Journaling: Writing to Make Things Clear


What do you do to make things clear for yourself?  There are different ways that we make sense of our thoughts and feelings.  When you have something weighing on your mind, what do you do?  Some common ways to express and sort through thoughts and feelings are to call a friend, talk to ourselves, try to distract ourselves, make a pros and cons list, walk it off, and then there is journaling.   Journaling is a way of writing to make things clear.

The Benefits

Writing is powerful for letting others know how we feel, but writing is also powerful for letting ourselves know how we feel.  Have you ever had a time when you had so many thoughts and feelings going through your head that you couldn’t make heads or tails of it?  Writing to make things clear has the power to knock down the cobwebs.  Then you can proceed forward with more intentionality and direction to the mess that is going on inside your head.  Here are some of the benefits of journaling:

  • -get all of the thoughts and feelings out of your head and on to paper
  • -bring insight and new information to what you’re experiencing
  • -provide a clear path to a solution
  • -help clarify what you need and want to make a decision
  • -help clarify your thoughts to share with others what’s going on in your head
  • -organize your thoughts to make them usable
  • -relieve the emotional and physical pressure and stress of holding it all in
  • -get out of your mind what might be hard or socially unacceptable to share with others

Psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker, has found that spending some time writing about struggles that you are going through have a way of changing your physiology and emotion for the better, while keeping it in can be harmful!  I have clients use journaling in coaching too.  We use it between sessions to explore their desires and goals, as well as, what might be holding them back.  This brings clarity and directions which help the client move forward to what they want.

Setting the Stage

But how do you journal?  So many people talk about the benefits of journaling but then how do you actually do it and when do you find the time to make it part of everyday life?  Set yourself up to succeed in journaling and really feel the benefits.  Set the scene first: decide on a time where you can be free to spend 15-30 minutes on it.  Pick a space that is quiet and free of distractions.  Find a space where you feel comfortable and safe.  Then pick a format that you find easy or enjoyable to use.  For example, writing in a journal book, coloring or drawing with words added around your picture, pen and notebook paper, or maybe on your laptop or desktop.  You may have to experiment with the setting and medium a few times before you feel like you have come to a comfortable place.

The Content

What to write?  You may know right off the bat what you need or what to write about as you journal.  If so, go for it. Let yourself write without censoring or editing while you write.  Writing to make things clear needs to be done in a free flowing way, without judgement. Or you may feel the importance of journaling but not know exactly what to write when you journal.  If you have a specific situation that you want to clarify or get your thoughts around try writing what your thoughts and feelings are.  If you are still unclear on how to start here are some possible prompt questions to delve into:

What is the most challenging part of what you are going through right now?

What is the silver lining of what you are experiencing?

What do you have control over in the situation?  And what do you not have control over?

What are you grateful for today?

What gives you purpose and makes your excited for each day?

Envision your life exactly as you would like, what would that be like?  What characteristics would it have?  What people would be involved in this?

Then as you get comfortable with journaling, you can tweak it to be specific to your needs in a situation.  For example, maybe you just need to vent in your writing without forming the thoughts into a usable format.  Just ruminate about the situation and write and write until you can’t write anymore.  Maybe you are struggling to see the positive things in your life at the moment and want to write a gratitude journal.  Maybe you are unclear about what you want for the future in your life, so you want to make a dream or idea journal.  Get it all down on paper.  Getting it down and seeing it, gives your thoughts and feelings power and legs.

The Results

What do you do once you have all of those thoughts and feelings down on paper?  It’s your choice.  You may want to comb through them and organize them.  Or maybe you want to burn your notes to bring closure to what you are going through.  Maybe you can use them to formulate a mission statement or step-by-step action plan.  Maybe its the start of a letter to a friend or family member that you can continue developing to eventually send to them.  

My Experience

Let me share what I do.  I journal as a way of coping with conflict or struggles that I am facing.  I write for however long it takes to get it out.  And honestly, once I get going 20-30 minutes is usually more than sufficient for getting my thoughts down.  Once they are written, I read them over.  Once I read them once, rarely do I ever go back and read them again.  For me, it’s not the finished product of the writing that is so impactful for me.  What it is, is the process of getting it out and working through it as I write.  I am not one that feels the need to go back and look at journals or keep them for a long time because it is the process that makes it helpful for me.

Your Turn

What about you?  What area of your life could benefit from you spending 20-30 minutes journaling and making sense of it?  Turn your excuses and skepticism around and give it a try.  You just might surprise yourself.

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