Journaling to Better Health - Archives
By Jessie Jury
Clearing the Mental Clutter
In the spirit of doing something special for myself this year, I joined an Artist’s Way group. We hail from different creative and professional backgrounds and live in different places in the midwest, but we are able to join together online every other week via Skype and work through Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity.
I recommend this book to everyone. Cameron explains exercises meant to help individuals become inspired and harness their own creativity. Incidentally, if you choose to purchase your own copy of this book, you can do it through Amazon Smile and select Faye’s Light to receive 0.5% of the price of the purchase!
The Morning Pages are one of the basic tools of The Artist’s Way and they consist of doing three pages of handwritten stream-of-consciousness writing when you wake up in the morning. This “brain dump” is meant to clear your mind of clutter so you can leave the past on the page and start fresh. Consider it one long, cleansing exhalation breath.
Because I remember most of my dreams, my Morning Pages are often an exercise in recording, and later, analyzing them. I give my dreams a Seinfeld-like title so that I can easily remember them. This is helpful if I’m not clear on all of the details at the moment or if my writing time is interrupted by life (my children, my work deadlines). It’s also fun to look back and see titles like, “The One Where Everyone Was Wearing My Jacket” and see how certain dream “episodes” fit together (or not).
There is no right or wrong way to do the Morning Pages. Like any other exercise, practice forms ritual. And regular journaling is an important part of self-care and better health.
“True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” - Leo Tolstoy
Letting Go of Busy
“We need to make sure that we never get too busy with life that we don’t have time to live.” ― Daniel Willey
There have been numerous articles in the media lately calling for an end to the glorification of busy. Because, really, why is it considered a badge of honor to claim to be too busy to have any free time, grab a cup of coffee or tea with a friend, get a good night’s rest or simply take a few minutes each day to just do nothing?
In the days leading up to the new year, resolve to make simple changes to carve out a few minutes here and there for things that you would like to do - regardless of how busy you are. Use your journal to create a wish list of activities and rituals.
Some ideas for inspiration:
Is there a hobby you used to have as a child that you’d like to pick up again, or something new you’ve always wanted to try? Many hobbies can be quite meditative. My favorites include reading, writing, playing guitar, and photography. See if you can find a class, club or group to join. Knowing you have a book club each month, for example, can give you motivation to read a little bit for pleasure each night before bed.
Are there rituals you would like to create, like a nightly walk after dinner, a weekly call to a long-distance friend, or a hot bubble bath a few times a week? Although these things may seem indulgent when you have a to do list a mile long, remind yourself that self-care and nurturing are vital to your health and well-being. Start incorporating these practices to avoid facing burnout.
Write about how it feels to let go of some of your ‘busyness.’ What have you gained in return?
Memories of Youth
In June, on a beautiful summer evening near the Summer Solstice, my daughter was born. Although I had the long months of pregnancy to anticipate her arrival, it has been during these few weeks postpartum that I have reflected on the time when my boys were babies, as well as my own childhood.
I’m noting both the differences and similarities in each child’s personality and trying to really savor these months and every milestone because, as anyone who has children would probably agree, the days are long but the years are short.
My Nana, who passed away a few months ago, just shy of turning 103 years old, always told me to be sure to write things down. I may think I will always remember the adorable (or obnoxious) things my sons say or the way I feel when my newborn daughter smiles back at me, but time has a way of softening our memories and certain bits become fuzzy or slip away.
This month, make your journaling practice be about youth. Whether you chronicle events in your child’s life or memories from your own childhood, try to recall events big or small and your accompanying emotions.
It may help to use the prompt, “I remember when…” You can jot down a bunch of these memories or go all out stream-of-consciousness about one event in particular.
My mom recently pointed out that she found it interesting that certain events in her youth that seemed insignificant at the time actually evoke a lot of emotions that she hadn’t realized. That’s the way memories are sometimes. Hopefully you will find it cathartic to record these memories and you may find interesting links between events from the past and the present.
Why not make this type of journaling a regular practice? You could have your very own “Throw-Back-Thursday” (#tbt) and add photographs to your journal pages or digital record. Whether you share these or keep them to yourself, you’ll have created a rich written history.
