Journaling is an ancient tradition dating back to 10th century Japan. The great minds of history as well as many creators, writers, innovators and thinkers have kept or still keep a journal, a precious tool for following thought. For many, it is a creative necessity. For others, a place of exploration and for some an art form in itself.
“I never travel without my journal. You always have to have something great to read on the train. ” - Oscar Wilde
Emptying your heart out and throwing down everything you feel without censorship is undoubtedly true "writing therapy." It is one of the most effective acts of self-care besides being one of the cheapest, along with meditation.
We are sharing with you everything (or almost) our "need to know" about journaling in order to help you build a better life, an emotionally, mentally stronger healthier life.
Christine Michaud, Author, Speaker, Producer and Host, specializing in Positive Psychology, who’s kept a diary at different times in her life, shares her tips with you to increase your level of happiness.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
The mind is a surprising place. We often don't know what it may be hiding, until we start searching it from the inside. In other words, to know what to write in your journal, you just have to write something in it, letting your intuition guide you.
Strictly write your stream of consciousness. It's not meant to be art, or to be particularly clever, funny, or deep. Take the opportunity to expel anything that makes you angry or sad, or anything that makes you happy or peaceful. In fact, whatever swirls in your subconscious and scrambles in your heart.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE THE TIME?
As soon as you wake up, write a few “morning pages” which will bring calm to the rest of the day. They say we would have 45 minutes before the ego's defenses kick in in the morning. Use the authenticity you have in this time.
Christine Michaud strongly encourages, if your schedule allows for it, to write liberating "morning pages" (miracle morning) which, among other things, serve to clear your head and may also bring out certain emotions. A kind of "morning cleansing" to create space for more beneficial ideas throughout the rest of your day and thus unleash your creativity.
You can also choose to do this before going to bed, so that you can write down the ups and downs of your day. If you hang onto a negative emotion, be sure to find a tool or a possible solution to move in the right direction. Finish by writing down which emotions you would like to spend the next day in.
No need to write for a long time. Just 5 minutes can make a big change in your mood. If you do it even longer- 10, 20 or 30 minutes- you will surely reach an even deeper state of your subconscious.
As Christine Michaud mentions, it’s important to try to do a little, every day, in order to create a habit and obtain lasting and concrete results, but without pressure.
Try it for 1 month. Then review what you think you have learned and the progress you have made.
WHAT CAN I WRITE?
According to Christine Michaud, the gratitude journal is proven to be an extremely effective tool for achieving all kinds of goals and improving your quality of life. Gratitude journaling even turns out to be a scientifically proven way to overcome several psychological challenges. The exercise can be limited to simply making a list of things that made you feel good during your day and that you’re grateful for, all those little moments that give you hope and light you up: having a good coffee, meditating, walking your dog, seeing friends...
It’s also a good exercise to learn to thank what is going well in your life, do you have a roof under your head and can you eat your fill?
It has the potential to change the direction of your entire life: from scarcity to abundance.
Cultivating gratitude allows us to get back to the basics of what surrounds us: admiring nature, enjoying the presence of our neighbors, taking the time to cook...
Label your emotions
The healing power of expressing your "feelings" is very significant. If you are in distress about something, set aside 3-4 days to take notes on it. Exposing your anger, sadness, and other painful sensations helps release their intensity, in order to give you peace of mind.
Recognize traumatic events
You can also record your emotional responses to events that have occurred, including those that have brought their share of stress, in order to "process" the information.
This will help you organize the said event in your mind, perhaps make sense of it and reduce the symptom of post-trauma avoidance. If possible, record things as they happen in order to better manage your anxiety.
Keep a success journal
Also write about your successes - big and small - and your accomplishments for which you are proud.
Expose your dreams on a large scale
Write down your outlook on life, your biggest goals, deepest passions, and the important things that appear to be on the horizon for you. It will all be refined over time as you think about it.
Keep a record
Pencil in the most notable ups and downs of your life, which might also get you thinking and laughing afterward. A journal can serve as a record of your progress towards your life goals, also having the potential to keep you motivated.
Identify a list of daily tasks
Some people use their journal at various times in their lives more as a planning tool, with a list of daily tasks to do. Writing these kinds of things, whether personal or professional, helps keep your mind clean so that you make room for what is really important. Finding ways to organize yourself in a balanced way is still a great way to reduce stress.
