Developing a Journaling Practice: Some Simple How-To's

These are strange times, to say the least. There's no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every one of us, in some way or another. While some are facing more direct challenges, there's a shared experience of forced transition and upheaval - the way we used to go about our days, weeks, lives in general has shifted.

Thing is, it's not always easy to actually notice how these changes - drastic or subtle - affect us. With many of our outlets removed, it might be harder than normal to navigate emotions and create a sense of grounding amidst the anxiety. 

That's where I've found journaling to be immensely helpful. It's a practice that I've developed over the past few years, and because I am SO grateful that I have it, I wanted to share accessible tips.

Now, you might be wondering: How can journaling help me?!

Well, the beautiful thing is, you can make it what you want!

Whether you simply want a way to organize thoughts and make space in your busy brain, or if you're hoping to start digging deeper - navigating emotions, tracking and identifying patterns, or establishing a sense of grounding - we're here to share a few approaches to help you get started.

DAILY BOOK-ENDS

This is my favorite practice, and one that was inspired by the Five Minute Journal (ultimately, the only tool that really got me to stick with journaling!).

Ask yourself the same questions at the beginning and end of every day:

MORNING: What are 3 things that would make today great?

EVENING:

  • What are 3 Amazing things that happened today? 
  • What made them amazing?
  • What are 2-3 not-so-great things that happened today?
  • What made them not-so-great?

I love this because:

  1. It creates boundaries and structures when our days tend to run together during Quarantine.
  2. It provides a daily foundation, sense of grounding, and gratitude.
  3. Over time, this tool can help us recognize recurring patterns and ways in which we attach value to things. 

As we see the daily amazing vs. not-so-great, we might find that our priorities become clear, and where we might be neglecting them. 

For example, if every day we place productivity-related things under the Amazing category, but then are writing that a not-so-great thing was not making time for our daily walk, we might see that we're passing up things that make us feel good and allow us to take care of our well-being in order to feel more productive. 

Simply start to notice after a couple weeks of doing this - to what do you attach good vs. bad? Why? Are the things that feel good often the things that I resist? Or do I allow myself balance?

BRAIN DUMPS

Just like it sounds - grab a pen and paper and have at it. This can start looking like a to-do list with all the things on your mind, or simply keep a notepad next to you throughout the day. As you have a thought or feel anxiety come up, write it down. It can be as little as "call Sarah. I missed her call last week and never called back" or as big as "I'm freaking out that I won't be able to pay rent next month...."

I find that the simple act of naming, recognizing, and seeing all the thoughts on paper helps me recognize recurring anxieties or distractions, as well as simply make space in my brain for the things that I actually want to be focusing on. 

You can simply jot it, or follow the thought and free write with it - see where a thought takes you, and if it might be tied to a greater stressor or recurring story you can recognize.

REAL VS. NOT and BEST VS. WORST

Sometimes, our anxiety gets the best of us, and it's hard to know what's really happening. When I'm particularly stressed, I find it helpful to simply make a list of what's REAL. 

  • What happened today
  • What is happening right now
  • What did I say or do
  • What did he/she say or do
  • What is on track
  • What isn't

...and it goes on. In doing you, you can start to see what's actually happening and where your brain might be getting ahead of you.

From there, you might still recognize that many of your fears are real or plausible. I like to then write out best case and worst case scenarios (a tool that Lacey Phillips uses in her "shadow" and manifestation work).

  • If this happens, then....
  • What will this say about me?
  • What will this say about those around me?
  • What is so bad about this?

Again, the act of seeing and naming fears, and logically letting them unfold (as opposed to the crazy unraveling in the brain!) can be helpful and calming. It can make the greatest fears a bit less scary and more manageable.

And it should also be said that fear is ok and natural, and believe it or not, healthy, so do your best not to judge yourself as you move through this exercise! You are not alone. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

It can be hard to remember or know what we actually DID in a day or week. The practice of writing down everything that happened can be very grounding, if done simply without judgement.

Many of us have the tendency to believe we are not doing enough. By writing down all the things that you accomplished and that filled your cup (hint: it's not all work-related! It could be went for a walk, called a friend, baked a new dish, etc.), you'll be surprised by just how much you've contributed in a week and you'll have plenty to recognize yourself for.

Or we may feel like we're doing a lot, but are feeling overwhelmed, drained, or pressed for time. It could be that we're spending time on things that don't actually matter to us. Especially these days, when our energy is pulled in so many directions and social media may be hard to resist, we might find our intentions neglected. 

The goal of this is again, not to judge or measure up, but just to observe, acknowledge, and carry this with you into the next week if there was any helpful insight to gain.

***

We hope these tools are helpful, and will continue to offer more over the coming weeks. Be sure to comment below with your favorite practices or questions!

 


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