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If you want to connect with your higher purpose, spark creativity or organize your life, a journal can help you do it all. A journal can play the role of a therapist or a good friend by creating a space for you to simply be you and express yourself. There’s something very liberating about a blank sheet of paper. Whether you doodle and sketch cartoons, scribble daily reminders or pour your heart out onto the pages is up to you.
Conner Habib, a Los Angeles-based author and writing coach, recommends getting a pen and journal specifically for the purpose. The rules are: There are no rules, only tips and techniques to help you get started on your journaling journey. Read on to discover how journaling can help you shape the life you want along with guidance to get started.
Have you ever read a book and tried to summarize the information for a friend, but you just couldn’t seem to pull out the key points? You try and then end the conversation with, “Well, you just have to read it!” Journaling while you read can help you retain the information and actually make use of it. “Journaling while I read slows me down,” says Habib. “A profound book (and sometimes even a bad book) can send my mind in a million directions. Journaling helps me follow as many of those directions as I’d like. It lets me really encounter the thoughts that come up while I’m reading and to pursue them. Without a journal at hand, I often skip past the things I’d normally want to think about.”
HOW TO GET STARTED: According to a study in Intech, “The movements involved when handwriting leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps the person recognize letters and establish a connection between reading and writing.” In another 2014 study, a group of UCLA college students listened to the same lecture and were tested on the information. Researchers found that those who took notes longhand did significantly better.
Experience is the best teacher, but new research shows that doing can be more effective if it’s accompanied with reflection. Setting aside 15 minutes to reflect and write at the end of your workday can improve performance. In one study, participants wrote what went well that day and what didn’t. The employees that recorded their thoughts reported 23 percent higher performance.
HOW TO GET STARTED: At the end of the workday or before going to sleep, record what went well that day and where there’s room for improvement. Perhaps record a few action steps you’d like to implement the next day and see if you get different results.
The creative process can be tricky. Sometimes it’s flowing – and sometimes it’s not. The good news is you can turn the creative faucet back on with a few noteworthy journaling techniques like non-dominant handwriting. Using your non-dominant hand activates the right brain, which is known to be home to visual processing, imagination and creativity. Sure, your penmanship may not be fantastic, but the thoughts, emotions and words that come out on paper may be a work of art.
HOW TO GET STARTED: To take it to the next level, take your journaling outdoors and get moving. Carry a pen and small notebook in your pocket when you’re on a walk in nature. Some of the best ideas come when you’re moving, getting oxygen to your brain and creating space for thoughts to flow more freely. Another way to spur inspiration when you seem to have lost the creative spark is to write morning pages. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” recommends writing three notebook-size pages in a stream-of-consciousness style in the morning. This can serve as a “mental dump” if you feel stressed or creatively blocked, or it can be a guide for further self-exploration.
Suppressing emotions can be very harmful psychologically as well as physically. You can get stuck in a traumatic experience from the past or become fearful of the future. When this happens, you tend to relive the experience or imagine the fear over and over again, causing your body to release the same chemicals as if it were actually happening (adrenaline and cortisol, for example). This can lead to debilitating pain and stress-related diseases.
HOW TO GET STARTED: When you feel stressed, it’s important to have an outlet; a safe place to share your emotions and let go. Sports neuropsychologist Douglas Polster uses a technique called “worry it out.” He advises his patients to take 30 minutes a day to stress (if needed). “Write it down, visualize those negative thoughts coming out of your head, through the pen and onto the paper, and let them go,” he says. When your 30 minutes is up, that’s it! Time to move on from the worry and stress.
Between work, workouts, social obligations and family matters, life can feel extremely overwhelming at times. According to Psychology Today, “Too much information freezes our brain’s dynamic frontal lobe capacity to engage in clear thinking and discerning decision making.” Taking time out of your busy schedule to analyze what’s actually on your schedule for the day and how you plan to tackle it allows you to be more intentional with each day.
HOW TO GET STARTED: “Ask yourself: ‘What is my morning going to look like? What is my afternoon going to look like? What would I like to accomplish throughout the day? It works much better than making it up as you go along throughout the day?” says Polster. In the morning, jot down your schedule, where you need to be at what time, your top three to five priorities and what must get done today to feel satisfied. For example, make an important phone call, meet a deadline or make it to your workout.
Click here to find out 5 more reasons you need to start journaling!
By Kelly Gonzalez