The change process – whatever its intent – consists of a series of small, incremental events, many of which might escape notice if not recorded. That’s one of the functions of a journal. But there’s much more to journaling than that. Let’s spend a few minutes examining the activity of journaling as an effective facilitator — and recorder — of change.
There are several answers to the question, “What is a journal?” The most obvious is that it’s a written record of the events in a person’s day, week, month, year or life; that is, a history. More subtly, a journal can be an interpretive, creative place, an exercise in creative freedom. Since nobody sees it but you, you don’t have to worry about being a good writer…but those who keep journals report that their writing almost inevitably improves, as does their power of observation. In fact, a journal, kept regularly, is a container for self-reflection, including your thoughts and feelings as well as record of events.
It’s also a vehicle for self-expression, a way for you to say what you mean, even when to do so aloud and to others might be threatening or dangerous. And it’s a way to explore yourself – your ideas and concepts, your organizational capabilities, and your patterns of thought and expression.
In sum, a journal is a very accurate reflection of exactly who you are, and as you do it regularly, it’s a measure of who you are becoming.
Journaling produces several wonderful personal benefits. Since the writing is like talking to yourself, you can say anything you want, you don’t have to edit, and you can be completely honest about what you’re thinking and feeling. This will, I guarantee it, give you a sense of freedom that will make you want to keep on doing it.
It’s been my experience that journaling is a tool for stress reduction, as well. If you’re angry, write about it. If you’re worried, write about it. If you’re confused or upset or pressured, write about it. The act of writing it down invariably reduced the stresses you feel. I usually feel calmer after writing than when I start.
Another terrific benefit has to do with how you relate to other people. As you write about your interactions with people in your journal, you’ll find yourself getting into closer touch with your own feelings about both the people and the interactions. As you write, some degree of understanding will usually emerge, and, at the same time, you’ll begin to work out solutions to relationship problems. The beauty of this is that the work gets done in advance of having to blow up at someone. If you’re really writing without editing, you’ll even see the solutions on paper, as if they were writing themselves.
A final benefit is that journaling helps you to organize. You develop a discipline, a time-management technique, that can help you in other aspects of your life. You’ll discover that you’ll get better at list-making, at the structuring of goals and objectives, and at organizing daily priorities. Here are a few techniques used by journal-writers.
Do a “Topic-a-Day” list. Write down a list of 31 topics that interest you, and write something on a different one each day. You’ll be surprised at how many new thoughts this will generate.
If you’ve got a hang-up about some person, why not write him or her a letter? Not that you’ll ever send it, of course, but it’s a great way to air your feelings about the person or the behavior that’s bothering you. You can release your feelings, develop ideas for reconciliation, resolve unfinished business. Again, this will generate a bundle of new thoughts, and you’ll be off and running.
If you’re interested in working out an interpersonal problem, try writing an imaginary dialogue between you and the other person. Try to think like the other person does. This is a powerful tool for self-understanding. Every now and then take a look into the past and write about the feelings connected with some pleasant event you’ve experienced. This is another stimulator, particularly for the expression of feelings.
You can do a similar thing by imagining what some event in the future will feel like, look like, and so forth. Experiment with this; it’s a great way to set yourself up for future success.
If you have some regrets about something that happened in the past, take a look at how it might have been. Explore some road you didn’t take in the past, constructing a scenario about what might have happened. This, of course, is a setup for visualizing future events.