This post is the follow-up to the benefits of journaling. If you haven’t checked that out already, make sure you head there first!
So we have covered just some of the numerous benefits that journaling can create in your life, but how do we go about getting those benefits?
There are potentially hundreds of ways to journal because there truly is no wrong way to go about it. Whatever works for you, works for you and that is that. However, if you are stuck on somewhere to start, this post will have you covered.
Not only do I believe that these three methods of journaling are the most popular and beneficial out there, but I also believe that when you set time aside for all three of these in your life – whether as separate journals or part of the same journal – you will be in the best possible position to achieve what you want to achieve. Not only to achieve it, but also to strap in and manage the exciting yet challenging journey to the best of your ability.
Let us begin…
Journaling for Gratitude
This first form of journaling is extremely powerful for shifting your perspective whenever you feel like you are in a rut, when you are just a bit down in the dumps or when you feel like you are simply forgetting just how good your life actually is.
Whenever you feel any of those things, it is time to either grab your designated Gratitude Journal or just your normal journal and to start laying down some gratitude.
You can begin by noting down all of the things that you are grateful for in your life. This can be basic and obvious things like your friends and family or you can get really deep, as if you are taking the 1 Day Extreme Gratitude Challenge, and go as far as thanking the delivery driver who brought your coffee to the shop so that you could buy it.
The great thing about gratitude journaling is that it almost always manages to lift the haze on your life. When you are struggling, when you feel like things aren’t going your way, it can be extremely difficult to look ahead or even around you with any sort of optimism. However, when you realise that although you lost your keys while you were out, you focus on being grateful for the fact that you didn’t lose your phone or your wallet too and the fact that you can get a new set cut within a couple of days, the haze lifts. You go from cursing your misfortunes to counting your blessings.
Of course, you can practice gratitude in your head, but I find it much more effective after I have written everything out on paper and it is staring at me from the page.
As easy as it may sound, gratitude journaling can have its difficulties from time to time. Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Robert Emmons, has some tips that can help you to stay on track and get the maximum benefit from journaling for gratitude (via greatergood):
- Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
- Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
- Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
- Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
- Savour surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
- Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterwards; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”
Journaling for Emotional Release
Journaling for some sort of emotional release is probably one of the more popular forms of journaling out there. It is the type of journaling that you tend to see in movies where the author will usually begin with ‘Dear Diary…’.
Due to its popularity in movies, i.e. non-real world scenarios, journaling for emotional release can sometimes be too easily dismissed as not applicable or effective in a normal person’s life – like mine for example. I can tell you from first-hand experience though that that is simply not the case. As is pointed out numerous times in the previous post about the benefits of journaling, writing down your thoughts, problems and ideas whenever you feel overwhelmed is hugely beneficial.
That is exactly what this type of journaling is. Whenever you feel some sort of powerful emotion or urge starting to get a grip on you, you start writing. You might just write out what you are feeling and leave it at that. Better, you might write out what is going on and why you think it is happening. Best, you can write out what you are feeling, why you might be feeling that way and what to do about it.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way when it comes to this type of journaling. However, I have found that not only doing an emotional dump on to the page but also looking at what is there, deciphering what is nonsense and what is important, then taking action, is the best way to get the most benefit from the practice.
Another useful tip for emotional journaling is highlighted by clinical psychologist Beth Jacobs (in Psychcentral). While this technique isn’t for everyone, the process of ‘Defining your emotions’ can help you to deeply and clearly make sense of what is going on in your own life. In particular, turning emotions into something more tangible can help make them more visible to you. An example that Jacobs uses is this:
If this feeling was a color, it would be _________________
If this feeling was weather, it would be ________________
If this feeling was a landscape, it would be _____________
If this feeling was music, it would sound like ________________
If this feeling was an object, it would be __________________
You can try this with happiness, pain, anger, anything. Once you have a better understanding of the emotion, the more capable you will be at dealing with it.
There are many ways to tackle journaling for emotional release, so play around a bit and see what feels right for you. It is certainly worth taking the time to get it right so you can use your perfect, unique practice for the rest of your life.
Journaling for Planning and Productivity
The third major journaling strategy has to do with planning and productivity. While the other two tend to deal with emotions and the mind, this type of journaling is heavily focused on the practical side of your life and is a delicious complement to the other two.
Because planning and productivity is such a broad topic, especially in reference to the complexities of our lives, it makes sense to break it down a little bit further. You can incorporate one or both of these practices into your planning and productivity journaling, as and when you see fit.
As was also covered in the previous journaling post, ideas have a bit of a habit of jumping out at us either when we least expect it or at very inconvenient times, such as when we are trying to sleep. It is also very difficult to distinguish the good from the bad in the few moments that they pop into our heads and leave again. Doist has some great productivity journaling tips to help with this very situation:
- Keep a small notebook and pen with you wherever you go. Jot down those brief moments of inspiration or nagging thoughts you have as soon as you can; this will help get them out of your head so you can focus on more whatever you’re doing in the moment.
- In the evening, take 15 minutes to review what you’ve written throughout the day. Is there a thought or idea that strikes you as particularly interesting? Are any of the things you wrote related to one another? Do they connect back to other problems or ideas you’ve been mulling over?
- Take a page or two to further explore one idea or several related ones. Taking the time to reflect on our thoughts helps us draw deeper insights, discover new connections, and reach more creative solutions.
Goals are a great thing to journal about as it is from these that we derive our planning processes and what we need to do to be productive. In my experience, goals have a very different journaling approach to anything else that we have seen so far.
While the others should be done every few days or weekly, goals don’t tend to change that frequently and so should be revised monthly or even quarterly.
On the other hand, while the other forms of journaling can literally be a case of dumping down thoughts, emotions and ideas off the top of our heads and being done with it, goal journaling requires a significant amount more thinking time to make sure that we are truly aiming for the right thing.
If you are like me, these goals are what you are going to be referring back to again and again when it comes to your planning and productivity assessments of your days.
Here are some tips when journaling for some sort of goal-setting:
- Start big, then get smaller: Begin with journaling about your wildest dreams. The things that you hope to achieve far into the future. At this stage, think almost too big and ridiculous. Because from there you can work backwards to 10 years to 5 years to 1 year to 6 months to 1 month. You might realise that actually, those big dreams aren’t really your own. You might realise that there is currently no clear 10-year path. That’s fine, play around with what you are comfortable with. These goals are (hopefully) going to change again and again over the course of your life. What is important is having a starting point.
- Look to your past for inspiration: Take a look back at the goals that you have set for yourself in the past. Did you manage to achieve them? Why? Why not? The most likely scenario here is that you will have overcome huge obstacles in the past and smashed through all sorts of goals throughout your life. Write them down. Use them for fuel for reaching the next goals that you set.
- Focus on behavioural goals rather than achievement goals: This might just be the most important point of them all and is something that I bang on about a lot on this blog. The fact is that sometimes you are going to miss the target, even when you are doing everything right. Other times, you will hit the target by fluke when everything that you were doing was wrong. That’s just how life works. So make sure you avoid target-based goals. Change ‘I will get a job this month’ to ‘I will apply for 100 jobs this month’. One of these is under your control, whereas the other is not. Keep your goal-journaling focus on the behaviour changes that you want to see and the rest should take care of itself.