I’ve always loved the idea of a journal – the trusty companion who will allow me to celebrate my successes, vent my frustrations, organize my jumbled thoughts and serve as a safe place to ramble on about all of the nonsensical, obsessive and embarrassing things that nobody else would have the patience to listen to. I imagined myself sitting down each day with a cup of tea, writing my heart out (literally!). And with that fantasy in mind, I’ve purchased many beautiful journals over the years, enthusiastic about becoming one of those creative types who totes around her journal, full of emotion and inspiration, at all times.
The reality…My beautiful journals contain about 1-2 weeks worth of entries, mostly consisting of rants and complaints, before the pages go back to blank. There’s no sitting calmly with a cup of tea; writing time is 10 minutes, if I’m lucky, which I usually have to jam into a packed schedule. The process and the product never feel very good because the journal invariably becomes a receptacle for all of my various frustrations and anxieties. So much so, that I eventually toss the damn thing in the trash. A failed project.
You’d think, after all this time that I’d have given up on my journal writing goal, but as someone who loves to write and who sees the incredible value in this type of reflection, I’ve kept at it. I’ve read a bit about journaling, I’ve experimented with various techniques and approaches and, alas, I seem to have found one that works for me.
It doesn’t exactly resemble my fantasy but that’s ok. The practice has offered me a safe place to feel my feelings (both the positive and the negative ones), process the events of my life, acknowledge big and small victories, dream, plan, draw inspiration and find gratitude.
As is usually the case with these types of endeavors, I had to let go of the “rules” and figure out what works for me, given my unique preferences and lifestyle. If journaling appeals to you, I encourage you to do the same type of experimentation to find the journaling style that feels most comfortable. As you do, here are some things to consider:
–Let go of the idea that you MUST write every day. Write whenever you feel called to, no matter how frequently or infrequently that is. The fewer rules you impose on yourself, the more comfortable the practice will be; the more comfortable the practice is, the more you’re likely to want to do it. And if you only look for your journal every once in a while and that’s what feels comfortable for you, so be it. This is all about finding what best supports you.
–Suspend all judgement (of yourself and your writing). Resist the urge to edit and to make moral judgments about what you’re writing. This is for your eyes only and should be a place of total freedom.
–Express yourself. This is a safe place to express emotions without fear of hurting/offending someone. It’s healthy and appropriate to let your full range of emotions out on the page.
–Don’t hesitate to brag about yourself and celebrate your accomplishments (both big and little ones). Allow your journal to be a place where you can reflect on ALL of your emotions and experiences, not just the negative ones!
–Ask questions. Sometimes it’s helpful to record questions, without feeling obligated to provide answers. Often we don’t have the answers, but the simple act of recording the questions might help us to sort through the tangle of thoughts and emotions. And this might move us closer to finding the answers we seek.
–Respond to your own thoughts and questions. Occasionally, while writing, I find myself speaking TO myself (saying “you” and “your”) and, sometimes, offering advice/counsel. When this happens, I often feel as if my “higher consciousness” is speaking to me and offering insights. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting technique that is likely to give you food for thought.
–Record things that you find beautiful, things that inspire you and things you’re grateful for. When you do this regularly, it actually causes the brain to actively seek these things throughout the day. And our journal becomes a nice reminder of what’s going right and what we’d like to move toward.
–Capture ideas. Before you forget them.
–Set goals/intentions and make plans. This is where the journal becomes a sort of planner, allowing you to become clear about the direction you’re heading and the path you wish to take to get there. It’s also a wonderful way to track progress.
–Lists are ok (even to-do lists!). I have lists of books I’d like to read, films I’d like to see, recipes to try, even things to remember when i go to the grocery store.
–Record quotes that you love.
–Reflect on patterns in your thoughts and behaviors. Both the act of writing in a journal and the act of reading past journal entries give us the opportunity to identify patterns in our lives, something that’s hard to do when we’re enmeshed in the day to day. By broadening our perspective in this way, we’re better able to examine our patterns and habits, enabling us to determine which ones are serving us and which ones are not.
–Letting go/transitions. The journal can become a wonderful vehicle for sorting through the tangle of emotions and finding closure during endings and transitions. It allows you to be present with whatever comes up and to deepen your relationship with yourself.
–Look for lessons and opportunities for growth. When we can find meaning in our life experiences, we are better able to appreciate the positive ones and to reframe the negative ones so that we may heal and grow. The journal can assist us in doing that, as it gives us a place to process things, tease out the lessons and “silver linings” and consider how we wish to proceed. Rather than feeling swept up in our circumstances, this kind of reflection allows us to take our power back and make more conscious choices, as we move forward.
–Feel free to draw or paste images into your journal. Sometimes a picture captures things that can be hard to express. Or your journal can serve as a place to keep images of fashion, garden, home decor and other inspirations.
As you can see, the practice of journaling offers many benefits. If you have the desire to explore it, my best advice is to do so with a sense of play – try several of the above techniques (and there are many others) to see what feels right. This kind of self-reflections almost always yields interesting insights, but when we can take pleasure in the process and the journey to those insights, that’s where the real magic happens.
Enjoy your journaling journey!