Oh, how I love the tool of journaling—It is simple, everyone can do it, it doesn’t cost a dime, and most importantly, it works. The 5-minute journal has popularized the act of journaling. It’s important to note, effective journaling isn’t just putting words on a page. It is a practice that can help you meet goals, organize your thoughts, and enhance your mental health.
Why is journaling so powerful? Because it helps you to become self-aware. Self-awareness not only helps you understand how you’re feeling and how to honor what you need, but it also helps you to identify negative habits and behaviors, so you can stop them in their tracks.
I teach workshops on intention and often teach clients how to effectively journal. So often we hit the ground running for the day, and don’t take the time to check in with ourselves to see how we’re actually feeling. If we don’t know how we’re feeling, it’s impossible to understand and give ourselves what we need in a particular day — mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Emotions and physical feelings can mask themselves as something else, which is why it’s so effective to commit just a few minutes daily to turn inwards and to figure out what’s really going on.
If you’d like to give your journaling a boost or to just better understand why journaling for five minutes can be so effective in promoting self-awareness, here’s what you need to know … in 5 minutes.
How to journal effectively — make it your own
First, start with a journal in which you enjoy writing. The page size, look, and feel have to feel good to you. It is helpful to write in a private and personalized space that is free from distractions and to create a consistent schedule for writing. Some people prefer to start their day off with a journal sesh to align with their feelings and set their intentions, whereas others prefer to wrap up their day with a reflection of all that happened. Neither are right nor wrong, what is important is that you figure out a way that feels right to you, so that you can keep this a consistent practice.
Speaking of consistency, it’s important not to use journaling as a quick fix when you’re feeling off. Making this a consistent habit, and taking note of when you’re feeling really great, will help you to identify why and what made you feel so great. Maintaining consistency in your practice will help you identify behaviors and patterns — both positive and negative. If you’re having a particularly stellar day, what did you do that day that you can do more of in your life? What did you let go of on that day that you want to let go of permanently?
How to get started – WRITE
Now that you have your journal, your sacred spot, and a time of day picked out, it’s time to put pen to paper. Here’s a little tool to help you get started:
W – What to write about – Think about what is going on in your life, current thoughts and feelings, goals and things you may want to avoid or change.
R – Reflect – Take a minute to calm and focus, as you review what you have written.
I – Investigate – Get curious around your thoughts and feelings through your journaling process. It may feel weird, but it can be helpful to channel your inner detective, and look at your current feeling as a case that you’re trying to solve. Some investigations may look like:
- “How am I feeling? → How do I want to feel? → Is there anything standing in the way of that? → What can I do to get to that feeling? → When was the last time I felt that feeling?”
- “Why does this bother me so much? → What is the fear behind this? → How can I choose compassion over fear in this situation?”
- “I am feeling really happy today. → Which of my values have I held true to today? → How can I hold true to my values in some way tomorrow?”
T – Time yourself – Spend at least five minutes (or whatever your desired goal is). If it helps you to be accountable, write down your start and end times.
E – Exit mindfully – End your practice by reading what you’ve written and take a moment to reflect on it. Use a sentence or two to sum up your takeaways. Be sure to use “I” statements. For example, “I am feeling uneasy about ____ and I will address it by doing ____.”
Test out some of these tips above, take with you the ones that work for your practice, and leave the ones that don’t. Like I said before, the most important thing is to make this your own.
Where to begin!? Effective journaling can result in so many positive outcomes that help to benefit wellness and quality of life. Journaling assists in our ability to better take control over our lives and put things into perspective. Journaling can:
- Improve working memory and communication
- Improve sleep
- Boost mood and self-confidence
- Enhance your sense of well-being
- Improve and strengthen your immune system
- Decrease the impact of intrusive thoughts and avoidance
- Improve your quality of life
- Assist in detecting unhealthy patterns in behavior and thought
- Help to identify and accept emotions
- Manage stress and ease symptomatology of mental illness
A study that involved Jason Moser, Associate Professor of Psychology, and researchers of Michigan State University used college students who were all highlighted to have a form of chronic anxiousness. The students were split into two groups and asked to complete a “flanker task” in an attempt to measure accuracy and speed. The first group wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming test for eight minutes before beginning the task.
The second group wrote about what they did the day before. Speed and accuracy were unremarkable. However, the expressive writing group showed more efficient results and used fewer brain resources. Brain activity was measured by using an electroencephalogram (EEG). The research concluded that expressive writing decreased worry and anxiety in the brain.
Journaling Prompts Topics
Still not sure where to start? Below is a list of some of my favorite journal prompts. If you think you don’t know the answer, pretend that you do and just write. You might be surprised what you find out about yourself. Here’s a short list of some of my favorite journaling prompts:
- How am I feeling?
- What do I need?
- What is my truth?
- What is true about this situation? (Especially helpful when feeling anxious about a situation).
- What kind of change am I looking for?
- What do I need to make a change?
- What can I let go of?
- What am I most proud of today/this week/month?
- How do I want to show up?/How did I show up today?
- What is my intention for this day/week/month?
- What am I most grateful for?
- Who am I?