Why Journaling is So Important.
With the Holidays underway and the New Year just around the corner, I want to share with everyone a tool that has made a tremendous difference in my life and my relationships. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true, that real change begins with self-knowledge and self-awareness. The challenge for most of us is that we often don’t know how we really feel or even why we feel a certain way. And I’m talking about BIG FEELINGS here – FEAR, ANGER, SADNESS, JEALOUSY and INSECURITY. Getting to the bottom of our feelings, and the behaviors caused by them, can lead to amazing transformations. But it isn’t always easy. We all have these blind spots that block our self-awareness and prevent us from being authentic, even with ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to discover our truth. I’ve found that Journaling is an indispensable tool to help me with this process.
And by journaling, I don’t mean you have to go out and buy some type of special, expensive, leather-bound journal and write in it every night. In fact, journaling is a bit of a misnomer. What you are really going to do is set aside time every day, every other day, or maybe once a week, to get in touch with your real feelings, the ones you bury deep inside to help you get through the day, (and thus they pop up at the most inconvenient times) and write them down in some form – on paper, on your phone, or even on your hand, if that works for you. I’ve broken down the journaling process into four steps to get you started on the road to authentic emotional health and happiness.
Step 1 is to pick a time of day to begin the process. I prefer the morning, before the phone starts ringing and the emails start flying, Ask yourself, “how am I feeling?” or maybe, “Why did I get so angry at my mother, son, father, husband yesterday?” It’s very important to do this in a place where you feel relaxed, safe, and open. The goal is to limit distractions (turn off the radio, the cell, the screens) and really listen to your deepest thoughts and feelings. I find it helps to look outside – nature can be very relaxing and induce a meditative state. (In nice weather I sit outside.) You want to experience the stillness and let it sink in so you can concentrate on your thoughts. If I’m traveling, I sometimes do this in the bathtub. I also find that turning this into a ritual can be very helpful. Put a soft blanket on the floor or your favorite chair, light a candle, take a few deep breaths, state your intention - to explore your innermost thoughts and feeling - out loud, and begin.
Step 2 is to write down the things that pop into your head. Don’t try to edit yourself. Let your thoughts, ideas, and most important of all, emotions, really flow and come to the surface. The goal is to get in touch with things that are not always present in your conscious mind. I often find myself writing about things that happened the day before, maybe an argument with someone or a moment I felt vulnerable or upset. In our busy lives, we often move on quickly from these events without examining why they occurred in the first place. Journaling is a powerful tool precisely because it helps you discover the why’s. If you really commit to this process, I promise you will be amazed by what you discover about yourself. Once you have written everything down, don’t feel you have to re-read it right away. It’s perfectly ok to set down your list and start your day. Just make sure you put the list someplace where you can easily find it later.
Step 3 is what I like to call “sacred time.” This is the time of day you set aside to sit quietly and process the things you wrote. For me, this usually happens in the early evening, when I’ve finished work for the day. I like to brew a cup of tea (you might pour a glass of wine) and take out my list. Then, with intention and an open mind and heart, I dig in. Sometimes my list is more impressionistic. For example, I might have written, “I woke up sad about C and the conversation we had yesterday.” During sacred time, I can reflect on why that might be. I realize that I was sad because C is now mature enough to make his own decisions, some good, and others not so good. He no longer feels the need to check things with me, which is understandable. This is our “new normal,” and while it’s ok to feel sad and wistful about it, I also want to remember all the ways C has grown into a person who makes me proud and with whom I enjoy spending time. Now, having reflected on why I felt sad, I suddenly feel very positive about the person C has become in the world. I’ve shifted my awareness, but only because journaling helped me to acknowledge feeling sad in the first place. This is important because so often we don’t want to acknowledge feeling sad or angry – maybe we don’t think we have a right to these feelings, or that they are too powerful or too destructive. But it’s important to allow yourself the space to feel your true feelings. We all have feeling we wish we didn’t have. The point is to see if we can move through them into a better emotional state.
Step 4 is all about dealing with the results of step 3. I am sometimes able to shift my awareness and find peace with my feelings just by reflecting on what I’ve written down. But at other times, I need to do something more concrete to release my feelings and emotions. Here are some of the things you can try to help you find that release and move through your feelings to a better place.
Write a letter to the person you are angry or upset with and express yourself authentically. You’re not going to send the letter, but the process of writing it can be very cathartic.
Make a gratitude list. There is no more powerful shift mechanism than seeing on paper all the things you have to be grateful for.
Sweat out your feelings – grab your sneakers and go for a run, walk, hike or bike ride. Even better, put on some Mariah, Whitney, Mary J., Donna Summer, Diana Ross (I think I may be dating myself a bit here) and dance like no one is watching! It helps if your neighbors aren’t home.
Meditate to help you get in touch with your personal power and positive energy, and to move beyond the negative emotions.
Cry, shout, give voice to your emotions. Punch a pillow if it feels right. This kind of direct, physical release can help you vanquish negative emotions and move forward.
Write a list of the things that are upsetting you, as many as you can identify.
Choose the top five, and for each of these write down anything you can do to help you change the situation. Make this your new “to do” list, and work on it in the next month.
Last but not least, give yourself the gift of continuing your journaling. With intention, practice, and dedication, you can and will journal yourself to a healthier, more authentic, more joyful life.