A Place for Self-Discovery, Personal Organization, And Creative Flowby Lori J. Batcheller
I have a best friend, therapist, and personal organizer I take with me everywhere. It is compact, requires as little or as much time as I desire, and is always ready to offer support, guidance, comfort or laughter. It costs very little and never asks for anything in return, though I feel a yearning to be with it daily. I know it will never let me down.
A journal can be far more than a place to record daily events or idle thoughts. Used purposefully, it can be a catalyst for personal growth, problem solving, and a path to creativity. Journaling about upsetting events can actually improve immune system functioning, resolve stress, and provide psychological healing.
Most people keep a journal at some point in their lives, be it a teenage diary or an executive daily planner. Others resist journal-keeping because they think they aren't good enough writers, that someone will read their private thoughts, or that there are much more important things to do. Once people put their reservations aside and make the journal a friend, however, they look forward to exploring with pen and paper.
From a practical standpoint, spending a few minutes on a daily or weekly basis putting your thoughts on paper enables you to evaluate your feelings and abilities and recognize areas of improvement. You may discover that you want to shift priorities, spend more time on things you value, or make major life changes. A journal can also be a place to be silly, out of character, and unabashedly creative without judgment from others.
Rather than thinking of a journal as a diary where you merely relate the day's events, think of it as a space for self-reflection, self-expression and self-exploration. There are no rules. Write as little or as much as you want, as frequently or infrequently as you desire, though I recommend that people take a few minutes each day to put their thoughts on the page. Structuring yourself to write regularly develops stronger organizational skills such as list-making and time management. For me, regular writing in my journal eventually tapped a rich vein of creativity I had long ago buried with an all-too-busy lifestyle. The important thing is just to express your thoughts without censorship.
Choose a notebook and writing instrument that feel good. Some people are inspired by an elegant bound notebook with fine paper; others prefer a spiral-bound pad or loose-leaf sheets in a binder. Use your favorite pen, or make your entries on a computer.
The benefits to journal-keeping are endless. A journal allows you self-expression without external judgment. Expressing your emotions such as anger or sadness through writing releases the emotional pressure that builds up when you hold feelings inside. Many people feel calmer and spiritually at ease after a journaling session, and scientific studies show that it can improve your health. James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University (Dallas), found that students who wrote about unresolved painful events or problems showed improved immune system functioning lasting several weeks.
As a business tool, the exercise of writing down reflections about events experienced each day is an invaluable way to evaluate your performance, set higher standards of excellence, and find new ways to solve difficult problems. Needs and goals are also easier to clarify and prioritize once they are written down on paper, both for your personal and professional life.
Writing about people you know will help you better understand them and your feelings about them. When you're furious with someone close to you, discharging raw emotion in the privacy of the page enables you to work out solutions in advance rather than face to face in an irrational outburst. This often results in stronger relationships.
When beginning a journaling session, it helps to put yourself in the mood by closing your eyes, taking five deep breaths and focusing your vision inward. Ask yourself, "What am I feeling at this moment?" Jot down a few lines about what's on your mind; then, you may want to use specific techniques to zero in on a subject or feeling. A few of my favorite techniques include:
Using a springboard to focus your attention. Choose a topic, statement, question, or quotation and start writing about it. Examples: Why am I so upset? The most important things in my life are ______________.
Writing an unsent letter. Pretend you're writing a letter telling someone what you like or dislike about him or her. The safety of your journal makes it possible to write things that you could never say in person. By releasing pent-up hostile feelings, you can clear issues and strengthen your relationship without saying things out loud that could ruin a relationship. The undelivered letter can also clarify your feelings and offers a safe place to tell the truth without expressing it in person.
Creating dialogues. Another way to express deep feelings is to write about them as yourself, then write in the imagined voice of the other person. Dialoguing promotes both empathy and creativity. Most people gain valuable insights when they let their imaginations roam this way. You can also dialogue with different aspects of yourself to resolve inner conflict or confusion. For example, writing a dialogue between the voice of confusion and the voice of your intuitive self can clarify your thoughts.
Capturing moments. Write a description of an experience that was truly intense and memorable. Immerse yourself in the past moment, and fill the page with physical and emotional detail. Doing this recreates your body's physiological response to a lovely event and promotes the healing effects of being happy. Most people report that they feel refreshed and energized after writing out their favorite moments.
Designing your future. Imagine yourself one month from now, then one year from now. Where are you now? Where do you want to be? Define your dreams and goals. What are some of the things you can do to get there? The words will awaken your intuitive and creative wisdom, which, in turn, will help you make better decisions.
Using a journal for self-discovery, personal growth, clarifying life goals, and accessing creative flow makes a notebook more than just a record of life; it becomes a treasured confidante and friend.
Lori Batcheller, M.A., M.P.T. is a writer, certified instructor for "Journal to the Self," and physical therapist. She offers journaling workshops for personal growth, life organization, exploring creativity, and relief of chronic pain. She recently completed her first book, Fountain of Wisdom: Stories of Our Elders. For information on upcoming workshops, call (206) 783-0645.