“Don't give up! It's not over. The universe is balanced. Every set-back bears with it the seeds of a come-back.”
- Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Is there truly a gift in every challenge?
It can be hard to count your blessings when you’re going through hard times. I speak from experience. The past several months have been particularly hard on my family. But, often that’s when you most need to do just that. Simply enjoying a beautiful spring day after enduring the worst winter in our history seems a sweet reward. Today, I'm thankful for sunshine and gorgeous weather.
This month, make your journal writing focus on the good things in your life. If you need inspiration, look to nature for reminders of spring and renewal. Write about what you notice… the beautiful bird perched on your feeder during breakfast, the sound and smell of a soft rain, and the rustle of leaves in the breeze.
Listen to uplifting music while you write (and anytime) and see if that helps lift your spirits. Try incorporating sketches in your journal, even if you don’t consider yourself an artist. You may be surprised at how little drawings enrich your journal-writing practice and keep the creative gears turning.
My 8 and 6 year old boys do this constantly. They keep themed journals and draw and write on every page. One favorite is the “Robot” journal. Each page has a different dreamed up robot, complete with name and description. I just know I’m going to love exploring these with them as they get older.
And on that note, draw inspiration from children (no pun intended!). See what happens when you write each line in a different color or start drawing butterflies in the margins (or on your grocery list). It might just improve your mood.
Bernie Siegel, an internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer treatment and complementary, holistic medicine says,“Embrace each challenge in your life as an opportunity for self-transformation.”
So that, I suppose, is the gift.
Commit to Acts of Kindness
Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. - Scott Adams.
This week we celebrated World Kindness Day, a holiday that was launched by the World Kindness Movement in 1998. It is now celebrated throughout the world by people who make an effort to do something nice for others- friends, family and strangers.
This is the time of year when we talk a lot about being thankful, and that's certainly a good practice any day. But what about making committing acts of kindness a conscious part of your daily ritual?
Doing good for others feels good. Research shows that a "positive feedback loop" exists between kindness and happiness. For example, when you do something nice for someone, like bringing a meal to a friend who could use it, in addition to making your friend feel good, it makes YOU feel good and you are more likely to commit more acts of kindness- and so on.
Journalling about your acts is a good way to reflect on what you're doing. Write down what you've done, for whom, what kind of a response you got and how it makes you feel.
We get so much when we give. It makes us happy, reduces anxiety, wards off depression and makes us feel more connected to those around us.
Click here for fun ways to celebrate World Kindness Day.
If you'd like to revisit older Journaling entries and prompts, find them here. Also please share your thoughts on what journaling means to you, as well as ideas for future articles on our Facebook page!
Keeping a Travel Journal
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train." - Oscar Wilde
Writing about a place can change your experience of it by teaching us how to observe a scene while still being a part of it. You start to notice more details as you reflect, and travelings tends to help us grow. As you write and reflect about your travels it can help shed light on your own inner journey.
Why keep a travel journal?
It's practical. Use it to jot down places you want to visit, or the phone number or email address of someone you meet or the next place you want to go on your trip. You'll appreciate having everything in one place.
Your memories will stay fresh. I think that I will always remember the way my muscles felt after canoeing for six hours strait, or the smell of the air at the top of the mountain that I didn't think I would be able to climb. The thing is, some memories do fade. I'm able to sustain them because I've kept a written and photographic record.
You're creating a record for yourself and loved ones. I believe that some day my children will enjoy reading about trips I've taken- and enjoy reading about things they've done when they were too young to remember.
Some tips for travel journaling:
Don't wait for perfect timing. If you wait until you have the time to sit down and write everything you want to say you may decide the time is never right. Date each entry and note where you were and some key words that will help you remember the destination and the event. Jot down brief thoughts to jog your memory later. Note how you feel, what you smell, what you see.
Take a multimedia approach. Paste your packing list into your journal. Circle what you ate for breakfast on a menu from the restaurant. Glue in your train or plane ticket or flyer from the museum. Sketch your surroundings. Even if you aren't an artist, hand sketches make a wonderful accompaniment to your words. Later, add some photographs from your trip- even if you have a separate photo album.
