I am a huge proponent of journaling. Journaling has been an invaluable way for me to give myself honest feedback, to effectively offer and receive self-care, and to gain a deeper understanding of myself and my growth. Journaling is a call-to-action I offer my readers in almost everything I write, and if you’ll notice, many of my blogs end with a question (hint: it’s perfect for journaling.)
However, I know many people who left journaling behind in their teen years. Keeping “a diary” seems like something out of Pollyanna or the Babysitter’s Club. Naming every excuse, from “not having time for that” to “I’m not really the journal type” I have found, time and again, that those most resistant are almost always the ones who could also most benefit. No matter who you are though, journaling offers one of the most effective avenues for self-care that is also, aside from the cost of your journal and your pen, completely free.
The New York Times recently published an article citing scientific research from all over the world outlining the power of journaling as a meditative, restorative, self-care practice. Findings conclude that journaling can lead to a host of benefits for your mind such as greater mindfulness, memory strengthening, stronger communication skills, increased self-confidence, and even boosts in IQ. Even more interesting, journaling serves up physical benefits as well, such a higher-quality sleep and a stronger immune system.
Research out of New Zealand says that journaling can even help wounds heal faster.
So, what’s the deal? Is there one magical moment during journaling that our bodies begin to heal and our minds begin to clear? Well, no. The act of journaling sets off more of a domino effect of health versus a lightning bolt moment of magic. Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist out of The University of Texas at Austin, explains why:
“Labeling emotions and acknowledging traumatic events — both natural outcomes of journaling — have a known positive effect on people and are often incorporated into traditional talk therapy.
At the same time, writing is fundamentally an organizational system. Keeping a journal helps to organize an event in our mind, and make sense of trauma. When we do that, our working memory improves, since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience, and we sleep better.”
I have experienced this first-hand, time and time again, in my own life. To somewhat echo Dr. Pennebaker’s sentiments, I believe that through journaling you release emotions, often held in the mind and body for years, which in turn allows your system to heal and your soul to express itself. Putting your inner-most thoughts and most challenging experiences down on paper releases all kinds of emotions such as guilt, sadness, and anger. Asking questions in a journal somehow helps the answers to even the most tangled problems arise easily and gently. Writing affirmations, hopes, and dreams can actually strengthen your ability to manifest them in your life.
All of this has happened to me, and more, through my journal practice.
Recently I came upon an old journal and flipping it open, began randomly reading. It was an emotional time capsule. I know that journaling 15 years ago benefited me at that time, but rereading my experiences through the lens of who I am today was profound. As different as I am, I found myself filled with empathy for the person I was then–which is interesting because I gave myself no empathy at the time. In fact, I was self-critical in ways that were alarming. The way I questioned myself and tried to shoulder the burden of everything I was experiencing was painful to read. It served as a reminder of just how far I’ve come and to continue to treat myself more kindly every day.
It is so easy to feel as though we’re taken hostage by our thoughts, our moods, and our heaviest emotions. But in actuality, they’re all here to help us. According to Kabbalah, our thoughts are the birthplace of our entire life. Everything we think becomes what we feel, which leads to how we speak, which leads to how we act, and our actions create our days and, ultimately, our entire life. When we become “a prisoner” to negative thought patterns and limiting beliefs, it’s like living life on auto-pilot. Journaling, even just writing down a thought and observing it, helps put you back in the now and living fully in the moment.
So how do you begin?
I take a practice from Julia Cameron’s book, the ever-popular “The Artist’s Way,” and invite you into a practice she calls “Morning Pages.” It’s a wonderful entry into journaling for beginners – and it’s a great way to shake up our practice if we’ve been at it for a while. It begins by setting your alarm for 30 minutes earlier than normal every morning. Upon waking, you grab your journal and your pen and just begin writing before you do anything else at all. The writing is just stream-of-consciousness with no rhyme or reason. You can document a dream you had; you can write down the first thoughts you have, you can even write down how tired you are, how you wish you could go back to bed, or how you can’t imagine how this crazy journaling thing could really be helping. Whatever it may be, write it down. Go for three pages and once you’ve filled the three, close it up and go on with the day. Do this every morning.
What you’ll find, as I found, is life begins to “respond” to what you write in your journal. If you find yourself writing about how you wish you had more time to connect with friends, you’ll sit in awe at that evening meeting that gets canceled right at the same time your friend invites you out for last minute dinner. If you’re struggling with a health issue and your journal pages are filled with all the ways you feel powerless to heal, you will marvel at that recommendation from your doctor that brings the relief you were needing.
The kabbalists teach that everything we need, we can access and that every question we have, we already know the answer. That’s a weighty thought and before you dismiss it out of hand consider the miraculous capabilities of your brain. Your brain regulates the beating of your heart, breathes automatically, takes in the world around you through your senses, and seamlessly presents you with what you see; you do nothing consciously to assist these processes. Even when you’re asleep, your brain is still problem-solving. Journaling is a powerful tool to assist you in finding the answers and the peace you seek. Journaling just helps you access the answers you already have.
As we organize and observe our thoughts – again, the birthplace of our lives – we become conscious of ourselves. We see who we are and better understand what we feel and what we need. From this place, we can begin offering ourselves the one true antidote to all of our struggles: compassion and love. Journaling helps us to bring a consistent consciousness of love to all areas of our life and as Rav Berg said many times “consciousness is everything.”
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
If you don’t have one already, head out this week and buy a journal. Choose one that you feel called to, let yourself splurge a little. (Mine says “Elysian, divinely-inspired, peaceful, and perfect” on the cover.) Then spend this week implementing a Morning Pages practice. See what arises.