As a mental health therapist, I have witnessed firsthand the power of journaling and how it can lead to release in people’s lives. On the contrary, I’ve met with many people who struggle with the practice of journaling and are curious about how to do it effectively. I have found the following 4 strategies helpful in creating a framework and/or routine that can help you get the most out of journaling.
Release Expectations for Journaling
Often times, people confuse expectation and intention. It is possible to do things with intention without creating a certain expectation of the outcome. Journaling is all about the experience and process of release. So, when you create expectations of wanting to feel drastically different by the end of an entry or to have some revelation that will change the course of your life, you interrupt the process of journaling.
Now, overtime journaling can lead to some of these outcomes but it is not because of your expectation it is because of your intention. When you journal with intention you approach it with an open heart and open mind. You surrender to whatever experience journaling brings to you that day, trusting that it is giving you the chance to process your emotions and thoughts in an expansive way. Intention allows you to go deeper with thoughts than you might otherwise on a typical day and it encourages safety in your expression. Journaling is therapeutic because it allows you to externalize your thoughts on paper and share openly and honestly without room for ridicule or judgment. So next time you go to journal, release expectations of how your journal entry should sound or what it should evoke in you. Simply just write with the intention of release and expression and get lost in the process.
Identify Your Preferred Method of Journaling
This is super important. There are many different methods of journaling and each one caters to a specific process. Here we are going to focus on guided journaling and freeform journaling. Guided journaling is my personal favorite. I like guided journaling because it is a good introduction to reflective journaling for those who are new to the process. It provides structure and a guide that allows you to feel more comfortable getting started than you might feel when you open a journal to a blank page. Guided journaling is nice because it provides questions and prompts that you may not have developed on your own which can deepen your self-awareness and insight on that specific topic. When using a guided journal, it provides a nice sense of accountability that can help foster consistency and encourage you to confront topics that you might typically run from. Lastly, it can be a great springboard to eventually try other methods of journaling that have less structure once you become more comfortable with the practice.
Freeform journaling is another method that is great for my people who enjoy just letting their mind be creative and free. Freewriting is a great way to learn to release those expectations we mentioned earlier. Your thoughts can flow out freely and uncensored, and don’t have to focus on a particular subject. This is useful when you have emotions surface or some thoughts that you just need to get out of your head and onto paper. I love that this method doesn’t lock you into a specific topic and gives you free range to talk about whatever is coming up for you in the moment. Freeform journaling can lead to new ideas, greater clarity, and breakthroughs that enhance self-compassion.
Practice Coping Strategies and Self-Care in between Entries
This is a strategy that is often overlooked. In many ways, journaling is already considered a coping strategy for many people. However, journaling can often bring a lot of emotions to the surface and it is important to practice self-soothing after an entry so that you don’t become overwhelmed. There are many ways to self-soothe whether it is doing movement, meditation, spending time with loved ones, resting, listening to music, the list goes on and on. Whatever it is that works for YOU, find it and integrate it in to your regular routine of journaling. This allows for a break and space after writing about deep and important topics.
It is essential to not only process our emotional experiences but to care for ourselves in the midst of it by taking moments of pause to reset and restore so that we feel equipped to journal again when the time comes. I created a guided journal recently, ‘Beyond My Reflection: A 60-Day Guided Journal to Cultivate Self-Awareness and Honor Your Truths’, that incorporates daily practices of self-care every 5 days to reinforce taking breaks in between entries.
Reflect Mindfully on Past Entries:
And of course, the way I close out my framework for effective journaling is to go back and reread some of my past entries in order to track my progress and growth. This is not something that I always do right away, but I always find myself going back to it at the right time. Whenever I’m in a similar situation or met with emotions that feel familiar I go back and reflect on past entries to see how I dealt with my emotions at that time. It is always eye-opening to see the place I was at in that stage of life and to then reflect on how I think about or handle similar scenarios now. Sometimes it can be tough to reread entries, especially entries from when you were in a low-place but it allows you to recognize our growth and honor all different stages of your life.
Reflecting mindfully on past entries allows you to identify and observe patterns without judgment, while appreciating your current outlook on life. I think this is an important marker that allows you to reconnect to the purpose behind journaling and all that it can give you.
Josee' Muldrew is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor in the state of Georgia and the Founder of The Looking Glass JM, LLC. The Looking Glass is a wellness platform that aims to help BIPOC communities by connecting them to culturally informed content, providing free mental health resources, and offering trainings and products that promote trauma-informed care. Josee' is an author and recently published a 60-Day Guided Journal that focuses on self-discovery examining 6 key domains of Comparison, Competence, Appearance, Validation, Family, and Culture. In her spare time, Josee' enjoys going out to eat, writing, dancing, and spending time with family and friends.