How Journaling Can Change Your Life

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. ~Oscar Wilde

Journaling has truly changed my life in very positive ways.  I first started journaling as part of the morning pages required for The Artist’s Way self-guided course.  In that book, the author Julia Cameron says that the first thing you should do every single day when you wake up is to write three pages freehand in a journal.  The notion is that it enables you to clear your head and allows ideas to flow more freely throughout the rest of the day.   This was one of the exercises in the book that I found extremely helpful and have hung on to.  It has helped me for some creativity-related things, but mostly just for life.

When I first started (as with meditation) I had no idea that this was going to open me up to a whole new world.  Journaling has allowed 7 different extremely important things to happen in my life.  Read below about ways it might affect yours:

  1. Enact personal change: If you complain about the same things day after day, it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the words that have been staring back at you.  Maybe you write over and over and over again that you need to stop drinking so much, or you need to get over a relationship, or that you need to do something about your weight.  By writing about it day after day, it enacts us to take charge and do something about it.  As one example, this blog was born in my journal.
  2. Tell your story: Journaling allows you to tell your story in whatever way you paint it.  There are all kinds of things that happen to us in life, either that we allow or that are forced upon us.  Journaling helps us to alter the way we tell that story.  Essentially it allows us to write our own history.  It’s pretty hard to write a story starring yourself as the victim.  Victors generally write history as Chief always says.  So tell your own tale of redemption, growth and efforts from your point of view.
  3. Objectivity: Journaling allows you to maintain some objectivity in your life.  It allows you to relate what is going on in your head to what is going on in your world.  This is an extremely important one for me because I tend to be anxiety-prone.  I live in a world of endless possibilities given both my personality type and my life situation at the moment.  Journaling is a way to disentangle all the random thoughts that are running around in your head and to separate things in to distinct problems, solutions, and relationships.  It’s kind of a way to be your own counselor.
  4. Bitch session:  Most of us have a great friend or family member we can call up and rant and rave to but let’s face it…sometimes those people get tired of hearing us moan and lament about the same things over and over.  Journaling allows us to just release these horrible pent-up thoughts or emotions or woe-is-me feelings.  It enable us to do so without having to dump on someone else, or be judged by anyone, or to have anyone try to solve our problem (instead of just listening).
  5. Ideas and insights: Journaling allows you to capture ideas and insights and plant seeds about what you are aiming for next.  Sometimes I will sit down after a particularly vivid or poignant dream and record as much of it as I can remember.  I find that when I look back later, these dreams were life-changing shifts in my consciousness.  I also write a lot of ideas I have, whether about writing, or business ideas or insights.
  6. Reveal tracks and patterns:  If you are journaling, you might notice that there are different things in your life that trigger other events or outcomes.  When are you happiest?  What causes sadness or strife?  What set you up for success?
  7. Makes peace with the past:  Journaling is a place to deal with the things from the past that were never addressed or maybe you didn’t want to admit to or deal with.  It allows us to find the lessons in what may have been struggles, or to see a situation for what it really brought to our lives .  It enables us to see how something might have changed us and ushered us to growth.

Here is what I have found works best for starting a habit of journaling: 

Buy yourself a nice journal.  This is a really fun activity to do at an art or bookstore.  Take yourself on a little date!  I also like to buy nice pens.  These Sakura archival quality ones are my favorite.  They only require a really soft touch and were nice when I was having some wrist problems related to RSI.  One of my favorite journals is this one I found at Barnes and Noble.  I like it because it has a lot of room to write but is soft cover and fairly small, so I can always have it with me.

Set aside time to write.  I know the popular thing to say is that you don’t have time to do this.  But you can find time.  There are going to be days when you can’t get to it, sure, but after awhile it becomes a craving for catharsis, a bit of “me” time.  I know the morning is a sacred time and I wish I had more time to do it then but the reality is that I don’t.  I think there is something special about late afternoon too.   It has a similar amorphous quality like morning does.   I use my transition from workday in to home life to journal.  Often times at work, I will go sit outside in the very last hour (when I’m mentally exhausted and likely to be staring catatonically at my workstation anyway) and go find a location just outside the building to scribble away and release any stress from the day.

If you find this part really hard, another suggestion I would make is to trying use 750words.com.  It’s an online private site that allows you to type everything out.  This would actually only take about 10 minutes and surely you spend 10 minutes a day on your computer wasting time already.  Instead of looking at people’s political rants on Facebook, journal a bit and discover something about your own soul.

Journal about whatever comes to mind.  I usually just take a stream-of-consciousness flow to my journaling.  For one thing, it’s sometimes good to dump out all the stuff that is circling through my consciousness and causing clogged thought pathways where the subconscious might be able to come forward.  Doing it this way also helps me to recognize what thoughts and associations I tend to have over and over.  Sometimes my journaling is incredibly creative and insightful and the makings of a story or poem or post pour forward.  Other times I find myself writing two pages about lining up a catsitter or what I should do about my drycleaning and alterations.  No matter what the thought, it feels good to get it out.  Some people keep gratitude journals, whereas others use journaling prompts.   This page is kind of fun for that.  Do not edit or censor anything.  Sometimes it comes out wrong or unexpected for fruitful reasons.

Happy journaling, my peaceful warriors! 🙂

3 Comments

  1. Dominy Alderman March 5, 2013 at 7:40 pm · Reply

    Great post Emily!
    I haven’t read The Artist’s Way, but it’s on my list. I’ve been more of a collage/quote/sketch collector in my journals…but I definitely want to branch out into more of the free writing realm. Thanks for your insights.

    • Emily March 6, 2013 at 9:52 am · Reply

      Thanks, Dominy! The Artist’s Way is fantastic. She makes it sounds like it’s for blocked artists but really it is just a tool to help harness and release creativity. You’ll love the exercises in there, as there are a lot of collage/sketch type things to do. I’d love to do more in my journal of what you describe. Trying another medium of expression is a great way to get creativity flowing and connect up neurons that were sitting there listless and lonely. God knows I could use the practice with the sketching…I draw like a five year old!

  2. Maureen March 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm · Reply

    I have some of your childhood drawings and I think they are beautiful!! Sometimes five year creations are much better than what a real artist creates 🙂

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