JOURNALING! It's the ultimate self-care activity. Something you do for yourself. Something that ignites your soul, stimulates your mind, and opens your heart.
If it's great then why doesn't everyone do it? I believe it has something to do with not having the tools to make the journaling process fun and soothing.
Here are 10 tools and tips to help you get the most of out the ultimate self-care activity:
1. Don’t censor yourself.
When we write, we’re telling our stories. We have authorial power. We get to translate experiences to words, feelings to language, senses to thoughts. And when we do that, if we leave details out, we’re really doing ourselves a disservice. If we’re concerned with other people reading our work, if we’re afraid that telling the complete story will change how we feel, if we’re worried about being honest with ourselves… then the full benefits of journaling might not be accessible for us.
Journaling helps us make space for our hearts. It allows us to say the things we wouldn’t normally say. It gives us time to process our experiences and make them tangible. After writing, we can look at our experiences on the page and tear them up. Burn them. Shred them. Frame them. Hug them. Reread them. Journaling turns memories to reality.
But if we stop ourselves from writing for any reason, the ability to really look at our experience with no filter becomes broken. When we don’t allow ourselves to see the full picture, we can’t heal. When we don’t allow ourselves to find our version of the truth, we become numb.
Writing helps us get in touch with our lives. And we learn how we interpret our experiences. We learn how to feel again. These lessons are accessible through our ability to reflect.
So be honest. Write until you feel a physical reaction in your body. Your heart rate will slow. You might get chills. You might cry. Or smile. You might exhale deeply. Your mind will settle. You will reach the physical equivalent of clarity - a space where you can breathe again.
And if you’re too in the moment to pay attention to your body, try setting a time limit for your journaling. Use a timer on your phone. Play a couple of 5-minute songs. Anything to keep you focused for a specific period of time. Make sure you keep writing the entire time. Do not lift that pen from the paper. Let everything out.
2. Find an activity to open up your mind before you sit down to write.
What do you do if letting it all out is really difficult? What do you do when you sit down to write but nothing comes out?
You can start your journaling practice by doing something other than writing. Do something that settles your mind. Do something that helps you get in touch with yourself. Where you’re focused and content. In the zone and connected to your inner magic.
My pre-journaling activities are yoga and candles. I love these two things. While practicing yoga, my mind becomes completely glued to my mind, body, soul connection. And the candles add to the energy of the space with a yummy scent and pretty glow. Ambiance is everything!
After only 5 minutes of yoga, I feel my mind shift into clarity. The clutter of whatever situation I’d been focused on honestly settles into something more understandable. And from this place of understanding, I can write with bravery.
What activity helps you feel grounded? Do you need to meditate first? Do you need to go for a run? Take a bath or shower? Listen to a song that moves you? Once you feel the relaxation seep in, break out your journal and pen!
3. Create a sanctuary.
I wrote a much more detailed post on creating your self-care sanctuary here, but I want to give you a small overview right now.
Why do you think interior designers do what they do? Why does everyone love watching Chip and Jo on Fixer Upper? Because they create sanctuaries! They don’t just open the door to a home, throw some people inside, and say good luck suckers! They create an energetic and visual level of comfort. A physical representation of belonging - with plants, with pictures, with textures, colors, scents, furniture, rugs, and a little shiplap… maybe even a french door or two. (Can you tell I’m a little obsessed with Fixer Upper? It’s seriously the BEST show).
Fixer Upper is such a great metaphor for creating your self-care sanctuary because you get to watch the transformation, not only of the home, but of the people. The new home owners walk into the drab, broken down, tiny space. You can tell that they can’t see the vision that Chip and Jo believe in. They can’t believe that a house that needs so much work could ever be a place where they felt love and comfort. They’re focused on the cracks in the ceiling, the horrible kitchen built in the 70s, and how many walls separate the kitchen from the living room.
But Chip and Jo… they’ve done it a million times before. They know their talents. They know what they’re capable of. They listen to what their clients want and what they need. They throw in a little of their own flair. Each wall represents opportunity. Each crack holds purpose. Before you know it the homeowners are back (with a little TV magic) and once they see their “new” home, they’re usually in tears. If they’re not in tears they can’t pick their jaws up from the gorgeous hardwood floors.
What I love is that it’s the same space! The same house. The same location. Chip and Jo’s vision makes all the difference.
So if Chip and Jo can do this for so many people… why do we choose not to be the Fixer Upper of our own life? We might not want to tear down the walls in our house, but we could add a throw blanket here and there. We can add a new paint color. We can plant flowers or grow herbs if we want to! We can and should do whatever it takes to make our home feel more comfortable and loving. It makes a difference. Watch one episode of Fixer Upper and try to tell me it doesn’t….