Ultimately, your travel journal becomes a souvenir of the trip itself- one from which you'll derive enjoyment long after you've returned back home.
"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof." - Barbara Kingsolver
As the mother of two young boys, the end of the school year is a significant marker on my calendar. There's a frenzy of class parties and picnics, wrapping up of projects, and sorting through the contents of desks and cubbies. While all of this is happening, the days are longer and more time is spent outside...bedtimes slide a little bit later and regular routines slacken.
I LOVE this time of year because it's the first time since August that I stop feeling guilty about all my "mess ups." When I reflect upon the past months there is a lot I wish I had done differently. I'm not proud of the mornings one or both boys wore pajama tops to school or ate granola bars in the car because we were too rushed to have a peaceful breakfast.
This summer I am going to spend some time visualizing how I want our days to be when school starts again in the Fall. I will build in extra time so we won't feel rushed. I will prepare the next day's lunches and outfits before bedtime. Maybe add in a dog walk with the kids after breakfast or, at the very least, take our meal outside and enjoy a few minutes in nature. The act of creative visualization is using thoughts to imagine and create the life you want...and your journal can be a powerful tool in the journey to manifest your desires.
This exercise can be applied anytime you want to make a change and it doesn't need to take a lot of time. SImply relax and picture something the way you want it to be. Think of it like watching a movie. Write down what you imagine it would feel like to already be living this way. You can return to these journal entries and add to them regularly. Putting your thoughts down in words makes your hopes more concrete and will bring you closer to living your life with intention.
Fill Your Cup
I was fortunate enough to get away for a weekend with lifelong girlfriends recently. We spent some time reflecting on what we would like to accomplish this year just for ourselves. What goes do you have that have taken the back burner because they don't necessarily involve your families and others who count on you?
Often it takes someone else to remind you that it is not selfish to do things for yourself in order to have the energy to do things for others. It is essential. Refilling your own cup so you can give freely of your reserve is a loving act!
This month, write about what you would like to accomplish for yourself and what steps you can take to achieve it. Whether you want to establish a daily ritual, like drinking tea and reading a poem each morning or you have a specific goal, like enrolling in a class or running your first 5k, use your journal to help yourself stay on track. Enlist help of close friends to check in with each other each month to see what you're each doing to fill your own cups.
Note how you feel and whether you have more energy for others when you consciously make the effort to fulfill some of your own desires.
What Matters Most
"This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, quit. If you don't have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop' they'll be waiting for you when you start doing things you love." - Holstee Manifesto (Find it in its entirety here.)
February, the month of hearts and flowers, is a great time to reflect on more than just romantic love, but how to live a life of purpose- a life that you love.
Living a life that brings you happiness attracts like-minded people into your life. What do you really love to do and how can you make it happen?
Try these journaling prompts to help you get started:
- What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
- Describe your perfect day.
- What is an experience you want to have? What simple step can you take today to help make this happen?
While you're writing, think about the positive things in your life right now. List what you love about your life and why. When you acknowledge and express gratitude for what you do have you can help to bring more of what you love into your life.
Capture the Moment
"Look sharply after your thoughts. They come unlooked for, like a new bird seen on your trees, and if you turn to your usual task, disappear." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often have you had a memory or thought and wished later that you'd written it down because you don't remember it clearly? Whether capturing details of a dream, a sudden brainstorm, or snippets of a conversation, it's a good practice to be ready to write down ideas before they're forgotten.
I've had some intense dreams that wake me up in the middle of the night and I'm sure that they either hold the key to some secret of the Universe or they would make a fantastic plot for The Great American Novel. Imagine my frustration when later that day I realize I've forgotten the details already.
Be ready. Keep a journal by your bedside and another in your purse or bag. Or, if notecards work better for you, keep them on hand and deposit them into a file once you've written things down. You can even organize them in whatever way makes sense to you.
