You’ve heard it before…I imagine. Yes, writing in a journal can be therapeutic in many ways. Perhaps you have even had a cathartic writing experience yourself but then……lost interest. It can be HARD work and it takes time which competes with our modern, busy life.
Writing in a journal may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’…I get that. So in this post, I hope to offer some alternative ways to think about journaling, along with some prompting questions to get your head and heart swirling to make it a more meaningful experience -and one that you will come to embrace. And if not embrace, maybe you will give another chance.
Have you ever sat down to write in a journal, only to be met with a blank page and a blank stare? Where do I begin? What do I even care to write about? What if someone reads this? And then come the judgmental thoughts, such as, this is stupid, silly, takes too much time, doesn’t help anyways…..and “now I’m even more confused about my thoughts and feelings”. You get the drift.
These ideas that I am sharing are not original to me and I want to give credit where credit is due. They come from a book titled “Writing Down Your Soul”, which is how I practiced diving into my own writing.
So first, let’s identify some potential benefits to writing.
- It helps to clarify feelings & sort stuff out- to get at what your really want & need. You know the kind of ‘stuff’ I’m talking about: “should I accept this job offer, or that one”; do I really want to go on a second date with this person”; “I’m still angry at my friend for blowing me off”; “I am feeling really depressed after….”. There is a saying by Dr. Dan Siegel that says “name it to tame it”. He refers to name it- as the emotion from the right side of the brain- to tame it- to bring the left side of the brain online, which helps in reducing overwhelm in the brain.
- It is self- validating. By identifying your feelings and giving space to express them, it inevitably validates your truth…without anyone (except you, if you choose) to criticize, disagree or simply add their own experience to the mix. It can feel good, maybe even a bit empowering to speak your experience….period.
- It can help to resolve conflict with others. By using journaling as a platform for expressing your….you guessed it….thoughts and feelings, you may be able to reach your own resolution or at the very least shift your perspective so that you can rationally and calmly approach the person/situation which is conflictual. There is potential that you will expand your empathy for the other person and thus see the situation from a wiser perspective. Subsequently, you will have an opportunity to step on in to your adult shoes.
You may be thinking “my time is already limited, I can not add another thing to my schedule”. No doubt your time is precious and I whole-heartedly support a good time management system. So what is an ideal length of time to spend journaling and have it still be effective? This is completely an individual preference, but there are some general guidelines that I have found to be beneficial. I think no less than 20 minutes, cuz it can take some time to sink into the experience and allow a bit of surrender to happen. That’s right….you gotta give up some control of the experience to really dig deeper to the truth. We walk around ALL DAY LONG with our defenses activated and this is an opportunity to shake that junk off. Give yourself a little time to unwind, quiet the inner voice and the environmental stimulation around you. And when you get that inkling to stop…keep writing for at least 10 more minutes, I know there will be more to discover inside of you!
So, let’s hop to it….Here are some prompting questions that I personally have used and also use with some therapy clients. It can be really helpful to have guidance…you know to give that blank stare some focus. “Questions are the Mars Explorers of your psyche, flying out from your conscious mind to probe the vast vaults of information available in your subconscious mind and beyond.” (page 133 from Writing Down Your Soul)
What do I need to face right now?
What decision(s) do I need to make?
What do I need to know to make a wise decision?
What am I feeling right now?
What is underneath this feeling?
What information are my feelings communicating?
On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the happiest, how happy am I? What is that number telling me?
What parts of me are joyful, happy, content, sad, angry?
What parts do I want more of? Less of?
Connect to your imagination
Am I willing to see a better reality for myself? If no, why not?
What is my deepest desire for myself?
What would my life look like if I had what I really want?
What needs to happen to bring what I want to life?
If nothing stood in my way, and I could truly do what I say I want, would I do it? Why? Why not?
When do I feel powerful? Powerless? What is the difference?
What would it look like if my problems were healed and my dreams came true?
Do I believe that I have the power to create my reality, to choose good outcomes, to create my life?
When something upsetting happens, do I stay present and aware to deal with it, or do I retreat until things change/calm down?
What kinds of things send me to retreat? to isolation? to avoidance?
What needs to happen to stop avoiding and retreating?
What masks do I present to the world? myself? my family?
How painful will it be to take off these masks?
At my core, what is the thing I am most afraid of?
These are suggestions for a place to start. I hope you find them helpful and curious. And of course, happy writing to you!