LifeJournal™ Newsletter – May 2010



Do any of these behaviors sound familiar to you?

  • flitting from idea to idea and making little headway in coming to conclusions and finishing tasks
  • spending your brainpower worrying often about something that in reality probably won’t happen
  • thinking repeatedly about conversations that you had and what you wished you had said
  • going in circles trying to gain traction on a project or dream and ending up not making progress

If so–and I know few people who don’t waste their brain power on such unproductive spin cycles–then you’ll find this newsletter a must-read.

This first article is by Eric Maisel, “Journaling and Productive Obsessions.”  Dr. Eric Maisel and his wife Ann Maisel just published a book called Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions.  Eric defines a productive obsession: “simply a way to think well—maybe the best way to think well. Anyone who needs to think seriously about something, whether it’s a personal problem, a professional problem, or an idea, would want to make use of their brain’s ability to obsess productively.” Eric’s article is about how journal writing is a perfect tool in this journey to think, accomplish, and produce.

In the second article I give you ideas about how to specifically use LifeJournal in service to your productive obsessing.

In June we have some wonderful classes and telecasts to start your summer in journal-writing mode:

Sheila Bender is offering two kinds of online writing classes: One is for people who want to work on writing new pieces, and you can sign up for classes for one week at a time! You can take her class for one, two, or three weeks. This allows for maximum flexibility. Click here to learn more.

Sheila’s other class– which is two weeks long– is for those who have worked with Sheila before and want to revise and polish some of your previously written pieces. Click here to learn about the class for revising essays, poems, or stories that you have already written.  

Sign up for our June members-only IAJW telechat with Samara O’Shea. Her topic is: Over Exposed: What to Say in Public and what Should Stay Private. Thoughts that were once kept safely hidden between the pages of a journal are now making their way to Twitter, Facebook, and blogs everywhere. Author Samara O’Shea discusses the human need to over share—when it can be good and how keeping things private can help in the journey to self-awareness.  Learn more and sign up here.

Ruth Folit

PS You may be surprised to know how many men use LifeJournal! LifeJournal is a PERFECT gift for your father/husband/grandfather this Father’s Day (Sunday, June 20th)!

Journaling and Productive Obsessions
By Eric Maisel, PhD

A special way to make use of your journal is as a tool to support and monitor your productive obsessions. What is a productive obsession? It is a habit of mind that you cultivate so that the ideas and projects that really interest you get the attention they deserve. You choose your obsessions, rather than letting them choose you, and move yourself closer to your goals by learning how to productively obsess. You create worthy obsessions that you chew on, struggle with, and love, and these serial productive obsessions become the central way you manifest your potential and realize your dreams.

Rather than thinking about a million things, which amounts to thinking about nothing, and maintaining only a low-level interest in and enthusiasm about life, you announce to your brain that you have a fine use for it and that you intend to move it to a higher gear. It is an engine meant to perform in that higher gear and, having been waiting for your invitation, it will respond beautifully. Use your journal to brainstorm a list of potential productive obsessions, dialogue with yourself about which idea on your list serves you the best, and monitor your progress as you begin to really bite into that idea–your new novel, your new scientific research, your new business venture–and productively obsess about it.

Most of our obsessions are not of our own choosing and do not serve us. They arise because we are anxious creatures and our unproductive thoughts cycle repeatedly to the beat of that anxiety. Against our will, we obsess about the indignity of getting older, about changing our partner’s supercilious attitude, about reconciling with a hostile parent, about catching a dreaded disease, about securing our next drink. We obsess about some trivial matter at work and, that matter resolved, we obsess about the next trivial matter at work. We obsess about things that we want to happen, like winning the lottery, and about things that we don’t want to happen, like getting wrinkles. Our mind, which ought to be ours, is stolen away by anxiety thieves.

Why am I lobbying for productive obsessions? Because doing things by half produces sad human beings. Yes, the pressure to obsess can prove disturbing. But taking insufficient interest in your own thoughts is also disturbing. It is existentially dangerous not to feel as if you are making meaning: going through life without passion and purpose provokes meaning crises. It is psychologically disturbing to look at yourself in the mirror and see a person who might have done this but didn’t, who loves that but, for some odd reason, takes no interest in it. Yes, some obsessions may have a dark side. But so do boredom and passivity.

