Journals are where we go to explore our thoughts and feelings, to release and hone our creativity. Journals are often our most reliable therapist, audience and guide.
Journaling has many known benefits:
- Create focus in your life
- Develop empathy and self-awareness
- Release repressed or blocked emotions
- Make your inner world and your outer world more connected
- Promote mindfulness and letting go of the past
- Remind yourself of lessons learned and boost your memory
- Improve your communication skills
- Be a lot of fun — and a nice thing to look back on!
Make the most of your journal
Here are a few of the ‘how to’s’ for journaling that you may find useful:
Write when you feel like it
People who are ‘serious’ proponents of keeping a journal will tell you that you need to write every day, that this is a discipline you need to develop in order to truly benefit from it. We disagree. As a quiet bystander, a journal can act as an important tool that you can access only as needed.
In any case, applying guilt to whether or not you’ve written isn’t exactly the point of a journal – it’s not there for the purpose of punishing yourself. In a sense, it is the passive ‘listener’, the place where thoughts are hashed out or simply let out. Journaling should never be a burden. It’s just a way of processing issues that can’t be pushed aside.
It might be something you want to schedule, or you may want to make it an everyday habit, but it can also be something you do like seeing your therapist once a week. It’s not about forcing words onto the page. This method of offloading works precisely because it’s guilt-free.
Outline an intention rather than a plan
Try not to plan too harshly what will and what will not make it into the journal. It’s a space where I can throw down any random ideas, uninhibited.
Morning Pages from the classic Artist’s Way encourages you to write three pages of anything, every day. Having three pages of just word vomit is a lot, but the concept remains a classic for a reason. It isn’t always important to keep journals of your day to day activities. It’s more about what you’ve been thinking about, and if it mentions things that happened, it’s about how those things made you feel.
As you release information onto the page, try to make sense of it, rather than creating schedules or rules. By following this approach, you can make sure your journals are useful for working through blocked emotions and releasing the past.
Enjoy and value the journal itself
If you find you need to attack the surface with your pen to release your emotional tension, then by all means do it. As long as it meets your needs, the journal does its job. Look back on moments when your handwriting got a little out of control and ask yourself, “What was I feeling at the time?” Practice non-judgment when you look back at your past journal entries.
The things that you have written in your journals might be horrifying to you. Perhaps you even think, “I should burn this.” Allow the words to come without filtering them. Once they’re out, they’re out. Don’t try to take them back. They may get ugly sometimes, but that doesn’t make you a bad person. It means that at the time, you couldn’t think of anything better to say. That’s okay. These things are in your journal, not directed at anyone else. Look back and try to empathize with your mindset at that time, and work on a sort of forgiveness that’s hard to practice – the kind we have to practice on ourselves.
It can be challenging to practice self-compassion and work through self-criticism in everyday life, especially if you have a negative internal narrative. However, journaling can provide you with a safe space to separate from those thoughts, from those narratives – they are on the page, so they are farther removed from being part of your mind. Do your best to write whatever it is that comes as it comes, though it may take practice. You are much more than your journal – it doesn’t reflect everything about you.
At the end of the day, a journal is a tool. Every day is an opportunity to observe, record, reflect, and release the things that catch your attention in a natural way. You might learn to observe more, record more deeply, reflect more widely, and release negativity more often as a result. A special pen, or a fancy notebook, aren’t necessary, but if they help, that’s great. The benefits extend far beyond the words themselves.