Journaling is a simple and powerful practice that can help bring your life into sharper focus, enabling you to get a glimpse of the life that is trying to emerge. This is not the same as keeping a “dear diary” log of daily life. Instead, through simple writing exercises, you can bring to surface the deeper meanings that have been waiting to be explored, released, or used. Whether you love to write a lot or would rather jot down a few points, finding what works for you will be very important to create a sustainable journaling practice.
Studies and articles have been touting the benefits of journaling, or “expressive writing,” for years. It is not uncommon for integrative and functional medicine practitioners to recommend journaling as an effective healing modality. The benefits of a regular journaling practice can include:
- Actualization of goals
- Stress reduction
- Physical and emotional healing
- Improved cognitive function
- Enhanced creativity
- Increased emotional intelligence
- Deeper knowledge of self
Getting StartedChoose Handwriting or Electronic Writing
The traditional journaling by hand is the preferred technique. The physical act of putting pen to paper and writing your thoughts creates a mind-body connection that helps your brain fully integrate the process. This also encourages you to slow down and savor the moment of connecting with your inner self. If that format does not appeal to you, don’t let that hinder you. Many people have turned to electronic journaling as their preferred form of writing—but at least try journaling by hand first and see if this is something that might benefit you.
Choose a time in your schedule that allows for quiet solitude, free of distractions. Helpful tip: Schedule it into your calendar as a regular appointment that you would not miss. You can devote 10 minutes to an hour to your writing; there are no rules, as long as you take time each day to write.
Take a Moment to Breath
Create some space between your last activity and journaling by taking a moment to breath, literally. A great breathing technique that has immediate benefits is Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. If you have a regular meditation practice, try meditating first and then use that stillness to take your writing to a deeper level. Using breath alone or in combination with meditation can help to shift your body into a state of restful awareness, which is ideal during times of reflection.
Let Go of Ego
One of the challenges faced during a journaling session might be the ego, which can strive for perfection and prevent meaningful exploration of thoughts and emotions. You can use free writing, or stream-of-consciousness writing, to help push past this obstacle. The main idea is to write quickly and don’t scratch out words or sentences. Instead, perhaps write “I want to scratch that out because...” or “I wish I hadn’t said that...” or “I wish I was a better speller....” With practice, this will help you move beyond your ego and get back to the heart and soul of journaling.
Journaling Exercise: End-of-Year ReflectionsImagine yourself watching a movie of your life from the past year, free of judgments and attachments. Perhaps think of yourself as an ‘alien journalist’ who is there to simply observe. Do the best you can, and as you go along, write down moments that stand out for you. At this point, don’t analyze; just simply write a list. To help prompt you, here are some themes:
- Body and health
- Meaning and spirituality
- Major crossroads or decisions
- Society, family, community, nation, and earth
- Dreams and images
What You LearnedWrite down what you learned from each theme on your list. This can be especially empowering when examining an event that was particularly difficult. For example, if there was a period of time where your health was in decline, perhaps you learned how strong you can be or how to voice your needs. Don’t think about it too much, just begin writing quickly and without judgement.
Letting GoThe act of letting go of what no longer serves you is very important in order to create space for new experiences. It’s hard to depart on a new voyage with excess baggage delaying your progress. Look at your list once again from your end-of-year reflections and examine what you have learned. Think of what is no longer serving you. Write it down with the heading “I let go of…” and once again, don’t think too much, just write. It’s important to be honest and raw here, whether that means using images, poetry, colors, or even curse words that portray exactly what it is you are releasing. As a final act of release, burn the list in a safe area. Everything served a purpose during their time, but now it’s time to let go.
The Path AheadAt this point, it may become clear what aspects of your life are thriving and what needs more attention. Think about the bigger picture and ask yourself questions that will keep the momentum moving in the right direction. For example, think about the following:
- What aspects of my life call for my attention?
- Where is my life trying to take me?
- What is my life trying to become?
GratitudeEnd the reflection with gratitude for what has been, what is, and what is to come. This is a good everyday journaling exercise. Write down at least three things you are grateful for, whether it’s for the person at the grocery store who smiled at you or the air that you breath. No matter what mood you are in, the mere act of being grateful can increase optimism, making it easier to achieve goals and fulfill your desires.
With the writing exercise outlined above, practice welcoming the coming days and new year with ease, gratitude, and inspiration. Feel free to complete the exercise in one sitting or over several days. There are sections which you may want to revisit at a later time. Journaling is empowering work and it can be hard, but if you stick with it as part of your routine, the transformation you will see and feel will be well worth the effort.
Life is a beautiful, crazy journey and it can get even better knowing you have the ability to be the conductor of your life.