6 Reasons to Make Analog Journaling a Part of Your Life (Read or Listen)

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Prefer to listen to this piece?

analog journaling

I’ve always been a journaler.

As a kid, I feverishly filled spiral notebooks with everything from weird sci-fi to Shel Silverstein-esque poetry to undelivered letters to crushes—and usually when I was supposed to be doing something else. As I got older and computers became a larger part of life, I’ve usually kept some form of a digital journal—either using mobile journaling applications or word processors. 

And while the experience of journaling digitally has been deeply therapeutic, the tech has come with ample downsides. A moment of insight could be derailed by judgemental spellcheck. Backspace makes it too easy to second guess an idea and leave it unexplored. 

I began to feel a draw to the various other distractions that resided within the same device I was simultaneously trying to escape with a good journaling session. This is usually a losing battle.

 Around the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, I picked up a dot-style Moleskine notebook and some pens just to see what would happen. 

The result? Just one month and 98 pages later, I’m kicking myself for not trying this sooner. 

Why? I could give you 98 reasons. Instead, I’ll give you six.

Before I do that, let me clarify what I mean by “analog journaling.”

I consider analog journaling the simple practice of regularly documenting various content on a paper, non-electronic page, such as:

  • Capturing ideas
  • Taking down necessary notes
  • Dumping out your head 
  • Documenting life’s stories
  • Tracking personal habits
  • Creating systems
  • Virtually any function where it could be deemed a helpful idea to open the release valve on your thoughts or feelings

I don’t subscribe to any particular journaling style—such as bullet journaling (though morning pages seem to be pretty much the same thing)—but I will occasionally borrow heavily from them as they seem helpful. 

Ok, ok—enough with the introduction and onto the reasons why I’d recommend keeping an analog journal. 

Reason 1. Analog journaling gives you an escape from screens (and novelty). 

Whether we’re scrolling down the infinity pool of content on our hand-held screens, accessing work-related content on our desktop screens, or shuffling through the endless program choices on our wall-mounted screens, we are inundated with screens. 

And now for something that seems off topic but it will make sense. 

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I used to smoke cigarettes. 

Though I eventually switched to vaping, I was still hopelessly addicted to nicotine—despite hating how it made me feel.  My pulse would become erratic, digestion a bit off, but the worst aspect was simply the craving sensation that reminded me that I was addicted. Any time away from my vaping device or between refills, I would crave nicotine to the point of even bumming drags or cigarettes from friends. 

After a while, I decided to quit for good. That was several years ago and my cravings for the device vanished, thank God…until craving a device returned.

No, not a vaping device—for a scrolling device. A screen. 

Was I looking for any specific information? No, just novelty—something entertaining or interesting that didn’t require much mental bandwidth. I was essentially yanking the handle on the slot machine of Gmail, YouTube, or Google News in hopes of shiny, easily consumable content. 

 The answer? Well, not through empty electronic calories. Instead, I’ve sought fulfillment from internal sources rather than external electronic novelty—everything from physical fitness to creative endeavors such as creating music and writing. This is where analog journaling really shines—no screen pun intended

Instead of the slot-machine-like-dopamine-triggering effects of glowing screens, analog journaling strips away the novelty of external stimuli and forces us to look within for meaningful entertainment. 

But that sounds pretty boring.”

Yes, analog journaling takes some getting used to—even in comparison to digital journaling. But I challenge you to sit down in a quiet space with nothing but a blank page, a pen, and your mind, and experience how thoroughly and satisfyingly entertaining it can be. 

Reason 2. Analog journaling requires you to go within. 

Journaling in general is a deeply introspective experience—requiring you to drill down into the aquifer of your psyche and pump out the ideas that spill onto the page—a concept I’m borrowing from Van Neistat’s video about running

Analog journaling, however, creates additional friction on the pathway to distraction—especially if you turn off all nearby screens and leave your “hand screen” in another room. Digital journaling comes with an army of distracting novelty gremlins calling out to you from the same device in your hand that you would use to usually consume them. 

Because of this higher barrier to digital distraction, analog journaling makes it easier to drill deeper into our minds to access thoughts, emotions, ideas, and solutions that normally wouldn’t stand a chance against exterior distractions. 

Reason 3. Analog journaling requires you to slow down. 

It seems that every service, every device, and feature are designed with convenience at their core. The words “value” and “convenience” have become synonyms. 

