create your future with journalling

Creating your future with a journal is a bizarre idea, but the art of creative visualisation is a mysterious beast. A lot of the problem with doing something long-term, like reaching FI, is that it is made up of an awful lot of small steps, and it’s easy to lose the way. Many years ago DxGF[ref]Dear Ex Girlfriend – the glossary system I used died in a software update a couple of weeks ago :([/ref] bought me a copy of The Artist’s Way at Work. Bless her – she had only known me when I was a good worker bee and hadn’t reached the Turning Inward which meant that I was so done with work as a concept, but that’s a different story. TAWAW is partly about recovering the spiritual and internal drive in connection with creative expression, this is the function that in many people expresses in work giving them meaning in life. This drive was reorientating in me to different parts of life, and as a result TAWAW was flogging a dead horse and merely began to piss me off. However, it has helped many people and has a big following, though I guess not so many of them are engineers.

TAWAW is all about getting back your mojo at work and being more successful and creative. It may well work if you are self-employed and in charge. I was going to toss this book out a couple of years ago but fished it back out – I had a feeling that it still has a song to sing to me[ref]There’s a version for new retirees, although it’s kinda wrongfooted from the off for me with This book attempts to address many taboo subjects for the newly retired: boredom, giddiness, a sense of being untethered, irritability, excitement, and depression, to name just a few but you never know – perhaps it has an answer for some folks asking themselves the question So what do you do all day[/ref], but it wasn’t right for that time. One of the big things in that was about “morning pages” – go get a piece of paper in the morning, before you turn your damn computer on and before you look at your phone and write down what you think, what you want of this day, year, life – whatever comes to mind.

It’s good stuff, and sort of worked for me for a while, at least I saw odd little wrinkles that I wasn’t consciously aware of, in those parts of the scribble that I could read. They were adamant you do this longhand. I am still capable of using a computer without automatically firing up the Web at the same time so I did switch to using a journal program I had used on and off as a work tracking notebook, Rooksoft’s Blog [ref]Don’t use that now, it doesn’t work right with anything post WinXP[/ref]. That way I get to actually read what I have written. Although it’s called Blog and could make static web pages, a diary/journal has no business being on the open Internet, although the blog format came from online diaries. Just like a teenage girl with her red diary that nobody, particularly her mother, should read, you need the freedom to think the unthinkable without criticism and repercussion. And articulate it. There is a case to be made that a journal is a write-only medium, but if you are trying to create your future then you need to read it back every so often.

Journalling is a big thing in the self-help niche, but the tragedy is you only get to see its value after you have been doing it for five years or more. I was recovering some of mine from the old program, to use Jekyll to give me some data future-proofing [ref]remember this has no business being outside your four walls, so it has to work on a standalone system, preferably without a database, and definitely no Cloud[/ref], and I came across some entries that reminded me of the value of this.

A bit over seven years ago a despondent Ermine was sitting in the office looking for a way out. I had been hit with a performance improvement plan and interpreted this as the writing on the wall. In looking at some of the simple living and frugality websites, I’d come across Creating a Five Year Vision on before they realised you can’t make money to frugalistas selling books. To the cynical me five year visions and particularly the way they advocated in imagining you were looking back from then seemed either very Soviet Russia or alternatively smacked of cosmic ordering and greaseballs like Deepak Chopra. Although in a purist world you shouldn’t garner information about the destination from your fellow passengers on the bus, I can’t help it, if Deepak Chopra is on board I’m getting off at the next stop. If cosmic ordering worked we would have a country full of Lottery winners and inflation running a bazillion percent.

Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the Minotaur's labyrinth
Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the way out of Minotaur’s labyrinth

However, we humans are frail and sometimes need the guidance of Ariadne’s thread across the pathless way once we have lost sight of our origin and the destination has yet to come into view. And I needed that bad after taking a massive hit to self-esteem and seeing the prospect of a shortened career crashing and burning ten years short of my planned retirement date. So inspired by that post I wrote this some time in 2009.

In Five Years0905mountain_sunrise

I want to pursue interests, be inquisitive, to learn about new things for the sake of it. I want to be able to recognise trees, and birds. I want to listen to the song of the city as well as that of the countryside.

I want to be the weight and waist size I was at 21. I want to read, for joy, to be lost to books. I want to be kind, to be open to others, to lose the insularity and harshness that sometimes imprisons.

I want to explore the inner world, though I wonder if I have drifted too far from it to see that distant shore. I want to build sensor systems, to see stoats in the countryside, and watch a hundred sparrows line up on a wire one day.

