How Writing a Journal Has Changed My Life
I used to crave presence and mindfulness but my monkey mind prevented me from ever feeling present. I always seemed to have a million loud thoughts, ideas, and insecurities clouding my mind. One day I used a gift card I had to a bookstore and bought a journal. I had no clue why. I started writing out all the gunk clouding my mind and preventing me from being present in my life.
When I got it out of my head and onto to the page I felt lighter.
I was so jazzed by this new practice I wanted everyone I knew to try it. People were intrigued but had major resistance to it. Their excuses ranged from classic "I don’t have time for that" to “I’m not a writer, therefore I can’t”. But when I heard their resistance I realised I felt the same way about writing before I started journaling; I hated it.
Journaling is different though. It's simply a way to have a conversation with yourself by taking all the different voices you have in your mind and organizing them. For instance, there’s the secretary of finance, the inner child, the inner parent, and so on and journaling allows you to take charge as the CEO, meeting with all aspects of yourself, and deciding which one you want to listen to.
Journaling allowed me to get to know myself and cultivate self-awareness through being vulnerable and letting out thoughts or feelings so they weren't filling my head.
Here are some tips for getting started:
1. Just start
Like with anything else, you learn best by doing and the more you do it the easier it will become. You don’t even need to like it at first, but just like going to the gym and working muscles, you may not like it at first or see any results but if you keep going you will start enjoying it and see the fruits of your labour.
2. Don't worry
It's impossible to do it wrong. Journaling is for you. It is your practice. No one has to see it and it doesn’t have to be done any single way. There are many ways to get your thoughts out of your mind and onto the page. Maybe you simply write 10 things you’re grateful for or 10 things you’re excited about. You could stop there or maybe you have more to say and end up expanding on those things until next thing you know you’ve written pages. Not trying is literally the only way to fail at this.
3. Ask yourself good questions
When you ask yourself intelligent questions you’ll be amazed at the intelligent answers your intuition will give you. The questions you ask don’t necessarily need to be profound; simply ask questions that have some depth. What are you wondering about? What are you struggling with most? How are you feeling? Where could you use some support in your life and why? Think of questions a therapist might ask or a good friend who is talking through a difficult situation with you. Journalling helps you to befriend yourself by helping you get to know the thoughts in your mind. Once you get to know them you can question if they are true or not and from their whether or not you want to change your negative thoughts to something more positive.
4. Don’t edit
The best part of journaling is that you can let all of your grammar and language skills out the window and freely write how your speak and think rather than how you’d write if someone were reading. It’s liberating, but can also feel scary at first. Stop filtering yourself and just allow the words to flow. You can always go back later and edit if you want, but when you let the thoughts out they will get stuck and pile up in your mind if you try to edit them as they’re coming out, don’t stop the flow, simply let it out raw, real, true, messy.
5. Be honest
For journaling to be beneficial you absolutely must be honest with yourself. Writing down those thoughts you have been thinking on repeat and those fears you’d never want anyone to know and those dreams you’re too scared to admit for fear then you’ll actually be responsible and accountable for making them happen.
What stops us from feeling free and fully ourselves is what we are hiding: poor judgment calls we’ve made, things we’re embarrassed about, goals of ours that seem too unrealistic to claim. We bury our dark secrets and get preoccupied managing them to ensure we don’t appear less than perfect—or get caught in the lie of trying to appear perfect. But when we let it out (even if it’s just to ourselves in our journals), we can breathe.
By being vulnerable and acknowledging what we’re ashamed of, we let go of any guilt we’re holding on to. As Breneì Brown teaches, shame cannot survive being shared, and admitting our shame to ourselves is the first step.
6. Just keep going
When you’re doing things that are new and uncomfortable, it’s inevitable that to some extent you’ll feel like you’re pretending - at least I always do. When I started teaching yoga, I felt like I wasn’t actually a yoga teacher but just pretending to be one, mimicking my own teachers. But as Kurt Vonnegut says in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”.
The process of journaling and expressing your feelings honestly on paper might be brand-new for you. If that’s the case, going this deep might cause some strong reactions.
Don’t let that stop you. Everyone feels as though they’re pretending when they start a new routine. When you haven’t done something before, or you haven’t done it consistently, it’s not ingrained yet. This new way of expressing your feelings is uncomfortable. You might be feeling like a ball of emotion when you begin this process because perhaps you rarely ever allow yourself to feel your uncomfortable emotions. And feeling uncomfortable is when most people quit.
So when you reach this point, you must ask yourself: Do I want to have a deep life? Do I want to feel the richness of mad love and the sadness of heartbreak? Do I want to feel the full spectrum of emotions . . . or do I want to numb out?'
When you feel like you’re playing pretend as a writer but you like what you’re pretending - that’s when you need to keep going. That’s when, with time, the routine becomes ingrained, and before you know it . . . you will no longer be pretending.