Personally, journaling is one of the most powerful tools I use on a regular basis. I believe it in it so strongly that I require of form of journaling in almost every course I have ever taught and I tend to get responses like, “Thanks Britt! Journaling has changed by life!”
Journaling is just for you, by you. It is not reviewed or shared by anyone, not even you unless you choose to reread something you wrote. So don’t worry about spelling or grammar, or even legibility unless you are someone who likes to read over your writings at another time.
Journaling is a form of personal transformation. It is a profound tool that can help you with any area of your life. Did you know that there are two primary forms for processing the human experience? One is speaking and the other is writing. Both do more to help you grow and develop than “thinking” where the thoughts stay cycling within your own mind. There is something profound in the moving those thoughts OUT of your physical body in some form. It is in the speaking or writing of something that it is transformed, and thus, so are we.
I am sure we have all had the experience of being bothered by something, even kept awake all night, but when we talked about it, we instantly felt better because we got it off our chest. This is why working with a therapist or coach is so helpful – part of it is just in the speaking of the words and other part is the role that person plays in helping us explore the issue at hand. The same can be achieved by writing, and is often better because when we write for ourselves, we don’t need to edit to please someone else’s sensibilities. Writing or speaking allows you to move the issues beyond your own physical form and that very act creates space and transformation.
Through my journey, I have found that certain forms of journaling are helpful and I want to describe them here. You can try them in order or choose among the options depending on what is happening in your life.
Types of Journaling
There are actually many types of journaling and each serves a different purpose. Most people intuitively use a mix of types without knowing what they are or the purpose they can serve. I recommend becoming familiar with the different types so that you can be intentional about what you are processing and how you want to process it.
This form of journaling keeps a record of events in a factual manner. It is a listing of experiences, often in chronological order, and serves to record history. It does not include feelings or interpretations – just objective facts – such as “John walked into the kitchen and stood next to the fridge. John said, ‘I need to tell you something’.” This type can be very helpful if you are trying to see an experience from an objective standpoint but is best when followed by another type that will help you process the emotional aspect of the experience.
Guided journaling is focused on a specific issue and has instructions for you to follow. For example, Louise Hay offers some guided journaling exercises in her book You Can Heal Your Life as does Marianne Williamson in her book A Course in Weightloss. Guided journaling has specific questions to answer and an intentional order that supports your growth in that area. There are a range of books and workbooks that offer specific questions for guided journaling and a simple internet search will lead you to ones on issues that are relevant to you. My workshops and video lessons always include journaling portions as well.
This form of journaling is for when you are not sure what you are feeling or why. It allows you to sort through your myriad of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to gain a better understanding of yourself. I use this form a lot and I detail my process below.
This type of journaling serves the purpose of releasing intense feelings such as anger or sadness. The person writes about a specific event or person as a way of expressing feelings and judgments. Some people call this venting and this type is most effective when you allow yourself to fully express your true feelings, without editing, so that your inner self honored. Insults, swearing, blaming and judging are hallmarks of this type of journaling and can be very powerful for releasing intense emotions. I describe this process in more detail below.
Listing one’s accomplishments is a way of focusing on the positive and is very useful for people who tend to be over critical of themselves or others. Usually done at bedtime, you would list your accomplishments for the day – usually a certain number, like 5 or 10 – as a way of acknowledging or honoring what you did well. They can range from items on your “to do” list (e.g., took the car to be serviced) and should also include emotional or personal accomplishments as well (e.g., during stressful meeting at work, took deep breaths to stay centered). Research shows that over time, a consistent practice of acknowledgement journaling increases a person’s happiness and sense of wellbeing.
This form of journaling focuses on expressing gratitude about many aspects of your life. The gratitude can be for anything from the physical and tangible (like a job or shelter) to the invisible and spiritual (a sense of wellbeing or the knowledge that your life is divinely guided). Topics can include physical health, relationships, career, nature, national or world events – everything counts. This type of journaling is especially powerful when you are experiencing a challenge. For example, if you are in a lot of pain, it helps to express gratitude for the aspects of your health that are functioning well like your digestion or the parts of your body that feel good. If you are in a financial crisis, you can express gratitude for the love and support of your friends or for the possessions you do have, no matter how small. The key to this form is in the authenticity of the feeling of gratitude and calling it up to be really felt in the moment. I am often moved to tears when I do this form of journaling and it’s something I try to do regularly.
Journaling can be a profound tool for helping someone heal from trauma. Whether it is a recent experience or decades old, healing will occur when you give voice to the experience and your feelings. All of the above techniques can be used for healing from trauma but there is one additional technique that is especially powerful. Writing with the opposite hand gains access to parts of the brain and psyche that we normally guard. The process is definitely awkward and frustrating but you will find yourself accessing aspects of your memory and feelings that can be really helpful in your healing process. Healing from trauma occurs most smoothly when we utilize the support of trained professionals such as therapists and coaches so I recommend that you give yourself the gift of this type of support.
Dreaming is another way that our body and mind processes our lives. One form of journaling focuses on capturing our dreams in as raw a form as possible. Carl Jung believes that all humans are connected through the collective unconscious and that our dreams are actually messages sent to help us. Exploring who is visiting you and what message they have for you is the hallmark of this form. The goal of this type of journaling is to first capture the dream as objectively as possible. Some people can do this in writing and others find drawing pictures to be most helpful. You would want to keep a notebook and colored pencils by your bed so that when you awake, you can jot/sketch as much as you can. Do not start analyzing the dream while you are sleepy, just focus on capturing the essence of the dream sequence. Later, when you are awake, you return to your dream journal and search for the patterns and meanings present. There are many great books and workshops on dream tending (see Recommendations).
My Process for Journaling
In my coaching training, I learned a process for journaling that works very well for me and I wanted to share it with you. I usually grab my journal when something is up with me. It can be a mild feeling of being out of sorts and I want to journal to get some clarity about what is going on, or I am very upset about something or someone and need to vent.
The two forms are:
These two processes are different but have some shared components. Both forms come from the premise that our feelings, as opposed to our thoughts, are the gateway to the truth so the journaling process is designed to access the feelings to see where they lead.
Some of you may prefer handwriting and others prefer typing. Both are effective as long as you pay attention to which form is most effective for you. Each person is different – for me, writing by hand allows more of my emotional truth to come forth because I am less likely to stop and edit a sentence. For my husband, typing is more effective because he can type faster than he writes and this allows for a more effective flow for his process. Each person is different so experiment until you find the method and form that works for you.
Also consider what form the physical journal should take. It is in a typical school notebook? A cloth or leather-bound journal? Is the paper blank or lined? If you type, is it one long file you add to or is each entry saved separately? These may seem like silly questions but you want to create an experience that is positive and therefore likely to become a consistent practice in your life. For me, my journals have to be aesthetically pleasing so I invest in a nice journal every year that is bound in an attractive way. I also have to have lined paper because I cannot write on a straight line to save my life and it annoys me when my page looks all crooked. I have kept every journal I have ever written and occasionally, I flip back through them – it is astounding to see this record of my personal growth.
Finally, find a safe space to keep your journal so you can protect your privacy. My husband and I have an agreement that we never look into each other’s journals, because that would be violating the sacredness of the other’s personal work. We also have an agreement that if something should happen to us, our friends are to collect our journals since it would not be in the best interest for our families to read them.
- You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
- A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever by Marianne Williamson
- Dream Tending: Awaken to the Healing Power of Dreams by Stephen Aizenstat
- Get Clear on Your Career by Lily Maestas
- The Productivity Puzzle by Sara Caputo