The journaling journey: writing for life?

Being a former copywriter whose words were driven purely by the client’s marketing needs, telling me to journal – write down whatever comes into my head – would have given me writer’s agoraphobia bad enough to make me lock myself in the ladies’ room.

It makes my mind hop back a good few years to the first day at art school when our copywriting lecturer boomed out “anyone who has their own writing voice can leave the room now.” No free-flowing journaling for us, then.

Writing and journaling

Probably the most famous journal of all in the last century: the diary of Anne Frank in WWII. Could journaling have helped her get through her terrible nightmare? It may have: we can only hope it did.

At a business networking event the other day I asked everyone what they’d like me to write about this time and several voices piped up: journaling. Although of course I had read about it in Ali Moore’s excellent book, “Reconnect Your Life,” another bell started ringing.

Wait a minute … there’s something familiar about this journaling

When I was a youngster back in the Ming Dynasty, a Canadian aunt used to send me a beautiful leather-bound book every Holiday Season and it was called a “diary.” Now this wasn’t what North Americans call a calendar and the Brits now call a diary, in which you write down your appointments.

This was a diary as in “Dear Diary,” (Britney Spears sings about it here) in which you were supposed to share your innermost thoughts as you would with a best friend. So private was this content meant to be, the lovely leather books had locks on them which you shut and secured with a cute little brass key.

Those diaries were my best friends, especially as I had a pretty lonely and misunderstood childhood. (Boo-hoo – sorry!) Anyway guess what: my jottings and scribblings all those years ago were, to a large extent, what journaling is today. They let me externalise what was f***ing me up internally, so making space in my little brain for more positive stuff.

Never mind you, St Moo. What IS journaling? Really?

There are a number of learn-ed articles I will recommend you read (see later on) as well as Ali’s book, of course, but here are some of the conclusions I have drawn about journaling, speaking as a total amateur.

Journaling is the ultimate manifestation of “writing” as a vehicle to communicate thought. We’re not talking premeditated anything. This is free-flow, free-rein, free-association, free-everything as long as your pen** can keep up with your brain.

Its value, particularly when it’s guided by highly qualified therapists like Ali Moore, is to get you to externalise all that junk you may be carrying around with you in your head and never have the time or inclination to deal with. This is dump time. Big dump time.

And that is so, so healthy.

Of course that’s only a very basic interpretation of journaling and I bow in humility to the experts…

Good articles I found about journaling:

What’s all this about journaling? By Hayley Phelan in the New York Times … “Scientific studies have shown it to be essentially a panacea for modern life. There are the obvious benefits, like a boost in mindfulness, memory and communication skills. But studies have also found that writing in a journal can lead to better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher I.Q.”

83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management (PDF)  Positive Psychology Program … “Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.” – Robin S. Sharma

attractive journal

A lovely journal you can buy on Amazon – click on the photo to go to its page

Journaling for Mental Health University of Rochester Medical Center … “Keeping a journal helps you create order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. You get to know yourself by revealing your most private fears, thoughts, and feelings. Look at your writing time as personal relaxation time. It’s a time when you can de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that’s relaxing and soothing, maybe with a cup of tea. Look forward to your journaling time. And know that you’re doing something good for your mind and body.”

The 15-Minute Habit Worth Making Time For Ambition and balance by Doist … “The vast majority of us can only hold five or six, maybe seven items in our head at a time (hence why phone numbers are seven digits long). Anything beyond and we start to forget things and feel overwhelmed with information. Recording your thoughts in a medium outside your own head clears out that storage. As a result, your mind becomes quieter: it stops returning to the same worn-out mental loops over and over. You can begin to think more clearly.”

8 Ways to Stop Thinking About Journaling and Actually Start Journaling By Erin Greenawald in The Muse …  “…really, journaling just means setting aside a little quiet, undistracted time to sit down and think about your life. It can be just by writing down a record of what you did that day; by venting about one thing that you can’t get off your mind; by noting something that inspired you.”

