Journaling as a way of looking inward

An approach to journaling that helps reduce anxiety, get a clear head, and stay positive throughout the day.

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We’re living through a time which will no doubt end up in history books. Social distancing is gradually becoming the norm, the economy is unstable, and we’re all a little uncertain about tomorrow. This is precisely when people start taking things one day at a time. Some find solace in prayer, meditation, switching off, and using this as an opportunity for a break. Others prefer to chat with friends over FaceTime, work on side projects, strategise over what steps to take when things go back to the new normal.

There’s no right or wrong here; I think that we should all be doing what works for us. For me, journaling has been that perfect medium through which to calm my thoughts, sort out the concerns, and find solutions. I want to share my approach with you and hope that some of you may find it helpful and aid you in getting to your inner truths during this difficult time.

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.”

– Tim Ferriss

Start in the mornings

This one, I believe, is essential and one you may have heard a thousand times already. There’s merit in it, so please bare with me. I usually (I admit, sometimes I do forget) open my journal up right after waking up. During this time, I focus on one main thing – to start the day off on the right foot. So, I note down three things that I am grateful for. Even during this challenging time, I am confident you can find something.

Are you and your family members well? Do you still have your job? Do you have savings that are helping you get through this? Do you have people you can turn to for support? Or perhaps you’re just happy because today – the sun is shining? Try to find anything to be grateful for and note it down. Search for it within yourself, however long it takes. It will shift your mindset to a positive tune and increase the chances of feeling good throughout the day.

When your mind is cluttered – declutter on paper

While starting in the morning is one of these typical and also flexible tips, decluttering my thoughts on paper is a definite source of relief. During a crisis like the pandemic, or when I am overwhelmed at work with deadlines looming and projects pilling up – my mind tends to race and be thinking of a hundred different things at the same time. I am worried about “this”, and I am also dreading “that”, a colleague needs help with something all of a sudden, and all of it has to fit into my head. It feels like juggling ten oranges at the same time, inside my mind.

This is when sitting down to journal proves to be the best source of therapy, as Tim Ferriss so eloquently put it. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by everything going on in my life, and hence my head, I open up my Moleskine and just start writing. In this case, I use it more as a diary than anything else. I start with whatever comes to mind first, and sort of work through it as I go. It’s like having a conversation with myself and organising my thoughts in a structured manner. I can’t begin to tell you how much this helps – you’ve got to try it. Start with whatever is bothering you. Note it down and continue writing by answering the questions a friend may ask you if you were to tell them your concerns. Why does this bother you? What are you afraid of? Can you do something about it? Are there specific steps you can take to mitigate your worry?

You’ll be surprised how many answers will pop up into your head simply because you took the time to declutter your thoughts, organise them, and address your mind’s questions. Not only do you feel like you’ve just let it all out and it’s no longer floating around your head, you will also likely arrive at a solution that will make you feel better.

Use the journal to ask yourself difficult questions

Even when we’re not too stressed, we may feel like something is missing and be seeking answers to questions that only we can answer. What do I want? Where do I want to be this time next year? How can I make myself happy?

Your journal is an excellent place to start looking for answers. Use it as a brainstorming tool, a discussion diary, a notebook to jot down ideas, and, quite frankly, anything else you may need. Give yourself the freedom to write and draw whatever comes to mind when you’re looking deep within yourself for answers. Nobody will be able to answer these except for you.

Once you’ve done this often enough, you will develop a habit of asking yourself the critical questions and will be more likely to find an answer that’s right for you. Go back to your notes whenever you feel like it – they’re right there for you to see because you took the time to organise your thought process and write it down.

If you want to understand yourself better, cope with stress, and not let your mind get the best of you – try journaling in the mornings and whenever you feel overwhelmed. It may work for you, or it may not. That’s okay – it’s just a medium that I have found to work for me. But what’s important is that you give it a shot and start the process of looking within yourself for answers, help, and support, which is not always available externally.

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