the story we've attached to what we've said are negative or what we've said are positive, that's the story we've told ourselves. And so what you did for yourself is say, " The state is I'm turning 50. I would like for this to be a year of intentional transformation so I can guide this thing, with flow, not force," but the story you attached to it was a beautiful permission to myself granted and the freedom to explore some of these various things, and I think that's a beautiful way to look at transformation, versus either waiting for it to come from the outside, I'm going to wait for somebody to promote me or tell me who I am, if I'm good or bad or what, or to just wait for some event, happenstance, and then look back and say, " Ooh." That was my pneumonia experience that I wrote about in the book, because I had two months of pneumonia that became my transformation, but I didn't call God and say, " Hey, I'd like to have some pneumonia for two months because I'm going to need me some transformation." Your approach, I think, is far greater and beautiful to say, " I'm ready for some transformation. I'm feeling uncomfortable, in some way, with my life and so I'm going to give that discomfort, whatever that felt like, a means and an avenue to play out."
Kristen Smith: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure. And I think, for anybody that might be listening to this, if you're a recovering perfectionist, like I like to call myself, there really is a joy that I am finding this year in not knowing the outcome. And, when you're in a day job where you have to know outcomes, you have to measure results, you have to do all the things, it's incredibly liberating to not know the outcome and to let yourself step into a space of exploration, right, and then see where it goes. And you were talking about that flow of the river or the water or whatever, I feel like I'm literally on this river of turning 50 and I'm hanging out in my canoe or whatever and I'm just seeing where it's going this year. And there have just been some really interesting, fun experiences, but there have also been some quiet ahas that I'm coming to really appreciate. Here we are, almost done with the year, and I'm going to be sad when the year of 50 is over because all these fun things of, " I'm going to take this month," or whatever, I'll be sad to see that formal process end. But it truly has been a gift and one that I'm glad I got outside my comfort zone to not only do it, but to have the courage to share it with people on Facebook. Every month, I share it and I'm like-
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: You do.
Kristen Smith: ... "What am I going to share with people this month?" And it's so funny, every month, I literally don't know until the day before or the day of whatever the thing is going to be. And that, again, as a recovering perfectionist, has been a lot of what's fun about it is that I just let it come, and whatever's meant to be that thing is going to be great because I'm deciding before I even step into it that it's going to be.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Yeah, yeah, that it's going to be great whether it shows up as anger and frustration or joy and peace, right?
Kristen Smith: That's right. That's right.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: All of those are allowed. And I love that you're sharing it, one, because it puts you out of your comfort zone a little bit, but also our stories matter. And, when we stand tall in our story, we give others the courage and the inspiration to do it too. I'm fully confident that there are many people, whether they've commented on your Facebook posts or not, that are being inspired and being more contemplative about their own lives because you've been courageous enough to share it about yours.
Kristen Smith: Yeah, I hope that's true, I really do. And I think some of that, Rebecca, comes from my day job because I always try to model the way. If I'm asking other people to do it, I need to be willing to do it. But, truly, I think there's something to be said for having the courage to step out, but to do it, how do I say it, in front of people so they see the risk you're taking, they see the choice you're making, and you just never know the impact that has, right? Now I have had some people reach out to me and send me a little note and say something and that's great to hear. That's not why I'm doing it, but it's great to hear. But, yeah, you're right. We just don't know how, when we choose to step out ourselves, what that can do for those around us.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: It's the exact format that I designed the Rise and Thrive experience to end the seven months on International Women's Day at a huge event where these seven women take the stage in a seven- minute TED- like talk to share their story. And it's their human story, and some of them are angry and some of them are joyful or tearful, and it's exactly for that reason is, every single year, we're going into our fourth year, March 8th is our big event, every year, people come up to those women afterwards, or message them on social media afterwards, and say, " You have no idea how much I needed to hear that." And it could be a story, something what they thought was entirely random, but the message of it, because it's a human story that you were courageous enough to share, touched somebody in some way. And I think commerce, work, has the ability to do that if we let it. And so these conversations, I think, are important that go out to these career women that are listening to say that your work and your life are not separate things at all. We are one person in a lived experience, and sometimes we go to work and sometimes we're at home, but how we process our emotions and our stories matter.
Kristen Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Well, I have to ask this question because one of the things that always comes up, I'm very organic in my way, I move through life, but not everybody is, so there are people listening right now that are literally, with their notebook, going, " When is she going to tell us how to do it?" And so you did say, " First, I got this pretty journal and it spoke to me," and what I heard you say is, one, just start. Anything worth doing is worth starting poorly, right, so just start. And what else would you say as a how- to for people that are like, " Okay, Kristen, I'll give this journaling thing a go," what else would you tell them as tips?
Kristen Smith: Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is be kind to yourself, be kind to yourself, because you're stepping into a space where you're really going to, hopefully, be very transparent with yourself, and it may not feel good the whole time, right? It certainly has not to me, and, even now, there's still challenges with doing it, right? But I think be kind to yourself. I would also say, as best you can, try to focus on one thing. Don't try to write about 10 things. What's the thing that maybe you need to process through that you feel like you can that day? And what I found is, as I got more comfortable doing it, I was able to go deeper with some things that maybe I wasn't ready to journal about in the beginning, right? I think that's what I would say. And then, as you can, have the courage to look back on what you write-
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Agreed.
Kristen Smith: ...because, hopefully, you'll see the growth in yourself, right?
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Yeah, and some patterns that emerge and just more awareness. Absolutely. Absolutely. That's really good. That's really good.
Kristen Smith: Yeah. Yeah. Those would be my tips, and get a really cool notebook because, I'm telling you, it helps.
Rebecca Fleetwood Hession: Thank you for being here. I love just the spirit of the way that you move through the world and your life, and it's been fun. I've enjoyed our little chat and I know that people are going to get things out of this episode.
Kristen Smith: Oh, well, thanks, Rebecca. I really appreciate the opportunity and I'm happy to share.
Speaker 1: (Singing).
Rebecca sits down with Kristen Smith to talk about all the ways journaling can benefit your physical, emotional, and mental life, and the ways that it can be difficult to dive into the practice of journaling. The two discuss the "ugliness" of transformation, manifestation of unprocessed emotions, as well as the reasons why our stories and sharing them matters.