Tag Archives: journaling practices

Journaling is a Process, not a Product

Journaling TipsWhen I first started journaling, I remember challenging myself to fill up a notebook as quickly as I could. I numbered each journal with consecutive digits; and just like graduating to the next grade-level in school, I felt a secret pride that I had made it to the next number!

I remember making it my goal to write for a whole year, 365 days consecutive, without skipping a single day (that was 1989, and I accomplished that goal)!

Sometimes little games like this help keep me journaling during a dry spell. After all, a little competition (even with one’s self) can offer just the motivation one needs to keep on writing.

But over the years, I can see that journal-writing as a practice has benefits far broader than just “making it to the next notebook”:

Journaling helps me keep my focus on things that matter to me. Even if my days are filled with errands and obligations, journaling helps me keep making baby-steps of progress on my goals.

Journaling helps me identify what my true feelings are, and where they are coming from, everything from jealousy to ambition. When our feelings are misunderstood or misplaced, it can be confusing and frustrating that we act in ways we can’t explain. Knowing myself helps me to have compassion for myself, and allows me to grow.

All of these great benefits, and more, are not something that can be guaranteed in 30 days, or in 100 pages of writing. The impact of journaling cannot be measured in the number of words or entries one has written. Journaling is not a product that we produce. It is a method for the accounting of one’s life. It is a process that takes time for exploration and discovery.

And like any process that takes time, little games and arbitrary measurements (“Look! I’m on my 208th notebook!”) can help us stay on course when the process gets challenging.

Journaling as a Practice in Mindfulness

Journaling and MeditationJournaling is often compared to the habit of meditation. Many journal-writers report receiving the same benefits as those who practice meditation on a regular basis: Stress relief, an increased ability to focus, self-understanding, awareness of inner dialogue, and clarity of thought, to name a few. Here’s a simple exercise you can try as a journaling meditation:

  1. Start by opening to a fresh clean page in your journal. While taking a deep breath to begin, take a moment to notice and appreciate the empty page.
  2. Rest the tip of your pen onto the page, and select a simple first word or phrase to become a focus during your meditation. Write the word(s) slowly.
  3. Allow your pen to move gently; watch the ink get absorbed onto the page. While you continue selecting thoughts or phrases, don’t worry if they are not full sentences. Simply allow yourself to drop your thoughts, one phrase at a time, as if they are being caught in a net.
  4. If there is a pause, or a moment between words, take the opportunity to reconnect with your breath. Notice your inhale and exhale. Let your attention rest on the tip of your pen, allowing it to pull out the next word for you. Allow your pen to move, as if holding the cursor of a Ouija board, channeling wisdom from you inner spirit.

There are times when journaling can be soothing and relaxing. Just as journaling can raise new ideas and creativity, it can also be used to quiet the mind. Instead of only focusing our journal-writing on all the chatter in our heads, an exercise like this one can help to move into a calm state. Sometimes poetry will leak onto the page using this technique.

Journal-To-The-Self Workshop

Journal to the SelfJust as there are a variety of writing styles (historical fiction, poetry, memoir, screenplay) there are also various techniques of journal-writing. Here are just a few:

gratitude practice can help you focus on the things that fuel you, and to remember that the small gifts in life are often the most precious.  Lisa Ryan is one expert in this technique who recently shared some tips for this style of journaling on JournalTalk.

Creating Lists of 100 can be a very fun (and informative!) method to organize and categorize your thoughts. You might surprise yourself what you learn from naming 100 items on a given topic.

The Unsent Letter is one of the most powerful healing tools for situations where you feel stuck, anxious, unheard, or where there is a need for forgiveness or grieving.  I have a very special JournalTalk episode planned with an example of the power of the Unsent Letter coming soon!

All of these techniques, and over a dozen more, will be the subject of my next journaling workshop, called Journal To The Self.  We’ll be taking time to explore each technique in detail, and learn new ways of connecting with ourselves. While it is intended for beginning journal-writers, it has also provided tools for those more experienced to deepen their journaling practice.

This workshop is based on the book with the same title, by Kathleen Adams. The tuition for this workshop ($120.00 US) includes the cost of a helpful workbook that is designed to complement the assignments.  We meet for 90 minutes per week, by telephone conference, each Sunday starting April 6th, with the exception of Easter and Mother’s Day.

The “One Thing” About Journaling

journaling tips, journalingWhile designing a journaling workshop, I often ask myself, “What’s the one thing that I want people to take away from this session?” It’s a technique I learned from my days in instructional design training. I’ve also heard Pat Flynn, Michael Hyatt, and other contemporary coaches offer this suggestion to bloggers and podcasters who are preparing content for their audience. This question has served me well, and always helps me focus on one important theme, around which I can decorate with supporting examples and exercises. It keeps my journaling workshops engaging and poignant.

But recently I’ve noticed something. When I think of the one thing I want people to come away with, it’s almost always the same thing every time.  Whether I’m preparing for a journaling workshop, or podcast episode, or blog post I’m working on.

I’m taking this as a sign.

I think it means that maybe there’s just one thing that I want you to know about journaling. Perhaps I’m realizing that there’s really One Thing that best summarizes a good journaling practice. The One Thing that explains all the wisdom in all the workshops and books on the subject is: Learn to Get Real with Yourself.

Journaling coaches and therapists around the globe have offered all kinds of stylistic trainings and motivation on journal-keeping. There are hundreds of resources, books, workshops, theories, and prompts to help inspire you toward your best writing. But perhaps this one principle, if mastered, will make all the other tips and techniques unnecessary.  Just spend some time “getting real” with yourself.

Neither tips, nor prompts, nor fancy pens, nor crafty notebooks, nor all the software features in the world can make an ounce of difference in the quality of my journal-writing if I’m not willing to open up and be completely honest with myself.

We are masters at spinning information, juggling with people’s perceptions, dancing with both our ego and our soul, choosing which is nobler between two goods, such as telling the truth or preserving the peace. We put on a smile at work, even though we are exhausted and the customer is unfair. We quiet our kids’ persistent unanswerable questions with harmless white lies to get through the day, knowing they’ll understand more when their time comes. We blend in, we strategize the best refund, we find a silver lining, we point to our good intentions to explain our thoughtless mistakes. There are millions of ways that we shift and warp reality, and they are all for good reasons. But in our journals, it’s time to get real.

And, unfortunately, getting real with one’s self is nothing that I (or anyone) can teach you in a workshop or a book. It’s simply calling a spade a spade. It’s acknowledging both sides of an argument. It’s facing whatever fears are blocking our courage. It’s being secure in our insecurities. It’s making time to celebrate the small accomplishments. It’s recognizing the value of our contributions to the world. It’s forgiving. It’s making peace with why it’s sometimes so hard to forgive. It’s getting clear about who we are and where we want to be. It’s stating our truth, however inconvenient. It’s wrestling with our convictions, and untangling old systems of thought that no longer serve us.

If there’s one thing I would like to teach the world about journaling, it’s that journaling is the best place to get real with ourselves. And if we can get real in our journal, we can face ourselves in the mirror. And once we are acquainted with ourselves, can we truly know the whole world.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle

“Know thyself and everything else will be revealed.” ― Pamela Theresa Loertscher


Image: By damianosullivan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0