Thoughts and emotions bubble up from mysterious mental wellsprings. From out of this deep stream, we choose the rivulets that become our daily life. Our impulses, our habits of thought, the visual images that flash before our eyes emerge from this core, drawing from a lifetime of experience and interpretation. Childhood myths and ancient experiences that seem long forgotten still move behind the curtains of awareness. Our interactions with other people raise important issues that shimmer and are gone like shadows. With so much going on inside us, we often wish we understood ourselves more clearly.
Journaling helps us peer into these wellsprings. By sitting quietly with a blank page, we write quickly and spontaneously, to allow our thoughts to blast past our inner censor and reveal ideas, connections, and intensity we didn’t even realize we had. By bringing our hidden thoughts into the light of day, we can educate our conscious mind about the ideas lurking in our unconscious. And as we get more in touch with our inner self, we find new ways to grow.
As our mind steers through the daily business of life, we must pick out, identify and respond to subtle internal signals. Many of our emotions come upon us so quickly and in such a complex mixture we don’t even know how to describe them. Instead of getting in touch with our feelings, we often leap to some corrective action, trying to fix a situation or blame someone for it. Our impulses dance on the surface of our underlying emotions like water on a red-hot griddle. Even when we’re ready for change, these powerful responses keep us trapped in familiar patterns.
To change, we need to apply more conscious and reflective tools, so we can become aware of the emotions that propel us. Within the quiet safety of our journal, we can let our emotions unfold. As our words come out on paper, we see the reflection of our soul, moving us to understand more deeply and to heal.
It may seem simple and unimportant to describe our emotions in words. “So what? Yes, I’m angry. You’re darn right I’m angry!” But once our emotions are named, we gain insights into the workings of our mind and how we react, and are able to understand our own inner drives more accurately. By comprehending the forces that drive us, we can improve the harmony between our outer actions and our inner dreams. And by naming our emotions, we are able to talk about them, opening up channels of healing dialog.
Tools for improving self-talk
When we write out our thoughts, we bring our unconscious self-talk into the clear light of day. By watching what we tell ourselves, we can sort out uplifting thoughts from ones that bring us down. This powerful tool of self-awareness works well in tandem with the lessons of cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy teaches us that some of our thoughts are counterproductive and even disturbing. While cognitive therapy provides the coaching to help us weed out these thought patterns, journal writing gives us a tool to take home, raise our awareness about our thoughts and apply these healing ideas on our own. In our journal we can see and refute these disturbing thought patterns and develop a more comfortable and productive state of mind.
Calming some brainstorms and getting in touch with others
When we’re trying to solve a problem, our thoughts may overlap and collide in a jumble that doesn’t take us anywhere. Thoughts typically associate with each other in elaborate ways, along crazy patterns that we sometimes can barely discern.
In high pressure situations we need techniques to help us get the most out of our own thought process. Using the mind mapping technique popularized by Tony Buzan, we spread our thoughts out over the page, connecting them in networks, trees, and radiating spokes of wheels. By giving ourselves a graphical representation of the way our thoughts interconnect in space, using different colors to highlight and differentiate focal points, we can bring out more about what is going on inside our mind. Brainstorming and mind mapping in our journal, we enhance our focus and increase the clarity of the thoughts we bring to bear on our decisions, innermost feelings and conflicts.
For example, as we prepare for a blind date, a sales call or a job interview, our mind generates a crazy quilt of anticipation, worry, fantasy, and plans. This jumble of thinking becomes almost impossible to sort out without techniques to help us slow down and take stock. By writing in a journal we can get in touch with our thoughts and feelings and allow them to come together more coherently. We can use this method to develop positive perspectives and override the jumble of disorganized, obsessive self-talk.
Artful integration of right brain, left brain
By grasping the images of our soul, journaling brings out into view what was previously hidden within the caverns of our mind. Our words, freely and creatively expressed, provide us with a description of our internal reality. This is our life, and when we creatively apply language to the events of life, our words paint the picture of thoughts, feelings and actions.
Journaling gives our soul the universal satisfaction that comes when we tap into the wellsprings of creativity. In this sense, journaling transforms the words of our life into a form of art. Setting our life to words can add beauty, and open budding impressions into flowers.
As we feel the uplifting release of creativity, and describe our inner and outer situation in new ways, we give ourselves tools with which to deepen our understanding. Our insights give us a new story about ourselves, and help us brainstorm in entirely new ways. And creativity unites us with our soul. As Thomas Moore explains in Care of the Soul, by delving into the world of the soul, we tap into the wellsprings of inner longings and ancient truths.
Techniques to probe our thoughts and create a better day
In addition to the open-ended journaling technique of writing whatever comes to mind, we can use more directive tricks to get at the root of specific issues and to draw us into a more positive frame of reference. For example, we can use Oprah’s device of writing down five positive things for which we are grateful each day. Or we can use a trick championed by Nathaniel Branden, posing questions to ourselves that fire up our imagination along particular lines.
“The thing I liked most about yesterday was, …”
“When he said that to me, I wanted to respond by saying, …”
“When he said that to me, it reminds me of when my mother/father said, …”
“To make today a better day, I will …”
As we spontaneously complete these sentences in our journal, we find our mind spontaneously revealing deeper insights and suggestions.
Homework for solving specific problems
Unwanted habits thrive in the darkness of denial and unconsciousness. We can shed the light of awareness on our behavior by recording in our journal the conscious observation of our activities and thoughts. For example, if we wonder why we’re gaining weight, we could keep a log every time we eat and exercise. Or if we wonder where all the money is going, we could keep track of every penny we spend. When we are triggered into anger too often, and we want to get a handle on our reactions, we can try to write down the details of what set us down that road. Becoming aware of our thoughts makes it possible to heal and grow.
Dream work journal
Keeping a journal by our bedside, we can capture our dreams just as we cross over from sleep into wakefulness. Even if they make no sense while we’re writing them, dreams have a fascinating way of revealing deeper insights when we review them in the light of day.
Picture worth a thousand words
As we work to capture our inner frame of mind, we may try sketching pictures in our journal. Even if we’re not artists, we may be pleasantly surprised at the insights and sense of expression awakened by even simple scenes and stick figures.
Rules of journaling
Our high school English teacher will not be grading our work. To journal effectively, we need to ignore our internal critic and let our words flow as freely and naturally as possible. Spontaneity is the key to effective journaling. As our thoughts come tumbling out, darting past the vigilant eye of self-criticism, we get in touch with a more natural, lively side of ourselves.
Building a journaling a habit
To make the most of journaling we can develop habits. We can set aside a routine time, for example when we first get up in the morning (good for remembering dreams and for planning) or when we go to bed at night (good for reviewing the day). And we can associate journal writing with a particular place, such as a desk, a chair by a particular window, or at a park or shopping mall. We can even use props, such as a favorite pen or a special bound notebook. These habits will help us open our mind and quickly enter an introspective mood that allows us to reveal more of our inner self.
Growing requires tools, tools to learn about ourselves, and tools to help create a new reality. Writing whatever flows through our fingers can give us a powerful window into our mind, giving us deeper insights into the mysterious hopes and dreams that drive us. And our flowing words help us lift our thinking to a clearer level, providing new ways to integrate our inner and outer reality.
See also: Anxiety, Beliefs, Cognitive therapy, Language, Meditation, Self-talk, Visualization
The New Diary : How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer
Writing down the bones by Natalie Goldberg
The Six Pillars of Self-esteem by Nathaniel Branden