Listen, I get it. If adding another item to your to-do list every day doesn’t sound like fun, that’s because you might be thinking about journaling the wrong way. Imagine if I told you it’s like talking to the kindest, most understanding, forgiving, and patient person about your deepest hurts, worst nightmares, and most nagging fears, and they GET IT. Even more than that, they don’t talk back. They listen. They see you through the worst. When you come out on the other side, they’re there…cheering you on before the next big hurdle.
Who wouldn’t clear their schedule to make time for this every day?
Yes, of course, you’re thinking, but that person’s not me! I’m my own worst enemy, worst critic, worst cheerleader, you name it.
Possibly. You might be right. But you don’t have to be. I had the same objections as you, before I started journaling. Ironically, the daily discipline of spelling out my thoughts, feelings, dreams, and desires on paper was the one thing that saved me from the harsher modes of self-evaluation I was used to inflicting on myself.
As a writer, I’m constantly putting myself in my characters’ shoes. The act of creation necessitates that, like an actor, I view life from their perspective and, with empathy and compassion, portray their logical reactions and feelings in a believable, trustworthy way on paper. When I journal, I’m capturing my own internal life on paper, like that of a character, allowing me to consider my thoughts, feelings, and reactions as a passive observer.
If I’m too caught up in my own mind to view my thoughts and feelings as a passive observer would, I can’t do anything about them. But I can if they’re someone else’s thoughts and feelings. That’s what journaling does. It frees us from our own perceptions and judgments of ourselves long enough for our subconscious to intervene and help us out, like a friend or a counselor would. The page gives us breathing room from our own minds, a break in the music, time enough to deal gently with ourselves instead of jumping to react, to do the next thing (and the quicker, the better in our culture!).
Rule number one: there are no rules. The sky’s the limit when you journal. Hate punctuation? Don’t use any. Don’t know what to write about? Note the first angry/sad/reflective thought that comes to mind and follow where it leads. None of what you write has to make any sense. In fact, if it doesn’t, that’s probably better. The more masks you peel off, the better. If you can’t be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with?
Without further ado, here is my beginner’s guide to committing to a daily habit of journaling:
J – Just listen. Don’t censor yourself when you write. Whatever is on your mind or in your heart is fair game. Give yourself permission to say whatever you’re thinking or feeling, no matter how ____ it sounds.
O – Observe. When you’re done writing, sit back and read what you’ve written with no judgement. Pretend your words are those of a good friend or someone you’re genuinely curious about.
U – Understand. Search for patterns in your thinking, common triggers for your emotions. Continue to remain neutral to your own observations about what you see. (This is easier to do when you’ve been journaling a while.)
R – Relate/empathize. Let your subconscious do what it’s amazing at. Be human. Have as much compassion on yourself as you would if these words were coming from the mouth of your best friend in the whole world, or someone you dearly love.
N – Nudge. In time, you’ll be able to predict your own negative thought patterns and triggers. Here’s where it gets exciting: you can begin nudging those thoughts and feelings in a new direction.
A – Accept. Life isn’t perfect. None of us are perfect, nor do any of us deal with life perfectly. *shocker* Recognizing that everything you think and feel comes with the territory of being human is nothing short of…liberating.
L – Learn. Journaling is learning. Learning to listen to yourself and to practice withholding judgment. Learning to treat yourself like a human being. Learning to be kind, to empathize, to champion yourself, and help yourself grow.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that journaling is a habit you can’t afford not to try. It’s certainly been a catalyst for my own artistic development and well-being. I would love if it did the same for you.
Got any tips you’d love to share about journaling? Drop me a line! I’d love to hear what those are.