While infinite convenience at every turn seems mighty swell, I’ve personally found that such abundant ease reduces the meaning in my daily tasks. Like an underworked muscle, if everything is convenient, easy, and quick, my day just seems to wash right past me in a quick blur where no single endeavor stands out.

We’ve all become obsessed with saving time without much thought to how we end up spending it.

Analog journaling, on the other hand, is immensely valuable while not being very convenient at all—and that’s a good thing.

This deliberate inconvenience, albeit slight, carries over to other activities. Since picking up an analog journaling practice, I’ve found myself leaving my phone at home when I go out running, leaving my phone in the other room while reading, or simply enjoying the physics, slowness, and textures involved in brewing my morning coffee in a french press sans phone.

In an instant-download, “Prime delivery,” K-cup culture, intentional slowness seems to enrich common activities with meaning and renewed enjoyment.

Reason 4. Analog journaling provides a much-needed (missing) tactile experience. 

Outside of journaling, I rarely write by hand anymore. I’m a “writer” by trade, but I’m actually more accurately a “typer.” Bank cards, Venmo, and PayPal have replaced the need to write or sign checks. Even most of the legal documents I’ve had to interact with leading up to the purchase of a house (easily the largest transaction of my life) have been completely digital and were signed by clicking an agreement button. 

The physical act of writing or crafting something by hand is becoming a bygone activity. And that should be terrifying.

Analog journaling allows us to rebuild our lost tactile world—the mind-body connections that typing, tapping, and swiping can’t replace. 

  • The feeling of the pen across the texture of the page. 
  • The care required in writing each letter so I can read what the hell I just wrote. 
  • Consciously remembering to steer clear of freshly written words until the ink has dried. 
  • The consequence of not properly internally articulating a concept before putting it in ink so I don’t have to scribble it out—though my journal remains about 15% scratched-out words

All of the experiences culminate in a gratifying tactile experience—almost a return to analog craftsmanship that we’ve nearly lost. 

Reason 5. Analog journaling allows for unlimited formatting potential for the avid journaler. 

One of my biggest beefs with word processors is the ease of formatting—or rather the lack thereof. While any graphic designer or web developer could likely format a digital space beyond my imagination, I simply want this functionality on the fly. 

  • Sometimes, I want to write simple sentences in straight lines. 
  • Sometimes, I want to create a table to track how many miles I’ve run that week. 
  • Sometimes, I want to write why I like dub reggae music and what it makes me feel while I listen to it, but using the words to fill in the outline of the beard of a fictitious character I doodled.

Analog journaling allows for the quick composition of mind maps, Venn diagrams, customized headings, and cyborg dinosaurs wherever you want them. For example:

analog journal doodle

Reason 6. Analog journaling is a superb method of chronicling and archiving eras and experiences. 

Though most of us will never have biographies written about us, there is a high likelihood of instances in which knowledge of our lives or mental states will be sought after—either by future generations, but most likely by ourselves. This being said, writing for a future audience of one or even zero is not time wasted. 

“But isn’t digital information protected better against aging than paper?” 

Technically speaking, probably.

With that being said, my mother still has a box full of my elementary school and middle school spirals in her basement—accessible anytime I want them. Unlike the availability of this information, years of my junior high blog posts on Xanga and digital writing pre-Google-Drive are gone forever—lost to the perceived disposable nature of hardware and content distribution platforms. 

And while those spiral notebooks won’t last tens of thousands of years, they have the potential to last a few hundred years or longer—more than long enough for anyone with the faintest memory of my existence to dive deeper into my internal dialogue during any stage of life in which I was keeping a journal. 

For example, my grandmother is well into her 90’s and her mental facilities aren’t quite what they once were. Despite this, because she kept an analog journal for decades, future generations will have a firsthand perspective of her life as well as what life was like for someone throughout the 20th and early 21st century. All we’ll have to do is open one of the dozens of journals she’ll leave behind and turn to any one of the thousands of dated entries. 

Her daughter, my mother, was even telling me about a letter she had uncovered that she had written to her mother. She had written this letter when I was in elementary school. It outlined everything she was experiencing during a particular week. As she told me about the contents of the letter, the details allowed me to time travel to that week. I even helped her fill in details with my third-grade perspective. 

So, do I think anyone will want to read my analog journal entries hundreds of years from now? Eh, probably not. But at least I’ll be able to randomly crack open one of my journals, read its contents, and think, “Remember when we used to pray for what we now take for granted?

Thinking about keeping an analog journal? Here are a few tips to help enrich your experience.

