How to Write a Journal
Step 2

Let's talk about journaling and why it's important in recovery.

Many people don't consider themselves good writers. They think, "what could I possibly have to write about?" Believe it or not, when you learn how to write a journal and make it a habit in your life, you will become very good at it. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you become.

In the beginning as you start writing, don't panic if you don't know what to write. When you are learning how to write a journal, it's perfectly acceptable to write whatever comes to your mind. Although what you are writing may seem boring and somewhat like ageneral list of events, keep writing. Gradual change in your writing skills are sure to happen as you continue.

Why Journal?
Learn How to Write a Journal

Journal writing has been done for centuries. It helps us tap into our subconscious mind and get to the root of our deepest thoughts and feelings. Not only this, but by learning how to journal you can also help to expose thoughts that are not helpful or outright untruthful.

It's hard to believe that we are capable of believing the lies we tell ourselves or adopt the negative beliefs and statements of others but it's true. It's these negative thoughts that cause us emotional distress and keep us stuck from moving forward in certain areas of our lives.

Teaching yourself how to write a journal is a great way to help encourage our subconscious mind to purge itself. There are different kinds of journaling. One of the most common ways is to journal on paper, however, there are other ways that people journal. Some find it more interesting to journal online using blogs or through sound and video. No matter which way you choose to journal the experience is bound to help you get more in touch with yourself and your thoughts and feelings.

Once these thoughts are out of your head, you will be more able to take take a better look at what you are thinking and feeling. It is true that many people are not even aware of what they truly think and feel until they learn how to write a journal.

Tips for Journaling

  • Decide how to write a journal. You can basically use anything from a plain notebook to a fancy journal, or you can start your journal online. Give it some thought before you begin. There are times when I wish I had done my journaling online. I think it would have been very helpful to so many people if I did.

  • Limit your distractions. The less distracted you are, the better you will be able to hear yourself think.

  • Set your writing atmosphere! Get comfortable! This means if you are more comfortable writing from your bed at night, then do that. Perhaps you want to use aromatherapy at the same time, or you prefer to write while you are on your living room really doesn't matter. What matters is that you are comfortable.

  • Use your emotions! Think about your days events. If you had strong emotions about anything, perhaps something made you laugh, cry or feel fearful...write about those things. Don't hold anything back. Even if you feel a lack of emotion, write about that. Sometimes writing about the simple things is a good place to start. When it comes to emotions there are no rules on how to write a journal. Instead use your emotions to guide what you write.

  • Use your senses! Try digging deep by including your senses by recognizing them throughout the day before you journal. Tastes, sounds, touch, hearing and sight are all important. The more you include your senses, the more descriptively you'll be able to write.

  • Remember that journaling is a personal thing. So let the pressure off to be perfect. Just be yourself, as you are. You'd be amazed at how perfect people try to be, even at their own writings. Perfectionism is not allowed in journaling!

  • Write until you cannot write anymore. Sometimes there is so much inside that we need to write about and this is a good thing! Write until you are finished. Then there are other times when you won't know what to say and you only write a little. It's okay either way and it's completely normal.

  • Write about things you notice outside yourself too. Perhaps the actions, emotions or the events of other people. These would be your surroundings...the things that happen around you. Include your thoughts about those situations.

  • Occasionally go back and re-read journal entries that you have previously written. When you go back and read you will notice a lot about yourself and your thoughts and feelings. You may even read things that you didn't notice before. These make for more great things to write about.

  • Many people do not journal everyday and for the most part, you don't have to either. However, when you are going through a challenging situation such as depression, anxiety or perhaps grieving the loss of a loved one or a divorce, it's particularly helpful to journal everyday. What matters most is that you do not see journaling as a chore or a burden but rather a stress relieving tool that you look forward to.

  • Practicing Positive Thought Replacement While Journaling

    Journal writing helps us get in touch with our inner self-talk and is a good tecnique to practice positive thought replacement. Many people write in a journal on a daily basis, not because they have to, but because they have learned it helps them sort out so many things in life and helps them to put things into proper perspective. By writing down your thoughts in a journal you are able to see just what kind of thoughts are swirling around in your head. When you notice thoughts that are self-defeating, negative or discouraing, you are able to take the time to write a more truthful, positive thought in it's place. This is good exercise to get yourself into the habit of finding better ways to look at things. As with stress, anxiety, panic or depressive disorders, negative thoughts are typically automatic and dominant. It make take some time to get yourself into this new habit but it is part of the process of getting yourself to create new ways of thinking that are more healthy.

    A big part of recovery has to do with you being able to find those negative thoughts and then learning how to replace them with more positive, truthful thoughts. I cannot stress enough how important it is to do the work in this step. How well you learn this skill and how often you practice it will determine whether or not you fully recover. It is VERY IMPORTANT!

