Journaling Helps You Learn About Yourself, The World Around You

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Since I write for a living, I suppose it is no surprise that I have been journaling for many years.

But you don't have to be a writer to keep a journal. In fact, journals don't even need to have any writing in them. If you have a talent for drawing, use those images. Pictures torn from magazines can be a journal as well.

Research "journaling" on the Internet and you will find a multitude of articles and examples of journaling, resources for journaling tools and inspiration.

Really the only tools you need are paper and something to write with or your computer and keyboard. But you also need a willingness to be open and honest with yourself. What you write in a journal is for your eyes only, so just go for it -- forget about spelling and punctuation and all those other English class rules.

This one of the things I came across on the Internet, though I don't recall what site I found it on.

The Basics on Journaling

"Easier -- You don't have to be a great writer, perfect speller, or creative thinker to keep a personal journal. Journal writing means that you regularly write down your thoughts and experiences.

"Harder -- A journal is a continued series of writings made by a person in response to their life experiences and events. Diaries contain a description of daily events. A journal may include those descriptions, but it also contains reflections on what took place and expresses emotions and understandings about them. It doesn't matter what you call your writing, either a diary or journal, as long as you see the distinction between these two ways of writing."

I don't really agree with the business about the "distinction" -- a journal is personal, therefore it is what you want it to be. Some entries could be just a recount of the days events (as in a diary as described here), while others could go into more detail and reflection.

It is your journal.

Journals can be used for anything you want. Personally I have used them in a variety of ways:

  • As a place to vent feelings, both good and bad, fears and triumphs;
  • There are journals where I have mostly "talked with God" and through that grew in my faith;
  • In others I have put down my hopes and dreams and developed plans to make them realities (usually starting with "when I win the lottery, this is what I am going to do" ... then evolving to "so, what do I need to do to get this"); and
  • I have also used them to sketch out "my writing" projects -- the fiction that's just for me -- or worked on a project (when the notes became so detailed I was actually writing the story).

One of the more extensive journaling Web sites I found on the Internet belongs to Kay Marie Porterfield, kporterfield.com One of the articles on the site offered a list of "prompts" for journaling. Some of the more interesting suggestions:

  • Look at a magazine and find a picture that appeals to you. Cut it out, paste it in your notebook and write about it.
  • Allow your pen to give voice to a part of your body besides your mind. Have this part write a letter to you. Write a response.
  • If you were to select music for a soundtrack of the day you've had, what songs would you play in the background? Why?
  • Write down everything that comes into your mind about money.
  • Pick the first date from the past and place that pops into your mind. Now write a journal entry as though you were reliving a former lifetime.

Another site featured an article by Thelma Mariano, who wrote, "If you're new to journaling, following are some basic guidelines. Remember, you don't need to be a writer! This is a conversation that you're having with yourself.

1. Buy yourself an inexpensive, lined notebook.

2. If possible, write in it at the same time every day (mornings often preferred).

3. Write 15 minutes a day. Do this in longhand. Don't stop to edit or censor -- let everything out.

4. Do not show your writing to anyone.

5. After you've started to really listen to yourself, ask questions about your life.

For example:

  • How should I handle my relationship with so-and-so?
  • What am I learning from this situation?
  • What do I need to feel more fulfilled?
  • What am I afraid of?"

The one point I differ with is writing "at the same time every day (mornings often preferred)" -- Life does not always afford us available time on a regular basis (I know the advice about making an appointment with yourself), so I write when I am so inclined (and rarely in the mornings since I am a night person).

Again, this is your journal, your time -- make your own guidelines.

Keeping a journal can also be a kind of therapy. In another Internet article Gibbs Williams discussed using it as "A Critical Events Autobiography" -- a place to see where you have been, what you have done, who touched your life, all the things and people that led you to where you are today.

Among the other uses he suggests for journaling:

  • Exploring what is it you want to change.
  • Examining what is it you want to change.
  • Investigating how did you get to be this way.
  • "Organize chaos. ... A journal allows you to have an unbroken dialogue with yourself, to ask yourself challenging organizing questions such as: Who am I? What do I really want? What interferes with attaining and sustaining what I want? Under what conditions do I get stuck? What do I do to try to get myself unstuck? All of these questions help you to learn about yourself in detail. You may also record feelings, thoughts, and memories that naturally flow from what was said and not said during therapy sessions. Giving names to your experiences and writing them down clarifies, organizes, and makes them feel more real. Honest talk over time inevitably reveals the truth of the matter in question, potentially resulting in greater personal freedom and effectiveness."
  • Release tensions constructively.
  • Learn to be alone and enjoy it.
  • Get unstuck.
  • "Assess progress over time. The desire to change is the primary reason people seek out and stay in therapy. Some changes are obvious, while others are not. Reading your journal, a record of the continuous flow of your vital personal experience, is an objective evaluator of significant change. It can help to read how you were, particularly at the beginning of your therapy, as compared to how you are today."

An accompanying article on the same site, by Maud Purcell, discusses the health benefits of journaling.

"Begin journaling and begin experiencing these benefits:

  • Clarify your thoughts and feelings. Do you ever seem all jumbled up inside, unsure of what you want or feel? Taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and emotions (no editing!) will quickly get you in touch with your internal world.
  • Know yourself better. By writing routinely you will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you -- important information for your emotional well-being.
  • Reduce stress. Writing about anger, sadness and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings. By doing so you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
  • Solve problems more effectively. Typically we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
  • Resolve disagreements with others. Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another's point of view. And you just may come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.

In addition to all of these wonderful benefits, keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends and improvement and growth over time."

Another site offered these "Final Thoughts on Journaling

There are no rules when it comes to journaling, however ... a few guidelines:

1. Wait until you have quiet, uninterrupted space to write.

2. Buy a great pen, one that feels good in your hand. Or get some colored markers.

3. Don't judge yourself as you write. Write as if no one will ever see what you're writing. The point is about saying what's on your mind and in your heart, not about pleasing someone else. So kick the parent, the critic and the editor out of the room.

4. Move on. The payoff is in working through your issues and on to the other side. Then walk away and be done.

5. Breathe.

6. Keep breathing.

Through writing, you can learn more about yourself. Within the safety of the pages, you can face your demons and suddenly they lose their power over you. At times, your journal may be the best friend you have.

So grab your favorite pen and let loose. Reveal secrets. Scribe letters. Tell a story. Write your heart out."

Recommended reading

Kay Porterfield's Web site offered a long list of books that are recommended for journaling, the following are a sample of the titles and authors:

  • Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story, by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.
  • The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch, by Julia Cameron
  • A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal Writing Journey, by Marlene A. Schiwy, Marion Woodman (New York: Fireside, 1996)
  • Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, by Alexandra Johnson (Little, Brown and Company, 2001)
  • Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling our Stories Transforms our Lives, by Louise DeSalvo (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999)

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