Tip 1. The right journal can make or break your journaling experience. 

When shopping for a journal, choose a page layout that is conducive to how you intend to journal. 

  • For those who only plan to write words, a lined journal likely makes the most sense. 
  • For visually artistic folks, you may opt for completely blank pages. 
  • For people like who are me in the middle between writer and doodler—a dotted page layout is a great choice. Dotted pages are somewhat like graphing paper, but with only the dotted intersections and not the lines on the page.  These pages allow for the use of the illusion of lines when needed or line-free expanses when they’re not.

Ideal Cover & Size

I’d recommend a hardback journal to a soft-backed journal for easier lap writing. 

Also, keep the size comfortably medium—not so big that it is unwieldy, but not so small that writing inside it is cramped and difficult. 

Use Page Numbers and a Table of Contents

Keep page numbers and a table of contents in your journal. There are several journals that come with page numbers as well as a blank table of contents. If your journal of choice doesn’t include them, they’re easy enough to write in yourself. But it’s up to you to maintain them.

I personally recommend doing so for the sake of quick referencing later. Include the date and a summary title of what you wrote about. 

Tip 2. Not sure what to write about that? Write about that.

Possibly over half of your journaling experiences will begin with you having no clue what to write about. That’s fine—simply start by writing about that. It’ll soon go somewhere after you blow out some mental cobwebs.

Remember that this is nothing more than a conversation with yourself. It doesn’t have to make sense. You don’t have to pull any punches. You can leap from topic to topic at a moment’s notice. Let go of all expectations and enjoy the process of putting ink on the page.

Tip 3. Spend time every day with your journal—which is really just time with yourself.

The idea of making an appointment with your journal can feel like homework. In actuality, it’s more like therapy. It is time to check in with yourself, what you’re celebrating, how you’re stuck, or just maintaining your self-preservation systems so loose ends don’t dominate your thoughts.

Batch Journaling With Stuff You Already Do

Regular journaling may seem like a tall order. The momentum to get started can seem overwhelming. However, it’s easier to get into the rhythm of spending time with the page if you batch the activity with something you already do.

Perhaps immediately after you hit the “brew” button on your coffee in the morning or start your dishwasher after dinner, settle into your journal for a few minutes. 

Consider Journaling a Break From Your Phone

Before you start journaling, turn off all other screens and leave your phone in the next room. If you’re afraid you’ll be too distracted by not having your phone for that long, you definitely need to leave it in the next room. While uncomfortable at first, the experience will become a relief. 

I look forward to you looking forward to those quiet, constructive, purposefully inconvenient journaling sessions with nothing but your journal, a pen, and your thoughts.

And yes, this entire piece was first composed in my analog journal.

Did you enjoy this piece? Subscribe to receive more articles like this right in your email inbox as they’re published. Feel free to unsubscribe whenever you want them to stop. I won’t take it personally.

Two Ancient Notions That Helped Pull Me From the Depths

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Prefer to listen to this piece?

The summer of 2020 was rough for a lot of people…

…for a lot of different reasons. It was rough for me because I was experiencing levels of health anxiety only matched by the week before I received a positive cancer diagnosis in 2017. 

This was different, though.

Was I displaying any physical symptoms? Eh, probably not. Then what was the source of the anxiety? For those who have experienced bouts of anxiety, you know that you don’t need a reason. In fact, most of us pray for a source of our torment so that we can know what the hell to fix. The worst anxiety often makes the least sense. 

But I did find something that turned it all around—two ancient notions that have been helping people like me for thousands of years. But these require additional context.

Anxiety is a lying snake.

Impending doom continued to swirl around my perception of how I was doing inside. These feelings were briefly alleviated by trips to my doctor. He would immediately tell me that nothing was wrong. In fact, that I was in better health than I had been since my teenage years. I would ride this high of relief for a few weeks only for the feelings of anxiety and dread to slither back into my life. 

My health anxiety would crack fever pitches just before surveillance appointments—routine follow-up scans with my urologist following my cancer treatment in 2017. This bubbling dread leading up to scans is what is known as “scanxiety” in the cancer community. 

He’d usually just walk into the examination room, tell me how the scans showed nothing abnormal, and remind me that I hadn’t displayed any signs of cancer in several years. 

A few months later, the dread would reappear—like Ol’ Pap Finn back in town, looking for his Huckleberry to knock around. Rinse and repeat.

But that was all about to change.