Then, of course, there are all the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to work for The Firm, at least the unreformed Firm as it currently is. I don’t want to hear the corporate bullshit and to be able to simply turn my back on anybody who uses the phrase “raising the bar” and a hundred and one perversions of the English language. I want to have nobody other than me or people that I respect criticise what I do and have a money input as a result.

I got most of the way there – the one fail is the weight. I drank far too much red wine to dull the everyday pain in the three years after I wrote it, and while I have pulled my weight below what it was in 2009[ref]retirement is infinitely better that working for physical activity, and Ipswich is a relatively compact town where anywhere I want to go is in walking distance or bike distance.[/ref], this is still a work in progress. I have no idea of if it is realistic – it is perfectly possible that a 55-year old body with the same weight as my 21-year old self will have a different waist size. I believe I will find out, in a couple of years.

I have seen a stoat in the countryside, but I haven’t seen a hundred sparrows on a wire yet. These are all metaphors for the freedom of the natural world – this was a wage slave that once resented the song of a charm of goldfinches on a June morning because they were free and I wasn’t. But overall, even though this was written at a low-water mark in my life, it mostly came good. All the freedom from goals were achieved.

The rest of the narrative of that period in the journal is also a record of the three-year final push to FI – the endless grey days of just putting one foot in front of the other, the small victories of reaching Friday and a brief respite of the weekend. I still can’t believe I was prepared to drink homebrew, FFS! But the red thread held – it is all too easy to lose the big picture as you fight the day-to-day battles. Perhaps there is something to Cosmic Ordering, provided you focus on the things you can change, like saving up to win financial independence as opposed to changing the balls of the National Lottery.

I had always looked at journalling as a record of the past, but perhaps it is also a way to create some of the future. I am closer to what I wrote in 2009 in all respects, and much closer than I expected at the time, and all the direction of travel is in the right direction. Mr FinanceZombie wrote one of these too, and I wish his future self all the best and hope it works out well.

Don’t deaden the picture of your future self by writing a S.M.A.R.T description

You’re creating a myth, storytelling, it is all about the hero’s journey. The stoat and the sparrows were symbols for me to get out into the natural world more and appreciate it.Here are a load of sparrows. They’ll do. I don’t need to count 100, just have plenty, and a hedge will do instead of a wire.

Equally a whole bunch of lapwings would be a good substitute. What I wanted was more real nature, less office wall and fewer screens in my life

Lapwings near Felixstowe

The sensor systems are a metaphor for being creative with technology. You will recognise the place you sketched out if you got there, and perhaps life will throw you different opportunities and challenges on the way. It doesn’t matter – what seems to be inspiring is painting a vision of a better place. You don’t have to get to that exact place, but it has to be real enough. Business management is full of tosh about smart goals and rubbish like that. Smart goals are great for optimising one-dimensional problems, and absolutely terrible for inspiration, creativity or even civilised living which are a balance of many different variables.

Avoid making your vision conditional on things outside your control. I’ve heard far too many people spend far too much mental energy on “when I win the Lottery”. You won’t.[ref]and if you really must play it for some reason don’t think about what you’ll do with the money before you win it – at least you then just get to pay for your empty dreams in cash, rather than time as well. You can buy time enough to daydream with the winnings, should it really be you[/ref] And every minute spent on dreaming about splashing the Lottery cash are minutes taken away from creating a better life with the tools and talents you do have right now.

So consider articulating your hopes and dreams. You may just get there, because the inspiration of an imaginable picture keeps you from straying from the path towards it. Much to my surprise, it worked for me.


19 thoughts on “create your future with journalling”

  1. Hi Ermine,

    A side point on windows – have you tried running it in compatability mode? “Right click, properties” on the icon and you should be able to run as if xp.



    1. It actually runs OK, but there’s something funny in how it redraws the screen. And it’s seriously abandonware. That’s the trouble with the digital space – migrating data across the decades gets a pain. A honest to goodness paper diary stays readable for a lifetime, but i can’t write legibly at a decent speed after 20 years of keyboard writing.

      I quite like elog and use that for my lab notebook. But it looks truly ugly – okay for tech notes but foul to read long-form. I also wanted to get into open standards to not have to migrate entries day by day, and the trouble is everything is cloud these days. I don’t think terribly seditious thoughts and for all I know the NSA is already in my computers, but selling myself to the cloud isn’t a step I’m prepared to do. So I have conflicting requirements – standalone and yet not a proprietary program. Jekyll worked for me, though I hate configuring Ruby dependencies.


