My Top 5 Tips for Reaping the Benefits of Journaling

Sometimes I have to write to think. This isn’t always true. I do my very best thinking on my bike. But, I do my second-best thinking when I write. My most consistent writing is my daily journaling practice.

There are several practices I use to keep myself on track toward my vision. Journaling is one of these. Without it, my day would be incomplete, and I would feel disorganized and rattled. As Benjamin P. Hardy says, “Daily, you need to ensure you’re going the direction you want to. If you’re truly committed to those changes, you’ll need to prime yourself daily to be and act from the position of the new reality you’re striving to create.” Journaling is a key component of my daily priming.

There are many benefits of journaling. The biggest one for me is its centering effect. Journaling helps me organize my thoughts into a coherent whole, so they make sense. Doing so brings me a sense of peace, returning me to a feeling that all is right with the world, if my day has left me frazzled or scattered. As I shared in this post, I use a fairly structured approach to the journaling I do each night. That may or may not be the best tactic for you.

Journaling is a very personal practice, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. There are some techniques that can make your journaling more rewarding, however. Most people think of journaling as writing in a blank book or diary. This is what I generally mean when I talk about journaling. For people who better express themselves with drawing or other graphics, journaling doesn’t have to be restricted to the written word.

Here are my top five tips for getting the most out of a journaling practice.

One of my previous journals.
  1. Choose tools you love. As I get close to filling up one blank book, I look forward to selecting my next one. Personally, I don’t use anything fancy, but there are features that I prefer. I usually look for a spiral-bound book because I like to keep my pen there when it is not in use. Beyond that, I want a book that has lines, rather than plain, white pages. Those who incorporate drawing may want unlined pages. Finally, I consider how it makes me feel. Is it peaceful or inviting? Does it have a meaningful quote and/or picture on the front? I want a journal that feels like a treat to use. Some people may prefer to journal electronically, either typing or speaking into a device. This is valid, too. Utilize whatever means of capturing your thoughts, ideas, dreams and musings feels the best. If you are writing or drawing, use a pen that is pleasant and flows smoothly over the page.
  2. Develop a habit. I do most of my journaling right before going to bed. The potential downside to that is that I sometimes doze off while writing. It does help to put everything in place before I go to bed, though. Whether you choose to write at night or some other time, I recommend choosing a consistent time and making it a non-negotiable habit—simply what you do before bedtime, upon awakening or after meditating, for instance.
  3. Include questions. I love questions, both for myself and for my coaching clients. Provocative questions open doors to ideas that might not otherwise present themselves. There are some that I use consistently. Two that I currently find very beneficial are: “What is the boldest leap I took today? And, “What bold leap will I take tomorrow?” The possibilities for your questions are endless. Questions help me reflect on my day and position me to set a powerful intention for the next day before I go to sleep.
  4. Free write when you are so moved. Although there are certain components I include every night, I also free write when I feel like doing so. This is a terrific way to explore and understand my emotions. Sometimes, I do this when I am upset or angry. Sometimes, I do it when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my many blessings. I simply write from my stream of consciousness. It can be tremendously cathartic, and I recommend trying it.
  5. Record your inspirations, vision, dreams, goals. All of these and more go into my journal. Lately, I have had several bursts of inspiration in the middle of the night. I sleep with my journal, and book light right next to me, so it is easy to reach for them and record the inspiration before I lose it. Similarly, I will write down ideas that come to me on my bike. I try to get them on paper as soon as I can after returning home from a ride. Make your journal your place to express your deepest desires for the future and to spell out your commitment to bringing them to life.

There are so many ways to benefit from journaling. In my experience the most important thing is that your practice is authentic to you. Try my ideas if you are new to journaling or if you want to give journaling a more prominent presence in your life, but, ultimately, your practice should serve you. It should help you grow and increase your ability to live with no regrets because writing your aspirations and sorting out your feelings on paper add clarity to your life. When you are clear, you can take the steps you need to take to turn aspirations to facts in your life.

Catch up with the previous posts in this “Top 5” series:

  1. My energy tips here
  2. My mindset tips here
  3. My well-being tips here
  4. My plant-based nourishment tips here
  5. My meditation tips here

Connect with me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. To connect with others who are interested in living as well as possible and get regular doses of inspiration, become part of our JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958072857557272/.