If you're a techie, take advantage of the fantastic free software, Evernote. It allows you to capture your notes in separate "notebooks" and then access them across all platforms. For example, a note you take on your computer can also be accessed on your smart phone, tablet, or any other computer via the web. Your notebooks can include anything: words, images, documents, audio....And you can easily organize and search through your notebooks
Capture those thoughts before they disappear. You never know when or how they will teach you something about yourself or inspire you in new ways.
Please share your thoughts on what journaling means to you, as well as ideas for future articles on our Facebook page!
"Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see." - Carl Jung
When is the last time you thought of somebody you hadn't spoken with in a long time and then, that same day, this person called you? Or you heard "that song" play at a crucial moment? Or you took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere that you were absolutely meant to be?
These moments are called synchronicity, a phenomenon described by psychologist Carl Jung as an "acausal connecting principle," or a "meaningful coincidence." If you take the time to record and reflect on the synchronous events that happen in your own life, it's possible to learn more from the significance of actions you take every day and listen when the Universe, through seemingly chance events, seems to conspire to teach you something.
Use your journal to write down synchronistic moments and use the introspection as an opportunity for self-discovery. Ask yourself if there are common themes among the events. What are your feelings about you've experienced? By simply paying more attention to these occurrences, you can open yourself up to new and richer moments of synchronicity.
The Treasure Chest
I'll admit it. I'm sentimental. Throughout my life I've saved various items that at one time or another held meaning for me. It's hard for me to part with certain things because of the emotions they evoke. However, I've pared down my collection creatively. For example, I cut a square from my Raggedy Ann comforter and I culled articles out of entire magazines and slipped them into plastic sheets in a binder.
For me, looking through my "treasure chest" as well as reading through old journals and letters is enjoyable. Reviewing the past helps me see where I am now and How I got here. I'm not sure whether my own journals, letters from others or the tangible items I've saved offer the most insight.
Do you have a treasure chest of sorts? If so, take some time to go through each item and write down what they mean to you. Chronicle your memories.
If you haven't saved these things, try this exercise. Write down the things that would have gone into your treasure chest, had you saved them. What are the items that had meaning for you throughout the years, and why?
One item I didn't save, but would include in my list is my first camera because it enabled me to offer my own take on experiences as seen through a lens and began a lifelong hobby for me.
Were there booksthat were particularly meaningful? Music? A baseball glove or ballet slippers? Thing about what these items represented at particular times in your life and how they helped shape who you are and where you're going.
Dare to Dream a Different Life
"There is just one life for each of us: our own." - Euripides
Suppose you woke up one morning, looked into the mirror and someone else's face looked back at you. Would it be frightening or freeing? Imagine spending a day in someone else's body and write about the experience. It could be someone you know or a fictional character of your creation.
This is your chance to live out a fantasy or try on a different life for size. You can write your entry in the first person and reveal the innermost thoughts of your alter ego. Or, you can write from the perspective of a third party, making observations from an outsider's point of view.
Let your "character" be bold and do things that you couldn't or wouldn't try. How does this make you feel? COntinue this journey for several days and see where it takes you. Examine how you feel living this other life on paper. Does it make you appreciate your life as it is? DOes it make you want to take more chances? Make changes? Use this journaling exercise as a tool to help you live the life you want to live.
Documenting Milestones and Everyday Life
June 1st in my Nana's 101st birthday! Last year, in honor of her 100th birthday, we collected stories about her and compiled them for a celebration. Each person took a turn reading what he or she had written- short funny stories, touching moments they'd shared, advice received, and poems in her honor. It was a such a meaningful collaboration of memories, it made me wish we'd take more opportunities to tell the people we love just how we feel about them.
This month, write down some memories of someone special in your life. What has he or she taught you? What did you do together on a special day? Do you have a photograph or image you can include with your journal entry that helps to evoke those memories?
One piece of advice that Nana gave me years ago is to carve out time to write each day. Make it a habit. When life gets crazy busy she reminds me of this. She says, "Darling, take time for yourself and write things down. You think you'll remember everything and you'll get around to it someday. Do it today."
Writing with Friends
You may think of writing as a solitary act, and, for the most part, it is. Nobody knows your heart and mind like you do, and the words and emotions that you conjure up and spill onto the page are uniquely your own. While it can be satisfying to keep a journal for yourself- even if nobody else ever sees your words- writing with others can also be a cathartic experience. You can chose to write about a specific topic or select a prompt, which can be a word, an idea or a question, and share your entries.
