Journaling has proven to be an effective grounding and problem solving practice for me, with 4 specific techniques I turn to time and time again. I don’t have any data on the benefits of journaling but my experience alone has been convincing enough for me to continue this practice and have the desire to share it with you.
My practice has developed over the past 2 years and my biggest advice if you’re interested is to just give it a try. It is natural to intellectualize and analyse in your mind whether you think something is for you or not, however give yourself the benefit of having some experience and then decide based on your experience. You may surprise yourself (which is what happened to me)…
When I’m taking time away, maybe by the ocean, on a hike, in nature or just on my own somewhere, I’ll take out my travel-size vacation journal and capture reflections when I am feeling most introspective.
It’s like I’m writing a story about my life, one that no one except myself will ever read. It’s mostly non-fiction, and involves tons of thoughtful insights, meaningful analysis and short pep talks. I’ll date the entries and also read what I wrote previously. It’s by me, for me, and you’ll never see it.
Both reading and writing in this journal is meaningful for me. It’s become a source of inspiration and what makes it that much more meaningful is knowing that it’s all come from inside of me (versus a book).
Washing Machine technique
What does a washing machine and our mind have in common? Once you put something it in, they both spin it around again, and again, and again, until they are stopped.
I’ve learned how to stop the washing machine in my mind and it’s really simple: I make lists. I have not looked for the science on this yet but my experience has taught me that once I write something in my mind down, my mind relaxes (once again, writing it down by hand versus on a laptop or phone).
I’ll start making lists of whatever is in my mind, and will fill up pages of small notebooks, writing unstructured lists of 40, 50, 60 “things” at at time. This technique takes a whole 3 minutes, not very much time at all. A lot of association is going on, where one item may trigger another item, which may trigger another item, and so on. Most of them have to do with my work but not all.
And after those few minutes of writing it all out, my mind feels at ease. If in the evening before going to bed or first thing in the morning after waking up, I find my mind “spinning”, this technique has proven to be very useful.
The most important thing about this technique is that I never read the lists. This is not a to-do list technique (as that may add additional weight to the mind). It’s a stop the washing machine in my mind technique and it works!
Free Writing technique
I first came across free writing as a journaling technique just over one year ago, thanks to reading a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. It’s been the most impactful technique for me out of all 4 that I’m sharing with you and the one I recommend the most.
You see, we have an editor in our mind, and everything we say, write or think passes through this editor. It’s constantly at work, editing everything and as a result, getting in the way of our thoughts. Free writing is a technique to practice bypassing the editor momentarily and learning tap into a stream of consciousness and our true thoughts.
The technique is really simple:
1) commit to writing (by hand) at least 2 full pages (ideally 3) in one sitting
2) do not let the pen or pencil STOP, continuous writing is a must, if you do not know what to write, write “I do not know what to write, I do not know what to write”
3) do not read a single thing you wrote, throw it out out (or recycle it) immediately
What happens with this technique is I feel truly liberated to express anything and everything, without fear of judgement, not even from myself. The combination of a longer sitting (maybe 20–30 minutes of writing), not stopping the pen to think (bypassing the editor) and knowing that you’re not writing for an audience (not even yourself), unlocks a creative energy in me that I am not able to access easily otherwise.
And the best part is that I almost always find clarity about any problem, business or personal, I may be dealing with at that time. It’s amazing as I’m reminded time and time again that the answers are sitting inside, I just need to learn how to access them.
Every morning after I meditate, I’ll make a super short entry in my gratitude journal about one specific thought, feeling, characteristic or intention I feel in that moment. Whatever comes up. The structure is simple: (1) date and (2) one sentence describing whatever came up.
That’s it, it’s super short and takes a whole 17 seconds to do. It’s such a short time investment there can be no excuses for not doing it. And it’s been two years now so this has become habit. As I travel a lot, I make sure to the small travel-sized book with me.
The most rewarding part of this technique is that every few months, I will flip through the pages and read what I wrote. Since it’s short, it does not take very much time at all and is meaningful, as it all came from me. And writing it down by hand versus typing it adds to the experience, as I see my own handwriting which reinforces that all of this came from me.