One of the wellness tools that I find to be invaluable is writing in a journal. Although I have always loved to write, the format of the journal was not always my strong suit. When I was a child, I remember attempting to write a diary and I could never do it. I would always read it back a few days later and be so incredibly self-critical that I either threw the diary away or ripped out the pages. A few years ago I began my journaling practice while studying to be a health coach, a path I did not continue down but that I did gain some invaluable tips and insight from. One in particular was a lecture on journaling by Julia Cameron, the author or The Artists Way. She inspired me to begin writing in a journal, stream-of-consciousness style, first thing in the morning. It is one of the few wellness or spiritual modalities I have used that created an immediate shift in wellbeing – mind, body and soul.
Since then, I have regularly turned to journaling as a form of therapy. I journal in many different formats and forms – I rarely do Cameron’s “morning pages” in the morning and instead reflect whenever I have a moment. Writing my thoughts down is one of the most effective ways I have found for becoming conscious of my own limiting beliefs, negative self-talk patterns, and cultivating a greater sense of self-awareness. When I articulate and admit these shadow aspects to my Self on paper, I am immediately able to gain a distance from them. The first step is to recognize these thoughts and patterns and the truth that they are not mine. They were programmed by society, family, and peers since a very young age, and upon recognizing this reality I have been able to break the habit of them. From a scientific perspective, we know that the brain is also prone to negativity due to instincts that allowed us to evolve (known as “negativity bias”), but that the brain is “neuro-plastic” and we can rewire our minds in the way that we choose.
Writing in a journal is one way that I have been able to process and evaluate my emotions, thoughts and patterns and then rewrite my own story. Here are different forms of journaling that I practice and recommend:
Unloading. This is super-simple – whenever your mind is racing, just write it all down in your journal. For me, it often looks like a to-do list or just getting what I am thinking of saying to someone out on paper. Once you write it down, it helps stop repeating the maddening loop in your brain. In addition to quieting the mind, it can create perspective that allows you to see what is really necessary, what is true, and what may not be as bad or as demanding as your mind made it out to be. It’s great to do this before meditating or sleeping.
Morning pages. This is Julia Cameron’s method of writing at least three free-hand, stream-of-consciousness pages every morning first thing. It works best when done immediately upon waking and it is essential to not judge any of what comes up. Whenever you feel as if you’re going to go into judgment, keep writing. If you can’t think of what to write, literally write about that. Just flow for three pages and see what comes up. It is astoundingly effective at stimulating creativity and is soothing to the mind.
Dream journaling. Very similar to morning pages, this is when you write down everything that you recount from your dreams immediately upon waking up. It must be done before the dreams are lost, and may involve writing in the middle of the night if you awake. It’s most helpful when you jot down what you remember, and then later that day or week come back to take a look at the themes that have been coming up in your dreams. When looking at your dreams, do not take things literally. Instead, think in terms of symbolism and archetypes.
Prompt journaling. This is writing based upon a particular question. Some journals may have prompts in them, or you can find many on the internet or from books. One of my favorite and most transformative books for healing was Homecoming, which is about processing the inner child. Much of this book is based on journal prompts followed by meditations, and they are incredibly cathartic. You can also use something that happened to you that day that triggered you as a prompt. This form of journaling helps get to the heart of very specific issues and can be deeply difficult, but also very healing. My favorite recent prompt from my friend Kristin of WYLD Leadership is “what is your soul longing for?”
Moon journaling. If you are new to following moon cycles, one way to connect with the energy of the moon is through writing in a journal. The New Moon is associated with new beginnings and is the perfect time to write a list of intentions for what you want to manifest and achieve, and how you want to be in the next 28 days – and next few months. It’s a way to gain clarity about what you truly want and broadcast this to the universe. The Full Moon is a time of both celebrating all that has come to fruition since the New Moon and of shedding to make room for the next cycle. At Full Moons, write about what you want to release and let go of, and how you are going to do so in the next two weeks.
Intentional journaling. This is all about setting out a signal to the universe, and to your Self, about what you want in life. It can be related to manifesting your dreams and getting more in touch with your highest Self. It doesn’t need to always be a list of intentions or coincide with the new moon or beginning of a month. Sometimes it’s just writing out the desire to know more about my purpose – I will literally write “Universe, I want to gain greater clarity on (insert aspect of life). Please send energy in a way that I can see a sign or gain more understanding around this.” It can also look like setting daily affirmations for how you envision your life and day, such as “all is well. Everything is working for my highest good. I am safe.”
Gratitude journaling. Gratitude is perhaps the strongest medicine for connecting back to joy and a positive state of being. One of the most effective ways to invoke the emotions of gratitude is to write about it or make lists of what you are thankful for. It is the perfect way to start or end the day by writing five to ten things that you are grateful for. It’s important to not just write about your dog or your children every time, but to bring to mind a range of aspects of your day, week, job, family, and friends that trigger happiness and gratitude.
There is no right or wrong way to use a journal. I have been finding that what works best for me is to just pick up my journal whenever I can, especially in the evenings, and write about whatever comes to mind. I am someone that does not do well with specific routines – in fact routines can make me feeling like I am failing. So I keep my relationship with my journal full of unstructured love. I have been loving daily affirmations in the morning, whether I write them, say them or think them, and picking up my journal as often as I can before bed to write a little bit. Reflecting back, I can see how in all the deep work I have done on my Self over the past ten years, my journal and writing has been along side me, carrying me through these initiations and transformations all along.