While in college, at a time in my life when I was writing more term papers than anyone should ever be required to write in a single semester, I longed to write something more creative, without academic constraints. I wanted the feedback of people I could trust to tell me what they really thought of my characters, or to analyze the dreams I transcribed.
My friend Amanda and I would sit on my back patio, chosing prompt after prompt- often by closing our eyes and pointing to a random word in a book- set a timer and wrote. Once the pen hit the page we didn't stop to edit ourselves. I still look back at those old journals and feel that they contain some of the most raw, truthful entries I've ever written. Writing together also created a lasting friendship and deep bond that I will forever cherish.
Give it a try. You might find that having a writing partner offers you new insight and makes you a more prolific writer.
Location, Location, Location!
This month, try journaling in different places. Go someplace new and take in the scene. It can be illuminating to see how location affects your writing. For example, when I write from the tree house in my yard, I notice that my words have a different flow inspired by the sounds of nature and my changed perspective. Viewing things from above, I take more notice of the birds and the cloud formations. A peaceful quality inevitably transfers into my writing.
In contrast, I write some of my best dialogue when in the coffee shop. Infused with caffeine and inspired by the conversations buzzing around me, I like to people-watch and make up imagined lives and stories. This backdrop must tap into a different part of my brain than the solitude of nature.
Before you finish journaling, take a snapshot (this can be literal or you can create a visual with words) of your surroundings. What do you see, smell and hear? Jot down lyrics from a song that's playing or write about the background noises.
When you revisit your entry, take note of how your environment helped to shape the direction of your writing that day. You may discover a favorite place for contemplation and journaling, or you may decide that you like to change it up... in that case, be sure to keep a journal with you at all times. You never know when or where inspiration will strike.
Ah, March...As we usher in a change of season, there is lots of talk about Spring cleaning, the annual act of deep cleaning our homes, openings windows and renewing order...essentially, starting fresh. Why not apply similar concepts to your journaling practice?
Julie Cameron's well-loved book, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, introduced people to the idea of "Morning Pages", three pages of handwritten steam-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning to clear the mind of clutter.
The point is to write continuously without editing yourself. Think of it as a brain dump on paper. If you can't think of anything to write, here are some prompts to get your started.
- A dream you had
- Something that's bothering you
- Things you need to get done today
- Future plans
- How you're physically feeling
- Favorite memories
Once you put pen to paper, don't stop writing until you've filled three pages. Doodle if you want...just keep going. You may find a gem when you look back on these pages that you'd like to explore and write about further.Or you may just feel cleansed, and that's a gift as well!
Write a Love Letter to Yourself
"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection" -Buddha
Years ago, when I attended overnight summer camp, one of the exercises we did was to write ourselves a letter that was mailed to us months later. It served as a reminder of the emotions and experiences we had that summer. It was always interesting, and sometimes inspiring, to read my own words at a later date.
Why not write yourself a letter this month- and, in honor of Valentine's Day, make it a love letter! We're often hardest on ourselves. We're self-critical and expect more of ourselves than we do of others. Take the time to write yourself the kind of love you deserve. Look at yourself the way you look loved ones, and write about the things you admire and respect. Reflect on what makes you happy and dreams you have for yourself.
You can drop the letter in the mail yourself or give it to someone else (try this with a friend) to mail to you at a later date, possibly at a time when you may need your loving words the most. You can even use a website, http://www.futureme.org, to email it to yourself at any date you specify. Keep the letter and read it whenever you need a reminder of just how special you are!
If you'd like to revisit any of the Journaling entries and prompts from last year, find them here. Also, please share your thoughts on what journaling means to you, as well as ideas for future articles on our Facebook page!
Year in Review, Planning Ahead
"Because of our routines we forget that life is an ongoing adventure." -Maya Angelou
If you've been keeping a journal, good for you! I don't need to tell you how satisfying it can be to get your feelings down on paper. Journaling also provides a nice record of events and emotions that you may otherwise forget. This month, take the time to review your entries from 2011. What discoveries did you make last year about yourself and others? What are some new things you tried? Places you visited? Things that you learned? What are some of your happiest memories from the past year, and some of the worst?
