If you’re on this site, it’s because you’re experience stress and you want to manage it better. And you know this probably means slowing down. Perhaps you’re already practicing some of the tools to help you get there, such as yoga, meditation, or mindfulness.
As you slow down, you start to uncover more about yourself. And since you don’t always like what you see, it’s easy to either beat yourself up or push everything back down. But what if there was another way? What if you could develop a set of journaling tools to help you unpack the issues you’re facing?
I’ll let you in on a secret. Much as my yoga and meditation practice are important to me, it’s my journaling practice that is the single most valuable tool I have to deal with changes I’m experiencing, issues I’m facing, and strong emotions that I need to work through. I’ve been journaling for 30 years, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
I went through a period where I journaled every day. Many people know this as “morning pages”. I sat down first thing and told myself I’d write for at least 10 minutes. It didn’t matter what it was about. I would just write and see what came up. And it worked. But it was hard to keep up a daily practice.
So then I started journaling whenever I felt the need. And that was great because it helped me work through a lot of difficult feelings, especially around my job, and my purpose, and what an authentic life meant to me. But it left out a lot of the good stuff. I was only writing when I felt crappy. And while it helped clear my head, it did not advance my desire to live a more positive life.
Now I do a hybrid of the two. I try to write weekly and spend a few moments summarizing both the good and the bad. Then, if need to crack something open and go deeper, I do.
That’s my own technique. But there are numerous ways to journal and you can play around with what works for you. It doesn’t matter if you write with a fast-moving pen like I do, or tap your thoughts on a keyboard. It doesn’t matter whether you know how to spel or not. It doesn’t matter if the only thing you’ve written since high school is a grocery list or a Facebook post. None of of it matters because it’s only for you. That’s the beauty and the power of journaling.
Below are 5 journaling methods to get you started. See if one resonates with you, or mix and match depending on what you’re trying to work out. The important thing is to pick up the pen or pull out the computer and get started.
1. Stream of Consciousness (aka Brain Dumping)
I have to admit that this one is my favourite. I just write. If I don’t know how to start, I write “I don’t know what to write” and go from there. It doesn’t take long for my monkey mind to jump at the chance to spew thoughts all over the page. It’s a bit manic, and often times my pen can’t keep up with my brain, but I find it very cathartic, and can often uncover gems hidden under those noisy daily thoughts.
START by just writing. Sometimes, setting a timer helps. If you know you only have to write for 10 or 15 minutes it can ease the pressure and let the thoughts flow. Just see what comes up.
2. Letter Writing
This is a letter that you write to someone or something, but don’t send. I’ve used this one to work through issues that I’ve had with people close to me. By getting my thoughts on paper, no holds barred, it’s allowed me to say things that I otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t, either through fear of hurting the other person or jeopardizing the relationship. But it helps me sort out my own thoughts and feelings, so I can work on a more mindful and compassionate way to address the issue with the other person. This one can also take the form of a letter to an emotion, such as fear or guilt, or a message to something you are struggling with such as your relationship with money or food.
START with “Dear… ” and go from there. Then rip it up, burn it, delete it, or keep it as a reminder of what is lurking beneath it all.
3. List Making
I’m a bit of a list keeper. Usually it’s a to-do list or a meal plan, but this can also be a great technique to uncover things about yourself. I once made a list of 30 things I’d buy or do if I won the lottery. (sigh. I still have the list.) Setting a high number forced me to keep going beyond the usual — take a trip, retire, give some away to family and friends — to see that I’d love to run yoga retreats, or take more courses — things that I could actually do now. It forces you to keep digging deeper and deeper and that’s where the good stuff is.
START by deciding what your list is going to be and the number of things you’re going to put on it. Make it fairly high to challenge yourself. Some ideas are: 20 things I love about myself; 30 places I’d love to travel to; 25 ways I’d like to live more sustainably. It’s not a to-do list, it’s simply a strategy to see what emerges.
This one, like Letter Writing, encourages you to address a person or thing or emotion. The difference here is that what you’re writing to talks back! It’s a great opportunity to take on another perspective. For instance, I’ve struggled for a while with my job. It’s complicated and frustrating, and I’ve had to work hard to stay positive. Using a conversation allowed me to listen to my job’s point of view (I’m seriously NOT hearing voices in my head). And I was reminded that my job allows me to work at home, have flexible hours, and live a lifestyle that I love. Sometimes we just need to see both sides.
START by setting up the dialogue in a ME:… YOU:…. format. Tell whatever it is how you feel, and then see how it responds — really! Keep going and you’ll be amazed with what you uncover. The brain has an awesome ability to shift perspectives if you allow it.
This method is like a Stream of Consciousness, but it starts with a question or a quote to bring focus. It could be a personal question such as “Why do I have to run to the bathroom every time I make a presentation” (ok, too much information), or a quote such as “be the change you wish to see in the world”, and what your interpretation of that is. This is a good one for those deep thinkers out there, and sometimes having a single thing to focus on allows you to take a much deeper dive, especially if you’ve only allowed yourself to write for 10 or 15 minutes.
I urge you to give journaling a go or, if you’ve dabbled with it before, to try and make it a weekly practice. It doesn’t take any fancy equipment and you may be surprised (or dismayed) by what gets revealed. The important thing is that you let your thoughts flow without any censorship, and you approach it with a sense of compassion, not judging anything that arises. The best way to manage stress is to slow down, let go of stuff that doesn’t serve you, and discover what your priorities are. To do that, you often need to dig to uncover what is deep inside. Journaling is a powerful tool for that.
I’m excited to hear in the comments how it goes, and do let me know what your favourite method is, or share your own style! Happy writing!