  2. I loved this post. I have tried (or at least read about..) numerous journalling and visioning exercises, but they all seem to be a bit false and unsatisfactory Perhaps I am too self-judgmental – I like your idea of painting a more creative and metaphorical picture. Perhaps I’ll give that a go…


    1. I think the doctrine of SMART goals have impaired our ability to value narrative over destination. Humans have been storytellers for thousands of years, and PHBs for only a few decades. No plan survives contact with reality, so why not roll with it when it’s the quality of the journey rather than an exact destination that matters here 😉


  3. maybe you should train yourself to learn to write with a pen and paper again? Its a useful skill to have under your belt. For all things text based on your computer there is emacs. They call it the ‘100-year’ text editor.


    1. It’s speed that is the trouble – I can type faster than think, but not write clearly faster. TAWAW morning pages is mainly about articulating the first thoughts without critique so a WORN medium is ok for that


      1. I can totally relate to this. I say that the reason that my handwriting is so disgraceful is because I get sick of it taking so long, so I try to speed it up and it just gets worse. If someone can type at something like 100 words per minute (or faster?) even the quickest handwriting is pathetically slow in comparison.

        I thought about relearning how to write with a pen, but it will have to wait until I retire otherwise I will just unlearn it every day at work.


      2. Sometime you hafta go with the tech. I can write clear and slow, or fast and WORN. I run with the tech, people sweated blood to make it work, so why not use it 🙂


      3. Write on computer, print, trim to size, and then use glue stick to paste fragment into bound journal.


  4. Journalling – Ack!!! I have had two compulsory bouts of journalling – one when I studied the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius 30 years ago, and another in the early oughts when I was in a depressive pit of gloom.
    I don’t want to revisit either set of writing – the former because of its naivite and the latter because it’s total dreck.
    I can’t do cursive writing either. The only creative stuff I do is blog posting and it’s the technology that makes that possible.
    As far as planning for a meaningful retirement I didn’t – just came through a vale of tears to something quite wonderful. Sometimes you get lucky.


    1. I actually valued rereading bits from my “depressive pit of gloom” when I converted the data. It made me deeply grateful both to my younger self for sweating it through such hell and grateful for the fact I don’t have any of this crap in my life any more. And gratitude is good for you 😉


  5. Well St Ignatius has a lot to say about an Attitude of Gratitude and I agree. The reason I don’t read the depressive stuff is that a lot of it is frankly wrong. Depression is a mental illness and so we see Jumping to Conclusions, Filtering, Polarization, Catatrophizing, etc.


  6. I have found morning pages a good thing. I wrote some pages some years ago detailing what I would like to do, what I missed and enjoyed from my childhood. I have since introduced some of those things back into my life and I now feel happier that I have done for years.
    I am not writing pages that often but I do like to write all the dross I am feeling down on a page then rip it up – it is so cathartic.
    I write done my wish lists and try to find ways of making these things happen.
    I don’t like the SMART objective way – it is too much like the work performance reviews which I hate more than anything.


    1. Good to hear that, maybe I should give it another go. I like the idea of starting the day with the general question ‘what would I lie to make happen’ but morning pages was more than that. Like your approach to the write-once-read-never principle!

      Makes you wonder with the SMART objectives – everyone seems to hate it, why do companies do that, when they get exactly the wrong thing – CEO’s prioritizing short-term share prices, grunts focusing o nthe measurable as opposed to the desirable. Hopefully one day people will look back at this as a period of collective insanity…


  7. I have found journalling a good way to clarify my thoughts and feelings about life over the years. I started a journal about 20 years ago and although I don’t write on a daily basis, it is cathartic, and sometimes helps me to gain insight into myself and my feelings. Perhaps the most important aspect for me is to use it to look back on my younger self, and gain comfort from the fact that generally things have worked out okay, despite how I might have felt about them at the time. This is really useful when the future can sometimes feel a bit scary: it worked out fine before so why shouldn’t it do so again?


  8. so, deepka chopra and nigel farage were on a bus … [supply your own punchline :)]

    for preserving digital file formats, there’s no problem for plain text files – i.e. you can switch between any number of text editors with no issues. and sometimes, that’s all you need. otherwise, yes, some kind of open standard would help – if you can find suitable standards, and can choose between them.

    (i seem to be ignoring the topic …)


    1. Nige and Deepak- that would be worth a seat for. Both of them are showmen, but I suspect there would be differences of opinion that would make for a decent bit of stand-up comedy!


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