It was the third time I had written that day. I sat on the pavement next to my car, quickly scribbling the thoughts that had been whirling around my brain. Once I got the thoughts out, I could stop thinking them. I could stop having conversations in my head. Quiet would follow, even if only for a short while.
I was initially reluctant to journaling. Resistant, you could even say. It took months to give into my ’s prodding to write about why I didn’t want to write. Fast forward several years and I understand that the friction I was experiencing stemmed from an unwillingness and a fear of truly examining myself. For many of us in the business of sadness and self-sabotage, self-awareness might mean facing demons that, in some ways, provide familiarity and comfort. Of course, I only learned these things through journaling itself.
Your story might sound like mine. It might not. Regardless, journaling provides an outlet for reflection which is critical in learning. As an educator, I often teach others about learning theories. One step required for learning to occur is reflecting on our experiences. We reflect, draw conclusions and notice themes, and decide how to proceed in the future. Without taking the time to reflect, we don’t learn and we don’t grow.
Need help getting started?
Here are a few of the tricks I found most helpful in turning journaling into a welcome practice:
1. Get a pretty journal. Seriously. If you can imagine it on Instagram next to a latte, you’ll be more willing to pick up that pretty stack of paper on the regular.
2. Try different styles of writing. Free writing is great to start with; let your thoughts just pour onto the paper. Try letters to self or letters to others, as well. I’m not the only one having a constant conversation with myself or an imaginary friend in my head. Now, I just put it on paper. Get creative with haikus or poetry if the mood strikes. Remember, no one is reading this but you. There’s no pressure for anything fancy unless it helps you write.
3. Theme your journal. Gratitude journals are the most popular option here. Every day, write 3-5 things from your day or your life for which you are thankful. Or focus on self-love. Jot down a few things you love about yourself, especially on those days when you’re really in a funk. Note one random act of kindness you witnessed. Note any accomplishments, big or small, from your day. Or create your own daily list. All of these things will cultivate an attitude of positivity and you’ll shift your focus to optimism without realizing it. You’ll catch yourself writing lengthy entries rather than a bulleted list and diving deeper into your thoughts as your journaling expands.
4. Set a time. Pick a time, whether it be first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or after dinner. Choose a time that will work nearly every day. Stick to that time, even when you don’t feel like journaling or life seems too busy. If you promise yourself just 3 minutes of writing, you might find that you have more to say. If not, you’ve written 3 minutes of thoughts and that’s worthwhile!
5. Invest in a journal with prompts. Still stuck? A myriad of daily journals with prompts, questions, or quotes to get you going are now out on the market. While they’ll cost more than an empty notebook, they’re perfect for anyone needing an extra push or more inspiration.
Start with journaling. As it becomes more natural, begin reviewing previous entries to notice the ebbs and flows of life, themes in work and relationships, and changes in mood when circumstances change. Examine these and look deep. What stories do you tell yourself? Are they just that – stories? What do you want to change or improve and what is holding you back? As you continue this process, you’ll have a way to look back at your growth through the very tool that supported it.