Whether you have a physical journal that is handwritten or you keep an account on your computer, January is the perfect time to plan out your journaling goals for the year. Do you want to write every day, weekly, or monthly? Mark the time for journaling in your calendar and make it a ritual. It can be a few minutes every morning with a cup of tea or a half hour every Sunday evening before bed.
I tend to write on my computer or mobile phone app these days, as it's simply more convenient for me. However, there's nothing like a new paper-bound journal to get me inspired to write. Whenever I begin a new journal, I leave a few pages blank at the front for a table of contents (great for jumping to specific dates and events) and a few pages blank at the end (for list-making). My lists are typically books I want to read, movies I want to see, inspiration quotes and the like.
The point is, do whatever works to inspire YOURSELF to write...and keep on writing! Enjoy the adventure...and keep on writing! Enjoy the adventure...and keep a chronicle of your own personal journey.
Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life
For as long as I can remember, I've saved quotes that have meaning for me. From a poem I memorized in the 2nd grade to a song lyric that was especially moving. I like to pull these out from to time and revisit them. I'm fascinated by how these seemingly different snippets often have a common thread or theme in my life, which might not have been apparent when viewed individually.
December is a great time to reflect on the past year and also think forward to the year ahead. Why not resolve to examine your own experiences? Pay more attention to signs around you, whether they are embedded in the books you choose to to read, the path you take on your walk, or the art and the music that you enjoy.
Several years ago, I found a book that has helped me pay more attention to my experiences. Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, aims to answer the question, "How can I live a spiritual life every day?" Whether it is this book, or your own favorite book of mediations or poetry, find a place for it on your bedside table and make a ritual of reading a passage before bed or when you wake up. You may find that it helps your journaling practice!
- Write about the last time you felt awed by something in nature.
- Write about the most treasured objects of your childhood. Why? Where did they come from? Do you still have them? Do you have anything with comparable meaning today?
- Wrote a scene from your life today. Include as many details as possible, however mundane you think it may be. It could be a conversation you had, an errand you ran, or a moment of reflection. Revisit this journal entry in a week or a month a year. Is there anything you wish you knew about that day that you didn't know then? Write about it.
On November 6th at 2 a.m., Daylight Savings Time ends and, in most of the U.S., we'll move our clocks back and "gain" one hour. What will you do with your extra 3,600 seconds? Why not take the time to write some letters of gratitude.
For this exercise, use stationary and stamps (or, use email if you prefer). Who are you thankful for? Think about people who have impacted your life in different way: family members, friends, teachers, mentors...Then, put your thoughts in writing. Express what this person means to you and be specific. You can recount a shared experience or lesson he or she has taught you.
You can also write a note of thanks to someone that you don't know. This can be anyone...from someone who inspired you to pursue a career path to your favorite author. Have fun with this exercise!
Here are some prompts if you need help getting started:
- I don't often tell you, but I wanted you to know how much I cherish...
- Thank you for inspiring me to...
- I'm grateful that you've me...
- I wanted you to know how much I enjoy...
In Media Res- The Heart of Your Story
If you've ever read a novel, you know they don't always start at the beginning of the story. In medias res, a latin phrase that means "in the middle of things," is a technique you can use to get right to the heart of your story. This month, delve into your personal history and write about a specific meaningful event. Include as much detail as you can remember. An interesting story can begin at any point in time and is often more exciting to read if you're dropped in the middle of the action.
Here are some prompts to help you get started or come up with your own:
- Write about a day that someone surprised you by being different than you had expected.
- Recall the most important phone call you've ever received.
- Write about a day you took a wrong turn. Where did it lead you?
- Describe the moment you met your best friend, spouse, or other important person in your life.
This technique is helpful for identifying all of the little events that make up who you are. Sometimes what you learn about yourself can be quite surprising! Especially when something you felt was insignificant has greater meaning in your life than you thought.
What's Stopping You?
