4 Ways to Utilize Journaling

Writing down our feelings and thoughts is not a brand new idea, but its one that many of us push to the side and just "don't have time for". There's value in journaling that extends into our emotional, physical and mental health that will lead to a more balanced life. That doesn't, however, mean that all journaling is the same. Notice, I didn't refer to this as a diary... because it's not. None of these ideas have you simply listing the activities of your day and how they went. While that is one way to journal, I find that it is often very surface level and does not lead to the same deep connections that can be made through these four different writing styles. Let's explore a few different ways to journal so you can find the one that best fits YOUR balancing goals.

  1. Appreciation - One of my favorite ways to keep a journal is to track my appreciation. I call it my "Thankful Things"... creative... I know right?! No, not at all. But that's the point of this journal, to get straight to the point. I've found this type of writing beneficial to keeping my spirits high and my thoughts positive. It's great for those stressful seasons of life when it can be easy to slip into complaining and excuses. The best part - it's extremely simple. Make an entry with today's date and write down at least 1 thing you're thankful for or appreciate for that day. Some days I only write one word and some days I feel compelled to write and explain the story that goes with it which can take a page or two.
    Examples: "3-24-15 I found Laura in my classroom ripping out all of my workbook pages for me today because she knew I was in the weeds.", "11-4-16 Coffee breaks." "2-16-17 The copier at school worked today. God Bless!" "5-25-17 Hannah covered my class without a word even being spoken. She just jumped in." "7-12-17 My new Amazon Echo, Alexa, she is awesome and plays me music."The most important things to remember with this specific type of journaling - it needs to happen every day, and it's best to do right before bed. I found that I even slept better when I ended the day thinking of something positive instead of worrying over tomorrow's to-do list.
  2. Problem/Solutions - This type of writing has helped me tremendously when I am feeling swamped in a problem or set of problems that I can't quite figure out how to navigate. It could be a problem at work, in a relationship/friendship, in a life decision, with a family member. First thing I do is make a t-chart with two vertical columns and label them "Problem" and "Solutions". Notice that it includes only 1 problem and multiple solutions.
    Write a problem and the reasons it feels difficult in the first column. Get it all out! Because once you finish that column, you're not coming back to it. Now reread that problem but shift your mindset to that of a friend giving advice. Start writing solution ideas in the other column. Even if they are things you'd never actually try, write them down. The most important thing to remember in this type of writing - once you start writing solutions, you must stay on that side of the chart. No more going back to the problem. This forces your thoughts to stay positive and constructive. You may realize you had multiple ideas to try or you may realize it wasn't as big of a problem as you first thought.
  3. Expressive Writing - Writing about your feelings concerning a traumatic or difficult situation in your life can have profound impact on not only how you feel towards that situation but also in your cognitive abilities in other tasks. We've all been in a place in life when we feel unbalanced. An event in our life is draining us emotionally and using an unbalanced amount of our brain power. Maybe its something small we can't quite get over or a huge, life altering event that has us spinning. Regardless, studies have found that writing about those events not only helps them become more clear in our minds, it can help clear space for our other cognitive processes.
    A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology explains more: "The results revealed that participants who wrote about a negative event had fewer intrusive and avoidant thoughts and showed sizable improvements in working memory, compared with those who wrote about a positive event and those in the control group." http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep01/keepdiary.aspx
    The more I thought about this, the more it made sense to me. When we are dealing with an overbearing negative feeling, the more we can express about it, the more room we will have for other cognitive functions like working memory. For me, it put some science to the idea of "getting it off your chest". We know if makes us feel better, but why? This may be part of that explanation.
  4. Monitoring Progress - All my teachers just had a shiver run down their back, right? We know as educators that montioring the progress of students towards goals is important. So why don't we do it with ourselves? Well, I think first because that would mean we would have to set goals that are in some way measurable, and we tend to avoid those. Also, we don't know HOW to track them. We'll talk more about personal goal setting in an upcoming blog, but I challenge you to make a goal that you can somehow monitor your own progress and track that progress and how you're feeling about it in a goal journal.
    For example, maybe my bigger goals are saving money and eating more healthy. But the goal I'm tracking in my journal is a bit more specific: "I'm going to be home on-time for dinner and cook a healthy meal three weeknights a week." THAT I can easily track and write about what I made, how I feel about it and how its supporting my bigger goals.

There's no right or wrong way to express yourself through writing. These are some practical ways that I hope inspired you to consider picking up a journal and choosing a style that fits your goals to becoming a little more balanced and as a way to check in with yourself. You have time if you make it a priority. And *bonus* - if you do this before bed instead of watching videos on your phone, you're more likely to sleep better too. Win - Win.

PS. My favorite place to buy journals is at Marshalls! Super reasonably priced and cute.

Go Be Brave Friends!

12 thoughts on “4 Ways to Utilize Journaling”

  1. I haven’t ever tried the thankfulness journal approach and I love it. I’m going to start tonight!

  2. Love this! I think I might buy myself a journal! Do you recommend doing one of these options at a time or doing all 4?? Thank you for your insight! Really enjoyed reading this!

    1. The most I’ve done at one time was two. I think whatever you feel you most need to help feel balanced and content, go with that one.

      Needing some reminders to stay positive? Working through a big problem? Wanting to move through something specific that’s traumatic or frustrating? Or working toward a big goal? Where’s the biggest bang for YOUR buck.

      I love the question!! Keep them coming 🙂

  3. I love the idea of monitoring progress. It’s so easy to forget where you started or how you felt about certain situations (good,bad and ugly) and how we can learn and grow from all of those experiences!

    What are your tips for remembering to journal? As much as I WANT to, I have trouble remembering to prioritize it and feel defeated when I haven’t event started.

    1. I talk about this a little bit in my next post that I’m working on right now! For me, a lot of it has to do with routine. If I make it part of my nighttime routine, keep it out on my bedside table, I’m more likely to do it. And have a writing utensil that you really love right there with it.
      So now, instead of checking my Pinterest for 30 minutes, I check it for 15 after I write for 15 minutes first 🙂

  4. I always scour marshalls and tj maxx for journals in their clearance section! I’m an On again – off again journaler, but in currently on & it’s so good for my soul!

    1. A girl after my own heart. When I find the perfect journal AND its $2.99… there’s nothing better 🙂 And they make great gifts too!

  5. Love the problem / solution journal idea. Never thought about it that way. And with big events coming up that could really help. Thank you dor the advice.

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