One morning in early spring 2021, the dread slithered up my spine and sat atop my shoulder as I examined my appearance in the bathroom mirror. With it’s split tongue tickling every consonant, it whispered—

“You’re going to die soon.” 

Taking a deep breath and realizing it was [only] the anxiety talking—something meditation had made me hip to—I let a deep exhale flap my lips in cheeky facetious exasperation as I let out my reply.

Well, if that’s the case, I better make this summer count,” chuckling to myself, scoffing off the serpent’s lies as I dried my hands and walked out of the bathroom. 

I didn’t know it at the time but something shifted inside. That serpent, who thrived on my fear and dread, was defanged. 

Did I truly believe that I was going to die soon? No—it was just another lie my mind was trying to get me to believe. 

But I started living as though it were true

  • I made an extra effort to spend time with people I cared about —sometimes seeking out old friends who had slipped through life’s cracks.
  • I became more conscious of what foods, habits, and activities made me feel my best and made a point to fill my life with them.
  • I sought out moments of peace. 
  • I made conscious efforts to be more present in everything I did—especially while spending time with loved ones. 
  • And yes, this was around the time I quit social media—an activity I’ve mostly replaced with more pleasure-reading than I had done in my entire life. Thanks, John Grisham.

With these activities and the mental residue that accompanied them, my dread was rendered powerless. The whispered lies grew increasingly faint and manageable. Ease and contentment snuck their way back into my life reminiscent of childhood.

There’s no doubt that these activities aided in managing my mood and anxiety levels. Still, I attribute much of this relief to the combination of two philosophical pillars of Stoicism I had learned about years prior but had begun inadvertently practicing—amor fati and memento mori. 

Amor Fati

We have little control over what happens to us in life. And how boring would life be if we could? Without a little uncertainty, you may not have ever met your spouse or discovered your passion. 

Amori fati literally means a love of one’s fate—whatever that happens to be. Even if it sucks. Because ultimately it will teach you something or play a role in helping you become the person you were meant to be just as it had up to this point. Fighting fate is a losing battle, so you might as well fall in love with it. 

Memento Mori

Speaking of fate, you’re going to die. 

“Yeah, but not for a while.” 

Says who? You could die in a few months. Next week. Tomorrow. 

Instead of letting this idea burden your thoughts, use it to bring clarity to your life. When tomorrow is not promised, this notion should make your next meal delicious, every sunset spectacular, and moments with those close to you an extravagant privilege. The governor just gave you a stay of execution—what are you going to do with it before he changes his mind?

Memento mori means “remembrance of death” — which is actually a remembrance of life. 

Death is inevitable and thus a silly fear. The true fear is never having truly lived.

Still, it is important to remember that yes, you’re going to die. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Simply make sure you’re squeezing the juice out of life and not leaving any meat on the bone. 

These notions may not click for you or change your life right now or even in the near future. That’s ok. But they’re planted. If you’re like me, your subconscious may need to chew on them for a few years before they “turn on.” My prayer is that one day, your mind finds use for them when you most need them.

Enjoy this post? Feel free to subscribe to receive new articles and podcast episodes in your inbox. Unsubscribe anytime.

Choosing Your Shovel: A Field Manual to Leveraging Fear & Managing Anxiety

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Prefer to listen to this piece?

Quick disclaimer: There is a significant difference between sporadic spells of anxiety and a chronic anxiety disorder. This piece is meant more to aid with periodic anxious spells rather than treating any condition, which should be addressed by a mental health professional.

Two emotions. Endless misinterpretations.

Fear and anxiety are two of the most perplexing emotions one can have. Both can overtake you and result in a miserable daily life. Conquering fear and anxiety is the work of life and not a life hack that can be acquired by reading a short online essay or listening to a podcast episode. This being said, I’ve personally found the following mindset shifts to be immensely helpful when attempting to control or even leverage fear and anxiety. When these mindset shifts are combined, they may even be able to help the average person pull themself from the occasional bout of anxiety. 

Mindset Shift 1: Fear can be useful when correctly identified.

Fear — ”an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger.”
– Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Though fear can be debilitating, it is an instrumental emotion. Without fear, we might find ourselves attempting to cross busy highways on foot, coming too close to the edges of steep heights, or petting dangerous creatures. Fear is a mechanism to protect us from many of the dangers of life.

While this is true, fear is only helpful when it can be leveraged or applied — when it results in a discernable behavioral shift. When it cannot be, it ceases to be fear. It is, instead, anxiety. 

Mindset Shift 2: We frequently confuse fear with anxiety and vice versa.

