I often recommend having a journaling practice only to hear, “how do I do that?” In this blog I share four different types of journaling. There are many other ways, but these four I’ve found most helpful in my own journey.
1. Pattern Discovery
I’ve become aware of and overcome many bad habits using this process. So can you. Through it I realized how oblivious I was to some of the self-defeating and unnecessary thought patterns and behaviors in my life. It’s not that I was intentionally avoiding them, but in the busyness of everyday life, I just wasn’t aware how consuming they were.
Once I saw it all in black and white, it was eye opening. For example, I discovered I was beating myself up on a daily basis about my body. I knew I had frustration around it but had no idea it was wasting so much of my time.
I sounded like a broken record in my journal! I was shocked at how much energy I was spending complaining about something without doing anything about it. It was a major motivator to make change. It also helped me feel compassion for myself, which isn’t my usual MO.
With that knowledge, I had choices to make. I wasn’t willing to keep beating myself up about the same thing over and over and over again. I began making changes. Not only did those patterns disappear but also my level of happiness grew.
It’s a powerful process but takes time. Here’s how it works. Everyday, or several days a week, write a few notes answering the following questions. Don’t spend too much time or put too much thought into it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Speak from your gut not your mind.
1. What made me happy today?
2. What made me feel low today?
3. How am I feeling overall?
After a few months of this, read the journal. Patterns will emerge. What do you see? In my experience, the longer you wait to read the journal, the more powerful the impact. It’s fine to read it at any point, but one month isn’t as powerful as six months. Personally, I like to wait until the end of the year to read it. The patterns are so rich they’re impossible to deny. Plus, at the end of the year it ties in nicely with goal setting for the next year.
2. Emotional clearing
It’s the end of the day, and despite your best efforts, you’re still ticked off or hurt about something from the day. Rather than pretending it is fine, or letting your evening be ruined by ruminating, you can use your journal to clear your emotions.
- What’s the situation, story or issue? Describe in a few sentences.
My boss is ignoring me. Hasn’t talked to me in two days.
- What is the emotion you’re feeling? How strong is it (scale of 1-10)?
I’m mad, anxious, jealous and scared. 8.
- What are the judgments, automatic thoughts, or reactions you have to the situation?
I wonder what I did.
Two can play this game. If he’s going to ignore me, I’ll ignore him back.
What if he doesn’t think I’m doing a good job?
I wonder if I’ll get a bad review.
Maybe I’m not good at my job after all.
What if he’s going to fire me? How will I pay my mortgage?
Will they give me a severance package?
I thought we had a good relationship.
I feel hurt and abandoned.
- What are some alternative ways of looking at this situation?
Maybe boss is just having a bad week.
Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with me.
Maybe he’s upset about someone or something else.
Maybe my boss could use some support from me.
Maybe I could just ask him if everything is OK.
- Re-rate how strong the original emotion is from 1-10.
- Identify the new emotion.
I feel curious and hopeful.
- What, if any, steps would you like to take?
Talk to my boss. Let him know I’ve observed that he seems quiet and ask if there’s any support he may need or anything he’d like to share with me.
See what happened in this example? We experience a situation. We create a story. We perceive some kind of threat. We let our amygdala run wild. Before you know it, your manager’s bad mood has turned into you getting fired. While the specific example may not resonate with you, the process likely will.
This exercise allows us to process our story as well as our judgments and fears. Then it provides a chance for us to see where our thinking might be illogical by examining alternative explanations.
When I first started journaling, emotional clearing was 90% of my writing. In practicing this method, I became much quicker at clearing my emotions. Now it’s done in moments in my head and released before I journal at the end of the day. Today it’s rare to see emotional clearing in my journal. But that took years to develop.
A final note on emotional clearing…clearing and healing can be like an onion. Just like with tapping, you might clear the first situation and emotion only for a new layer of the onion, a secondary situation or emotion, to appear. If that happens, go through the process with the second emotion/situation.
What is your dream? Say it. Write it. Think it. Feel it. Without letting the details and logistics get in your way, do some daydreaming! Spend a few minutes each day visualizing it. As you visualize it, feel it. What does it feel like when your dream is realized? Happiness? Joy? Peace? Contentment? Write it down! It’ll lift your vibration as you write, and it will help you realize your dreams faster.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. A gratitude practice is like taking a happy pill. When you’re feeling gratitude, there isn’t room to feel other negative emotions. Once you process the dark stuff, use gratitude as a way to lift your spirits.
There are three primary ways I use gratitude, two of which include journaling. In the morning, write down three reasons that today will be a great day – you’re essentially acknowledging gratitude for the day ahead. At the end of the day, write down three things that you’re grateful for about your day. Over time, as you go back and read these, you’ll also notice gratitude patterns!
Finally, a few words on the technique of journaling…
Don’t sweat the “how.” Journaling is a way to gain a deeper level of connection within. In that spirit, let your journaling process mirror that journey of discovery and connection. Meaning, there’s no right or wrong way to do this. You don’t have to do all four of these kinds of journaling every day. In fact, you don’t have to journal every day. Listen to yourself. Don’t overthink it. Feel it. What do you need to journal about today? Maybe there’s another way to journal that makes sense for you that I didn’t mention. For example, journaling your success stories!
Bottom line? It’s your journey. It’s your journal. Experiment to find out how it works best for you. Morning? Evening? After work? Electronically with a password? (There are plenty of apps out there.) Handwritten? Something else? It might take time to settle into a routine that works, but it will help you feel happier once you’ve got it down. Happy journaling!