I have been writing in journals since I was in the fourth grade.
Now years later, every once in a while, I re-read entries from my elementary, middle and high school years. It is nothing less than comical to read about the petty trivialities which consumed my thoughts. However, it is also refreshing to know that writing was (and continues to be) the invaluable practice through which I cultivated a rich inner world of self-reflection and inquiry through the simple act of writing down my observations, concerns and aspirations in journals.
From childhood journals, travel, pregnancy, gratitude, meditation and daily thought journals, I have gained tremendous insight into my beliefs and emotional patterns — good and not so good.
Journaling has been instrumental in my life.
Here are a few ways the benefits of journaling can be instrumental in your life and possibly lead to unexpected an outcome:
1. Clarify intentions
When you use your journal to write down your goals, you can revisit your intentions — your why’s:
Why do you want something?
Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Why is this the thing you must do beyond other things?
2. Witness progress and personal growth
If you make journaling a regular habit, you can see how much progress or growth you’ve made by revisiting previous entries. You can see patterns — behavioral, mental and emotional — to glean insight.
Reading through journal entries provides valuable insight into your thought process and emotional life. You can look back and see how you’ve dealt with important decisions and challenging situations to feel more confident in your ability to do so again.
3. Gain self-confidence
You can feel proud looking back at the challenges you faced and seeing how far you’ve come.
4. Improve writing and communication skills
“Writing, like anything, improves with practice. When you journal every day, you’re practicing the art of writing. And if you use a journal to express your thoughts and ideas, it’ll help improve your overall communication skills.”
5. Reduce negative rumination
When things happens that we don’t like, there is a tendency to constantly replay or obsess over negative situations. Even when things go well, we tend to ruminate on the one negative thing that happened.
Rumination rarely offers new insights. It can even make the present situation feel worse. But if you take some time to write out how you’re feeling, it can help you relinquish the attachment to ruminating over what was said or done. Writing down how you feel provides an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself. It provides a safe and private space to reveal something to yourself that you may not be ready to reveal to someone else.
In 2005, during a disturbing turn of events, my husband was hospitalized due to the onset of symptoms for a stroke. He was 33 years-old. In every way imaginable we were unprepared to deal with the long term effects of the challenges that lie ahead. The financial distress, parental responsibility, unexamined emotional wounds, blame, resentment, fear and anger unearthed elements of our psyche that nearly destroyed us and our marriage.
The loss of his ability to work propelled us into the beginning stage of what became the most prolonged and difficult period of our lives. For the next several years, we experienced the devastating loss of our home through foreclosure, ruptured familial relationships, job loss and a steady decline of our marriage.
Throughout this period there were times when I believed myself to be the victim. It wasn’t until I turned to meditation, prayer and journaling to make it through each day and began sincere self-examination, that I was ready to understand the circumstances provided an invitation for growth.
For more than one year, I sat down in a meditative state to ask questions to help me mentally and emotionally navigate the difficult and uncertain times I faced.
During meditation, in addition to periods of silence after prayer, I began to ask questions to solicit clarity and guidance into my awareness. The more I posed questions during a meditative state, I began to notice answers would indeed come into my awareness. However, as soon as the meditation session was over, I forgot the guidance which came into my awareness.
The only way to remember was to write it down. It was at that time I decided to bring a journal to my meditation sessions.
In the midst of this silent struggle, I turned within for at least 20 minutes a day to be able to make it through each day. I continued to meditate and write in my journal. Meditation grew to become the most practical, accessible and effective way I found to calm myself of the anxiety-ridden thoughts that propelled me.
At the time, I had no idea the practice I created around journaling would become my first book almost seven years later.
7. Strengthen memory
Even the simple act of writing something down lets your brain know you want to remember it. That’s why note-taking is such an effective practice when learning something new.
Here are a few different types of journaling options to consider:
Stream of consciousness:
Write down your thoughts as they happen. The words and thoughts don’t need to make sense, you’re simply capturing your thoughts in action.
I used this with my son when he had difficulty writing a poem for homework. He was so worried about writing the poem that I suggested first writing down everything that was in his mind at the time. He didn’t know what to do with my suggestion as it felt foreign to him. I repeated it at least three times until it was clear — no grammar, spelling or idea concerns, just get the words onto the paper and out of your head to release what’s inside. Afterwards he threw the paper away without letting me looking at it, which was perfectly fine. Then, he was able to relax around the idea of writing the poem. This is similar to Julia Cameron’s exercise The Morning Pages as outlined in The Artists Way.
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
This is one of my favorite journaling practices because the dream state offers incredible insight into the subconscious.
“Dreams are one of the few ways we have to see into our unconscious, to understand what is beneath the surface of our limited outer consciousness. The subconscious mind is like a bird high above the road we are traveling, it can see more than our outer mind. The more we learn to recall and understand dreams, the better we understand our deeper motivations, fears, desires, and unconscious knowing. Edgar Cayce once said that nothing occurs in our lives that is not first foreshadowed in our dreams!”
Before going to sleep, make a list of everything you were thankful for that day, week, or month.
In Wishes Fulfilled the late Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote about the importance of the last five minutes of the day, just prior to going into a long restful sleep.
“These precious pre-sleep moments can be utilized by either reviewing all of the things in your life which make you unhappy, frustrated and anxious, or they can be used to program your subconscious mind with thoughts of joy, kindness, gratitude and anticipation of having your wishes fulfilled.”
Express your feelings, thoughts, and ideas through illustrations, doodles, or sketches. Michel Rae Varisco’s artwork is a wonderful example of the healing power of sketch journaling.
Here is an excerpt of Michel’s story:
“In 2011, my husband, Steve Gleason, was diagnosed with ALS. We were both 34. It’s a paralyzing, terminal illness with 2–5 year life expectancy. Yet, with the choice of ventilation (a trache), a person can continue living for years, with 24 hour care.
The months surrounding the ‘trache’ surgery began a period in my life I call ‘the dark ages.’ The grief was relentless. Fear, anxiety, confusion all consumed me. The idea of tomorrow frightened and depressed me. I felt such sadness for the loss of a life that was supposed to be. I felt mental and physical exhaustion, heartbreak, guilt, shame, resentment.
At one point during this time I came across an old sketch pad with a single drawing on it (called One). I brought it along with some pencils to the hospital during one of the surgeries.
There it began.
Drawing provided an escape for the pain. It enabled me to sit in one place for hours and feel contentment and peace for the first time in a long time. And it was exciting that I liked what I was drawing. It felt so good to feel proud of something again. The momentary relief of the crazy mind was exhilarating. My drawings started changing into things I didn’t understand. Like a different language. I feel like what I couldn’t express verbally was coming out of me in these little forms.”
No matter which type of journal you decide to keep, there is no right or wrong approach.
The simple act of taking the time to get in touch with your mind, body, and spirit is what’s truly important.