The Whys and Hows of Journaling!

by | Writing Exercises

I have kept a journal of some fashion (i.e., diary, journal, notebook, notepad) since late elementary/early junior high school. Journaling helps me clear my head, manage my energy, and soothe my feelings. Here are additional benefits of why you might benefit from keeping a journal:

1. Review. I encourage clients to journal not only when they are going through something difficult but also when they are feeling well. I encourage clients to keep quotes, discussed strategies, and “notes to self” in this journal. The more you add to your journal, the more it will give back to you. Keeping a journal can serve as a documentation of growth. You might witness feelings and circumstances being transient in nature; this is a powerful reminder that everything is temporary. Checking in where your mindset was three to six months ago could remind you that you have gotten through difficult situations and can continue to do so.

2. Catharsis. Self-expression is cathartic in nature. The actual act of writing is therapeutic when it is rhythmic in nature. Journaling can help promote a sense of relief by moving a thought from the hamster-wheel-of-thinking on to paper. Journaling can also be helpful in practicing mindfulness as the senses of touch, sight, and audition are all incorporated. In fact, staying present helps relieve ruminative and worried thinking patterns.

3. Problem-solving. Getting thoughts down on paper can help view these thoughts and situations in a different manner. You might find it easier to see a possible solution. The mind is not meant to be burdened nor filled with repetitive thoughts. Writing can help relieve some weight that comes from thinking; a journal can be the keeper of memories so one does not feel burdened or pressured to remember everything.

Consider the following formats for journal entries:

1. Free write.

When freewriting, you allow whatever is in your heart and mind to come out on paper, without judgment. The key to this type of writing is giving yourself the grace and space to write without an agenda. You give yourself permission to express yourself in whatever way comes out: bullet points, poetry, run-on sentences, etc. Notice when your mind feels empty; this could indicate you might be coming to the end of your writing session.

2. Guided entry.

Give yourself a writing prompt by asking yourself a specific question(s). The reason for asking yourself a specific question is so that you have a framework or guiding principle to help keep you on track. You might consider giving yourself a time limit, such as a 10-15 minute writing block, when you first start journaling.

3. Gratitude.

When keeping a gratitude journal, consider listing 3-5 people, events of the day, strengths, or ways you stepped out of your comfort zone. Really feeling grateful as you detail why you are thankful is important. Gratitude is not just something that’s said on an intellectual level. True gratitude is embodied: it is a way of feeling and living. Journaling about gratitude at night can be a powerful tool to help review and say goodbye to the day you had. A gratitude journal can also help prompt an intention for the next day: what is something that was hard today that you can practice again tomorrow?

Three Journal Prompts to help you get started:

1. What do I want to be about today?

2. What am I moving toward in my life? How can I co-collaborate with just the day in front of me?

3. As I see my (e.g., partner, child(ren), pet, house) safe and sound, can I pause to express deep gratitude for my own safety and wellbeing?

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