I have to confess that I’ve something of a fetish when it comes to journals and notebooks. I can’t resist the smooth cover, the crack of the spine and the crisp pages just waiting to be filled. Even the smell of quality stationery intoxicates me, it’s the scent of creativity and possibility.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried to ‘right things out’ as well as write them out. I first started to keep a diary, noting the events of my day on 1st January 1986. I’ve written a diary entry every day since, some 34 volumes and counting. I’ve also filled countless journals, capturing my thoughts, reflections and ideas. The seeds of my five books can be traced back to scribbled journal entries.
My notebooks and journals fall into different categories. There’s the one I use to capture notes from the conferences and workshops I attend. There’s the latest in a series of travel journals that I bring with me on holidays and trips. I’ve been dipping into these BC (Before Covid) journals again to stir memories of sunnier climes.
My gratitude journal is opened every morning. From a work perspective, I have a journal for business planning and another one for social media content. Then there’s my trusted journal that sits on my desk, the planner containing my weekly ‘to do’ list. My newest journal is a ‘Joy Journal’ in which I capture those universal winks, those moments of serendipity, the evidence that proves my favourite Rumi quote that ‘the universe is titled in my favour.’
I couldn’t do a piece on journaling without referencing the ‘Morning Pages’ from Julia Cameron’s The Writer’s Way. Originally a technique for working through writer’s block, morning pages is the practice of writing three longhand pages of a brain dump, clearing the mind for the day ahead. As Julia Cameron says, referencing the work of Carl Jung, we have about a 45-minute window in the morning after we wake up before our ego’s defences kick in. That’s why she suggests writing first thing, so we can harness the uncensored authenticity available to us at the start of the day. When I first read The Writer’s Way at least fifteen years ago, writing morning pages became part of my daily routine. Now, I return to it every time I feel overwhelmed and sense the need to purge all the gunk rattling around my head.
In recent years, journaling has become as much part of the self-care movement as soothing baths, scented candles and meditation. Studies have shown that journaling has many benefits. It encourages mindfulness and reflection.
It enables us to organise our thoughts, emotions and reactions about the events in our lives. It helps us make sense of challenges and traumas. It enhances self-awareness as we can dive into our emotions, labelling them and creating the space for a different perspective.
Personally, apart from capturing my ideas when inspiration hits and organising my thoughts on a topic, the benefit I get from journaling is being able to witness my life. This helps me observe my patterns, detach from my concerns and gives me a greater sense of control which in turn reduces my levels of worry and stress.
I also see it as a time for connecting with my higher consciousness and spirit guides, maybe even my own conversation with God. Not bad for simply taking the time to sit down and ‘ink it not just think it.’ Other advocates of journaling speak about enhancing memory and communication skills, boosting self-confidence and motivation, even supporting better sleep and strengthening your immune system.
Perhaps because I started writing in the pre-digital age, when it comes to journaling my preference is for good old-fashioned pen and paper, preferably an inviting hardback notebook. (Though from a legibility perspective I’d be better off sitting at my laptop!) I also have to be in the mood and headspace for journaling. I won’t force it, but I will make the space for it in my life.
It can be scary to look at a blank page or screen. If you are new to journaling you will wonder what should I write. The short answer is anything you want, anything that is dancing around in your head. Remember with journaling it is a personal, private pursuit.
Here are a few approaches to help you on your journaling journey.
Jump straight in, take the stabilisers off and go freeform, as encouraged by Julia Cameron. A pure brain dump, even if this means filling the page with ‘I don’t know what to write,’ or a series of swear words. This pure morning pages approach is one-way traffic, you are not meant to reread what you write. It’s a cathartic outpouring of the contents of your mind.
Sometimes when facing a blank page, I’ll start by listing everything I’m grateful for in that moment. A long hand to-do list might follow, noting the stuff I don’t want to forget. I might brainstorm on a project or situations I’m worried about. There are no rules, just you, the pen at the end of your hand, and a page wanting to be filled.
One of my favourite journaling techniques is posing a question, usually centred around something I’m worried or confused about, an issue I’m seeking clarity on, or a decision I’m struggling with. Good questions are keys for unlocking wisdom. For example, ‘how I can earn more money?’ ‘What change is trying to take place?’ ‘What else can I do to move this issue forward?’ ‘What do I need to let go of?’
I think it is important to ensure the questions you pose are focused on you. For example, ‘why does he always do that?’ is not a question worth writing, because you cannot answer it, it’s not about you. ‘Why do I continue to respond to him the way I do?’ is a better question.
When I pose a question, I’ll pause and see what surfaces. Our minds are a question and answer mechanism, ask a question and an answer will follow. When journaling, I always feel my head thinks of the question, but my heart answers it.
A third option is to research some questions online, see what resonates and then use them as a prompt to get your pen moving. One recent source of good journaling questions I’ve come across is Michelle Obama’s new book ‘Becoming – A guided journal for discovering your voice.’ From a marketing perspective, it builds on the phenomenal success of her autobiography Becoming. From a personal development viewpoint, it contains many of her quotes as well as insightful questions.
To get you in the journaling mood, here are 10 questions well worth contemplating:
Journaling is no longer the domain of teenage girls with their dear diary entries. It helps us figure out who we are, to pare back the noise and establish a closer relationship with our true essence and desires.
We know the saying a problem shared is a problem halved, seeing my thoughts on a page, particularly the ones rooted in worry and fear, somehow lessen their hold. I love the clarity of thought journaling gets for me. This clarity means better decision-making. And in some magical way, journaling helps me be kinder to myself. For that alone, it is worth picking up my pen.
I hope you enjoyed this post, do share it with your community and listen to episode 56 of my podcast below where I talk in more detail about journaling and the positive benefits it has given to me.
Do also check out this post on navigating Covid 19 as we continue to remain with social distancing and if you would like to join my community to stay up to date with all my news and updates register below with your email.