    This step must not be skipped. By doing the work every day you are training yourself to be more proficient in positive self-talk. This is most important and should become almost habitual before attempting to step out and challenge yourself with those bigger steps.

    Let's Begin Journaling!

    Get a journal. You can either purchase one at a store, or you can use any notebook to do this. The choice is yours! Pick a time of day to journal when you are most relaxed and it is quiet. Many people choose to journal at night because they find it helps them focus better. It also helps them get their thoughts out of their head and onto paper before they settle down to sleep. Journaling is easy and there are no rules! All you do is write whatever thoughts come into your mind. It is not uncommon to write a lot and it's not uncommon to write very little. Many times, people have a lot to say while others take time getting in touch with themselves. No matter how much you write, it doesn't matter, all that matters is that you do it. It helps to write the date at the top of the page so you can remember how far you've come in your journey when you look back. Use whatever methods make you feel most comfortable.

    If you choose, you can also do paperless journaling. Many people blog (journal) online through blogging websites. They like to share their thoughts with others while staying anonymous.

    Resources for Journaling

    Positive Thought Replacement Exercise

    Another effective method for getting in touch with the negative thoughts going on inside our heads is to do Positive Thought Replacement. This exercise not only helps you to target your negative thoughts, but it gets you into the habit of looking for more positive, truthful replacement thoughts. When this exercise is done repeatedly over time it helps you to build a new habit called the automatic positive response. When doing this exercise, you will notice that it gets easier the more you do it. It may be difficult at first to find all your automatic negative thoughts but eventually, with practice you will recognize them.

    This exercise is most efficient when practiced on paper. It can be done in line format or included in your daily journaling. Many people try to do this exercise all in their heads but it is usually inconsistent and takes much longer to become a habit. I want to encourage you to do this work on paper as often as you possibly can. However, if you are interested is using a worksheet to do this work, there are many options out there that are free to you. One option is: Challenging Automatic Positive Thoughts Worksheets each time you practice. Simply print out as many copies as you need.

    Are you dealing with Obsessive Thinking?

    Obsessive thinking is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. Most commonly associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, thoughts are persistent and usually based around something that is objectionable by the sufferer. It is not uncommon for people to suffer with obsessive thoughts only without the compulsions - also known as intrusive thoughts, scary obsessive thoughts, and unwanted repetitive thoughts. Although you can do the Positive Thought Replacement worksheet for these types of thoughts, it is also recommended that you also practice the recommended actions listed on the How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts page.

    What about Negative Emotions?

    Remember that emotions such as anger, guilt, grief, and perfectionism have their personal challenges. It's important to write about these things when you are journaling or doing your positive thought replacement worksheet. For tips on dealing with these specific emotions, visit How To Control My Emotions.

    Dealing with Scary Body Symptoms?

    So much of what our body feels when suffering with stress, anxiety, panic and depression is distressing and makes us uneasy making us question whether or not we are suffering with something more severe. So many of the same body symptoms can be associated with other medical problems. So be sure that if you haven't seen your doctor, make an appointment to rule out any physical cause before you begin affirming that your symptoms are not a big deal. But, if you know your symptoms are from stress and not something more serious, you might need to spend some time journaling about these distressing symptoms and use your thought replacement techniques to help yourself sort through your thinking in regards to these thoughts and remind yourself that they although these symptoms are uncomfortable, they are "distressing, not dangerous".

    Additional Resources on Journaling

  • If you are looking for more information on how to write a journal. Shadow Work Journal and Guide for Beginners: An Introduction to Discovering and Healing Your Unconscious Self
  • Tree of Life vintage Leather Journal Notebook - 256 pages, lined, hardcover

  • Step 2 Actions:

    • 1. Write in a journal each day, preferably before bedtime, but this can also be done any time of day and more than once if you choose. Don't pressure yourself, just write whatever comes to mind. Leave some blank writing space at the bottom of the page.

    • 2. Read over your journaling. Do you notice thoughts that are particularly negative or sound hopeless? If so, take this time to rewrite those thoughts in a more positive, optimistic, truthful way at the bottom of your journal page. Do this Positive Thought Replacement Homework at least once a day. If your thoughts are racing around and going through a particularly hard time, it helps to do this homework as many times possible throughout the day. As silly as this feels, it is very important that you DO NOT skip this exercise. Repetition is IMPORTANT and will help you get into the habit of becoming more away of your negative inner dialogue.

    • 3. If you are struggling with obsessive thinking, take the time each day to practice visualization exercises and Positive Thought Replacement Exercises.

    • 4. When you have developed a good routine of journaling everyday, it's time to move onto Step 3 - Exercise . Do not move forward until you are ready!

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