I started journaling at the beginning of quarantine - so probably mid-March 2020. I have always loved journals, but never thought it was valuable enough to write stuff out by hand. Now, having filled up hundreds of journal pages and four Moleskine journals in the past 8 months, I'm proud to report I was wrong.
I've used a lot of quarantine and solitary time to reflect on myself, my mind, and my life. I have to say, it was all time well spent. I've literally never felt better about my life. I thought I'd share some things I learned from journaling.
1. Self-reflection is essential to personal growth. Journaling is a great way to reflect on what is going on, how you're feeling, how you want to feel etc. Without this reflection, we can't move forward in a really meaningful way. If we aren't aware of the lens through which we see the world, we aren't able to change it. And our perspective/lens is how we experience EVERYTHING, all the time! The thoughts you have about your circumstances, life, job, relationships, everything, make you feel a certain way.
Why do we ever want to achieve anything? We want to feel better. We think we will feel better in achieving the thing we want. What if we could think different thoughts to feel better in this moment and then choose to do those other things just for fun? (tangential food for thought)
2. My head is less cluttered. The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day, and I have to say my brain is especially cluttered. Sometimes speaking is hard because my thoughts keep racing so far ahead of my words. Journaling has been a way to slow down and empty my swirling spiraling thoughts onto paper. This has led to a calmer and more in command mentality.
When we write down our thoughts/feelings it is a kind of release. We can also remove ourselves from the situation. One thing I love to do when I'm truly spinning out is writing all my thoughts down, then look at them as if someone anonymous has written them and I'm seeing them for the first time. Seeing my thoughts I would think, "wow this person is really flailing, no wonder they feel so upset if these are the thoughts they're thinking..." This removes me from the situation enough for me to give myself compassion in whatever moment I really need it.
3. I've gained so much clarity on all my limiting beliefs. This is probably the most important one. A limiting belief is usually something we believe that holds us back, and they largely go unnoticed. We think we are putting sugar into the cake (life), but really it's salt. "I'm not good enough" is one of the most popular limiting beliefs. "I'm not worthy" is another one. These make us feel TERRIBLE. Then we get to work feeling terrible because somehow we think the other side of this work will be the good stuff. But all along we practice feeling terrible and then we marvel at the fact that it doesn't feel that much better on the other side. When we practice these beliefs (knowing or unknowingly) we make them stronger.
Our beliefs are EVERYTHING. If we don't think we are good enough to win an audition, for example, when push comes to shove, we don't practice. We give up before we even begin when we hold beliefs like this. It can be scary to uncover these, but doing so can be so freeing and you'll ultimately be more in control of your mindset with this awareness.
4. Taking the time to observe how you think and feel is an act of self-love. And it doesn't actually take that long. I used to never like writing things down because, in this age of typing, the computer is so much faster, but slowing down has been a really good thing. Caring about how you yourself feel is so important. Validating your own opinions is so important. It is honestly a form of self-parenting. How many times have you thought, "I shouldn't feel sad or upset"? This usually leads to you feeling shame for being sad. And that is SO MUCH worse than just feeling sad. What if you just let yourself have these feelings and feel them?
Self-love is tricky, and something I'm probably going to talk a lot about on this platform. But we can start with having compassion for our thoughts and feelings we write down. If you can't think about being compassionate to yourself just yet, pretend someone else wrote these things. How would you react if someone knocked on your door feeling really sad and telling you all the things you just wrote down? How would you respond? What would you say?
5. Writing things down helps me process things I don't want to tell other people. If you're a private person who doesn't share a lot of personal stuff with people, I highly recommend journaling. It is an outlet and a chance for you to put some space between your experience of your thoughts and your thoughts themselves. It is almost as if you can have a conversation with yourself, coach yourself, empower yourself, or give yourself words you need to hear. Do you ever find yourself wishing someone would tell you that everything will work out for you? What if you started to tell yourself the things you needed to hear? I realize this sounds corny but it actually works. It is really hard to sort this all out in your head, so just go ahead and write it down.
6. I write down things I've learned that day, and sometimes it's messy. I learn something new every day, it is rare that I don't have some kind of realization that I want to write down. I write them down sometimes so excitedly that my handwriting is super messy, something that really used to bother me. I have no aesthetic standards for my journals anymore. I find it to be a distracting and perfectionist tendency that prohibited you know, the actual idea behind the words. It is nice to reflect back on these moments. Sometimes I even use a highlighter if it is really a special moment for me.
7. Journaling helps me gain awareness. Awareness is quite possibly the most important thing that very few people talk about. If you are unaware of thoughts or beliefs that hold you back, there's little to no chance you'll be able to change them. If you feel stuck what gets you out? Usually, you gain some sort of awareness and move forward. Awareness is my new favorite word because it helps me make decisions, gain control over my mindset, and the results I'm producing in my life. Awareness is the magic ingredient.
Many people don't like to gain awareness. They don't like the notion that thoughts create their feelings or that they can think things on purpose because then they are really in charge of their life. Awareness and responsibility strip away the potential for any sort of victim mentality. This can be really scary if you don't really want to take responsibility for what you're doing, but at the same time, it is incredibly freeing.
8. You get to ask yourself really good questions and answer them. We have a lot of thoughts that keep us stuck:
I just don't know what to do.
What do I even say?
I don't know.
I can't figure this out.
I don't know how.
Some really good questions to ask yourself when these thoughts arise:
What if you did know what to do? What would you do then? - Write it down, actually answer.
What would you say if you did know?
What would you do if you could figure this out?
What would someone who did know how do?
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to actually answer the above questions, pen to paper. You'll be surprised how much you already do know. Indulging in the above-italicized thoughts leaves you stuck, unable to move forward. Asking questions like the ones just above will help you brainstorm and discover how much inner wisdom you already have.
9. Journaling will forever be in my life. I can't imagine my life without my journal now. I get excited when I have something new to write down. I'm excited when I have a problem to solve or get to reflect on how I'm thinking and feeling, what action I'm taking from there, and how that is affecting the results in my life. I'm so grateful for my experience with journaling because it has helped me to grow as a person.
What if you just tried it? And if you're thinking "but I don't even know what to write down..." -- ask yourself, "What if I knew exactly what to write down?" -- then write that down.