“We write in order to understand” – C. D. Lewis
A journal, or diary, is a personal record of your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Keeping a journal is an ancient practice. In fact, the first known diary was written by Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 2nd century AD. Journaling also had roots in the Middle East and Asia as early as 10th century AD. Many famous figures throughout history have kept diaries, and journaling is still a very popular practice today.
Studies have found that writing about our deepest thoughts, feelings and emotions can greatly enhance our mental health (Sloan, 2004). With this understanding, many therapists (Dr. Cate included!) recommend journaling to clients experiencing any kind of emotional stress.
Keeping a journal can be a powerful life tool for:
- Problem solving – to generate ideas, gain clarity and make important decisions
- Reflection – to process and understand the events of your life
- Emotional release – a healthy way to release stress, anger and other intense emotions
- Self insight – to understand your thought and behaviour patterns
- Tapping into your intuition
- Stimulating your creativity
- Taking some time out for yourself with a positive ritual
Read on if you would like to give it a try, or if you already keep a journal and want to get some more ideas.
Rules for journaling
There are no rules! Delve into it when you like, as often as you like, and write in whatever format your prefer and find useful. Make sure you keep your journal in a safe place and that it’s accessible only by you. This way you can really let go and write whatever you need to without having to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.
Make your diary special – If you are a visual person you might want to find an attractive journal to use or decorate a notebook.
Creative journaling – There are many ways to add creativity to your journaling. Enjoy the freedom of writing with no rules, just for yourself! If drawing a picture will help you express how you feel this can be part of your journaling! You may like to look up some creative writing prompts to get you started. Stephanie Dowrick’s Creative Journal Writing, for example, has an exercise called ‘Observing the Rose’. Place a rose (or any flower) in front of you and write about it. Describe it as someone who has never seen or smelt a rose like it.
Morning pages – Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends a practice called Morning Pages: three longhand pages of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing done first thing in the morning. She advises to let anything that crosses your mind spill out onto the paper! Cameron claims this helps to clear the mind in preparation to start the new day.
Dream diary – This involves recording your dream(s) first thing in the morning, especially if you have had a particularly thought-provoking dream which you would like to keep a record of. Doing this regularly will help you recall your dreams more often, and interpreting them can be fascinating.
Questions and answers – Some people like to write a question at the top of their page and then letting the answers flow onto the page. This process may help you understand or make decisions relating to work, money, relationships or past events. Some people ask the questions with their dominant hand and answer with their non-dominant hand as a way of accessing the intuitive and creative part of the mind.
Unsent letters – Journaling in letter format can be cathartic. You might like to address an unsent letter to your current, past or future self, a loved one, or anyone who has had a positive or negative impact on your life. This can be a powerful way to gain closure and clarity.
Rituals to destroy old entries – If you have been writing about negative events or emotions, it can be very therapeutic to perform a ritual to let go of old entries. You could scribble over them, tearing them up, or even burn them. It is important to first plan your ritual and once you have destroyed the entries, do something positive for yourself to help close the ritual. More information on rituals can be found in ‘Intuition Unlock the power’ (Howell, 2013).
Remember that you don’t need to be a ‘good writer’ to enjoy journaling! People who think they don’t like writing often surprise themselves when they give journaling a chance. Remember that journaling is all about the process not the outcome. Enjoy yourself, write freely and feel the benefits!
Authors: Dr Cate Howell & Greta Barrett
For more journaling ideas we recommend the book ‘Creative Journal Writing: The Art and Heart of Reflection’ by Stephanie Dowrick.
Howell, C. 2013. Intuition, Unlock the Power. Exisle, NSW.
Cameron, J. 2002. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Penguin, USA.
Dowrick, S. 2007. Creative Journal Writing: The art and heart of reflection. Allen & Unwin, NSW, Australia.
Sloan, D. M. and Marx, B. P. 2004. Taking Pen to Hand: Evaluating Theories Underlying the Written Disclosure Paradigm. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11: 121–137.