Now that you have a good idea of the benefits of journaling from Part I of this post, what to write is really up to you! Of course, if you pick up journaling with a more specific purpose in mind, you may want to stick to a structure or theme for a period of time. Below are some examples I generally recommend to my coaching clients.
Keep an "awesomeness journal" where you write down 3 things you have done right today. It can be something you can pat your back on regardless of how small it is. What did you do well today? What challenges did you overcome? Did someone say you did a good job and you tried to brush it off? How about accepting that compliment for once?
Believe that there is always a gift coming out of most negative situations. In Positive Intelligence, a New York Times bestseller on how to achieve one’s full potential, the author Shirzad Chamine teaches a “Three Gifts Technique” to train people to build their abilities to think in positive ways. If you are going through a tough patch in your life where there are lots of thorny issues to deal with, practice writing down three gifts you can get from each issue, or three reasons this situation can actually be a good thing.
Document small to big things you are grateful for in your day. According to Dr. Randy Kamen in The Transformative Power of Gratitude, the rise of Positive Psychology research led by Dr. Martin Seligman and more recent research on gratitude by Robert Emmons have found that expressing gratitude has tremendous positive impact on a person’s physical, mental and relationship well-being and in cultivating resilience during difficult times. Here is a great blog post that tells a powerful personal story and offers 11 tips on writing a gratitude journal.
“The Four Questions” is another tool that goes through a simple process of questioning the validity of negative thoughts to alleviate emotional pain. This is part of a self-inquiry method called “The Work” that aims at ending emotional suffering, taught by American speaker and author, Katie Byron. Learn more about this method on TheWork.com.
New skill or habit development
Remember in Part I of this post, we mentioned that the brain needs specific information to perform effectively. Use your journal to “visualize” what a successful performance look like. For example, if you want to build a new habit of becoming more vocal in meetings, you can write about ways to overcome the initial jitters, what topics you could start to be more vocal about, how to prepare for those meetings, what other resources you would need, how it would benefit you and others, etc. After you have started taking baby steps, you can continue to brainstorm in your journal and acknowledge yourself on your progress.
Journaling on your progress also helps you generate new insights on what works well, what doesn't work well and why. This learning log not only reinforces the positive behaviours you want to keep, but can also be referred to later to review your lessons learned.
More journaling topics can be found under When to Journal.
How to get started
Build a routine of when you journal. 5-10 minutes is really all you need. Don't get stressed out about vocabulary or grammar, or having a unique opening or conclusion. Just follow your stream of consciousness unless there’s a particular structure you’d like to adhere to. You are the only reader of your life journey. So put your thesaurus aside.
When to journal
Mornings: Journaling first thing in the morning is a powerful way to set your intentions and get the most out of your day. Consider following the steps below:
1. Your emotions when your first get up
2. Your priorities and 1-3 goals you want to achieve for the day
3. The attitude or state of mind that would aid you in achieving those goals
4. Make a commitment to yourself.
Before bedtime: Reflect on what has transpired in your day. You can write down your gratitude for your health, people around you, your environment and pat yourself on the back on something you've done well.
Whenever you feel strong or negative emotions about something throughout your day, try journaling. Similar to meditation, taking a walk or talking to a great friend who listens well when you feel "stuck", journaling about what you are going through will give you the same cathartic and therapeutic feeling afterwards.
What if I don't want people to see my journal
Get one that comes with a lock and a key? =) In the digital age, my best suggestion is to use a cloud-based note taking application that makes it easy for you to jot down your thoughts on your smartphone, computer or tablet. Personally I swear by Evernote, one of the best free note taking apps out there. If you want to start simple with a gratitude journal, there is an app for that, too!
Journaling has helped me become a much more confident, positive, insightful and resourceful person. I hope that this post got you interested in giving journaling a try and would love to hear from you what it has done for you!