Using Journaling to Gain New Perspective and Insight

Keeping a diary, or journaling as it’s often called, brings up some interesting images for many of us. Some of us think of “Dear Diary” and the thoughtful introvert that makes an entry every day. This works for some people. For many, including me, the thought of doing this is about as much fun as doing the dishes.

Consider journaling from a self-empowerment viewpoint. Done in this way, as little or often as it seems useful, keeping a diary can be a wonderful method of tracking one’s thoughts and actions. Just as important, the act of writing things down and then going back and looking at what we’ve written often gives us a perspective that is not possible when thoughts are kept in our minds. I’ve seen this time and time again in my work with clients.

In addition, keeping a journal/diary can help us to discover and/or clarify short-term and long-term goals. More on goals here

Journaling With a Purpose in Mind

When journaling with the intent of having more self-awareness, it is important to consider a few things:

  1. Don’t feel the need to edit yourself. In other words, write freely. Save your critical thinking for later
  2. Write as little or as much as you want to. There aren’t any rules about length!
  3. Consider whether writing with pencil and paper is best, or would you be more comfortable using a Word Processor or even online (such as a Google Document)?
  4. Is there a particular subject or topic you wish to write about? Or do you simply want to write about your life, how it’s going, and where you are going in life? This is worth some thought. Some people prefer a focus when journaling for greater self-awareness, while others do better without as much structure.
  5. Don’t be wedded to writing every day. However, I would suggest that you write in your journal at least 1-2 times per week. Doing this will help you be able to gain insights on a regular basis, and also track your progress.
  6. Read your journaling entries after you’ve written them. I’d also suggest reading the previous entry before you start your current one. While there is no doubt that the act of writing in a journal can be very helpful in stimulating ideas, reading your diary entries is another valuable way to get perspective on your situation.

Journaling Often Leads to Positive Action

As you journal, and reflect on past entries, you may reach a point where you realize that a certain course of action is needed. This is great; it means you have reached some clarity through your diary.

At this point, you may want to either 1) talk with a trusted friend or family member about your thoughts/plans, or 2) keep journaling to make your plan more specific. Many people get to a point where they feel they should take action, but we often stop there.

It can help greatly to decide

  • Exactly what action is needed?
  • What is the deadline for this action?
  • How will this benefit me or others?
  • What risks does this action(s) have?

If you get to a point where you aren’t sure what to do, even AFTER you’ve thought a lot about it, it can also help to talk with a professional at this point. Feel free to come see me for a consultation. I have a lot of experience in helping people examine their values and gain clarity on important decisions.

In addition, gaining some clarity on your values can be hugely important when trying to make a clear decision. Using the Motivational Interviewing Values Card Sort can be most helpful. This is found by clicking on this link

The instructions for this card sort exercise are found here

Journaling Empowers Awareness and Expression of Feelings

In addition, journaling can empower us to have a voice. Many people feel anger, resentment, or other strong feelings toward another, but for one reason or another we aren’t able to express that directly to the individual (for example, the person at whom you are angry may have passed away).

This is another instance where writing about your feelings can be very helpful. The act of writing out your thoughts and feelings, or even composing a letter (though you may decide not to send it to the person) can allow for the expression of previously bottled-up emotions. More tools for coping with anger on this page

As one of my clients recently said, “It wasn’t until I wrote it out that I was able to make up my mind….by doing so, I was able to see the next step, and then the next”. He’s not alone. There’s something about writing things out that gives us a fresh view on things, and helps us think things through at a level of detail that we may not be able to in our minds.

As always, if your thoughts and feelings feel so powerful that the thought of doing a journal seems overwhelming, consider seeking professional help.

Other Positive ‘Side Effects’ of Journaling

I call these side effects because they aren’t necessarily the reason we keep a record of our thoughts and feelings.

  • Improving Memory--by re-engaging in certain thoughts (through the act of writing in a diary) you strengthen them in your mind. Furthermore, writing them down is an ACTIVE process which strengthens their presence even more
  • Emotional Awareness--writing feelings and thoughts down gives us insight that is very hard to have when these same thoughts/feelings are swimming around in our minds
  • Healing--I’ve witnessed this first-hand, and have heard from many clients how writing about circumstances or feelings (for example, grudges) can be very healing
  • Sparking Creativity--we often get ideas and insights by the act of writing and then reading what we’ve written
  • Recording our thoughts and feelings can give us clarity on the direction we want to go in our lives, and help us formulate goals. More about goal setting here.
  • Attaining Greater Mindfulness--writing about our thoughts and feelings helps us to actively engage in them, rather than passively noticing them as we go thru our day
  • Clarity on Values--our values drive our actions. Journaling and other forms of introspection can help provide clarity on our values. More on developing clear values here.

More benefits can be found by going to this page on the Huffington Post.

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