Of all the strategies I’ve used in my recovery: keeping a journal has to be the number-one technique. I started out in college with a Journal course where we kept a journal and read our entries in class and at the end of the semester the professor took the books and graded them.
His words circa 1986 were prophetic when he critiqued me:
“And so you have learned, earlier than most, that life is not all of a piece, and some people make it and some people don’t. I deeply deeply admire what you see as your shyness; I see your courage and tenacity so great that I know you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams. And your success will bring you all the more joy in that it won’t have been easily won.”
How did he intuit this? Two years later: I had a breakdown. A year after that, I picked up a pen and started journaling again: first in loose leaf binders and then in hardbound journals and as of seven years ago in five-subject spiral-bound notebooks.
Keeping a journal has three prime benefits:
It gives you better mental and physical health. A study conducted over a decade ago revealed that students who kept a journal recording how they felt about the events in their lives had fewer sick days.
Journaling is also an effective way to document your life in the present moment at the same time you list goals for creating positive changes in the future.
What you write down in black-and-white becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the 1990s when I was floundering, I would write in hardbound journals my own quotes to cheer me on during this time:
“Action cures fear.” “When life throws you a curve, hit it out of the ball park.” I envisioned myself hitting the ball out of the park on numerous occasions.
I’m convinced that writing things down: whether SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-sensitive, or inspirational quotes, enables you to make things happen in real life.
Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way tells the reader to write “morning pages” as soon as you wake up in the morning: 3 pages of free-flowing thoughts you get down on paper to get your creativity fired up every day.
You might not know what to write. It can be as simple as: The birds are chirping outside on the fire escape. Or: I don’t know what to write, so I’ll write anything. It seems I have something to write once in a blue moon. Blue moon you old devil.
I recommend you try this out: there are different ways of keeping a journal based on your preference. You can write every day or when the mood strikes; in the morning or at night; fast or slow; listening to music in an empty room or at a cafe noisy with coffee freaks; in a notebook or on a computer.
You can journal privately only for yourself or create a blog using Blogger or WordPress. Remember that a blog is a publicly viewed forum on the Internet that anyone can read: your mother, a significant other, your employer or other voyeurs.
Sometimes: you just want to get out all the thoughts rattling around in your head on your own. Unlike a visible blog, a journal is for your eyes only and it’s off-limits to your husband or other intimate partner or family members.
You can create a better future for yourself when you first visualize it in print. You have the option of writing down your own life script or love script in vivid detail, typing it up, and taping it to index cards to re-read throughout the day.
The authors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books famously wanted to sell 1.5 million copies of their books so re-read this goal they printed on index cards every day. They sold something like 1.3 million books so they came darn close. At first, these two guys couldn’t even get a publisher interested in them.
The ultimate third benefit of keeping a journal is that you are documenting your life. You are telling yourself: “I exist. My life matters.”
Every day is a new chapter in the novel of your life.
One rule of thumb I adhere to: The act of describing things in glorious detail. Instead of saying you went grocery shopping today you can write: I went to Bella Luna Market and bought some heirloom tomatoes. They were bursting with flavor.
Another study compared the journal of two women. The one who write things down in vivid detail lived longer than the other one who wrote plain verse.
It’s something to think about: keeping a journal.
I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences keeping a journal or blog.
Feel free to give us the URL of your blog so community members here can read it.
Mental Health Activist