One of the biggest reasons we cling to debilitating anxiety is because we confuse it with helpful fear. As we’ve discussed before, fear is instrumental. Anxiety, however, is not. 

  • The shovel of fear can dig us free from a situation.
  • The shovel of anxiety only deepens our rut. 

For this reason, it’s crucial to correctly identify the shovel of fear and the shovel of anxiety. So, the first step out is knowing when you’re clutching the wrong shovel. 

Mindset Shift 3: Becoming mindful of anxious thoughts can help you manage them. 

You are not your thoughts. If this were the case, you would be incapable of thinking about your thoughts. Humans are unique from other creatures on this planet in that we are capable of offering the Director’s Commentary of our own thought process. 

Most of us, however, can rarely distinguish our thinking from thinking about thinking. This thinking about our thoughts can be referred to as “metacognition” but is most commonly referred to as “mindfulness.” 

The term “mindfulness” is meant to be used to contrast our default mode — mindlessness. When our thoughts are allowed to ricochet in our heads without control, the result is a dangerous rumination and can culminate in severe anxiety and depression.

Mindset Shift 3: Mind control is an obtainable superpower if it’s your own mind you’re controlling.

Like stopping a ricocheting bullet, catching a mindless thought before it tears through our emotions can feel like a superpower. Mindfulness, however, is not the act of catching speeding bullets but rather slowing them down to the point of plucking them out of thin air. When a thought or reactionary emotion can be slowed down, its details can be more objectively analyzed, its intent considered, and the most appropriate response deployed. 

Examining Fear vs. Anxiety in Practice

The next time you experience the frantic gloom of fear or anxiety, as soon as you can identify the sensation, do your best to cease what you’re doing and take hold of the moment for yourself.

  • Focus on the raw sensation of your breath entering and exiting your nostrils. This present action will help pull the emergency brake on your thought processes.
  • Once grounded in the present, aim to perceive this negative emotion as though belonging to someone else. Aim to observe it as objectively as placing a glass slide under the lens of a microscope for examination. 
  • Carefully inspecting this thought or feeling, ask yourself, “What action is this sensation prompting me to do?” 

Leveraging Useful Fear

If this sensation has practical next steps that can prevent ailment or injury, whether of your body, relationships, career, or overall wellbeing, this is valuable fear. Consider how these steps can be positively applied to the betterment of your daily life. Break each action into its tiniest achievable steps — with no effort too small as long as you’re moving forward. Construct a plan for following these steps with scheduled times and deadlines. 

The following are a few examples of how to possibly leverage useful fear to help resolve a fearful state.

  • If a bodily symptom is fearfully weighing on your mind, an executable action is to present your concern to a doctor. If this action feels daunting, break the activity into smaller parts. Perhaps, start by sending a message to the doctor through email or your health care provider’s online portal. Maybe even start as small as scheduling a time to make an appointment with a deadline for the completion of this action. If even this feels like too much, perhaps your first step is looking at yourself in the mirror and saying out loud, “tomorrow, I’m going to call my doctor’s office.” Again, no step is too small if it means moving forward from your present fearful state.
  • If you’re fearfully concerned about the future of your job, whether due to your performance or the support of your employer, an executable action would be to make a list of actionable items you can take in case your fears are founded. If the fear is performance-based, identify your weaknesses as an employee and develop ways to strengthen them — even little by little. Asking colleagues, even superiors, for constructive criticism can help in this matter and express your dedication to your duties and role. If your fear is with your employer’s support, you can either bring these fears to your employer to quell or confirm them. If you don’t feel comfortable with the potential confrontation, consider taking tactful steps toward securing employment elsewhere.
  • Suppose you’re fearful about the deterioration of a relationship. In that case, an executable action may be to identify why you feel this way and what actions you can take to nurture or remedy said relationship. If, upon closer analysis, the relationship does not seem salvageable, begin devising steps to end the relationship on agreeable terms. 

Quelling Pernicious Anxiety

The sinking feeling in your gut and increased heart rate are helpful biological responses to approaching the edge of a dizzyingly high cliff. Such sensations are your mind’s signal to your body to be fearfully conscious of impending danger. However, the same sensations while simply lying in bed can be immensely hazardous to your mental and physical health. These are not leverageable sensations but rather potentially debilitating ruminations. 

As previously discussed, properly identifying fear versus anxiety is a practical means of quelling either. When fear is appropriately identified, actionable steps can be executed to leverage and squelch such sensations.  