How a Nightly Journaling Practice Can Help You Increase Happiness and Achieve Goals

I have journaled for many years. For a long time, I did it frequently, but without any real structure or schedule. That changed in 2011, when I was looking for strategies to help me feel more positive about life, during a particularly painful time. I learned about Martin Seligman’s “Three Good Things” practice. I have written about this practice previously because it has been (and continues to be) so meaningful to me.

The simple “Three Good Things” practice became the foundation for the journaling that I faithfully began doing each night. Every single night—even when I am Biking Across Kansas—I write in my journal about three things that went well during the day. Sometimes they are big things. Often, they are small things. The point of the practice is to stop and notice that good things happen, even on the most mundane day. Sometimes it is more difficult than others to come up with my three things. On a particularly difficult day, it might be something as basic as, “My warm shower felt good.” This helps me recognize gifts and blessing in the midst of challenges and disappointments. In addition to naming my three things, I follow each with the question, “Why?” and then write about why this was a good thing. This reflection is brief, but it is key to noticing why I feel good about something. In a 2005 study by Seligman, et al., participants who used the Three Good Things” practice for a week experienced improved mood for six months. I recognized the benefits so quickly after starting it that I made it a permanent practice.

This practice is so helpful that I have added check-ins throughout the day, when I am feeling stressed or tired or anxious. Mentally, I will take a moment to name three good things that have happened up to that point in the day. A variant that helps me get out of bed in the morning is to identify three things to which I am looking forward in the coming day.

Over time, I have added other questions that have benefitted me. Currently, in addition to my Three Good Things practice. Here are the others I use:

  • What do I want for and from myself tomorrow? This helps me to begin to set an intention for the next day. When I think about how I want the day to look, I can approach it consciously, making decisions that support my intention.
  • Do I have any regrets about my choices today? As I wrote in this post, my theme for 2019 is “No Regrets.” By checking in with myself each night, I take an honest look at the choices I made during the day and assess whether they were aligned with my values, goals and priorities. This idea of living to avoid regrets has become so compelling that I have recently refocused my coaching practice to help people who have become aware of how quickly time passes develop the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what they want to accomplish and live with no regrets. I strive to do this in my daily life, as well.
  • How will I live with no regrets tomorrow? This is when I decide if and how I need to adjust my choices the next day. It is also when I consider my responsibilities for the day and plan proactively to remain in alignment with values, goals and priorities.

Within the last couple months, I have added to my nightly journaling practice with the “Three Question Journal,” developed by Angeles Arrien. This practice has been used with medical students to help them recognize meaning in their work. I find that it can help me identify and acknowledge meaning in my life, too. Rather than overlooking or taking for granted events that have taken place during the day, I acknowledge the meaning they help create in my life. Here are the three questions:

  1. What surprised me today?
  2. What touched my heart today?
  3. What inspired me today?

The key with these questions is to write the first thing that comes to mind and to briefly reflect on it. One of the profound insights that I obtained in reading Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, is her assertion that “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” I realized, upon reading this, that the mundane things that are part of my daily life, like work and family, while being significant contributors to stress in my life, are also significant contributors to meaning in my life. Recognizing this was truly life changing for me. This three-question practice reinforces this recognition.

My nightly journaling does not take all that long, but it is time well spent. It enables me to finish the day feeling centered, having integrated my daily activities and my thoughts and feelings about them. I finish by reading until I am ready to go to sleep and then choosing a quote from my collection for reflection, as I go to sleep.

My nightly journaling practice is one component of my non-negotiable self-care practices. Other things, like my morning mindfulness practice, exercise, plant-based nourishment and my various check-ins throughout the day round out my practice. Any of these is important alone, but together they support each other and add a greater sense of meaning and contentment to my life.

I encourage you to begin a nightly journaling practice, if you don’t already have one. You may want to use some or all of the questions I include. While there are times that I simply free-write in my journal, these questions are always part of my nightly practice. If you are starting with just one part of what I do, I recommend starting with “Three Good Things,” since this has been shown scientifically to enhance happiness in people who did it. Anecdotally, I can attest to its effectiveness. Once you have that practice in place, trust your instincts to add others—either from the ones that are meaningful to me or some that you adapt.

I have tried and abandoned some strategies because they didn’t serve me as well as these do. Several months ago, I subbed, “Was I better today than yesterday?” for “What do I want for and from myself tomorrow?” I missed the latter question, so I added it back and included my “no regrets” questions. This feels like a better fit.

I find that the structure of the questions and the soothing ritual they provide increase the centeredness I feel from the journaling. The practice helps put everything in its place for the day.  I hope you will give structured nightly journaling a try and let me know how it affects your life.