If you’re anything like me – in that you’re trying to work out what you were popped on the earth to do – then you’ve probably read a self-help or personal development book or two (hundred).
So, at some point in time it’s highly likely that the suggestion of journaling has come up. Loads of successful people do it and highly recommend it – Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma, Gabrielle Bernstein, Lisa Messenger etc. etc. It must be worthwhile otherwise places like Typo and Kikki-K wouldn’t be making the killing that they are!!!
It is true that I journal to enable my stationary addiction but it also has some very positive side-effects.
I remember when I started out I was always so self-conscious of what I wrote – I mean what if someone read it????
The pretty journals I love these days don’t come with locks like the scented diary I had when I was a kid. So initially writing anything cathartic was limited by my inability to be vulnerable, even with myself. It certainly hasn’t been a habit that stuck easily. Fast-forward to now and whilst I don’t journal EVERY day, I do take to my journal frequently and I have had some great revelations; and I’ve improved my connection with self no end.
There’s an absolute plethora of information out there on the world-wide web that both scientifically and anecdotally supports the use of journaling. Some pages suggest free writing (or in layman’s terms: just vomit everything that’s in your head onto the page), others suggest simple templates or formats to follow. I generally combine both, depending on the mood or emotions I’m working on clearing or creating.
I received the book Calm by Michael Acton Smith for Christmas; in it was a super simple format to trigger you to journal – answer these 3 questions:
1. “What made you feel calm today?”
2. “What are you grateful for?”
3. “What were 3 highlights of today?”
This is a great format to shift your focus from all the stresses you may be marinading your mind in (see TMCH Blog post here about marinades) before you go to bed, to a more positive mindset. I like to challenge myself with this one (not that I am competitive at all); especially when I’ve had a super shit day and think that life is all too hard.
I come up with at least three things to be grateful for and yeah sometimes they get a bit repetitive; my dog Chewy features often with me mixing it up by specifying whether we played in the back-yard vs the dog park vs went to the river…. But without being clichéd it is the little or simple parts of life that can bring us so much joy; we just need to be present to appreciate them, otherwise they just slip right past us.
Robin Sharma says here that if you can shift your perspective to find things you are grateful for you will begin to see miracles, and with the world in the state it is, we could all do with more miracles.
From the bits and pieces, I have read regarding journaling the benefits include:
help to better deal with traumatic experiences
clarifies thoughts and feelings
identifies concerns and challenges
know yourself better
solve problems more efficiently
help resolve disagreements with others by gaining alternative perspectives
help manage anxiety
provides a way to recognise triggers
My favourite little bit of research I stumbled across was by Psychologist James Pennebaker of the University of Texas who studied writing and the immune system and found that writing strengthens our immunity cells!!!
There are loads of resources out there suggesting different ways to journal, books you can buy with trigger sentences to kick you off every day, the cool thing is there is no right or wrong way to do it. I prefer to journal at night to process my day, I use it to heal after a hectic day and clear my mind in anticipation for tomorrow.
You might find by the end of the day you can’t be arsed sitting there and writing your “Dear diary…” so first thing in the morning might work better for you. Go for broke at whichever way works for you, and by all means try a few different ways on for size. You don’t have to use old school pen and paper, there are apps you can use, you can write on your phone or computer or tablet, one website even suggested buying a big wall calendar and writing a sentence per day in each square, which would make it easy to see the days you missed!
I’m a bit of a fence sitter and find both ways of journaling work for me, when I’m in a good space I enjoy the three-question format above combined with a free write as well, if it feels right. Sometimes I go to bed and all I can think of is all the jobs I have been putting off or procrastinating on (the water bill needs to be paid, I never emailed my friend Lara back etc.) so I write them out to clear that space up in my brain, which can be enough to get me to sleep or may well clear space for the real emotion behind why I can’t sleep to surface. This for me is the most valuable and beneficial part of journaling; it quietens the chatter in my head.
On the average days, the days when I’ve been triggered and find myself feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed; journaling is one of the tools I turn to, to process the emotion and heal the wound that underlies it. You know that feeling when your whole body is in turmoil, your mind is a veritable tornado of thoughts triggering emotions and you are ready to engage full blown fight or flight mode? That’s when free-writing comes into its own. By sitting in the emotion and spewing it all out into my journal, the white noise of those unhelpful thoughts starts to dissipate, and the truth behind what has triggered me surfaces and from that truth comes the learnings, and it’s recommended you should write all learnings down too, our friend Tony Robbins says that we increase our retention by 75-95% of information by writing things down. It can be healing and it can assist shifting your emotions, as well as strengthening your connection to your soul.
I’m not going to lie; it can be super confronting what spews out when you’re not in the best space. It certainly is much easier to take a nap, disconnect from yourself via mindless social media scrawling, stuffing the feelings down with food or whatever your go to mechanism of coping is. It can really, really, suck sitting in the emotion but one of my favourite quotes, which apparently comes from old mate Albert Einstein is “The definition of insanity is doing the something over and over again, expecting a different result”.
Tony Robbins also makes the valid point that if your life is worth living, and trust me – it is; then it’s worth recording – your journal can be an invaluable way of recording for yourself just how far you have come.
Teala Stephens - Coffee. Tunes. Friends. Laughs. Food. Sarcasm. My Puppy Chewy. Dance Floors.
Physiotherapist Living and working in Wagga Wagga.