And if you’re able to create this sanctuary and then crack open the ol’ journal pages… you’ll be well on your way to a more peaceful life.
Why does eating in a restaurant feel so different than ordering in? You could have the same exact food, in two different locations and feel completely different about it, right? So when you’re journaling in a tiny little dark corner and you feel overwhelmed and frustrated and bored, your focus in your writing might be a little different than if you sat in your sanctuary to write. You might be able to access different ideas. You might be more open to honesty and transparency in your work if you’re able to find your own peaceful ambiance.
4. Have an intention.
We just discussed creating a physical intention - being able to shift the objects around you and as a result shift your own energy. The second part of that process is to shift your mentality. There can be a certain benefit to writing wildly with no direction, goal, or topic. But if you do that every single time you journal, a couple of things might happen.
I compare it to shopping. If you go into a store and they’ve thrown all of the clothes in one heaping pile on the floor… how would you feel?
I was searching for thrift stores a while back (hoping to give some of my things away in order to try living a minimal lifestyle), and I found one where they actually just put all of the clothes in a massive pile in the middle of this warehouse-esque room. My first reaction was to wonder how anyone could ever find anything. My second was wondering how anyone who worked there could keep track of the items they received and sold. It seemed chaotic to me. At the very least it seemed like it added a complicated layer of difficulty to the shopping process.
Can you imagine what it would be like if all stores did this? If we went to Target and the clothes were stacked on top of one another, and the electronics were thrown around on top of the clothes, and the food was sprinkled throughout the store like a trail of candy in a fairytale? No one would ever go to Target. It would be painful.
So why do we do this to ourselves in our lives? And in our writing?
We need a focus. This, my dears, is where intention comes in. If we can journal about our intention for the day we’ve accomplished two things at once. We’ve developed a focus for our writing, which keeps us centered and allows us to reflect with understanding and compassion. We’ve also created a focus for the next 24 hours! So as we move through our day and a frustrating or challenging situation comes up, we won’t even have to do much to recall the fact that we spent 5-10 minutes writing about how we wanted to find moments of gratitude throughout our day (if that was the intention). We’ve focused on it so much already that it has become second nature. It’s our new point of focus. In the challenging moment we can return to our writing in our mind… and check in with what we feeling we wanted to create for ourselves.
This process might be more difficult if our journaling was about gratitude, and what we want for lunch, and how we want to try a new hair color, and how we’re upset at our co-worker.
Set your intention for your day. Use it as a focal point for your writing. Dig deeper into what you want out of your daily experiences, and allow your writing to hold you accountable.
5. Be your own best friend.
But don’t be so strict with your rules that you end up becoming your own Geoffrey from Game of Thrones. There’s no need to get stuck thinking that things HAVE to be a particular way or the world will end. It’s really nice to have rituals and practices that ground us. It’s great to be committed to an activity that helps you find peace… but when we become so attached to the activity that we have a negative reaction to the lack of it… then we need to reassess.
This is where being your own best friend comes in. If your best friend came to you and said “I haven’t worked out in two weeks and I’m so upset with myself,” you might remind her that we all need a break sometimes, and that listening to her body is the best thing she can do for herself. You might ask her what she really wants. Does she want to work out tomorrow? Or does she feel like keeping up with her old pace is more of a hinderance to her lifestyle preference than it is a benefit? You might even tell her that getting herself in gear is exactly what she needs… But you probably wouldn’t say “You are the worst person ever. You’ve just ruined all of your hard work. You’ll never get where you want to be now. And if you don’t drop and give me 50 at this very moment, you’ll make everything you’ve ever done a complete waste.”
But we say these things to ourselves. We hold ourselves to unrealistic standards. We give ourselves unrealistic timelines. And then we judge ourselves when we don’t meet those standards.
We treat our loved ones better than we treat ourselves. This is not okay.
So when you find yourself going down this path in your journaling or in your life, ask yourself two questions:
1. Is my self-assessment 100% accurate?
2. Would I say this to my loved one?
The next step is to write about why you’ve had such a harsh reaction to yourself. What did you expect to get out of saying those things to yourself? Did you hope it would be motivating? Or did you subconsciously assume that those negative words would stop you from moving forward with your actions (because you don’t really want to “workout” anyway)? Get to the bottom of your intention. And then take kind, compassionate action with yourself.
