Journal-keeping and diary writing – tracking daily events and happenings in some sort of record book – has been going on for centuries. Except for wanna-be smarty-pants and wise guys (i.e., the “intelligentsia”), poets and writers and Creatives of every stripe, and young girls teetering on the brink of woman-ness, the keepers of these journals mostly recorded daily events and happenings with an exterior point of view.
People with a visual orientation did sketchbooks.
Most everyday journalers used their ledgers, record books and such to document and track their doings in the world, stay on top of their obligations, commitments and schedules, and note the progress made and the results of the actions taken.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that a New York City psychologist, Ira Progoff, started exploring the therapeutic power of reflective and expressive writing to help his patients explore the inner workings of their own minds.
By the mid-1960’s the good doctor had figured out a system to help his patients literally read their own minds by writing down their thoughts, perceptions, and reactions to the events in their lives. This helped them achieve a deeper clarity about how they were walking in the world and insights into the why of it all.
Progoff shared his findings and the techniques he developed by offering workshops and classes for “journal consultants” in the use of what he called the Intensive Journal method.
He also wrote two books (among many others), AT A JOURNAL WORKSHOP: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Creative Ability and THE PRACTICE OF PROCESS MEDITATION: Internal Journal Way to Spiritual Experience, in which he detailed his process and gave do-it-yourself instructions that regular people could use to look at and ponder on the life-stories they were making their own selves.
The idea caught on. More people wrote about the idea and it spread out wider and wider. For over four decades now journaling for self-discovery and self-exploration has been an accepted part of the postmodern Way of personal growth and emotional wellness.
The benefits of journaling have been well-documented over the years. One of the most comprehensive overviews I’ve seen about “effective journaling” is a 2021 post by writer-researcher Courtney E. Ackerman in the Positive Psychology blog, “83 Benefits of Journalling for Depression, Anxiety and Stress”.
Click the button below to read her thoughts and the results of her own extensive explorations about the subject.
NOT JUST WOO-WOO
Award-winning Netflix cinematographer and vlogger Matt D’Avella, of the documentary “Minimalism” fame, decided to make a 30-day challenge of daily journal writing.
His candid YouTube video, “What I Learned from Journaling for 30 Days” was published in 2019 and details his experience with trying to develop journaling as another of his entrepreneurial-type, self-development routines/habits.
For him, the experience was not particularly enjoyable, but he did find it very useful. It is one more tool of the many in his life toolbox.
Motivational speaker and self-development author Mel Robbins developed what she calls “The 5-Second Journal” as an adjunct of her 2017 international bestseller book, THE 5-SECOND RULE: Transform Your Life, Work and Confidence With Everyday Courage. She did a YouTube video about it, “The Science Behind the 5 Second Journal” in 2018.
Robbins is a master at making the time and the space that can allow for effective use of a proven tool for making your dream come real. Her method works and doesn’t take a heck of a lot of time.
ADVANCED JOURNALING FOR THE WRITERS AMONG US
Okay. I get it. Not everybody gets off on the power of words. Not everybody enjoys the process of making words march and dance. Not everybody needs a pen in hand to figure out what they are thinking.
Here are some things I’ve noticed from my own journaling practice:
- Journaling is especially useful for people who drive themselves crazy running loops on themselves that never go anywhere. Journals can turn your recurring mind-loops into wheels that help you move forward.
After you start noticing that you are thinking the same go-nowhere useless thought for the 27th time, you can snort at yourself, dump the thing on the side of the road and keep on going — maybe finding other, more effective thoughts to think on.
- Journaling is a very cool way to explore core values when you are called to resolve problems that you encounter in your life.
Examining the crises that you face and checking out how you think and move as indications of the values/things you hold most dear is really valuable. It can be a way to pinpoint and clarify how you actually feel about a situation.
Journaling can help you pin down all those scooting thoughts of yours until you can figure out which ones are truest for you.
- Journaling about a situation acknowledges the experience you are having and can be used to see what you bring to a problem, how you might be contributing to it, and what you can do about it. You can make judgments for yourself about whether what you did was effective and why or why not.
It can help you see the resources you bring with you to meet the situation as well as show you how you might be exacerbating a bad situation because of your own biases, assumptions and pre-judgments.
Journaling can be used to shine a spotlight on your own shadows that contribute to the brambles of a situation.
IF YOU ARE A PART OF THE PROBLEM, IT GETS REALLY HARD FOR YOU TO BE AN EFFECTIVE PART OF THE SOLUTION unless you can see what you are doing that makes the thing worse and you can work on changing that.
As you work towards a resolution of a problem, you’ll be able to look at how you feel about the moves you make, the actions you take and the results you get.
This is a good way to develop a sense of control about a situation. (You don’t get to control the circumstances. You don’t get to control other people. You do get to control yourself.)
- Journaling is valuable as a one-on-one with yourself. It helps you see the pathways through the labyrinth of your mind and you can find different ways and opportunities to get yourself unstuck from the tangles and weird loops in there.
Journaling is a most effective antidote for boredom and for lonely. You make friends with you.
Maybe, if you keep on doing it, you can even learn to trust yourself enough that standing in ambiguity and facing uncertainty won’t faze you so much because you will know and trust that you can meet whatever comes at you the best way you know how and you will know that your best is pretty durned good!
At the very least, you will begin to recognize your signature moves and you will be able to figure out whether the things work or not.
- You can use your journal to record other, different mindsets you encounter in the world – from other people, from books and the various social media platforms. Questions you might want to ask are these:
- How do these mindsets fit in with your life now and your life as you want it to be?
- How are those mindsets working for the people who use them?
- How do you feel about these mindsets and about the people who use them?
- Over time journals can become a resource – like an encyclopedia or book of maps. They can become encapsulations and snapshots of sections of your mindset (at a particular time, in a particular circumstance) as well as a record of what you did and how it turned out – what worked, what did not.
Journaling is not the whole of life. For one thing, you have to go out into the world and live your life in order to have something interesting to write about.
Here’s a poem:
ONLY THE GOOD GIRLS….
Maybe Tallulah-baby was right.
“Only the good girls keep diaries,” she said.
Good girls spazz over their smallish days
And go ballistic over slights and slurs,
Turning soap-eratic about the static,
Making trauma-dramas out of
All the miniscule foothills unconquered,
The infinitesimal creeks unforded.
Good girls agonize over poignant situations
Fraught with the he-said/she-said
(Or even worse) the what-they-did-and-why.
They enumerate and iterate
The perfect words left unspoken,
The telling phrases that languish behind locked lips,
Stretched into nicey-nice vanilla smiles.
Tallulah-baby pointed out
That bad girls don’t have the time
(To keep diaries, I mean).
She was probably right about that one too.
(Ummmm…are “journals” the same thing as “diaries,” do ya think?)
created by Netta Kanoho
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