I first kept a diary in elementary school. I would write, and then proceed to spill out my feelings about my friends at school, arguments with my parents and spying on my brother and his friends. It allowed me to be an observer of my own life and share feelings that I didn't feel comfortable expressing out loud. My next journaling experience wasn't until college, when I suddenly began pouring out song lyrics and novels over heartbreaks I endured. At that point in my life, writing was a release. A way to cleanse myself of bottled up emotion. When my first daughter was born, I journaled love letters to her.
A journal can be a powerful tool for anyone, but journaling is a practice that needs to be developed. If you're not used to pausing and writing down the going-ons of your life, it can seem forced or even frightening. A client recently shared with me that she uses journals with ready built-in prompts as a guide, and it got me thinking about all the amazing resources available for first time journal keepers. If you are interested in journaling, there are many directions that you can take, and many resources that can help you. I've compiled some tips and resources to keep in mind when starting out in your journaling.
Journaling as a way to store and cherish family memories
A journal is a great place to keep memories. Some people choose to record all the sweet milestones of their children's first years, or the ins and outs of pregnancy. This is a wonderful thing to look back on, and even share with your child as they get older.
Tip: Don't forget to insert yourself into the memories. It's easy to just record milestones like "first tooth" or "first time rolling onto tummy." Make sure that you include what was going on with you when this was happening. Was it a funny moment? What were the details? Were you overcome with emotion? Did you take a video? Were you surprised by your reaction? These are the details that will really transport you back into the moment years later when you read them back.
Mom's Five Second Memory Journal This journal is for the parent* with no time to spare. Prompts include creative ways to summarize your day, reflect on your child, or think back on your own childhood.
*It's disappointing to see that most of these resources are labeled for moms. I think journaling is a practice that is helpful for any parent, and I hope more of these resources start appearing without specific references to moms over dads.
Journaling through pain or grief
A journal can be the ultimate place to vent, purge, or release emotion, once you have maxed out on talking and crying about it. According to MyTherapy.com benefits of journaling have been found for people who are experiencing the loss of a loved one (O’Connor et al, 2003), who have a child suffering from a chronic illness (Schwartz & Drotar, 2004), or who are grieving the end of a relationship (Lepore & Greenberg, 2002).
Tip: Don't be afraid to really explore your feelings. A journal is the safest place to share. Try to refrain from judgement and just express your emotions as they come. Being able to look back and see how your emotions are changing can help you track your grief and coping journey. At the same time, don't shy away from hope. Try visualizing what your life could look like in six months...one year... Give yourself some bright spots to reach for.
The Healing Journey Through Grief Written by a counselor specializing in grief, this journal offers prompts for working out feelings of grief and loss. The book is part of a series that addresses additional issues like divorce.
I Remember You: A Grief Journal This journal is much more open, with less prompts and more blank space to draw, doodle, reflect, tape photos or memories. This may appeal more to a less linear or analytical person.
Journaling to problem-solve
The act of putting words into writing takes you out of your head space and into your body. For a person who tends to live in their head and analyze, just the act of moving into the body can awaken new ideas and bring new perspective. Writing also allows you to think in more abstract ways and "see" problems in order to break them down.
Tips: If you're working out a problem, try writing out what an ideal solution could look like. If there were no obstacles standing in your way, what could you achieve? Writing can create new pathways to possibility and make the impossible seem attainable. Also, try playing with visual problem solving tools, like thought trees. Drawing out your problem in a visual way, and being able to actually see linkages can bring new insight.
There was a lovely blog post written in 2012 by copywriter Tanya Gardner with many ideas about how to go about problem-solving in your journaling. She gives tangible ideas for approaching problems and writing through the solutions.
Journaling for gratitude
UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center (along with many other institutions) have found that keeping a gratitude journal is a proven way to increase happiness, reduce depression risk and increase relationship satisfaction. Focusing on the things you are grateful for can create more space for joy in your life.
Tips: Journaling for gratitude can be as simple as jotting down something you are grateful for at the end of each day. You can take this practice to a deeper level by writing out thank you notes to people in your life (and sending them if that's possible!) or "savoring" a moment, by writing, in detail, everything that was special and wonderful about something you experienced.
Five Minute Gratitude Journal This journal is very user-friendly. It provides a daily calendar with the simple prompt "Today I am Grateful For..." The book also weaves in inspiring quotes about gratitude.
Gratitude: A Journal This journal is more open ended for writing. It also includes optional prompts or activities about ways to integrate more gratitude into your life.