When I started AllSwell almost 5 years ago, there was a real “Dear Diary” stigma attached to the act of putting pen to paper. Journaling had a PR problem, more closely associated with adolescent angst than legitimate self-care. Over the past half-decade of proselytizing about the benefits of keeping a journal, I’ve seen the public’s perception shift. Journaling is now the new meditation which was the new yoga.
There’s a full gamut of scientifically proven benefits to maintaining a regular writing practice. It manages anxiety and stress, helps cure PTSD, even speeds wound healing and curbs asthma. The list goes on and on. It’s good for you mentally, emotionally and physiologically.
I began hosting journaling workshops after getting feedback from consumers that they didn’t know how to journal or that they were “bad” at it. I’ve kept a journal since I was 8 years old so it’s always been an innate, supportive experience for me and I wanted to make it accessible for more people. So, I created a curriculum and packed it with tools, tips and grounded it in all the astounding scientific data that exists about the importance of putting pen to paper.
Short on time? Try this
Have trouble fitting in that 20 minute guided meditation or 60 minute yoga class? You don’t have to register on Class Pass in order to journal. No mantras, mats or special outfit necessary. You just need a few minutes a day, paper and pen. For someone just starting out I suggest 4 x 4 x 4: try out 4 minutes of free-writing a day, do it 4 times a week and stick with it for 4 weeks straight.
How to get started
If you’re unsure where to start, pick a book of poetry that speaks to you (personally I’m a big fan of Mary Oliver and W.S. Merwin). Flip to a random page and read a poem. Absorb that, see what comes up for you and let it be the jumping off point for your journaling session. Let someone else’s words inform your own.
A timed free-write is an effective tool because it often forces you to go further than you would have otherwise. Choose a period of time that’s a little longer than what’s immediately comfortable (8 versus 5 minutes, for instance.) Often it’s in the last few minutes where the truest gems reveal themselves, once I’ve pushed past the day to day static. In “The Artist’s Way” author Julia Cameron suggests 3 pages each morning, which is also a worthy practice. Try both, experiment and see what works for you.
Make a gratitude list
My friend, the nutritionist Dana James, introduced me to what she calls 9 Minutes of Nourishment: 3 minutes of cat-cow stretching to get into your body, 3 minutes of listing out what you’re grateful for, and 3 minutes of writing out your vision for the day (or beyond). It’s a short but potent combo. Alternatively, you can focus specifically on cultivating gratitude, which is akin to a super-power and can literally change your personal happiness setting. Write out whatever you’re grateful for, big and small: people, places, experiences, natural elements, etc. Afterwards, I feel lighter and more optimistic. It’s remarkable to see and feel the internal shift occur from such a simple and straightforward exercise.
Check in with your body
If I’m particularly buzzing from being technologically over-stimulated and over-scheduled, I like to do a sense check. Drop in to your body and check in – what are you smelling, hearing, seeing, etc.? How does your back feel against the chair? Slowing myself down to write this out briefly gives me a welcome respite and changes my focus to the here-and-now. It’s a system reboot.
Choose your tools, make it a ritual
Ballpoint or pencil, lined or unlined, elegant Hermes or humble composition notebook? What kind of materials speak to you? I’d love it if you used an AllSwell notebook, but it’s more important for you to pick what feels right for you personally. I tend to journal twice a day (morning over matcha and at night in bed before I switch off the lights) but jotting down notes on the subway into work isn’t any less worthy. It can transform a hum-drum part of your day into an analog creative expression that is just for you, no judgements or “likes.”
Don’t worry, just do
These are suggestions to use as starting points but explore and find what suits you. Ultimately the journaling practice you stick with is going to be the one that’s most effective. Just like you, it will likely morph and evolve over time. Most importantly, don’t worry about whether you are doing it well. There’s no right or wrong, there’s just do.
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