A friend of mine messaged me on the weekend to say that he was having a tough time. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend and turned to heavy nights out to try and get over it. The time had come where he had realised the same patterns were repeating themselves – his jealousy and insecurities were getting the better of him and damaging his relationships! This sounded very familiar as I too used to fall victim to jealousy, paranoia and insecurity. The thoughts would lead to emotions that I would NOT want to feel, so I projected them in to my relationship with chaotic consequences. The behaviour left me feeling embarrassed and worthless.
My friend came to the realisation that these ‘silly thoughts’ were consuming him, taking up his precious energy and creating a life that he no longer wished to repeat. I was proud of him to of realised this as so many of us fail to do so and simply spend our whole lives on this negative cycle, repeating our bad habits and blaming other people. I always want to help in these situations, but I have learnt that it is a waste of energy to force myself on others. However, on this occasion, my friend asked for advice.
I recommended that he start keeping a journal.
A journal is a great way of recording our thoughts and emotions, as well as keeping track of our behaviour and experiences. I have been keeping a journal now for almost a year and have found it to be the most powerful tool when it comes to self-development. My journal began as a gratitude journal, writing down 3 things I was grateful for and why. It then developed in to a detailed record of my thoughts, feelings, behaviour and experiences, which is incredibly insightful.
Here is a list of benefits to keeping a journal;
1. Notice patterns of behaviour that are self-destructive
Whoever you are, and no matter how successful you are in life or business, we all have self-destructive tendencies. If we are completely honest with ourselves in written word we increase self-awareness and it becomes easy to observe the thoughts that lead to self-destructive behaviour. With this heightened awareness we can consciously choose to detach from the thoughts that we would otherwise allow our unconscious mind to control our behaviour. We can look at the thought processes on paper and see them for what they are – just a thought process! With this perspective, it becomes possible to rewire the brain to interrupt the program and install a new, healthier thought process that leads to a different outcome.
2. Discover the source of your unwanted thoughts and emotions
After keeping a journal for several weeks, it is likely that you will have recorded the same set of thoughts and feelings, just on different days with different triggers. If this is the case then you have just discovered an insight in to your deepest self, a part of you that is hard wired and most likely connected to a past trauma or memory that you have identified with or supressed. This provides the opportunity to take a deeper look into yourself to discover the source of your suffering.
3. Process difficult emotions
Now that you have discovered the source of your suffering, writing about it can help you process the emotion. The same can be said if a new emotion turns up based on a present life experience. It’s not just past trauma that a journal can help uncover, it can also help process current life trauma! By putting pen to paper and asking yourself how you feel, and taking the time to let the mind express itself without judgement, without resistance, simply with an open mind, you will discover emotions that you knew not existed – you may not even have the words to describe them. The point here is that by facing them and FEELING them, they disperse. At this point, the thoughts go away too, clearing your mind and creating space for new healthier thoughts to emerge. Be aware, by avoiding the memory and the emotion, the thoughts WILL continue!
4. Remind yourself of the good times!
A journal isn’t just for recording your bad days, it’s also for recording the good, the excellent and the damn right life changing moments that you will begin to experience once you take action to improve yourself. When times get hard, open your journal and reflect on how you once thoughts, felt, and experienced life. It’s a great way to see how far you’ve come, and to remind yourself of those amazing experiences you were once so grateful for. Just remember, this too shall pass!
5. Thought dumping
Living a fast paced life can create a build-up of thoughts. When the mind gets busy it can be difficult to think clearly, produce good quality work and connect with other people on a deep and meaningful level. When times like this occur, get your pen and paper out and just write whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t need to read well, it doesn’t need to make sense, just write. There have been so many times that what I write makes no sense to me at the time of writing, but when I read it back with a clear head it makes complete sense. In fact, some of my greatest personal insights come from this technique. Don’t think, just write!
