Reading and Journaling Improve Mental Acuity

My first job out of college was as a hall director and director of minority affairs at a small college. I later added early alert coordinator to my list of duties. I loved it, but ever restless, I left to pursue full-time graduate studies. While in graduate school, I taught composition and African American studies courses. I spoke one day with a mentor, explaining to her I wanted to work in both the academic affairs and student affairs sides of higher education. I loved my co-curricular work in residence life, and I loved my teaching work. She told me doing both would be impossible. I understood her point, but I never accepted her premise.

Before completing my doctorate, I got a job directing a writing center at a different university. To say I loved my work would be a gross understatement of the truth. Writing centers are magical places that support writers, readers, learners, students, faculty, and anyone who stops by. I got to teach courses, work with students and faculty directly on their writing, supervise a staff of students and professionals, plan the trajectory of a campus-wide service, and dip my toes in the activities of the other services under the academic resource center umbrella. Plus, I had amazing colleagues. I neared the nirvana of working in both academic and student affairs. But I got swept by a tide of restlessness that propelled me in a swift trajectory from position to position.

Next I worked as an assistant director of the academic resource center, which was a great dual appointment between the student-facing center and the faculty development center. I also served as the campus plagiarism czar. Then I became a high school teacher, the hardest job I’ve ever had. I loved my students, and I loved teaching them, but I didn’t love the thing that is being a high school teacher. Everyone told me my second year would be better, but one person, my department chair, told me I should stop. She said, “Roshaunda, your passion for your students and your expertise are clear. But you don’t like being a teacher, so you shouldn’t keep doing that to yourself.” I belatedly realized she was right. I left teaching high school a worn out wreck. Reading and journaling helped sustain me, but they didn’t make me fit into something I wasn’t designed for. I figured I must only be designed to run writing centers, so I got a job running the writing center of a large online university. I loved it, but I got restless. Now I’m a life coach and writing coach who supports educators through coaching and various reading and writing activities.

During this decades-long cycle of gaining experience and managing restlessness, I read and journaled. At various points I did them habitually or sporadically, depending on my mental and emotional state. Once I started teaching high school, however, reading and journaling became daily habits that I’ve realized I need. Reading and journaling helped me understand myself better, improve mental clarity and focus, increase empathy, and enhance my creativity and problem solving ability.

Self Knowledge. As you read, you learn what you like and resonate with as you explore authors, characters and genres. Journaling helps you discover trends in your thoughts and behaviors as you track your personal development over time. Regular journaling creates a historical record of where you were, where you hoped to be, steps you took, and where you are now.

Clarity and Focus. Reading forces you to concentrate for extended periods of time and practice following storylines and arguments, thus improving your clarity and focus. Journaling helps you transfer ideas from your head to paper, which opens up mental capacity to think, process, and solve, rather than using up all of your mental space for storage. Increased clarity and focus also yield improved ability to understand and pursue your goals.

Empathy. Reading about other people’s lives and struggles helps you put your own challenges into perspective and empathize for others. Writing from your own perspective, then rereading and reflecting on it, helps you understand other’s perspectives more readily. Journaling about gratitude similarly improves your ability to put yourself into someone else’s place.

Creativity and Problem Solving. Reading improves your analytical skills and memory. Following a complex storyline or argument requires you to store, recall, and reconfigure information. Reading also opens you to various types of problems and ways to solve them you may not have experienced in your life. These lessons boost your creativity and problem solving acumen in everyday life. Exploring your thinking and psyche through journaling reveals and produces patterns you didn’t realize existed, which unlocks your creative problem solving in all areas. Also, playing with words and language and style boosts your creativity. Boosts in creativity spill over across your entire life.

Through years of reading and journaling – years of honing my insight, clarity, empathy, and creativity – I realized I am desperately passionate about education in all its facets. I want to know everything about PK-12, higher ed, public, private, secular, religious, students, faculty, administrators, and anything else education has to reveal to me. I want to understand how and why we as individuals, families, institutions, and as a nation journey through our education system. I strive to know what we mean by good education and knowledgeable citizenry. I am called to create ways to support educators and learners both inside and outside of classrooms, regardless of how impossible the task may seem. Restlessness didn’t propel my job changes; desire did – desire to experience, understand, and grow the field I love. I’ll recognize my next leap for what it will be, a strategic step in my transformation journey.

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I am doing a 31-day series on reading and journaling as self care for educators. Each day of the series has bonus journal prompts. Click to join the LELA House family of educators committed to nourishing their reading, writing, and creative souls. You’ll receive a link to the journal prompts and gain early access to upcoming LELA House ideas, courses, and products. You only need to subscribe once. I will add a new worksheet each day to the access link.

Roshaunda D. Cade, Ph.D. is an educator, writer, and creator.  She offers life coaching and writing coaching to educators, as well as other opportunities for educators to practice self- care through reading and writing. Check out her LELA House website to learn more about her services.  Roshaunda lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband and teenage children and enjoys reading, writing, dancing, and pushing her creative boundaries.  

Published by Roshaunda D. Cade

I am an educator, writer, and creator. I live in St. Louis, MO with my husband and teenage children and enjoy reading, writing, dancing, and pushing my creative boundaries.

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