Scribble, draw, sketch
Why not occasionally fill your journal with scribbles? The point is also to take a moment to relax, and not necessarily to meticulously record everything that happens to you.
Usually, problems are solved from an analytical perspective in the left brain. Although sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging the creativity and intuition of the right brain. Writing offers the possibility of finding unexpected solutions. For example, when disagreeing with a peer - rather than ignoring him - throwing the words out on paper will help to understand the other's point of view, in order to hope to find a just solution to the conflict.
As Christine Michaud, a specialist in Positive Psychology suggests, writing a journal can also lead to a pivoting of the emotion, i.e. moving from something negative and trying to understand the positive that emerges. You become a seeker of positivity by focusing on the light! For example, despite the challenge this question brings, why is the pandemic a good thing? Perhaps it made you realize that everything was moving far too fast in your life and that the pandemic has led you to spend more time with your children and to be in better communion with nature, who knows! Or the tangible changes to the environment.
WHAT CAN I GET FROM IT?
Sleep like a log
By writing about traumatic events or the like, your brain will be more or less freed from the extremely trying task of dealing with this experience. You also risk increasing the length and quality of your sleep.
Christine Michaud also suggests doing this exercise in the evening, in order to keep your memory sharp and to sleep better. You program your brain in a positive way and may even wake up in the same state the following morning.
Purge some of your anxiety
Regular journaling is a great practice for overall stress reduction. It helps you focus on the resources you already have in your life, and build your long-term resilience.
Reduce symptoms of depression
Expressive writing may not reduce the frequency of intrusive thoughts in depressed people, but it does moderate their impact on symptoms. By monitoring these daily (even more so during therapy), you will be able to recognize the triggers, and experiment with ways to better control them.
Open your mind
As you write, you could more clearly discover situations and people that are toxic to you, affecting your emotional well-being.
Create a certain order
Journaling helps to create order in your life when the world you gravitate in is in chaos. This practice can also be used to prioritize and accomplish the most important tasks.
In his book On est foutu, on pense trop! Dr. Serge Marquis names our mental hamster as a "Pensouillard". "It's a tiny little hamster. He runs in a wheel inside our head... Some days he runs faster than others..."
By writing regularly, you will get to know yourself better, become aware of what makes you happy, and improve your mood. Don't forget to stay connected with your inner self, your body's needs, dreams, and life goals. Journaling will solidify your identity.
Clarify your thoughts
Writing definitely improves decision making and critical thinking. It calms and clears your mind!
Put things in perspective
Crushing also allows you to prioritize your problems, fears, and concerns so that you can actually realize that what is happening to you may not be as important as what you mean by it.
Viktor Frankl, Austrian Neurologist and Psychiatrist, is among others recognized for his Logotherapy or Love Therapy. You have to try to come back to these traumatic events, to varying degrees and really ask yourself, what did it bring me? How can this event transform me? Instead of trying to figure out why this or these event(s) happened. This process, admittedly long-term at times, could even lead you to find your life mission. Thank to Christine Michaud for the reference.
Heal his wounds
Research from New Zealand suggests that this practice can even be used to heal wounds faster. Not only will you be able to free yourself from repressed feelings, but you will solidify your identity.
Increase your mindfulness and memory capacities
The practice of writing can improve the brain's information input, processing, storage, and retrieval.
Take control over your life
Identifying things that otherwise might not go unnoticed, such as patterns in the way you think, the influences behind your feelings and behavior, stressful events and any incongruity in your life: this is what journaling can do for you. It will be easier to plan the options that come before you and make progress towards your goals.
SOME TIPS TO HELP YOU!
Create a little cocoon
Writing in bed upon awakening or in a private, personalized space is ideal for enjoying exercise. Wrap yourself in a blanket that you like to snuggle up in.
Give yourself time to think
After practice, try to take a moment - free from distractions - to think about what you just shared in your journal.
Create a routine
Start or end your day with your journal and a cup of coffee or tea in your hand. Gently play your carefully curated playlist. Make journaling fun and relaxing.
Write in the third person
If there is something that is bothering you, choose to address it to the 3rd person.
Always have your journal handy
Whether it's when you're stuck in a line, on the bus, waiting for the dentist, or whenever you feel lost, write.
