You may think of journaling as an activity for when you only have *extra* time on your hands, perhaps even something only for artists and children. As a coach and former therapist, I can attest it’s so much more than that. There’s nothing frivolous about it. In fact, journaling has been shown to have profound effects on one’s mental and physical health. Journaling and writing have been shown to boost your overall sense of well-being, and studies have shown it can help those with PTSD and other trauma heal. Some of the most successful, intelligent people I know are avid journalers, even if their career is in something completely different, such as tech or medicine.
You can approach journaling in many ways. As a coach, I firmly believe one size does not fit all. You wouldn’t give someone with a sinus infection a pill for stomach issues, would you? Active journaling, as I often refer to it, means journaling with intention and purpose. I research different methods and journal types and help guide clients towards the best type for them. You can journal in myriad ways based on your current goals and whatever roadblocks you have to overcome. This type of personalized, tailored work is at the heart of my coaching practice. I’ll even give different clients different types of journals (more about these below) depending on what’s best suited for them. Journaling is also an exercise I use on retreats (both in-person and virtually) as it helps us sift through the surface and wade into the subconscious.
Read on to discover how-tos on getting started, as well as tips to identify what type of journaling practice is best for you.
Set an Intention
I encourage clients to set intentions before they begin journaling. This applies even to looser, stream of consciousness journaling, the type where you write about whatever comes up in your thoughts, allowing the stream of thoughts to flow freely. Even when journaling in this manner, there still ought to be an intention. The intention can be hyper-specific or broad, what matters is simply you have one and you’ve given it some mindful thought beforehand. Some intentions to journal may be for finding clarity on something that’s been on your head, for catharsis, or simply setting an intention of curiosity around what comes up as you freely write.
Types of Journaling
I also encourage my clients to utilize specific journaling techniques. These will depend on what they are working on or through at the moment.
1~ Write a letter.
For example, sometimes it’s beneficial for clients to write letters to themselves, their former selves, their future selves, to friends and family, you get the idea. These letters are never actually sent, but they can help you clear the air with others or find clarity and compassion towards yourself. You may even take things a step further and burn or bury your letter if you’re seeking a cathartic effect or to lay something to rest.
2~ Work with prompts.
This is for deeper, more nuanced client work, but you can always do it yourself. Depending on what clients are working through, prompts are based on target outcomes and help to move energy so you can step into greater integration of the self. For example, what would your 8-year-old self think about the person you are today or what would they say to you now? Who are the people in your life who have had the most impact on who you are and what do they mean to you? Perhaps write about lessons you’ve learned recently, your most profound memories, your wants, and your needs. Pick something and just go for it! I promise that which unfolds on the page will be revelatory, as writing helps us sift through information in a unique way.
3~ Look back and take inventory.
I’ve written before about how to “take inventory” of your life, a highly effective technique that helps you zoom out and get more objective about your situation. As I write this, we currently have just 4 months left in the year. Now is a great time to assess this past year and set intentions for how you’d like to round it out. You may also consider journaling about what you’re looking forward to in the new year. Check-in with the goals you set for this past year. Being that it’s 2020, many have had your life and goals flipped on their heads. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for you to pivot or pick something back up? Journal about how that would make you feel, and let that excitement motivate you to put things in perspective and get your sh*t together to make it happen.
Whatever you write, take the time to come back to it and reread it so you can share it with yourself. If you’re working with a coach or therapist, perhaps you share it with them, too! I love it when my clients and I revisit their writing as it often reveals more than talking alone will.
If you’re curious to learn more about these or dive in deeper, I’d love to hear from you!