Need something to add to your resolutions? Probably not. However if you have some larger goals in place, this tool can break them down to smaller, more attainable aspirations. With all talk about self-awareness, reflection, and connection, how do these things become habits? How do they become what we naturally do in order to apply them as foundations for greater overall self-improvement and wellbeing?
I’ve been writing stories and logging life since I was 7 or 8 years old, about the time when I could effectively and fluently transcribe sentences to sufficiently express myself. Then around grade 8 I steadily and consistently filled journals and have continued to this day. They have helped me to track my progress and patterns, but to me, writing in a journal has been like alchemy. I turn the spirals of thought as elusive as fog into letters, words, sentences, and with a pencil as a magic wand…transform. While this habit has been as natural as it is pleasant, I realize writing in a journal or at all is a chore for some people. Consider it helpful in achieving your other goals!
So where to start? Know there are no rules! If you want to write on a napkin in purple crayon, go for it! It probably won’t be easy, but your “journal entry” doesn’t need to be legible to be helpful to you. I know people who completely dump whatever is in their minds and then delete or destroy it right after. Here are a few ideas and prompts to get you going.
Meditative writing. Begin your writing with a brief meditation or taking a few breaths to center your focus. Or, in a course I took back in undergrad, we chose three different colored markers. With one marker we wrote nonstop filling a page. Grammar, spelling, and handwriting don’t count, be wild. Once you reach the bottom edge turn the page sideways and write in a different color over it and across it. Then we continued with the last color after turning the paper a third time. It will look like a rainbow mess!
Free Write. For some reason free writes feel like pressure to me, maybe because it would be timed for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of a class and I fall apart for anything timed. Anyway, the trick here is kind of like the meditative exercise where you do not pause while writing even if this means writing the same word over and over. I find that strange thoughts emerge this way because the exercise accesses the subconscious. Many people will do this to begin a creative process because realizations, self discoveries, and new ideas often come out from it. Feeling frozen? Use it to get all of your logistical thoughts out of the way. Start with your grocery list or meal plan, and as your hand and mind move let it flow into whatever else comes.
Gratitude or “favorite” writing. Go as detailed as you can, “when my dog greets me after I come out of any room, his cropped, stubby tail wags so hard his whole back-end swivels into c-curves.” Morph it into a list or survey of all of your favorite things. Movies, authors, meals, colors, time of day, pass-times etc. Get specific here too with scenes, favorite meals to cook or eat out, desserts, shade of color, feeling from the favorite activity, etc. If lists aren’t for you, put your items or feelings into the song “…These are a few of my favorite things…” Gratitude has been shown to improve quality of life and attain overall happiness, even if you record one or two things a day.
Pretend you’re writing letters to someone fictional, alive, deceased, past/future you as journal entries. Write like your entries will become your memoir! How can you make a seemingly mundane day feel more exciting? How can you live true to these creations of your life?
For daily writing try a prompt like “…fulfilled/inspired me today because…”, “I noticed…”, “I’d like to try…”, or “so and so brightened my day today because…” It doesn’t have to all be positive either. Sometimes simply writing out your strong feelings is enough to feel better because it validates/accepts them as they are or offers an opportunity for you to see it all in front of you. Alternatively, you could question, “how can I see this hard day as pivotal to my growth?” Rather than reflecting on the day that happened, you can choose to begin your day journaling, “Today I intend…”
If you’d like to use your journal writing for more objective self-awareness, an interesting resource I recently used in a research project is James Pennebaker’s Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). It allows you to input your personal writing and provides you with data from it, for example how emotional your writing is, how many “negative” words you use, how social your writing is vs how many times you write “I”. Pennebaker is a social psychologist who specializes in language for mental health. It’s pretty cool to have something pick up aspects in your writing you may not have otherwise noticed without having someone else read it. With your journals you can be as analytical and organized as you choose, or not at all!
Sometimes I have lots to write, sometimes not so much. I try not to force it so it doesn’t become unpleasant, but often when I sit down with nothing to say I surprise myself with pages and insights. Like photos, my journal entries have served as snapshots into my life at the time whether it was high school, travels, firsts or lessons learned. For a while I had written every day, but my current journal is more of an as-needed place to go. I’ll overview the period of time since I last wrote and include whatever else that drove me to pick it up. I believe it has contributed to my self-awareness, compassion, emotion-regulation, creativity, and even improved my relationships. I’ve always felt I could write better than I speak, but I realize that my consistent writing has helped me become a better speaker and communicator. Writing gives me clarity to speak more confidently and expressively. It gives me a more authentic voice in communication and allows me to relate more deeply to others because I am in touch with raw emotions and human experiences.
Take the plunge! Go write and see what it does for you, what you can do for you! If you like this page, please share it.