Journaling be very helpful in understanding who we are and as a result it can foster better mental health.
Journaling is the process of recording your thoughts or activities on a regular basis. The value in doing this exercise is it often provides clarity in thoughts that may be in our minds or it allows one to visually experience and see the words that clutter the recesses of our brains.
No matter the reason for practicing journaling daily, there are many ways to do it. Some people put pen to paper. Others use electronic media to type or draw. Some people paint or make things (think of art as therapy).
Images have often been used to record important historical events. Petroglyphs depicting a successful hunt were created with charcoal from a fire. Later sharp stones were employed to make images on rocks (petroglyphs).
One of this country’s founding fathers, Ben Franklin, used a daily journal that he called a “scheme.” As part of this scheme, every morning he asked himself, “what good shall I do today,” followed by “what good have I done today,” every evening.
Successful business owners document events that take place within the business. This was a natural routine of Virgin Group owner Sir Richard Branson who used a book style journal to capture written events, drawings, and doodles.
From a mental health perspective, it can be very helpful to engage in a routine of self-reflection. Your emotions, thoughts and behaviors change and journaling is a good way to see how those changes have taken place over a lifetime or a period of time. Much like how a photo album reveals how your physical appearance has changed over time, a hard copy journal shows how your interior world has also changed.
In my personal family tree, several family members were diagnosed with schizophrenia. For one of these individuals, I had the opportunity to see drawings they completed over the course of several decades. When reviewing these it really struck me that what they drew and how they drew seemed to parallel how they lived life over time. This really helped me understand their interior world much better.
I recommend journaling to many of the clients I see in my therapy practice. Many of these clients report that they benefit from a routine of self-reflection while journaling and when shared in a counseling session there is an additional benefit to the work we do together. Journaling also helps cement the connection to and recall about important events or thoughts.
To get the most out of your journaling practice, consider incorporating three things: images, felt-sense, and words.
Images. Researchers have shown and psychological theory supports the belief that images allow for better recall of events compared to using only words. Artistry and artistic talent is not necessary so add the drawing or doodle. Any doodle will do. Thin and thick. Bold and subtle. Single color or lots of colors. Abstract and detailed. It really doesn’t matter.
Felt-sense. As you draw, doodle, or write, pay attention to your body. What body sensations, breathing changes, thoughts can you identify? Maybe a song pops into your head? What is important is what you notice and can observe without getting distracted.
Words. You may find if you combine images and your felt-sense, then words will flow easier and this will lead to deeper self-understanding or connections and aha moments. This is because you are engaging both sides of the brain. And that leads to more meaningful writing.
I recommend hardcopy journaling, that is pen or pencil to paper. For those people who are more comfortable with electronic media, there are several apps that allow various ways to record your thoughts, emotions, and felt sense. These apps can be just as helpful for some people, but they are not for everybody.
Whether you use a hardcopy journal or an electronic version, consider journaling on a daily basis to enhance your mental health and to help you make sense of your life journey.