Look, life is complicated at the best of times. At the worst, it’s downright overwhelming. If you’re anything like me, it can be really hard to keep your feelings and your goals straight in your head. Maybe you’re one of those people who keeps thinking “I should start meditating,” but gets discouraged by the barrage of thoughts that comes barreling into your head when you try to empty it out. Maybe you’ve tried manifesting success, but you didn’t have the focus and quit before you had a chance to find out if it worked. Maybe you wrote a journal as a child, but quit when life got busy.
Well, all of those apply to me, and those are all the more reasons to journal as an adult. I’ve discovered that journaling can be your meditation, can be your manifestation and visualization. You just have to change your attitude about it.
When I was a kid, I used to write an exhaustive journal covering every detail of my daily goings-on. That’s fine when you’re a little girl living in the countryside, because frankly there’s not much going on. But as you get older, that gets to be… pretty much impossible. That kept me from journaling for a long time. I’d start a journal here and there through college, any time I found a cute notebook or felt overwhelmed by my life, but invariably the task became overwhelming itself as I fell further and further behind in my exhaustive recounting of events. I put pressure on myself to record my life in this way in case I ever wanted to go back and remember. But I’ve realized recently that I was going about it all wrong.
So what’s the right way to journal? Like so many things, the right way to journal is immensely personal. But I think the way I’ve settled on is pretty damn good.
A beautiful notebook and a trusty pen: the most important tools you can have in life.
Every couple of days, I sit down with a felt-tip pen, a beautiful journal gifted to me by my father-in-law, and a strong cup of coffee, and I write. I don’t waste any time at all on the events of my day (let’s be honest, I was never going to reread it anyway), but I use the journaling as an opportunity to concentrate on what really matters to me. I write about feelings that I’m struggling to sort through or make sense of, but more importantly I write about my goals, and what steps I should be taking to move towards those goals. I write about what’s worrying me, and about how I can prevent the negative outcomes that I’m fretting about.
Writing about these topics means that journaling itself is meditation for me. It empties my head of everything that doesn’t deserve my full attention. It’s manifestation, it’s visualization of success. It’s a great way to focus on my goals. Whenever I do it, I come away feeling a thousand times more clear-headed and motivated. So I thought I’d share some tips on how to make journaling work for you:
- Identify your purpose.
Figuring out your reason for journaling is the most important step to turning your journal into an effective tool for self-improvement and motivation, because it shows you what to write. I don’t journal to remember things. I don’t journal to confess my secrets. I journal to keep my head clear and my intentions focused. This completely shapes what I write in my journal. I recommend using your journal as a safe space where you don’t harshly judge yourself, but you are honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you are and are not accomplishing, and in what ways you could improve. If something isn’t important, don’t write about it. Only writing about the important things will help you stay focused on them throughout the day.
- Make it a habit.
Choose a time that works for you—a time when you’re motivated but not busy, a time when you can isolate yourself a little bit and focus—and build journaling into your routine for that time. I like to journal in the morning, every second or third day. By doing it in the morning, I’m awake and I can harness the focused energy I get from journaling to motivate me for the rest of the day. By doing it every other day or so, enough time has passed that I have more thoughts crowding into my head, but not too much time has passed, so I’m not overwhelmed by the amount I feel I need to write down.
This is easy for me to do, because I have a job where I only work two days a week (I’ll write a post on how I live comfortably on two days’ work a week soon), but it may not work for you. It may be better for you to write in the evening, or the afternoon, every day or only once a week. There’s no right or wrong time to journal—as long as you choose a time where you can breathe, relax, and concentrate on yourself for a little while! Just make sure you keep doing it regularly. It’s the same as anything else: you need to be consistent to see the benefits.
I need to be alone when I journal–but it’s okay, the stuffed animals can watch 😉
- Do it in a special space.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but having a specific place where I journal helps me get in the mind-examining mood. I like to do it in my bed—the only thing I do in bed other than sleeping and sex. (By the way, staying out of the bed when I’m awake is one of the most life-changing habits I’ve quit, but that’s a post for another time.) I sit on top of the covers, with the pillows piled behind me, the curtains open so the weak morning sunlight spills in, and my coffee on the bedside table next to me. It’s a place where I can be alone and feel comfortable. Since I don’t usually hang out in my bed, it feels like a special, pampering event.
- Don’t feel pressured to journal in any specific way.
Don’t think you need to write “dear diary” at the beginning of your entries, or sign your name at the end. Don’t think you need to address your entries to anyone, or even write in paragraphs. If you want to make a bulleted list or draw a picture, go for it! This is your space. Take liberties. Do what feels right to you. I personally write in straightforward stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Experiment, and find out what style allows you to express yourself freely and honestly, without distraction. Remember: it’s all about your goals.
Now, go on! Crack open a notebook and start writing your way to success!