I have been journaling for a few years now and it has turned out to be one of the best methods I have ever come across for reducing stress and achieving increased clarity and about goals, relationships and problems. I write longhand in a notebook trying to get onto the page whatever is on my mind at the moment but I know that others find that journaling on a digital device suits them better.
Journaling can provide some of the same benefits as counseling without the logistical requirements of scheduling, and travelling to, an appointment with a therapist. I am proud to be a professional counselor and I certainly don’t mean to downplay the value of counseling, but I am saying that journaling can provide many of the same deliverables with the advantage of being available at all times and at no cost.
You can choose to write about absolutely anything. You might focus on recent events and your feelings about them, personal or professional relationships, things that make you happy or grateful or stressed, things that are on your mind about the past or the future or anything that you might talk with a counselor about.
One of the reasons journaling is helpful is because it moves you from the automatic process of thinking about a problem to an intentional practice of writing about that problem. When we have a problem, particularly a long-standing issue with significant emotion attached to it, our thinking (or ruminating) can become stuck in a cycle of repetitive and pessimistic thoughts. Writing about it can disrupt this negative cycle and result in new ways of understanding and reacting to life experiences. The practice of recording thoughts is a powerful exercise in developing self-awareness and adds a valuable perspective over time.
Whether your goal is worrying less, improving an important relationship, eating better or performing better in a specific area of your life, journaling is an effective method to keep focused on the goal and to track your progress. It provides accountability in a comfortable and low-pressure way. Journaling is fundamentally a customized and free form organizational system that evolves to meet the needs of your changing circumstances.
Journaling does not need to be focused on a problem. Another approach is to simply review your day and what you accomplished or failed to accomplish, to record what you learned and to remind yourself what you want to follow up on tomorrow. You can also make lists of things you are curious or write down ideas for passion projects or trips or anything else you might like to do someday.
Journaling creates free space for self-improvement and creativity. We have many, sometimes contradictory, voices within us and journaling is one way to find your best voice, the one that most reliably represents the person you want to be. Our lives are works in progress from the moment we are born and journaling is one way to ensure that we have regular opportunities to express and clarify our evolving priorities.
Here are a few tips for getting started with journaling:
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t worry about the quality of the writing, the grammar, the spelling or anything else. You can start by doodling or making lists or bullet points. Just start writing and the thoughts will start coming.
- Start small and be patient. If you can only write a few sentences while you are getting comfortable with this process- that’s fine. Just write what you can and watch how your writing “muscle’ gets stronger with repetition and exercise. The benefits of journaling may not be instantaneous but they will come if you keep at it.
- Be honest. Your journal is not meant to be read by anyone else so write exactly what you think and feel without having to worry about how someone else might react. This process will strengthen your most authentic voice.
I strongly encourage you to give journaling a try. It’s a great way to get the approaching New Year started and you may find that it turns out to be the best gift you receive this holiday season.