It is hard to productively obsess about something that doesn’t genuinely move us or hold our interest, that has no basis in real passion, and that doesn’t meet our meaning-making needs. You might tell yourself that you intend to productively obsess about straightening out the garage or getting some project done that your boss needs completed, but insofar as these tasks hold no particular meaning they are likely to turn into unproductive obsessions rather than productive ones. You might be able to get your mind revved up and build up some internal pressure to get the work done, but in no time what you may find yourself obsessing about is how much you hate straightening the garage or working for your boss.

The productive obsession you want to cultivate should be rooted in love, interest, and a desire to better our shared circumstances. It should be large rather than small, large in the sense that it matches your desires, dreams, goals, and ambitions. Say, for example, that you produce one-of-a-kind water jars but that it’s been your secret ambition to tackle a large ecological art project. If the sale of your water jars pays the rent, they probably regularly push the eco-art project right out of your mind and off the table. This is the way that our large projects get lost and vanish. If you wanted to try your hand at some productive obsessing, you might choose the eco-art project even if making that choice involved you in the real risk that your income would dip that month.

Use your journal and your journal practice to cultivate productive obsessions, to monitor them through all the ups and downs you are likely to experience, and as the place you chat with yourself about your progress as a passionate meaning-maker who moves effortlessly from one productive obsession to the next. Your journal is the perfect place to maintain this dialogue. What you’ll discover after only a month of productive obsessing is that you are finally tackling the large projects that always keep slipping off your to-do list–a realization to celebrate in your journal!


Ways to Use LifeJournal to Nurture Your Productive Obsessions

By Ruth Folit

  Journaling is a tool which will dovetail perfectly your Productive Obsessions, as described by Eric Maisel in the article above and in greater detail in his book Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions . LifeJournal has specific tools which will help you both in the content and in the process of your productive obsession.  Here are specific ideas about how to use LifeJournal in service to your productive obsession.


  • Create a journal entry to brainstorm a list of potential productive obsessions. It’s your beginning, if you are not sure where to start. If you have kept a journal previously, now is the time to re-read, looking for clues to passions that you may have simmering just below the surface and that with encouragement and focus will blossom.
  • Rather than make analytic pros and cons list about how to choose among these productive obsessions, write journal entries about each of them, exploring what’s involved, how you feel, what you love about it, what excites you. You will know more when you do more writing/thinking about your choices.
  • Use the dialog feature found in the right sidebar of the journal entry.  (Click the Dialog tab.) When deciding which productive obsession you want, you can dialog with your different options and hear which one speaks most compelling to you. And once you have settled on a Productive Obsession, you may want to dialog with a success and celebrate, or dialog with an obstacle that you encounter to work to overcome it.
  • Make sure that you create a system to easily organize and integrate your Productive Obsession into your LifeJournal.  Here are some ideas:
    • Create a Journal Type called “P. Obsessions.”
    • Add a Top Level topic to the Topic List call “Productive Obsessions.”
    • Make a sub-topic of “Productive Obsessions” in the Topics List for each of the productive obsessions that you tackle.
  • Monitor your progress using Daily Pulse, as you begin to really bite into you project. You might want to daily track:
  • the number of hours spent on the Productive Obsession
  • how productive you were: ease of switching gears, ability to focus
  • subjectively how engaged you were with the Productive Obsession
  • Record your ideas, dreams, and other information that may relate to the productive obsession
    • the content, such as the next steps you might take
    • the process, such as when you feel very engaged and committed and when you feel stymied and discouraged
  • Write yourself  Letters to Another Time, which will keep your momentum going, reminding you why you selected the obsession, what you love about the obsession, what you hope to accomplish, what will drive you to continue when you hit the inevitable brick wall. End Quotes:

     “The creative habit is like a drug. The particular obsession changes, but the excitement, the thrill of your creation lasts.”–Henry Moore 

    “Cure for an obsession: get another one.”– Mason Cooley 

    “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”– Paul J. Meyer