Keep the secret
Confidentiality is the key to letting go without censorship.
Choose a theme
If you lack inspiration, pick a theme for the day, week, or month (for example: sadness, change, anger, gratitude).
Forget grammar and spelling
When you compose, let the words flow freely. Don't worry about the structure or whatever. There is no need to "look good" on the page.
You will see how liberating it is to communicate honestly, as if no one else will read what you share. Try to start a dialogue with your inner child.
To mark a sentence a day, or even a word every day, is already a great victory. It may also seem easier to start where you are in your life at this precise moment (and not to go back in the past).
Write a thought instead of surfing the net
The next time you stop for the tenth time to check your emails or social media, take a few extra seconds to jot down a single thought that has been in your mind so far today (on a post-it or in your newspaper).
Set a reminder
If you're more of the type who feels secure in a certain routine, set an alarm to set aside a time in your day to put your words on paper. But be careful that this pleasant distraction does not turn into an overwhelming task.
Vary your ways of doing things
Although it is advisable to try to write by hand for a better recall of the memory, it can be good to vary your methods: by hand in a romantic way, or on a computer if it is more comfortable, or using a tape recorder. Some people even like to deal with their non-dominant hand.
Journaling is a mindful practice that has been shown to reduce anxiety, so naturally there is tremendous pressure to be good at it. Forget that! You don't have a moral obligation to complete every page. The more you let journaling be a fun way to relax, the more you'll want to do it, no matter what the outcome.
WHAT ARE THE TRAPS?
Trap: Trying to project too much into the future
Trap: Turning into a passive observer of your life
Tip: Make sure you live your life instead of thinking about how you're going to write it.
Trap: Write only about yourself
Trap: Let the journaling exercise become a self-blame instead of finding solutions
Tip: In case you might be going through a rough time, if writing sounds more like ruminating, it's the last thing in the world you need. Better to think of journaling as a fix to your life course and to promote action.
Trap: Wallowing only in the negative aspects of your life
Tip: You might be reluctant to relive negative experiences or drag memories that you'd rather forget. In order not to leave yourself in an introspective state for too long, incorporate positive thoughts or accessible future plans.
Trap: Focusing on the perfection and details of the act of writing
Perfectionists can be so concerned with the readability of their work, their calligraphy, or other peripheral factors that they cannot focus on the thoughts and emotions they are trying to access.
Writing retreats and workshops
There are "writing retreats and workshops" teaching how to use this medium as a tool of life. We are giving you a few examples below, available from spring 2021, but there are surely several more.
Spa Eastman: Guylaine Cliche – Writing Coach, Literature and Language Graduate, Author and Speaker – invites you to explore an often-unsuspected vision of writing: L’écriture comme outil de vie. The process has nothing to do with literature or grammar. In a relaxed atmosphere, everyone is encouraged to internalize, get in contact with themselves and find peace. By writing, you feel your heart both full and light. And you don't need to be a master in the field to access this activity.
Le Monastère des Augustines: An Non-Profit-Organization whose primary mission is conservation and the enhancement of the heritage of the Augustines sisters. Le Monastère was opened to the public in 2015 and offers comprehensive health programs. Following a routine, as the eight Augustines still do in one of the oldest inhabited monuments in North America, is sure to help you decompress. You will have the wonderful sensation of sleeping in a museum. Through a three-part program (introspection, first draft and rewriting), the host Fanie Demeule – Graduate of a master's degree in literary creation (UdeM) and of a PhD in literary studies (UQAM), author and co-writer –welcomes to transport yourself through words. As we are unable to physically travel abroad, this writing retreat: Écrire le voyage, invites you to do so through the channels of writing travel memories. The workshop is aimed at everyone, novice writers as well as the more seasoned, and takes on an introspective aspect by aiming to develop confidence in one's own creative capacities.
"It's very difficult to complain (to your journal) about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without taking constructive action." - Dr. Cameron
This dear diary is for you alone! With that in mind, you'll feel incredibly free to pour your authentic self on the white pages. Definitely worth a try! All you have to lose is a few minutes of your time!
P.S. You can even do this journaling exercise with your children, to get them accustomed to using this medium and benefits for themselves.
Thank you very much to Christine Michaud for this most inspiring interview.
You can find all her books and presentations on her website.