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Why Journaling Is the Best Tool for Self-Discovery

Why Journaling Is the Best Tool for Self-Discovery

What are some things that come to mind when you think of the word journaling? Do you think of your teenage self, lying on your bed scribbling the names of your BFFs or current crush in your diary that has a little lock on it? Maybe you think of sitting down every evening writing out the events of the day in chronological order. Perhaps it’s a list of your hopes and dreams.

Journaling is something I have done for many years. In high school it was a tool I used to sort through all of the chaos happening in my family, school, and social life. Journaling helped me process the reality of my unhealthy environment and gave me a sense of control in a world that, as a teenager, was so much out of my control. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time just how much impact journaling would have for me. It did, however, become a staple discipline for my growing and healing, and also enabled me to find my passion for helping others by sharing my voice through writing.

There are many studies, articles, and books written on this subject and the many ways to use it for health benefits. Psychcentral.com says that journaling helps you, “clarify your thoughts and feelings.” According to positivepsychology.com, there are more than 80 benefits of journaling for stress, depression, and anxiety including:

1. Boosting your mood
2. Enhancing your sense of well-being
3. Reducing symptoms of depression before an important event
4. Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma
5. Help shift or refocus from a negative mindset

So, if you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive way to improve your health and well-being, this is a great option! As someone who’s been doing this a long time, below are a few things I’d like to share with a newbie:

Creating Self-Awareness

Journaling is how I express the thoughts that float around in my head, creating emotions, which turn into a sort of physical energy that I have to get out of my body in order to remain healthy. It’s how I processed the chaos in my formative years, which helped me understand not only what happened in my life, but how it affected me, and I was able to work through those events with my counselor more effectively. For instance, journaling has helped me track patterns in my battles with depression, allowing me to take that to my counselor and work through potential valleys in my journey. I now know that specific times of the year are more difficult for me, and that I don’t always transition well.

Writing gave me a voice when I felt I was mute, and ultimately helped me figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and who I absolutely didn’t want to be. If you implement this practice, you may be surprised—be prepared for some self-discovery!

Battling depression yourself? Don’t miss this episode of our podcast This Grit and Grace Life: What Are the Unexpected Gifts of Depression? With Melissa Maimone – 095

Choosing a Technique

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The personalities of these books full of blank pages are unique to each person and maybe even their purpose. Some people like to separate their writing by subject. For instance, I have a friend who has a journal for her prayers, one for daily thoughts, and one for goals and dreams. Some people keep a journal to record the happenings of their lives. My journals might look like a hot mess to some, as I have a smashed together approach to all of these techniques. Maybe because I am a feeler and this is what life feels like sometimes, a smash of events and emotions that I am trying to sort through and process. My approach is kind of a scrapbook meets gratitude journal, intertwined with thoughts, hopes, dreams, goals, prayers, events, and sometimes whatever randomness is going on in my head that I just need to get out.

There are many different journaling techniques, you just have to find one that works for you. Here are a couple of methods to consider as you get started:

The Brain Dump Method

It is exactly what it sounds like. Open a journal and simply write down exactly what comes to mind without worrying if it makes any sense or is just a bunch of gobblygook. It is simply meant to free up space in your brain.

Bullet Journaling

This was created by Ryder Carroll, who wrote the book titled The Bullet Journal Method, and is a hybrid of a journal and planner. According to their website, The Bullet Journal is “the analog method for the digital age that will help you track the past, order the present, and design your future.” This might be a great tool for taking actionable steps toward your goals and dreams. (This article by Dr. Zoe Shaw is also a great tool for working toward your dreams!)

There are many methods out there, so be open to changing it up once in a while to see what feels comfortable and helps you best. You can even find workshops that will help you learn different styles of expression. This is your journey, not anyone else’s.

Selecting Your Journal

Journaling isn’t always just putting random words on a paper, it’s an art form enabling you to express the thoughts and feelings going on inside. If you were to look at my library of journals, it would probably make you scratch your head. I have journals with handmade paper, with quotes on every page, spiral notebooks, composition books with doodles and stickers all over the covers, and even some with duct tape reinforced spines. Selecting a journal is a part of my process.

If you don’t know what kind you prefer, go to a bookstore and peruse the selection. Open them and run your fingers over the paper, sometimes the paper alone will speak to you. Other places to look for unique journals are anywhere that sells gifts: Starbucks, TJMaxx, Target…keep your eyes peeled; you never know where you might find your next favorite! Choosing a journal (and a pen) is a part of the creative process for me, but you may feel differently. Don’t shy away from using what you already have around the house—everyone is unique!

Getting Started

Now that you have chosen a journal, get started! Find a good place to write. For some, it’s a part of their daily routine. It can be a morning ritual that goes with their coffee or they may crawl into bed at precisely the same time every evening, reach for their pen and journal, and scribe the events of their day, processing through them before they try to sleep. Others may have no rhyme or reason to their journaling game. Let me share a little secret with you: you don’t have to have a rhyme or reason to have a strong journaling game. Some writers tuck their current journal in their purse so they have it at all times, looking for any available time to scribble a few words, thoughts, or ideas. It doesn’t matter when or where you write, because this is a personal exercise.

Even if you have never done any sort of journaling, I encourage you to give it a try. Sometimes it takes grit to put a pen to paper and scribe your thoughts and feelings. You may find that it stings a little to do it, but I would urge you to push on through those feelings because this might be the key to helping you figure out who you are, who you want to be, and who you absolutely don’t want to become. Also, remember to give yourself grace! Remember that journaling is an art form, a personal journey, not necessarily a task to perfect.

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For more methods on self-care and stress relief, check out these articles:

3 Ways Positive Self-Talk Can Improve Your Life
How to Make Journaling Your Sacred Space
Ask Dr. Zoe – Anxiety: What is Normal, When Do I Seek Help?
Want to Change Your Life? Change Your Mind First
The Write Way Out of Writer’s Block
Feeling Stressed Out? 5 Tips to Breathe Easy
How to Pray: for Beginners
What Are the Unexpected Gifts of Depression? With Melissa Maimone – 095

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Jennifer and her husband are a couple of empty nesters living in the upper left corner of the lower 48 with their dogs, cats, an occasional cow, and a stray horse named Amber.

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