I used to crave presence and mindfulness but my monkey mind prevented me from ever feeling present. I always seemed to have a million loud thoughts, ideas, and insecurities clouding my mind.
That all changed one day when I found myself in a bookstore, buying a journal, without a clue about “why.” I started writing out all the gunk clouding my mind and preventing me from being present in my life. When I got it out of my head and onto to the page I felt lighter.
I was so jazzed by this new practice that I wanted everyone I knew to try it. People were intrigued but had major resistance to it. Their excuses ranged from "I don’t have time for that" to “I’m not a writer, therefore I can’t.” But when I heard their resistance, I realized I had felt the same ways about writing before I started journaling; I felt like I couldn’t, I didn’t believe it was for me, I hated it.
Journaling is different. It’s not like writing an essay for class; this type of writing is innate to us. It’s simply writing as you would speak. If you can write a text, send an email or have a conversation, then you can journal.
Journaling is simply a way to have a conversation with yourself by taking all the different voices in your mind and organizing them on paper. For instance, there’s the secretary of finance, the inner child, the inner parent, and many more. Journaling allows you to take charge as the CEO, meeting with all aspects of yourself, and deciding which one(s) you want to listen to.
Journaling allowed me to get to know myself and cultivate self-awareness through vulnerability by letting out any thoughts or feelings that felt too intimate to share with another person. I was able to sort through them in my journal so they weren’t stuck floating around in up in my head.
If you’re convinced that journaling could be cool to try, here are some tips for getting started:
1. Just Start
Like with anything else you learn best by doing and the more you do it the easier it will become. You don’t even need to like it at first but just like going to the gym and working muscles you may not like it at first or see any results but if you keep going anyways you will start enjoying it and see the fruits of your labor, but you’ll never know unless you start.
2. It’s impossible to do it wrong
Journaling is for you. It is your practice. No one has to see it and it doesn’t have to be done any single way. There are many ways to get your thoughts out of your mind and onto the page. Maybe you use an exercise like one from my book. Maybe you simply write ten things you’re grateful for or ten things you’re excited about. You could stop there or maybe you have more to say and end up expanding on those things until next thing you know you’ve written pages. Not trying is literally the only way to fail at this.
3. Ask yourself good questions
When you ask yourself intelligent questions you’ll be amazed at the intelligent answers your intuition or higher self will give you. The questions you ask don’t need to be super profound; simply ask questions that have some depth, rather than just yes or no questions.
Questions that cut to the deeper meaning of situations and make you think are the best journaling prompts. What are you wondering about? What are you struggling with most? How are you feeling? Where could you use some support in your life and why?
Think of questions a therapist might ask or a good friend who is talking through a difficult situation with you. An authentic journaling session can feel like free therapy or like getting off the phone with a best friend after a long deep conversation because journaling is essentially a long deep conversation with yourself. You can be the most non-judgemental friend you’ll ever have – the one who knows you better than anyone else – and journaling is the mechanism to have that dialogue. The practice helps you to befriend yourself by helping you get to know the thoughts in your mind. Once you get to know them, you can question if they're true or not, and from there whether or not you want to change your negative thoughts to something more positive.
4. Don’t edit
We’re taught in English classes to analyze our words, sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, and grammar. However, none of that matters here. The best part of journaling is that you can throw all of your grammar and language skills out the window and freely write how your speak and think, rather than how you’d write if someone were reading your words. It’s liberating, but can also feel scary and odd at first. If you’re used to constantly editing your sentences as you write them, even when you’re writing an email or text message, you’ll need to learn to stop filtering yourself and just allow the words to flow. You can always go back later and edit if you want, but when you're letting the thoughts out, they will get stuck and pile up in your mind if you try to edit them as they’re coming out. Don’t stop the flow, simply let it out: raw, real, true and messy.
5. Be honest
If you’re not being fully honest with yourself on the page, journaling is a waste of your time. If you’re writing for someone else or "in case someone sees," it’s not journaling. For journaling to be beneficial you absolutely must be honest with yourself. Write down those thoughts you have been thinking on repeat, those fears you’d never want anyone to know, and those dreams you’re too scared to admit for fear that then you’ll actually be responsible and accountable for making them happen. Honesty and radical authenticity with yourself is how you make the best use of your time with your journal. You allow your journal to be your confidante with whom you can share your darkest secrets without judgment or having to explain anything. What stops us from feeling free and fully ourselves is what we are hiding: poor judgment calls we’ve made, things we’re embarrassed about, goals of ours that seem too unrealistic to claim. We bury our dark secrets and get preoccupied managing them to ensure we don’t appear less than perfect—or get caught in the lie of trying to appear perfect. But when we let it out (even if it’s just to ourselves in our journals), we can breathe.
By being vulnerable and acknowledging what we’re ashamed of, we let go of any guilt we’re holding on to. As Brené Brown teaches, shame cannot survive being shared, and admitting our shame to ourselves is the first step.
6. Just keep going
When you’re doing things that are new and uncomfortable, it’s inevitable that – at least to some extent – you’ll feel like you’re pretending; at least I always do. When I started teaching yoga, I felt like I wasn’t actually a yoga teacher but just pretending to be one, mimicking my own teachers. But as Kurt Vonnegut says in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Basically, he’s saying that it works to "fake it till you make it." You will feel like a fraud, but so does everyone else.
The process of journaling, an honest expression of your feelings on paper, might be brand-new for you. If that’s the case, going this deep might cause some strong reactions, like
Don’t let these stop you. Everyone feels as though they’re pretending when they start a new routine. When you haven’t done something before, or you haven’t done it consistently, it’s not ingrained yet. This new way of expressing your feelings fully, as a writer, is uncomfortable. You might feel like a ball of emotion when you begin this process because perhaps you rarely (if ever) allow yourself to feel your uncomfortable emotions. And feeling uncomfortable is when most people quit.
So when you reach this point, you must ask yourself: Do I want to have a deep life? Do I want to feel the richness of mad love and the sadness of heartbreak? Do I want to feel the full spectrum of emotions . . . or do I want to numb out? Journaling is a practice that puts a mirror right up to your face. It shows you what’s going on at a deeper level when you allow yourself to examine your feelings as they authentically flow out of you.
When you feel like you’re playing pretend as a writer but you like what you’re pretending – that’s when you need to keep going. That’s when, with time, the routine becomes ingrained, and before you know it . . . you will no longer be pretending.
Do you have a journaling practice, or want to start one? Share your stories with me in the comments below!