But once anxiety is identified, then what?

Once anxiety is correctly identified as such—as a senseless nuisance—we can begin to leverage the lack of teeth in these ruminations — aka no discernable executables — to shift our minds to efforts worthy of our attention. We do this by pivoting our thought process from anxiety to the raw perception of the present moment. 

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

― Lao Tzu, author of Tao Te Ching

Mindset Shift 4: Simply sensing the present is your oasis from pernicious anxiety. 

Upon realizing that a particular mental and emotional sensation is harmful anxiety rather than helpful fear, there is a place we can go to manage such disturbing thoughts—the present moment. 

In the present, there is no fear or worry—there is only the moment itself. At this moment, all that need exist for us is the space we occupy and our body’s involuntary biological function. 

  • Our heart beats in our chest, sending blood throughout our body. 
  • Our skin forwards data about the temperature of the airflow of the space. 
  • Our eyes perceive the shapes of objects and the flow of light around us.
  • Our nostrils detect the coolness of inhaled air and the warmth of exhaled air.

None of these sensations of the present moment require thoughts of the past or future. In fact, they can only be perceived clearly once we’ve shelved non-present thinking. 

We can access the escape hatch from anxiety through any of our sense perceptions of the present moment. Tapping into the present perception of our bodies and surroundings rather than our mindless ruminations is immensely useful whenever anxious ruminations seek to creep into our thought process. A constructive way to do this is with a method that I’ll call the Monitor Technique for the sake of this piece.

The Monitor Technique

Unlike a full camera or audio recorder, a monitor—whether a camera’s viewfinder screen monitor, a musician’s stage monitor speaker, or even a medical heart monitor—has the singular job of sharing what exists in real-time. It cannot store sights or sounds. It cannot recall past moments. It cannot process data. Even though it is called a “monitor,” it is usually a secondary computer system or a user that is actually doing the monitoring. In this sense, it should be called an “allows-you-to-monitor.” But for the most part, monitors are nothing more than vehicles for capturing present data.

When you have become more acquainted with the mental and physical sensation of anxiety, instead of attempting to process your way out of such an episode, become a monitor of your present surroundings. Do not attempt to consider how any of these make you feel. Rather, simply observe them as objectively as possible. This is quite literally what many mean when they use the expression, “stop and smell the roses.” 

Here are a few monitoring techniques that have worked for me: 

  • Observe the shapes, slopes, angles, and colors of objects in your vicinity. The arm of a chair or couch. The rise of a window sill. The angles in the edges of the leaves on trees. The sunlight against the backside of a curtain.
  • Close your eyes and allow your ears to absorb the mosaic soundscape around you. There is always sound — from birds chirping to air vents, the whirl of distant lawnmowers, airplanes, cars on a nearby highway, a humming refrigerator, a computer fan, and beyond. You can either let all of the sounds swirl together as one at the front of your attention or isolate one sound to savor. 
  • Sit with your eyes closed and focus on the raw sensations of your breath. Feel the cool and warm air passing through your nose, the rise and fall of your chest, or the space between breaths.
  • Sit with your eyes closed and simply experience the sensation of the surrounding air on your skin. If the air is moving, notice its direction, intensity, and texture. Even with eyes closed, attempt to feel the shape of the space. 

While practicing the Monitor Technique, your anxieties will likely attempt to breach the doors of your focus. Your first impulse will be to fight them, but this too is a mindless reaction. When this happens, simply observe the anxiety itself as its own entity, mindfully note its existence, and then return to practicing the observation of the present moment via the Monitor Technique. 

Choosing Your Shovel

A fearful mindset tends to result in reaching for one of two shovels. 

The first shovel of pernicious anxiety resulting in aimless rumination is sharp and only capable of digging downward—creating ruts and holes in which to hide. Though seeming like a helpful refuge, the occupant of these ruts or holes will soon find themselves unable to climb out. 

The second shovel of useful fear is broad, better able to dig oneself out from psychological and even physical harm. Though it is a heavier shovel to wield, the more efficiently it is utilized, the sooner it can be stowed until needed again. 

Distinguishing fear from anxiety is not a life hack — it is a skill that requires perpetual sharpening. Honing of the perception of our mental state is aided by regularly “checking in” with ourselves in ways that pull the emergency brake on rumination and align our awareness with the present.  As we sharpen this tool of discernment, we must also remain mindful of which shovel we choose to sharpen — that of useful fear or useless anxiety.