I have been talking about my journalling process a lot on instagram stories (my favourite place to be!) and have been promising a fuller blog post about it for ages. I have also had lots of questions about the process so I’ve put my thoughts into a fuller blog post. First things first...
My history of journalling:
I have written in a diary (as I used to call it) for as long as I can remember. I have some of them still (some I have burned!) including the one I wrote in aged 10, the year my mum died. Oh how my heart breaks for 10 year old me.
I am naturally a high energy person. I am passionate, feel things really deeply and am also very empathetic. The flip side of this is being pretty anxious, overwhelmed by other people’s feelings, and having a very ‘buzzy’ mind. But writing about it has always been immeasurably helpful. As soon as the words are out of my head (written or spoken), I feel calmer. Writing down and processing my feelings in a non judgemental, totally unbiased blank book been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It's one of the best ways I can support my mental health, and it's free!
I think it also prevents me from relying too heavily on the people around me too. I still talk to my close friends and family, but I can share the load with my journal a little too, which I think my husband is pretty pleased about! (Ha). So I am going to talk about why I do it, and how. This is the process that works for me.
Why do I journal?
To give me space to process and ponder. The simple act of writing down my feelings is itself a revealing process (I often get a lightbulb ‘huh. I didn’t know I felt like that.’ moment). In my experience, it's a little like therapy in that way. In reality there is no comparison to therapy, which I think nearly everyone would benefit from, but this comes close.
It helps me to stay positive and grateful. It gives me clarity and helps me articulate my feelings.
What is my journalling process?
I used to just dump all my feelings down. This was useful (dump then slam my diary closed!) but in recent years I have upped my journalling game and I now think my process is perfect for me. It's important not to be perfectionist about it- you don't have to record every detail of your life, every feeling. You don't have to do it every day, if you don't want too. It doesn't have to be neat or beautiful, or all follow the same format. Just do what works for you. Here's what I do now.
- Dump my feelings. Pain/joy/sheer boredom- whatever
- Write down what I’m grateful for- sometimes in direct response to point 1- even the bad bits. From the sublime to the ridiculous. My morning coffee makes it on there most days, as do things like moments of marriage/motherhood.
Those two steps are my foundations. Sometimes the first step just takes a couple of sentences “Feel exhausted and overwhelmed today.” "feeling so happy right now" Or it’s an essay.
The second point is kinda where the magic happens. Even on the days when I feel exhausted and resentful and anxious, when I write down the stuff I am grateful for I can feel my brain and heart shift a fraction, away from pain and instead to joy. It literally amplifies the joy. I sometimes write down a grateful point for every moan too. It’s hard but there is always something there, even if it’s learning a tough lesson.
Here are some other things I might add on top.
I also love affirmations and will sometimes write some down, related to how I am feeling. There is solid science related to using affirmations, and immersing yourself in those positive feelings, and the amazing outcomes that can happen as a result. I have so so much to say about how affirmations changed my life, but that’s for another blog post!
I also sometimes write down how I WANT to feel. I visualise the ideal way I want to start my day, the ways I want to spend time with my family or do the creative work I love. I focus on it, allow the lovely feelings to bubble up as a result of imagining it. Then I go and try to make that happen- and it feels a bit more natural and joyful, rather than a slog. A personal example is when I feel nervous about driving somewhere. I picture myself sat in the driving seat, smiling, with my favourite music on, calmly and confidently getting to where I need to go. It works!
Sometimes I do creative things. Stick in a pressed flower, a ticket or photo. Some people get a lot of joy our of art journalling and using their creativity to channel their feelings. I have had journals like this in the past, ones that have been heavily collaged and painted. This is something I want to try again at some point.
Some questions I have received from others:
What if you feel icky afterwards?
Sometimes journalling will reveal some super icky feelings; feelings you would rather you weren’t experiencing. Jealousy, resentment, or deep deep pain. Just the act of looking those feelings straight in the face, is courageous and the crucial first step in doing something about it.
My coach/sister-in-law Ray always says, 'there are no bad feelings- just interesting information'. She also says, 'we are not our feelings'. I found both of those incredibly powerful when dealing with painful icky feelings. Once you have looked at your icky/painful feelings straight on, you will probably find that you actually know what action you could take- asking for help, stepping up about something, taking a positive step, forgiving someone, stopping comparison, releasing a story you tell about yourself. But even if you don't know what to do about it, simply acknowledging your feelings about it will be useful, even if you can't see it at the time. And if your thoughts and feelings are not you- just interesting information- they ca help you to figure out whats really going on. I want to say here that if you are finding a lot of pain when you dig down then therapy might be a really helpful thing for you.
Secondly, when you write down your gratitudes afterwards it’s an amazing tool to help us actually see the positive things in our lives, amidst the pain. Running water (I mean, seriously), morning coffee steaming in the sunlight, my family. Garden picnics, my laptop, my education. I really do feel incredibly grateful for all the good in my life. It doesn’t erase the ickiness but it helps to balance it. I am often in a state of balancing those dual feelings and am now cool with it.
What about privacy? What if someone reads it?
I honestly haven’t thought much about this. If my journalling has released some particularly incendiary writing, I will occasionally rip out a page or two and burn it. But I don’t let that stop me. Because I also have a gratitude practice, I know that there is a lot of joy and gratitude in there too- often about the experiences and people I might have had a moan about the page before!
You could swerve away from the brain dump and just write what you’re grateful for. It will have a magic effect either way.
Your journal doesn’t have to be physical. I sometimes write mine in a note on my phone if I am out and about and wanting to figure something out. You could use an app on your phone that has a password.
If you are coming up against a lot of feelings of shame however, then It might be worth unpicking with a professional.
How do you make the time?
It takes a little bit of discipline to get started, but now it has such a positive impact on my life that I *want* to do it, it’s a virtuous circle. I squeeze it in when I can. It doesn’t have to be reams of paper, it can literally be a few sentences of feelings and a few bullet points of stuff you’re grateful for. Two minutes or two hours.
How do you do it with kids?
I don’t manage it every day, firstly. Mine are early risers. I have 2 mornings a week of childcare, and I make sure I start those mornings with my journal. Initially I felt like I should use every precious minute of that paid childcare to hustle and work, but swiftly realised that spending 20 minutes at the start of each day means I am far more centred and productive for the rest of the morning. At home with the kids, I bring it down with me first thing, and will try to write a couple of sentences whilst they are eating breakfast or playing. Sometimes I have to do this standing up! If I sit down, often Auden wants to come and sit on my lap or have a feed, but if I stand at the counter instead I get a little more time! I also do it when Auden naps, when Frankie is watching the iPad, or just before bed. Sometimes it’s just a few sentences. It’s such a lovely act of self care, especially important for mums, that I try to make a bit of time for it every week.
Once your kids are a little older, you can do it with them. Frankie (age 6) loves sitting next to me to write in her journal. Often Auden is stood by us trying to pull our notebooks to the floor or grab our pens, but we manage! Sometimes not for very long, but we manage.
Do you have a separate notebook?
Yes! Definitely! I have a whole separate notebook for these musings as otherwise they get too mixed up amidst notes from work phone conversations and shopping lists, and I like keeping my thoughts all together. It's easier to keep it private too, if you want too.
I have summarised the questions I had here- but please add any others below, and I will either answer in the comments or update the blog post.