A post recently went up on Sahar’s Blog discussing some of the benefits and pitfalls of journaling. It generated an influx of emails from readers with, amongst others, some great “logistical” tips about journaling; these inspired a post on the most coveted journals and pens. Ensuing conversations contained so many great quirks and habits that can make journaling more effective that they just had to be shared. The advice below has helped a number of readers increase the quality of their journaling; I myself have already heeded them.
Fit journaling into your day as meticulously as you would exercise. Choose a consistent time, a specific location, and develop even the simplest of routines to get you in the right mindset. Saying a couple of prayers, doing a bit of meditation, making a coffee or a tea, engaging into menial labor right before (talking care of plants was mentioned a few times), or putting on an accessory like a hat or gloves were an effective part of many readers’ routine.
Mornings Are Best
Journaling in the morning after a good night’s sleep and about to take on a new day allows some readers to not fall into negative dwelling, but rather stick to constructive journaling. Even readers who were not morning people confessed that this worked in their favor, as the effort they had to put into journaling engaged them far more in the morning than at any other time of the day.
In any other case, I’m a strong proponent of careful, symmetrical, straight, and (very) legible handwriting. But when it comes to journaling, everyone seems to agree: write it as it comes to you. Sometimes it will come slow and the handwriting will be at its very best. But more often than not, it will be varying shades of messy—but that’s also when some of the most emotions will come out. Even if the handwriting is barely legible, it’s okay: it’s more important to get the ideas out.
More Than Words
Working your way to understanding what is going on in your heart and your head requires many, many drafts, the initial versions of which might include not just words but also lists, doodles, arrows, whatever makes the point come across. Someone even mentioned using stickers! No one will see your journal but you, so make sure to let loose within the safety of its pages. On top of that, the way you journal reflects the way you feel, giving you further insight into your subconscious. And as a couple of readers mentioned, a picture (however simple or badly drawn) is worth a thousand words.
Limiting the time one spends journaling during the day proved helpful in more than one way. When the words do not seem to come, forcing oneself to sit for fifteen minutes and write allows for some unexpected surprises, even if the day’s entry starts with the words “I have nothing to write about today”, a go to sentence that many seem to use. When the words gush out, limiting the journaling to only fifteen minutes allows for sustainable journaling in an already busy schedule.
Safe and Sound
To a certain extent, journaling implies writing out things we would never share with anyone else. This cannot happen unless we feel safe; in the case of journaling, it basically means ensuring that no one can read over your shoulder while you are writing and that no one can find your journal. Letting your inner, paranoid Mulder out might be the best course of action to creating this feeling of safety. Sit with your back to a wall; lock the door to your room; journal when no one else is home; choose a good hiding place. A few readers mentioned going the extra mile to hide their journals in spots they were a little embarrassed to tell me about. Then again, perhaps their embarrassment is a reflection of how good these spots just might be!
Distance Makes the Reflection Grow Fonder
Journaling about a negative experience only after some time has passed allows for the intensity of the initial feelings to pass. Why is that important? Because those initial feelings are often rooted in our deepest survival instincts, the ones that for example make us say things we would never have thought ourselves capable of saying. As our reality is our thoughts, and the more we repeat something, the more embedded it becomes, it seems wise to not put the effort into transcribing our basest emotions into words. Rather, giving the time for our “reptilian brain” to go back into hiding enables our higher nature to kick in. Journaling then can more easily become about the learning process surrounding the event rather than dwelling on just how horrible it made us feel. Similarly, rereading one’s entries only after a certain amount of time helps create a distance between the emotions generated by our survival instincts, allowing our higher nature to reflect with increasing objectivity vital on the situation.
Most people struggle with the same category of negative pattern of thought and behaviour throughout their lives. Generating insights by rereading certain portions of one’s journal written over a long period of time can come in quite handy in changing these patterns. One reader really impressed me with a picture of their journal (which understandably I was asked not to share) in which I could clearly how he has coloured the edges of the pages in three different colours, one for each of the major aspects of his character he was systematically addressing—anger, self-deprecation, and addiction. I have already started something similar using tabs instead of highlighting.
Distil, then Focus
Tracing out the evolution of one’s thoughts through monthly reflections has been touted as a vital part of journaling. Similarly, the most organized readers mentioned how at least once a year, they do a roundup of the most important reflections they had in the last twelve months, which inspired their new year’s resolutions.
I can’t help but be amazed at how journaling, already so helpful an exercise in itself, can become even more potent when systematized. I feel like my mind has been expanded by the help of all the lovely readers who took the time to send me a message… And sent me on the dangerous path of stationery and Filofax-mania!
Photo courtesy of Saba Sabati.