Tag Archives: benefits of journal writing

The misunderstood benefits of talking to ourselves

Maybe it’s my age but I’m noticing an increasing tendency to talk to myself. I hear myself giving instructions about the next chore, keeping myself on track with the little things I need to do to make sure the kids have clean laundry, or a nourishing evening meal. This is a trait that I recognise from my Mum. She always laughs when I point out that she’s talking to herself again – and here am I doing the same thing.

I’m curious about it. When I tell myself to go and get the dirty washing from upstairs, or remind myself to take the chicken out of the freezer, it’s as if I’m persuading myself, or at least I’m ensuring that the things I need to do don’t get lost in the creative chaos of my brain. Verbalising the tasks that are required to keep family life ticking over helps in the doing of them. And when I’ve done them I sometimes congratulate myself, which makes me smile.

Such is the case with writing a journal. Although thankfully I don’t spend too much time writing about my chores in there! Instead I verbalise the creative stuff, the ideas I have, the intuitions and the hunches. This is a different type of dialogue with myself – less directive, more exploratory. And it gives me much more cause to celebrate.

There is tremendous value in talking to ourselves. Hearing our own voice anchors us, either in the day-to-day reality of living, or in the imagining of what our reality could be. Verbalisation, either spoken or written, enables us to give form to our thoughts and to make them real. And this is the place from which real choices can be made.

So if you find things aren’t quite going the way you’d planned them this week – have a word with yourself!

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How to change your relationship with time – and create more – through journaling

 

How do you think about time? Is it something you feel you haven’t enough of – or do you find yourself wishing it away?

Time is a phenomenon that is simultaneously astonishingly simple and mind-blowingly complex. It touches all of us and it stands still for noone. It flies and it ravages, is easy to measure yet devilish to define.

However in our journals we can influence how time passes, if not cosmically, at least psychologically.

Journal writing provides us with the perfect space to review and reflect on the memories and lessons of our past, create our intentions for the future and make the  most of the present moment. Taking notice of our current surroundings, the people we interact with, and the sights, sounds and smells of our present reality enable us to live each moment fully – and writing about it all enables us to relive it at any future moment. So time – or at least how we fill it – becomes collapsible, and each present moment contains elements from both past and future. Our time becomes timeless, eternal.

Once we get under the skin of our relationship with time we start to understand how effectively or otherwise we use it. Look out in particular for the link between anxiety and procrastination. The more anxious we become about a task, the longer we perceive it to take, and the less readily we find time to actually get it done. But journaling helps us to make clearer distinctions between perceptions and reality, so anxiety reduces, tasks become no more than things to be prioritised, and suddenly we find we have more time than we thought.

Journaling helps us identify our own rhythm, and once we allow ourselves to live life at our own pace we suddenly get into a state of flow, finding ourselves accomplishing more in an hour or a day than we ever knew was possible.

Eventually we become less focused on quantifiable time, and much more interested in the quality of how we spend our time. It’s all relative of course, as Einstein would tell us. The great thing is we can choose how we relate.

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December 13, 2012 · 4:51 pm

How to be more playful in your life

When life feels tough and heavy our journal can be nothing short of a life-saver, but journaling is not only for times when our circumstances are difficult. Writing in our journal can also coax out our joyful, playful nature, and this is as valuable in the long run as ‘brain-dumping’ stressful thoughts and emotions.

Play is intrinsic to who we are as human beings. It is a sign of our intelligence; is socially cohesive; provides a contained environment for our competitiveness; offers an opportunity to be other than we usually are; and is an arena for learning about ourselves and others.

So naturally I want to introduce play into the pages of my journal. If I were a photographer or good at drawing or craft my journal might contain visual and tactile play – images, sketches, doodles, swatches of fabric, a whole narrative built around colour, texture and artefact. Creative journaling and scrap-booking help to make our lives look and feel more beautiful – another important function of play.

But I deal in pen-and-ink words. I have no patience for fiddley sticking and drawing. How can I get playful in my journal?

One journaling technique which never fails to get me playing is list-making. I love the extreme challenge of “100 things in 10 minutes”, and I can choose a topic such as “things that make me laugh”, or “favourite games”. The structure and constraints of the list operate like the rules of a game; the topic of the list lends it its fun element; and because it’s a private journaling exercise, with no right and wrong, I can be as candid or rebellious as I like.

Another idea which requires the ultimate act of play – that of assuming a radically different perspective from that we would normally adopt – is writing metaphorically. Metaphor sounds complicated. It can be complicated to explain – but it is surprisingly easy to use. In fact it’s as if our brains are wired for metaphor. Try this exercise: cast yourself as a household object, a favourite literary character, a colour, an odour, or a piece of music, and write about your day from that perspective. Once I reflected on what my life would be like lived at the pace of a power-saw – the prevalent sound I could hear from my journal-writing spot. It contained a salutary lesson, and spawned a greater appreciation for the incredible wisdom we are capable of when we allow ourselves to play.

By journaling about the playful things that bring us joy we become more familiar with them, and we prepare ourselves to accept and embrace them into our lives. This is how playfulness on the page translates into playfulness in our real lives.

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December 12, 2012 · 5:22 pm

How to control moodiness through journal writing

A lifetime ago (so it seems) I used to be an IT Project Manager, and one of the favourite axioms of the role was “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Whatever you had to measure was by necessity a very specific thing, contained within particular boundaries, with very clear objectives and commonly recognised references. Managing such a thing then involved figuring out whether the boundaries needed to be changed, whether the objectives were correct, and whether the references were clear enough.