How journaling can work for you

Ali Moore gave me permission to use the following excerpt from her gorgeous book here in this article, to illustrate how she recommends journaling in her Bemoore Reconnection Programme (and in the book too.)

When to do your journaling

You should aim to do your journaling last thing at night. When we sleep the brain will process all the thoughts we have had during the day, making sense of it and filing it all away, including both actions and emotions. By ending your day by reflecting on positive thoughts you are creating a state of mind that is aimed at a positive outlook. You are encouraging positive endorphins to be released. These can aid restful sleep but also start to program your brain to look for more positives going forward.

Also, I am a big fan of actually writing by hand

Some people say, “Well, I can keep all on this on my phone,” but I strongly recommend you take the trouble to complete the journal (and the exercises you’ll find in this book) by physically writing your answers. You might want to pop a note on your phone during the day to remind you of a reconnection moment, but then use the art of writing to transfer that into the journal pages of this book. This helps embed these positive thoughts into our mind.

What about people who find handwriting difficult and/or are **dyslexic?

I have numerous friends with dyslexia issues and many of their writing problems are solved by simple technology – voice recognition software, transcription from recordings, etc.

Although it’s true that writing by hand helps to embed positive thoughts into your mind, it’s not going to embed anything useful if you’re distracted by purely mechanical difficulties in writing it down. Speaking your thoughts into your phone or other recording device will work far better for you than struggling with handwriting.

If possible, it’s a good idea to get your recordings transcribed (preferably via apps like these) so you can read them back to yourself, as an alternative to listening to them back.

An example of how journaling can reconnect your life

As I mentioned Ali Moore is very happy to share from her book which gives a very good example of how journaling helps you sort out so many issues in your life that you may not even realise ARE issues. Have a look at the process she recommends you consider when journaling:

Ali Moore's book about reconnenction

Ali Moore’s hot-selling new book, “Reconnect Your Life.” Click on the photo to go to its page…

My positives
Here’s where you can process your positives. Often we are so busy we miss what’s going on in our everyday lives. We miss the small things which actually are wonderful to experience. At the end of each day find 10 things which have been positive in your day. They can be small – in fact small is better. Recognise all the little things that helped you have a fabulous day. Finding your positives every day helps your brain to see what’s going on around you. It helps you to see that you don’t need big highs (and crashing lows). You have many wonderful events every day.

My top achievement of the day
Each day make a note of the best achievement you had. Following on from the theme that it is the small things which matter, this doesn’t have to be a big thing. Sometimes it could be just getting up and showing up! We all achieve something each day and focusing on the thing that you are most proud of – maybe something ticked off that list which is now done or that made you think, Yes! I did it – is a great feeling.

Mindful moment
Being mindful is all about being in the present, actually looking around you whilst you walk the dog or go to the shops, seeing what is happening, engaging your senses. Make a note of something that caught your attention whilst you were embracing mindfulness. Did you read a great article? Did you see something that was different? Or did you notice something you want to go back to? This kind of list means you capture those items which have sparked your imagination and helps to create a choice of things to go back to when you need future inspiration.

Reconnecting with me
When you don’t value time for yourself you cannot truly value time for others. What will you do each day to ensure that you look after you? But, now let’s be clear – me time is not bath time! It can be, but if the only time you actually have had time to yourself is when you take a wash, you need to look a little deeper. Having time to cherish self and reconnect with self is so important. Yet these are the first things which go out of the window when life takes hold. So always think about taking even 10 minutes a day just to do something for you.

Connections I’ve made
This is the one I feel so strongly about. This is about recognising three moments in every day when you make contact with someone else, in person! – not on social media, not virtually but actually connecting. It could be talking to the lady in the shop or smiling at a stranger in the street or on the way to work. Take your headphones off, look up from your smartphone and actually engage with the world around you.

Not woo-woo: it’s wow-wow

Ali’s demonstration of helping people reconnect with themselves is just one example of how journaling can work to unravel and redefine so many parts of your life. There are many more.

And all of the above is yet another reason why I am so glad I’m no longer a restricted, tight-*rsed, snappy-happy copywriter…

What experience do you have of journaling?

Please share!