Reading self-help books and blogs and articles can be, well, helpful. Reading other people’s journeys towards enlightenment can be inspiring. Trying out other’s advice can be transformative. Self-help writing can open our eyes to other ways of thinking, being, giving, and living. It can help us grow in ways we wouldn’t have or couldn’t have all on our own.
But self-help writing is still always external. No matter how much we read, we are always consuming. We may internalize some practices, but it’s like a mirror — reflecting back what we’ve taken in — without the added depth of our true selves.
Journaling, however, is the act of digging down to the spring where our own creativity and wisdom dwells. Exploring the deepest parts of our selves is where we truly find power, where we become comfortable with ourselves for exactly who we are — with all the knowledge we’ve absorbed and our most sincere, innate beliefs. And exploring this spring through writing is how these values bubble up to the surface and solidify into the strength of our uniqueness.
I’ve kept journals and diaries quite consistently for over 18 years. I really believe the practice has helped raise and stabilize my self-esteem throughout many different phases of my life. My journals have always been a place for me and only me — a place where I had no one to please or impress but myself, a place where I was silly and had fun, a place where I let all my guards down and was unabashedly, unashamedly myself.
We can write anything in our journals and diaries. It is so freeing.
In addition to recording and processing my days and experiences, I have also used my journals for more purposeful exercises: venting, gratitude, and intentions.
- Venting. The earliest form of my learning how to cope, venting in the privacy of my journal has helped me process feelings and be mindful of how I wanted to act on them. It has allowed me to get hurtful thoughts out without sending them to another actual person. It has helped me get past difficult incidents. I vent and then I am better able to move on. I can leave it behind me once it’s written in my journal.
- Gratitude. Years ago, probably in synchronization with The Secret‘s rise in popularity, I started keeping a daily list of what I’m thankful for. If you want to know the specific scientific benefits of this, I suggest you do your own research. But I can tell you from personal experience that practicing daily gratitude, actually writing it down, is great for perspective, self-esteem, and appreciating the life you have now despite how successful you are in any current endeavors.
- Intentions. I’ve just started this recently and so am just starting to see how it affects my life, but I am noticing a difference. Like, on the days where I take the time to set my intentions for the days, I am not only more mindful of what I want, I find it just happens easier even without me actually thinking about it. For example, on days I set the intention to be patient, calm, and loving with my children, I find reserves of patience, calmness, and love that I might not have felt on a day where I didn’t set that intention. Even intentions like “All of Wingnut’s pee goes in the toilet” and “Dozer eats and digests well” seems to affect them, and thus me, in that I have less pee and spit-up to clean up. I also try to stay away from wishful wording and set my intentions in the present tense because, you know, wibbly wobbly timey wimey.
I know I said that we can write anything in our journals, but I also don’t think it is very helpful or useful to use writing to dwell on disappointments. Venting is one thing, but then I think it’s important to explore how we can come out of disappointments on top, even if it’s only by our state of mind. After all, what is a journal but a written state of mind? What is our whole life experience but a state of mind?
If you would like some tips on starting your own journal or diary, I found this article to be helpful in an open, simple way.