Journaling dates back to antiquity. Perhaps the oldest form of journaling is the letter. Scholars believe that the practice of letter writing began with ambassadors who sent letters from a foreign kingdom back to their native land describing their experiences and observations and the other information they gathered.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. Forget about grammar, punctuation, and complete sentences. Write what you want and say it how you want.
What you choose for your journaling is personal too. You may choose a beautifully bound book, a spiral notebook, your laptop, or your iPad—whatever works for you.
Of course, for journaling to be the most effective, you must feel free to express yourself in it and know that your words will remain private unless you choose to make them otherwise. Frequently, I have clients expressing concern over someone happening on their journal and reading it. In this case, I suggest one of two things: (1) In the beginning of your journal, include a disclaimer. The disclaimer may read something like this: “This journal is not representative of my life in general. I am dealing with a specific issue (chronic subjugation or chronic compliance) that I want to master. This record is to aid me in overcoming and growing beyond this negative behavior.” And (2) if the thought of someone reading your writing is totally unacceptable to you, you can burn what you’ve written immediately after having reviewed and reflected on your work. Or, if you journal using a computer, you can password protect your entries and even have them encrypted so you are the only person who can access them and read them.
Recording their thoughts and feelings, successful people throughout the centuries have journaled. The artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci, the adventurers’ Lewis and Clark, and the young writer Anne Frank are among those who modeled this practice for us. Perhaps not fully aware of the benefits garnered from journaling, they clearly valued the practice. We now even have scientific evidence supporting the value of journaling.
The University of Texas at Austin psychology professor James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., is a renowned expert in this field regarding the power in recording words and emotions. His extensive research has proven that journaling on a regular basis actually improves the health of the writer. One of the research studies he conducted had volunteer university students give blood samples prior to the assigned writing exercise. Three groups were formed. The first group was instructed to write about something superficial. The second group was told to write only the facts regarding a traumatic event. Assigned to write about a traumatic event and the emotions around that event, the third group shared their deepest thoughts and feelings. Blood samples were taken again after the last day of writing and then six weeks later. The results confirmed earlier research. Having shared in-depth, the third group showed stronger immune function as opposed to the first and second groups.
Of course, you don’t have to write only about traumatic events to experience the health benefits of journaling. Focusing on the chronic subjugation issue in your life and journaling about it in depth will produce increased health too.
Field experiments and a series of lab experiments by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino and her colleagues have determined that reflection in the form of writing (journaling) after work each day for fifteen minutes leads to better performance. She has stated: “When people have the opportunity to reflect, they experience a boost in self-efficacy [belief in their capabilities]. They feel more confident that they can achieve things. As a result, they put more effort into what they are doing and what they learn.” She added, “It’s easy to deceive yourself if you’re just thinking about it, but when you write things down on paper, it’s easier to identify what’s helpful.”
In an article also declaring the health benefits of journaling, social worker Maud Purcell cites that “Scientific evidence supports that journaling provides other unexpected benefits. The act of writing accesses the left side of the brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.”
In my work with clients who journal as well as in my own life as a journaler, I’ve seen a number of other benefits accrue to journaling’s practitioners. Here are just a few.
The clarification you can gain from journaling is more than worth the effort. Clients often share personal and work-related dilemmas in session. Many times when you are upset, angry, and scattered in your thoughts and emotions, confusion reigns. The assignment of writing out the issue at hand will benefit you in terms of expressing your emotions in an acceptable way and lowering the level of your emotional intensity. This exercise is for your benefit, the writer. It is not for you to share with anyone connected to the situation.
After you finish the initial draft, walk away from it and let it be for at least several hours. Even waiting a day or two can help, depending on the intensity of your emotions. During this away time, you will further process your thoughts and emotions. In fact, another purpose of this exercise is to move you from thinking out of your emotions alone to adding your more objective intellect. This provides you with the opportunity to reorganize and reevaluate the material, deleting what you may have decided is inappropriate or poorly said.
Through this process, you will gain insight into possible solutions regarding what you have written and how you may choose to handle the challenge you’re facing. Frequently, you will even come to recognize the point of view of the other(s) involved. Journaling will help you see what would be better left unsaid and what should be communicated and how. This process will guide you into how to prevent potential acceleration from occurring while supporting your efforts to break free from chronic subjugation