Self-expression is the single greatest feeling ever. When we express who we really are, life is amazing. A lot of our suffering comes from hiding in the shadows, being too afraid to show people who we really are in fear of being judged or rejected. A journal becomes your safe space, to express your most authentic self. It can become a platform to discover things about yourself you didn’t know, and the act of writing itself becomes very enjoyable!
When I gave this advice to my friend, he asked me how to keep a journal. I realised that I did not know how to explain this, so I gave it some thought and decided to write this article.
Here a few tips to starting your journal;
1. Get a nice journal that feels good, and a pen you enjoy writing with
Keeping a journal should be an experience that you enjoy and look forward to. I appreciate that developing a new habit can feel difficult, and it’s easy to give up and change your mind, so increase your chances of sticking with your intention by making the experience enjoyable. Choose a journal with a front cover that you like to look at, with paper that you like to feel, and a pen that feels good to write with. Maybe this sounds over the top, but we all know when a pen feels good or not. The way it sits in our hand and the way our hand writing looks will have a direct impact on our motivation to continue with the practice.
2. Start by recording whatever comes to mind, there is no science to it.
Keeping a journal is an artistic exercise, there is no science to it. Start by writing whatever comes to mind. If you are stuck in your head, then write a record of what you are thinking. If you are lost for words reflect on your day, or the day before and write an account of what you got up to. If you had an interesting dream write about it. Whatever it is you write, you’ll begin to connect with your writers’ flow, your creative juices. Remember to be patient with yourself, it may come easy to you or it may take several days before you find a flow, but eventually you will find a technique or style of writing that feels like you.
3. When you feel an undesirable behaviour coming, write down your thoughts and feelings and look at them.
So, something has happened to trigger you. You are about to do that thing you are trying so hard not to do. Maybe it’s a heavy night out with your mates, maybe it’s a cigarette event though you’re trying to quite, or perhaps you’re about to text an ex-partner to express anger, or worse…that you can’t get over them and want to beg them to take you back! We’ve all been there, and we’ve all experienced the regret we feel after doing something we knew we shouldn’t have. Next time you feel an undesirable behaviour coming, stop. Get your pen and paper out and start writing. Don’t think, just write. If this doesn’t stop you from taking action, at the very least it will provide you an insight to the thought process and emotion that triggered the behaviour. This will increase your awareness and increase the chances of changing your behaviour next time this pattern repeats itself. With practice, you will develop the discipline to write down your thoughts and feelings, sit with them, process them, and abort the default behaviour that would have led to instant regret. This is serious progress, so when you get to this stage be sure to give yourself a huge pat on the back!
4. Update your journal regularly – every day is ideal
Keeping a journal is a practice, just like going to the gym. My friend expressed that he wishes to stop the negative thinking NOW, as if there was a magic pill he could take to end the cycle immediately. I explained that that would be like wanting to squat 200kg the first time you visit the gym; it would be impossible! With that thinking, you are likely to do more harm than good, so it’s important to be realistic. If journaling were like squats, start with your body weight, get the technique right and then start adding the weight on as you go. Eventually you;’ll look back and realise you are much stronger then you were when you first started. In order for this to work, it requires practice, so journal regularly – every day is ideal!
5. Read your journal once a week to reflect on your progress
At the end of every week it’s a great exercise to review your journal. Those moments where you were extremely angry and frustrated, upset or emotionally unstable, won’t seem so overwhelming now. Reflecting on your thoughts and emotions increases self-awareness and enables you to look at your moments of weakness with a fresh perspective. You literally get to look at yourself with a new pair of eyes! You’ll realise the problem wasn’t as big as you thought, you may notice how you were the cause of your own suffering, you may even want to laugh at yourself. With this insight, next time you find yourself facing the same problem you can remind yourself that you got through it last time and it will be much easier to process. Keep practicing this and the problem will resolve itself altogether!
So, there you have it. The benefits to keeping a journal, and some tips on how to start. Are you going through a tough time? Are you having thoughts that you no longer want? Why not start journaling today?
Please leave a comment and share with your friends.
Love Will x