When it comes to moodiness, a similar process applies. We need to have a clear idea of what our mood is, how it’s making us feel, how it’s triggered and what impact it has in order to manage it. Of course, managing it might not always be curtailing it; it might also be prolonging it – so we need to be sure what mood we’re dealing with to know which tack to take.

Often we dismiss our good moods, or fail to notice that we’re in a bad one. We might be so used to being in a particular mood that we and everyone around us assumes that it’s part of our true nature.

But the fact is our moods are like our weather system – they blow hot and cold across us, are ever changing and, crucially, are not us. So we can allow ourselves some objectivity when it comes to our moodiness; in fact objectivity is vital if we’re not to be completely consumed by our mood.

This is where reflective writing comes in. Our journals give us the space to get curious and explore our mood. We can achieve some perspective by removing ourselves from our mood far enough to be able to ask it a question and find out what it has to tell us. We can also engage any physical symptoms we might have in a journaling dialogue, to deepen our awareness and clarify our understanding.

The keys are curiosity and objectivity, and our journals are perfect places to give these free rein.

Eventually, given practice in measuring our mood, it’ll be much easier to manage!

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December 11, 2012 · 1:55 pm

How journal writing is a powerful way to use all of our brain

Journal writing is a physical act in that we use our fine motor skills to wield a tool that marks the page.

It is also a mental and intellectual act in that in order to be intelligible the marks we make must conform to the conventions of the language in which we operate.

It is a creative and intuitive act as we give permission to our emotions and imagination to express themselves.

In this sense journal writing is a past-time that immediately and simultaneously engages all those parts of our brain that are responsible for physical coordination, verbal and logical reasoning and emotional response. It is an integrally holistic exercise in itself, firing activity across the whole of our cerebral hemispheres. Add to that the act of reflection, reading what we have written, and we become aware of new insights that our whole brain is  pointing us towards.

It occurs to me as I write that journaling might therefore be a form of dreaming. When we get really absorbed in our journaling session we have little control over what emerges at the end of our pen. Many writers of different genres report a similar experience once they get into the flow of their work, and the content of their writing seems to be directing itself, like our dreams.

So it is with reflective writing. Once we let go of the stage directions of our conscious mind, our imaginations really do roam free and what we read invariably surprises us.

So why is this beneficial? In his seminal work on brain function The Master and his Emissary, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist highlights how a world which is run by too much left-brain thinking  is one which is mechanistic, virtual, fragmented, and with a greater tendency to manifest exploitative practices. This is because our left-brain is more utilitarian, governing rules, language, and logic. Whereas a world which respects human artistic endeavour, and which acknowledges the more emotional and intuitive aspect of humanity, is demonstrating a prevalence for right-brain thinking.

McGilchrist’s point is that overuse of one set of cerebral skills at the expense of the other results in a very lop-sided world. We need to strike a better balance between the characteristics of our mind, including using our brain in a more integrated way, and acknowledging that our physical bodies are also part of the equation.

Journal writing is one way of training our brain to fire on all cylinders of its creative and logical potential, and if more people achieved this the world could become a different place.

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Tuning in to intuition through journal writing

I love how we use very physical language to describe our intuition. We get a gut-feeling, a hunch, or we feel something in our bones, or in our water. Our body often provides us with clues about the truth of a situation, and it serves us to heed the messages that come from our intuitive, physical intelligence.

Our physical experience is a rich seam to mine in our journals, and getting curious about how certain situations are making our body feel can often yield surprising results.

Not only that, but by actively engaging our physical experience in a dialogue, in what I call ‘holistic communion’, we can often dig beneath the surface of our circumstances and gain real insight into what’s going on for us.

A few years ago I embarked on a business relationship which proved to be a massive headache in the long run.

I should have known that my future wouldn’t be too bright with the business in question because during our very first meeting I had such a blinding headache that I had to ask my colleagues if they had any pain killers on them!

I recall at the time that I’d just returned from a 740 mile round trip delivering personal development workshops at the other end of the country, so I really should have been taking things easy and not jumping head long into another business idea.

If only I’d taken the time to write in my journal about the experience, and ask my headache what it was trying to tell me, I’m sure the message would have been “don’t dive in head first when you don’t know how deep it is”.

Pay attention in your journal to what your body is experiencing and discover a whole new set of resources to guide you.

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December 3, 2012 · 1:59 pm

How journal writing enables weight loss

On one level keeping a food journal to count calories and stay in control of our diet is a recognised successful weight loss strategy.

However, research also shows that there is a deeper implication for weight loss by writing expressively about the things that are important to us.

In a paper published earlier this year Christine Logel of Renison University College at the University of Waterloo described how the way we think about ourselves is important to our sense of self-integrity, and this triggers greater control over our eating habits. For example comfort eating and snacking become less prevalent.

The paper (reference below)  describes a study demonstrating how a population of female, overweight university students who were guided through writing about the values that are most important to them were found to lose on average 3.41 pounds over a 6 month period. The control group, who were asked to write about a value that might be important to someone else, gained on average 2.76 pounds over the same period.

Article reference: Association for Psychological Science (2012, January 4). Exercise is good for your waistline — but it’s a writing exercise. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/01/120104134811.htm

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