Therapists and mental health professionals alike have long known of the power of journaling to bring relief to the disheartened, calm to the frustrated or anxious, and serve as a roadmap for the undecided. For this reason, some sort of journaling exercise may be assigned at any point of the counseling journey, meant to help the therapy-goer gain self-awareness, review insights learned, and practice skills taught in session.
However, with the rising younger generation, it seems like the written word is becoming a lost art. By this, we of course mean the pen-and-paper method. It seems that, with the advent of the computer, social media has replaced the family scrapbook, and facebook posts, tweets and instagram captions alike have become commercialized diary entries, our opportunity to vent, and also to sell ourselves for the promise of mass appeal.
We seem to have lost what it means to hold tangibly our memories, or to keep private the pages that represent our path towards greater understanding of ourselves.
While individuals of this generation still continue to be seemingly obsessed with sharing their every thought online, or posting whatever insight they’ve recently gleaned from their life experience via social media, no longer are these insights solely for self-discovery, or self-improvement. What has changed is the intended audience and the added layer of seeking validation and attention. What may have once been an important discovery regarding one’s internal life now appears to attempt a dual purpose: to inspire others, convince them of one’s wisdom or depth, or just to create more “like-able” clickable content.
These teen’s adult counterparts are no better, as we exist in a culture that celebrates inspirational quotes, soundbytes, and aspirational lifestyles over more realistic representations of reality. Even authenticity appears manufactured at times, with unclear intentions about the truth behind the screen. Along with it, the art of journaling, at least in this format, has seemingly lost its integrity, and exists no longer for the benefit of the creator, but for the viewer.
Why Bother Journaling at All?
Of course this is not the truth for everyone or for every case, for there are those who value the art of journaling, for the purpose it provides, and understand that free expression without fear of impressing the readership is the true freedom that journaling provides.
Others have stumbled into a journaling practice and continue on for the physical benefits they’ve noted. Some experts claim vast health benefits of practicing the simple art of journaling and champion its ability to reduce stress and open the mind to new solutions. Truly, even outside of these physical benefits, the psychological benefits to cultivating a practice of journaling are vast and far-reaching.
Venting About the Day’s Events
Perhaps the most obvious function of journaling is its ability to allow you to express yourself fully, without judgement from others or dealing with the sense that they are becoming upset with the extent of your frustrations or the amount you may need to talk about it or process it through. There is no rule against using your journal as a diary to record the day’s events, the high’s and low’s of your week, your deepest fears, dreams, or expectations or on capping the limits of your entries. Of course, each of these is actually encouraged.
One recommendation may be to help create a more directed and therapeutic practice, is that when you end up using a page and a half to vent about the way your mother spoke to you in that tone, or that you can’t believe that your sister would have the nerve to say that to you, use the following page and a half to isolate your own role in the event. By creating equal opportunity for venting and also taking accountability for your own responses, you are developing a habit of dousing frustration and the temptation to complain with responsibility. This allows you to give voice to your anger, and whatever other feelings may arise, and yet also develop an internal dialogue and guiding voice that is not stuck in denial.
To Discover How You Truly Feel
In the same way as when you’re venting to your journal about what occurred throughout the day, the process of gathering and writing down your thoughts can help you to gain clarification on what it is you truly think and believe. You may use your journal as a tool to gain self-knowledge through answering pages with pre-written prompts, reviewing the same questions daily as a means of a check-in, or writing an entire manifesto regarding a particular value you strongly believe in. When you are able to see the mess of jumbled thoughts from your brain begin to take shape on paper, and even once you are able to read them aloud, you will begin to solidify your belief system. Once you are confident that you have been able to gain a knowledgeable sense of what it is that you feel, you will likely find yourself less reactive in the moment, and less likely to act in ways that are inconsistent with your values.
To Infuse Creativity
Other times, your mind may be so busy buzzing around with different ideas that you may feel lost regarding what particular string of thoughts to pay attention to. Often this contributes to the experience of stress, and sense of overwhelm. Taking the time to do a “mind dump”, where you sit down and get all of your thoughts written out on paper, may help to unblock stifled creativity, recognize what needs to be a priority, and take steps towards problem solving. Author of Getting Things Done, David Allen suggests being more systematic about this process, and has a famous quote that reads, “the mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” He recommends implementing an organizational system into your life that allows your brain to function more freely, without wasting the mind’s energy on holding needless information.
To Recognize and Correct Negative Self-Talk
The final purpose of journaling discussed in this article is to be able to sniff out negative thought processes, and to be able to identify the alternatives that will bring positive energy instead. This might look like identifying moments where you are catastrophizing what happened, getting stuck in black and white thinking, or as previously discussed, minimizing your own role in the conflict. Having the opportunity to review what you’ve written with the lens of a concerned friend looking to gently push you in the right direction takes cultivating an active practice of self-kindness, but is necessary to avoid the shaming and negative self-labeling that could easily arise during this process.
Even if you visit regularly with a therapist, it cannot be understated how important it is to develop your own journaling routines. Whether it is sitting down with paper and pen and plotting your next steps forward, or you end up using an app on your smartphone that helps you to organize your thoughts, the important thing is that you are taking the time to sit with your thoughts and allowing them to influence you. If you don’t visit regularly with a therapist, and you’ve found that you require more support than your spiral-bound notebook can provide, don’t hesitate to reach out to us directly, or to make an appointment using our easy-to-use client portal today.