We all know that Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude (hopefully we’re practicing gratitude year…
If you’ve ever been to therapy, there’s a good chance you have heard a recommendation to try journaling. As a therapist myself, I do recommend it often. In fact, it may be the suggestion I offer most frequently. It is also the suggestion most often ignored/avoided/sighed at. I recommend it so often because I know how effective it can be, so why is it a tactic so many people struggle with?
I’ll tell you five of the most common reasons my clients have told me they don’t journal:
- “I’m not a good writer”
- “I tried it, it didn’t help”
- “I tried it, it just made me upset”
- “I didn’t do it right”
- “I know I should do it, but I don’t”
Let’s take these one by one.
First, you absolutely do not need to be good at writing to journal. The point is not to write something poignant and meaningful, necessarily. The point is just to express your thoughts, concerns, worries and feelings. When we don’t release these things, they can pile up and overwhelm us. So journaling can be a great way to acknowledge and release whatever is bothering you and/or to help you uncover what is bothering you, if you aren’t sure.
Next, not every journal entry will be significant, but the more you do it, the more helpful it can be. Also, we need to manage our expectations, journaling won’t change a situation, but it can help you identify and let go of emotions and thoughts that are plaguing your mind.
The next one is my favorite, because this means the journaling was actually helpful, but it was uncomfortable. If we have difficult emotions to process, we must go through them in order to get to the other side of relief and to feel better. But many people once the difficult emotion is triggered will resist and avoid. This unfortunately only prolongs and magnifies the emotions. The easiest way out is always through and journaling can be helpful with this process.
In my opinion, one of the most important things to keep in mind if you’re going to journal is that there’s no “right” way to do it. There should be no concern for grammar, punctuation or editing of any sort. Whether you write one paragraph or five pages, it doesn’t matter. It’s a practice and will take time to find your style and routine with it, but I promise you cannot do it wrong.
Lastly, how often do we “should” on ourselves? This rarely leads to long term results and formation of habits. It’s important to find your motivation for journaling and what you’d like to get from it. Then it will be something you want to do, not something you “should” do.
How else can we make journaling more appealing?
Maybe we shouldn’t call it journaling?
Sometimes we have an association with a word that causes us to instantly reject the idea. Journaling may sound formal or proper or like something to be done “right”. I see this often with the word exercise too, for many people it’s become like a dirty word and something they “should” do. So I suggest reframing it and using a different word, like movement, because it feels good to move our bodies whereas exercise can feel punishing.
So if the word journaling feels punishing or negative in any way, call it something else.
Have you seen on social media when teenagers do a “photo dump”? It’s where they take the last bunch of photos on their phones and post them, a more random dump of pictures of various things they’ve done recently versus a cohesive post. Try thinking of journaling as a word or brain dump. Notice and write down all the most recent thoughts, feelings, concerns that you can find in brain.
This can be especially helpful at the end of the day or before bed. How often do we get into bed exhausted, lay down and then our minds start buzzing about the day we had or will have tomorrow? It’s our brain’s job each day to process all that’s happened, all the information and stimuli we’ve encountered. Doing a word dump can help move that process along by expelling a lot of that information on to paper.
If you think journaling doing a word dump would be helpful, start slow and give it some time.
Find your routine with it. Do you prefer typing or hand writing? If you’re worried about somebody in your house reading it, you don’t have to keep it. You can delete it, rip it up, throw it away. Remember, there’s no right way to do it, you just have the find the way that works best for you.
If you feel stuck and/or unsure if journaling with help you, please don’t hesitate to contact me.