I’ve kept a journal from a young age (always along the theme of ‘Dear diary, today this happened…’) but it has only been in the last few years that I’ve started relying on journaling to see me through challenges in my life. The simple act of putting pen to paper seems to help me clear my mind and sort out whatever is bothering me.
Here are some of the things I’ve found really work for me when I’m writing in my journal.
1) Replace thoughts with words
The great thing about writing down the things that are bothering you is that you can gain some perspective on them. I find that if I’m just thinking about a problem I don’t seem to get anywhere. I get more and more anxious, more unhappy, and no closer to finding any sort of solution. Writing things down, on the other hand, seems to help me collect my thoughts and organise them. Suddenly it’s a whole lot easier to deal with my problems when I know what they are.
2) Give yourself advice
I’m a bit advocate for asking people for advice. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, I try to ‘accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher’. Despite this, I sometimes find that you can be the best source of advice for yourself. Let’s say you’re feeling a bit down for no particular reason and you want to find ways to cheer up. Chances are, you know better than anyone else what’s going to work for you. I find that writing advice to myself in my journal, as though I were writing it to someone else, is a strangely comforting way of finding solutions to my problems.
3) Balance negativity and positivity
I’ve found that I tend to use my journal the most when I’m going through a bit of a rocky patch. Maybe I’m worried about something or feeling a bit down or a bit insecure. I tend to rely on my journal during these times and record all the things going through my mind.
Victoria Zimmerman, owner of a brilliant company and YouTube channel called Femme Head, talks about doing ‘brain dumps’ in her journal. She gets her thoughts down onto paper and out of her head. I do something similar in my own journal. This works really well for me as it feels like I’m getting everything off my chest. However, it can easily get you trapped in a cycle of negativity so I always try to balance any negativity with positivity.
4) Practice gratitude
The main way I achieve a balance of positivity and negativity in my journaling routine is by writing everyday in my gratitude journal. Separate to the journal I use to work through my problems, I use my gratitude journal to focus exclusively on all the good things in my life.
I’ve been using a gratitude journal recommended to me by a friend called ‘The Five Minute Journal’ for almost half a year now and I’ve been absolutely loving it. I write in it every morning and every evening for, you guessed it, about five minutes in total and I’ve found that it’s had such a positive impact on my life already.
What’s wonderful about keeping a gratitude journal is that it’s a place where I only focus on positive things that are happening in my life. Looking back over them I realize how many special moments I experience on a daily basis and it gives me a tremendous sense of abundance and a sense of perspective from my problems.
5) You don’t have to do it everyday
Although I write in my gratitude journal everyday, I usually prefer to only journal when I’m in mood for it. I like to think of journaling as a practice that you do purely for your own benefit and wellbeing. The risk with journaling too often, I think, is that it could start to feel like a chore. So do it as much or as little as you want to. Sometimes I’ll go through stages where I’m writing in my journal a few times a week and other stages where I don’t write in it for a few months. I always know it’s there when I need it.
6) Have more than one
I have two journals. One for self-exploration and the other for gratitude. What’s great about keeping them separate is that I have a clear divide between moments when I’m feeling down and moments when I’m feeling abundant.
Victoria Zimmerman, who I mentioned previously, is a big lover of journaling and has about three different journals I think: one for writing freely in the mornings (morning pages); one for planning things out (bullet journal); and a regular journal for more formal writing.
The great thing about having different journals is that you can select one based on the mindset you’re in at the time. Maybe you want to have a moan, or focus on gratitude, or get organised. Keeping your journals separate gives you the freedom to follow your mood and go where it takes you.
7) Be really honest
Even in my own journal I sometimes find it hard to be honest with myself. Despite knowing that no one else will read what I write, it can feel scary writing down the truth. Why? I think it’s because once you’ve written something down it can feel a lot more concrete somehow. More tangible than when it’s floating aimlessly through your mind. The great things about being honest in your journal is that you’re much more likely to get to the heart of your problems than if you skirt around the truth and sugar-coat your words.
8) Keep it private
What helps me be truly honest in my journal is knowing that no one else will read what I’ve written. So tuck your journal away safely, and rest easy knowing that your secrets are safely stored within its pages.
Sometimes, I’ll admit, I do break this rule. If I’m trying to explain something I’m going through to my boyfriend, for example, and can’t seem to get my thoughts across easily I’ll let him read a diary entry I’ve written about it under close supervision of course!
9) Make it a ritual
Because I don’t write in my journal every day, and usually only when I’m unhappy about something, I do all I can to make the practice indulgent and relaxing. I’ll make myself a cup of tea, turn on a warm lamp, light a candle, and get snuggled under a blanket. Although these things aren’t necessary for writing in your journal, I find that for me they make the experience a whole lot more special.
10) Leave the past in the past
My final tip for journaling is something I’ve found purely from my experience and so it may not be the case for others, but I dont’t tend to read back through old journal entries. I like to think that once something has happened, it’s in the past and that’s where I want it to stay.
From my experience, I like to look back on the past and have a vague fuzzy sense of what’s happened. I tend to remember the good moments, glaze over the bad, and be left with a sense that everything is okay. If, however, I read back through old journal entries and read about the occasional struggles, and moments of sadness and confusion, I’m left with the sense that things aren’t all that great. So I use my journal to get me through those times and then leave them in the past where they belong.
– Tiger Lily –