10 ways to use journaling

Scientific research has finally caught up and now shows how therapeutic writing can help physical and emotional healing, help you reach your goals, recover from painful life experiences, and much else besides. This won’t surprise those with a writing habit, and there are many ways to use writing, however little time you have available. It really is worth making it one of your regular health habits. Here are some tips;

1. List of 100

Kathleen Adams, director of the Therapeutic Writing Institute, recommends the 100 list. Lists are both easy and helpful. Pick a topic where you would like to generate ideas. Write quickly - it doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself - and discover the percentages of particular themes. Try '100 ways to improve my life by 1%'.

2. Worry time

Worry time is a helpful exercise, whether you worry all the time or only at times of stress. Set an appointment with yourself to do your worrying in one go. When those stray thoughts attack you, push them away and save them for later. At your daily worry time (it’s very important you keep your appointment with yourself for this to work), you write an exhaustive list of everything that is worrying you that day, whether large or small, then write what you will do to solve each, or note if nothing can be done. Repeat the exercise the next day. This also helps if you can’t sleep for worrying.

3. Freewriting

Freewriting is a mindfulness exercise. Set aside time and write about whatever comes to mind, or whatever you notice around you. The only rule is that you don’t stop. Spelling, grammar, and repetition don’t matter. This exercise is grounding and calming, brings you back to the here and now, and sometimes produces surprises about how you’re feeling or thinking.

4. Unsent letters

Do you find yourself rehearsing your grievances or the things you’d love to say? Try writing them down in a letter that you won’t actually send, but which will help you understand more about your feelings. Chances are you will find it cathartic, and it helps to turn an obsessive thought into a practical task that you can start and finish.

5. Postcards to yourself

We don’t always have the wisdom and advice ready when we need it, despite all the things we discover and learn along the way. Write advice notes to yourself in the places or for the times you need them. 'Don’t fret - just be comfortable' on the wardrobe may help in a 'what to wear' crisis. Write advice to read before or after particular challenges. When you’ve had a challenge or success, write some advice for yourself for the next time based on what you discovered.

6. Habit diaries

Drink diaries and food diaries are great tools for observing habits, not just what you do, but how you feel before, during, and afterwards. Also, note the situations and triggers which are associated with the behaviour. The same technique can be used for any behaviour you want to learn more about and change such as spending habits, internet surfacing, and never saying no. Try to understand the pattern in as much detail as possible.

7. Cataloguing exceptions

We can all list all the times we didn’t go to the gym, weren’t assertive, or all the times we didn’t behave the way we want to. Change is gradual, and the seeds are usually already there. At the end of each day, catalogue all the things you did differently; the time you were slightly assertive, the time you walked up the stairs instead of taking the escalator.

8. Tweet of the day

Summarise each day in a sentence or two. Making sense of your day helps you to reflect and to appreciate the day, however it was.

9. Gratitude

A commitment to change can leave you focusing on what you don’t have. Research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal will improve your mood. All we ever have is the here and now, so start noticing and appreciating it. A gratitude journal can become a tired habit, so make sure to keep it fresh. Look for the surprise moments: a seat on the train, the sun coming out, the taste of water when you’re really thirsty.

10. Emotions and learning

Noticing our strong feelings is often a short cut to self-discovery. Perhaps you complain about other people who don’t pay attention to your feelings while doing the same to yourself. Track the strong feelings you had during the day and also what you learnt during the day. Taking time to think about these two themes will be time well spent.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Dinah Butler MSc, MBACP (Senior Accredited)

Dinah was a published poet and ran writing workshops before becoming a counsellor. She has over twenty years experience as an integrative therapist and clinical supervisor. She says: writing and therapy are both about finding your unique voice, integrating parts of yourself and enabling you to connect meaningfully with the world.… Read more

Written by Dinah Butler MSc, MBACP (Senior Accredited)

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