6. Don’t think about grammar or writing techniques.
The process usually goes something like this: You’re journaling. You’re having an amazing conversation with yourself. You’ve remembered that you used to really love painting, or swimming, or gardening… and now you’re about to write about how you can bring those things back into your life. Until… you realize you missed a period at the end of the last sentence. And you didn’t capitalize the name of the store you wanted to go to. You spelled the first word of the journal entry wrong. And now you want to start all over again. Either rewriting or completely editing the entry until it’s perfect. So you go back. You reread every word. You turn into your high school English teacher. You break out the red pen. And then you can’t even understand your writing!
This is the best advice I can give you.
Let the flow of your thoughts propel your pen forward. Writing is an act of translation - you’re moving from observation to feeling to thought to word to a tangible representation of that word on a sheet of paper. When you interrupt that flow, you break the power of the translation. You stop the energy. You’re standing on the water hose expecting the water to come out of the other side.
Don’t go back to fix your writing. Don’t even read the last sentence you wrote. Follow your thoughts until you reach a place in your journaling where you feel at peace. Where you feel like you can take a breath.
If you’re using a timer, keep your pen moving until the timer goes off. Don’t sit and think and then write something down when it feels good. Every thought has a home on the page - even the ones you don’t want to see reflected back at you. Those are the important ones. Give them space. Say what you need to say.
7. Gain perspective.
As you write, you might want to remain focused on your intention. You might want to stay in your own perspective. It will help you get to the bottom of your desires. But when you go back to read your entry, you can become a little more objective. You can think about your writing from multiple vantage points. You can see your situation from the outside. You can think about if there’s any other solution to your problem that hadn’t occurred to you in the moment. You might read your entry and realize that you no longer feel as overcome with emotion as you did initially. You can welcome other perspectives in an effort to heal and grow.
But only do this after you’ve said your story. Only do this after you feel you’ve fully expressed yourself. Thinking about your experience from another perspective while you’re in the heat of the moment can stop you from feeling the catharsis that comes with journaling. Your journal is your space. It is your time to speak. Your time to listen to yourself. Your time to own your experience. Let that moment shine before you allow analysis to enter.
8. Have fun.
We’ve talked a lot about different journaling tips… but none of those tips matter as much as this one does.
If journaling becomes annoying, frustrating, or confusing for you… if you begin asking yourself if you’re doing it right… it might be time to bring yourself back to having fun.
We’re doing this as an act of self-care! If caring for yourself has turned into something that makes you upset, then it might be time to put the journal down. Do something that makes you happy. Do something that puts a smile on your face - and then write about that.
Bring yourself back to joy, and clarity will follow.
9. Find support and guidance.
If none of the above makes sense… if you’ve tried journaling on your own and have abandoned the practice before your third entry… if it hasn’t been fun for you… if you’ve found yourself getting bored and giving up… it might be time to find support.
We hear about the benefits of journaling a lot. It reduces stress, helps you become aware, releases negative emotions, enhances our creativity, and helps you solve problems. But if your intention when you sit down to write is none of these things, if you’ve been journaling for a while but haven’t seen any of the benefits people often discuss, it might be time to grab a journal dedicated to helping you practice self-care.
In life, we’re often focused on how our actions relate to other people. We shape out entire day around others most times: our families, our bosses, our neighbors, our friends… so it can be challenging to break that habit when we journal. But with the appropriate questions, we can learn to shift our reflections from pleasing other people to pleasing ourselves.
This journal will act as your BFF. It will ask you the questions you’ve always wanted someone to ask. It will be there to listen when no one else is. It is your ultimate self-care buddy, and you can get your very own right here.
10. Be consistent.
The definition of practice is to perform an action regularly. To do something again and again, to put an idea or action to use. To turn something into a habit.
Let’s think about Chip and Jo one more time. They’ve practiced their craft so much, that walking into a fixer upper is not shocking for them. They see the new vision almost immediately.
They know what is possible even when the house looks like it could crash down on their heads at any moment. They get to their end result in their minds so much quicker, because their practice has led them to a belief that anything is possible. They know that turning something hideous and unsafe into something stunning and practical is completely within their grasp.
This is the goal with journaling… and with our lives. To journal as often as possible. To make our ability to reflect on our experiences so habitual that we can see the end result of the reflection before it even comes about. To practice self-care every day, so that we no longer believe not caring for ourselves is an option. To love ourselves so much, that we simply cannot allow anyone into our lives who doesn’t show us the love we deserve.
It all starts with a practice. It starts with being open. It starts with being willing.
When will you begin? When will you tell yourself you’re worth it?
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