I received my first journal when I was 13 years old. It was pink and white with a Velcro clasp on it, as if that would keep my younger sister out of it if she really wanted to read the juicy details of the boy I had a crush on.
The journal was written in religiously, every day for about a month. Daily turned into weekly, which turned into monthly and as more time passed, my pretty pink and white journal began to collect dust.
“Journaling is the way to go…”
Fast-forward 25 years, I am experiencing a major life transition and just about every self-help book I read suggests that for personal growth, self-discovery, and overcoming grief, journaling is the way to go.
I was given a small journaling book from a friend for my 40th birthday that was titled “One Line A Day”. The idea was to write one sentence each day about how I was feeling or something that stood out about that day. I wrote in it every day for about a month and then the same thing happened to my “One Line A Day” journal that happened when I was 13; my daily entries turned into weekly entries, which turned into monthly entries and the last entry I wrote, only 2 months after receiving the journal was, “I cried today”.
I continued to read self-help books, blogs and listen to podcasts that insisted the key to growth and overcoming struggles in life is journaling. I decided to give it another try and purchased a blank journal that said on it, “You Got This”. You probably guessed it, the cycle happened again…I started off strong and then as weeks passed, the new journal sat on my bedside table unopened.
“I never understood what I was supposed to write about…”
When I look back, the struggle I had was that I never understood what I was supposed to write about. I would open my journal and I felt overwhelmed with emotions and began to feel anxiety whenever I got the pen out and stared at the blank paper. Then something happened that changed my view on “journaling”.
I was on my way to work one morning after a rough night and an ad came on the radio for something I can no longer recall, but I do remember the quote the woman with a soothing voice said, “If you get tired, learn to rest…not quit”. That quote spoke to me at that moment and felt it was timely with how I was feeling. With a foggy, sleepy head, I didn’t want to forget the quote so I pulled out my phone so I could record what I just heard in my voice memos.
As I hit record on my phone, I explained what I was doing, recited the quote and then kept talking into my phone for about 2-3 minutes. I talked about the rough night I had, how the quote made me feel and that I was going to be optimistic about the day I was getting ready to face.
When I got home that evening I pulled out my phone to listen to the quote I had heard and I realized as I listened to myself talking, I was journaling in audio form! It was a little strange to hear my voice at first, but I really liked hearing my words that flowed out of me so naturally.
The next day, I decided to do it again. I recorded myself for about 3 minutes just talking about the day ahead of me. I didn’t have a plan about what I wanted to say, I wanted to capture my emotions, my feelings, my activities my thoughts. For me, I found the way that worked for me to journal. Instead of forcing myself to open up a journal book and write about how I was feeling, I just hit record and let words flow out of my mouth.
Journaling can be very daunting to some while others love it. Does it work? Should we do it? Research on the benefits of journaling are mixed and whether or not you want to try it that is 100% up to you. Some feel that capturing your thoughts and feelings and experiences helps you grow, while others believe it makes issues worse if you are only journaling when you overwhelmed by capturing negativity.
Journaling (written or audio) can have a positive effect on your behavior and well-being:
- Allows you to evaluate your thoughts, emotions, and behavior
- Explores resolutions
- Converts negative energy into positive growth
- Helps decrease your emotional reactivity to others
- Increases acceptance of unpredictability, which is a part of life
- Helps you see other people’s perspectives
- Captures alternative courses of action
Journaling (audio or written) can also have a negative effect on your behavior and well-being:
- Makes you live in your head
- Renders you a passive spectator of your life
- Becomes a vehicle of blame instead of solutions
- Wallows in negative things that have happened to you
Will journaling work for you? That is for you to decide. If you want to give it a try, maybe you don’t start with something profound like jotting down all of your life goals. Instead, start by journaling about your reaction to a family of geese that you saw walking across a busy street. Rather than snapping a photo of it and posting it on Instagram, journal (audio or write) about the smile that was on your face when you watched them all waddle by. Or journal about how kind people were that day by stopping their car, no matter the hurry they were in, to let this family of geese cross the street safely.
There are no rules to journaling:
- Start small. If you want to write, start with a sentence or a word. If you want to talk, maybe say one or two words with the date and leave it at that.
- Make it your own! Just let go and write or talk about whatever. If you want to make a gratitude list, great. If you need to vent about something that has been eating you all day, great. If you want to journal about the weather…sometimes just recording emotions or thoughts about anything can be restorative.
- Don’t do it: Journaling is not for everyone, and that is ok. If you’ve never tried it and you are feeling stuck, it could be worth a shot. And if you don’t want to crack open a book and grab a pen, there are some amazing apps out there if you want to try the audio journaling, Voice Diary is a user friendly app (or just record in voice memos like I did).
“There are no rules…”
Right now, with so much that is going on in the world, why not try capturing your emotions, feelings, actions, concerns or hopes? If it’s too hard to schedule a time each day to pull out your hard copy journal and write, try recording your words on your phone instead. Having some type of schedule can assist you in creating a routine (I choose to record in the morning) but again, there are no rules. If you feel setting a time each day is too constricting, just go with what works for you.
I still record in my audio journal and although I no longer record in it daily because my writing has increased, I still record at least weekly, and I go back and listen to previous entries to see how much I have grown. Bonus, now I like the sound of my voice…I no longer think I sound like a pre-teen!
Journaling can be a huge part of self-care for some, for me it works, but for others it doesn’t. If you are adamant that journaling is not for you, that is ok [you probably stopped reading this blog after the first paragraph], but it never hurts to try something new. What do you have to lose?
Remember, You Got This!