I remember making my first self-reflection journal entry in 2008. It was a green, A5, soft covered book with lined pages. Whilst it started out as ‘just a notebook’ over time it became my confidant and wise adviser. I’d not anticipated what a powerful and useful tool that journaling would become for me.
My journal became an invaluable resource that I could turn to whenever I needed it. It became a place where I could freely articulate my thoughts and feelings. A place where I could make sense of my experiences and release pent up emotions of sadness, anger or fear. It increased my awareness of myself and my life so that I could make better choices and move forward in a positive direction. My journal was also valuable for record and rejoicing my achievements or happy events and the things I felt grateful for.
I’ve not stopped journaling since 2008. I now have quite a collection of different notebooks on my shelf of varying shapes, sizes and colours. I see personal reflective journaling as an important part of my self-care routine as well as it being a method that assists with my continuous personal development.
The idea of putting pen to paper as a means of personal development goes back for many centuries. Although reflective journaling is an old method it is still just as relevant today as it ever was.
Reasons for starting a reflective journal
Self-reflective journaling can be used to:
Gain different perspectives
Put your thoughts and feeling in order
Vent strong emotions
Recognise your achievements
Discover patterns in your life
How to start a reflective journal?
Although there can be many different ways to journal, here is a quick start guide. You will need:
A notebook & pen or a computer
Although a computer can be used for journaling I personally prefer to use paper and pen. My thoughts flow more naturally when I write and there is something about the tactile nature of writing. I also find it easier to be more creative on paper, I can illustrate my writing or use an unconventional layout.
I know that some people prefer to use a keyboard to type their words. There are some advantages to doing it this way. For example, it might be easier to keep the journal private or you might be able to type faster than you can write.
When starting out you might want to try both methods out to see how they feel. You will most likely find a preference for one or the other. There is no right or wrong way to journal, the important thing is to do it in the way that works best for you.
Set aside time
People often report time as being their biggest challenge to journal writing. I often hear people say that they either never got around to starting it or that they started it but it soon got pushed aside for other things.
If you find this is the case, It might be helpful to schedule journal writing in your diary. You could also set aside a specific time of day in which you can write so that you can get into a regular routine of doing it.
If you’re really pushed for time I’ve included some ‘fast journaling ideas’ later on in this blog. These can be useful in a pinch. Even doing a quick journal is more beneficial than not doing it at all.
However, one of the beauties of self-reflective journaling is that it creates space in your life for you. It’s easy to get caught up in other tasks at the expense of activities that can be useful for our well-being. So whilst doing a quick journal has its place it’s not a replacement for also setting aside more substantial time for more detailed entries now and again.
There are no rules
Another challenge when writing a journal is that people can initially feel self-conscious and can be critical of their writing. However, this is your journal, you are writing it for you alone, no one else will see it (unless you chose to show them). There is no right or wrong way of doing it. Grammar, spelling and layout don’t matter here. Let your thoughts flow freely and uncensored onto the page.
Secure your personal journal diary
It’s important to find somewhere that you can keep your journal safe. Your journal is a place for you to share your innermost thoughts and feelings. If you felt that it could end up being seen without your permission you would more than likely find yourself monitoring what you write.
Journaling ideas and techniques
There are many different ways you can write your journal. Play around with different techniques and see what works for you. I often find myself using a mixture of ideas depending on what I’m reflecting on or writing about.
Here are some ideas:
Writing from different perspectives
Writing from different viewpoints can help us to explore issues from different angles.
You could try writing from an external perspective. Like you’re on the outside of yourself looking in. What some people refer to as the ‘observer self’. For example, ‘I noticed I felt upset about….’ would become ‘I noticed you felt upset about….’
You could write from the imaginary perspective of another person. It could be someone you know, such as a friend, family member, an acquaintance or someone you have difficulties with. However, you can also write from the perspective of someone you’ve never met, such as a character from the TV or a book or a character you’ve created.
You can even write from inanimate objects. It may seem a little bizarre to write in this way but it can be both surprising and interesting to see what comes up. One way to write from objects is:
Close your eyes
Take a few deep breaths
Then as you open your eyes notice the first object you see
Then write from that object. For example, ‘I am a candle and….’ then just allow the words to flow. Don’t think too hard as you do it. The idea is to relax and let the writing go where it needs.
Creating a dialogue
You don’t have to write from only one voice for the whole of a journal entry. You can switch from one perspective to another to create an imaginary dialogue between the different viewpoints. You can hold dialogues between:
Yourself – A conversation between your embodied self (ES) e.g. speaking from the ‘I’ and the external self (XS) speaking for the perspective or ‘you’. For example, ES: I had a reaction to what that person said earlier and I’m not sure why. XS: You did seem a bit annoyed by what they said. What was it about the words that had that impact on you?
A friend, family member, someone you struggle with or an acquaintance
Different aspects of yourself (e.g. your worrying self, logical self, happy or sad self) or from different parts of your body.
You could write a letter to yourself. One example of this is to write to a younger version of yourself. In the letter you could tell your younger self lessons you now know that you wished you had known then, or maybe just offering them your love and support.
You could write an angry letter to someone who has upset or annoyed you. If you try this really let go and say all you want to say, be as unpleasant as you want knowing that the person will never get to see this. For more information on this, you might want to visit my blog ‘creative ways for managing anger’.
Quick journaling ideas
If you find yourself short on time but you want to add to your journal here are some ideas:
Lists – You can list your ideas rather than having to write full sentences. This is a great way of getting thoughts down quickly if they are coming too fast to write completely.
Spider gram – Spider grams allow us to quickly throw down ideas but it can also be helpful to see the links between things.
Set a timer – Say you only have five minutes spare, set a timer and write until the alarm goes off. Setting a timer means you don’t have to clock watch whilst writing. This will not only be distracting but take you out of that reflective mindset. It also means you don’t get carried away and possibly miss an important appointment.
Sometimes words can feel inadequate to describe what we’re trying to say. If this is the case you could draw, paint, scribble or create a collage to express yourself.
It doesn’t matter about the level of your creative ability to be able to make use of this. I’ve written a couple of blogs on creative expression. The first one covers the idea that you don’t need to be an artist to be creative.
If you’re not sure where to start with your journal here are some ideas on the kind of things you can write about:
Something in the media that you have a reaction to
Something from your past
Your hopes and dreams
Things you are grateful for that day
Your happiest and saddest times
Your strengths and things you want to develop.
If you feel stuck for ideas you can do an internet search for journaling prompts. You can also get books that pose a reflective question followed by blank spaces for you to write your answers in.
The list of what to write about is endless. Once you start writing your journal you will find yourself coming up with more and more ideas on what you can reflect on.
Where can I find more information about journaling?