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." -Walt Disney
What are you putting off doing? What's stopping you? Many of us have experienced moments where we felt stuck, afraid of moving forward or making a big decision. Take the time to really think about things in your life that you want to do but have been unable to start, for whatever reason. Begin by making a simple list, and then delve deeper and explore the reasons why. You may find that simply writing about it is all you need to begin to take action. Or, you may decide not to do something after all. Exploring your reasons may help you realize that you resisted doing something because it just wasn't right for you.
If you are determined to make changes, detail how you can achieve what you want to do. Break large goals or tasks into smaller action items. Even baby steps can help you build momentum and reach your goal. Whatever you decide, chronicle your journey. Putting your feelings into words can be a therapeutic exercise in self-discovery.
The Soundtrack of Your Life
Music is a powerful memory trigger. Certain songs may conjure up specific moments in your life, whether personal or shared with others. Recently, I had a conversation with my childhood friends about specific times in our lives and it was interesting how certain songs were able to transport us back and help us remember events and emotions...A song we used to roller skate to in junior high instantly makes my palms sweat when I hear it, as I recall being asked to 'couples skate' with my first crush. Yellow Submarine reminds me of a childhood vacation across the country, when my siblings and I changed the lyrics to "We all live in a Lincoln Town Car." Whenever I hear Bob Marley, I think of laboring with the birth of my first son because that was the album playing at the time.
So, what's on the soundtrack of your life? Make a list of some of your favorite or most meaningful songs. Then, as you listen to each song, write down the memories and thoughts that you associate with the music. You may be surprised at what's been hiding in your subconscious! Try to keep a running list. It may help if it's chronological. This is your personal "soundtrack." Revisit it often and let your pen flow!
Keeping a Dream Journal
We spend approximately 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so why not keep a dream journal and learn a little bit more about yourself? Psychologist Carl G. Jung believed that dreams offered a window to the unconscious mind. Chronicling your dreams can be therapeutic by helping your waking mind to process your thoughts.
Dreams can also offer creative inspiration. A famous example is that Paul McCartney heard the song "Yesterday" in a dream. What can your dreams spark in you?
Here are some tips for keeping a dream journal:
- Keep your journal next to your bed. Write as soon as you wake up, before the memory of your dreams evaporates. Even a word or two will help job your memory if you want to write more later.
- In addition to writing what happened, be sure to note the atmosphere of the dream. Who was there? Where did it take place? What sounds, colors and smells do you remember?
- Take time to reflect on how the dream made you feel. Do you think the dream was prompted by something that happened? What's your interpretation? What questions remain to be answered?
Making a Memory Jar
I am fortunate to have a group of friends whom I have known since we were children. Several years ago, when one of the girls was getting ready to move across the country, another friend came up with a creative idea for a going away gift. We filled a jar of memories that could be read whenever our faraway friend felt lonely or wanted a laugh.
Simply start by writing "Remember when..." or "I remember..." and let the memories flow. This technique can be a useful prompt in your journaling practice. You can keep your memories together on the page or you can make this into a gift for someone else by writing the memories on separate pieces of paper, folding them and tucking them into a jar or box.
Think of it like a jar of candy...The receiver can reach in and retreive a memory whenever he or she wants something "sweet." As an added bonus, you can also drop in trinkets that might bring back special memories, like a ticket stub, a seashell or a photograph.
This is also a great idea for anyone in your life who has cancer or another serious illness as it will lighten their heart and bring them joy, providing the boost they need to get through the next hour or the next day. It provides a mental "hug" when they may need it most.
There's something about writing an old-fashioned letter (on paper, using pen) that is deeply satisfying. In the days before email and texting, when long-distance phone calls were reserved for special occasions, the way to really communicate with someone was via post mail.
There are several ways that letter writing can enhance your journaling practice:
Write a letter that you don't intend to send. Getting your emotions out on paper can offer a great emotional release. This is your opportunity to explore your feelings without involving anyone else! You could send it, and that's your choice. But if you assume you won't, it enables you to write more freely. There are also times when you can't send your letter. Writing a letter to a loved one who has died can help provide closure. You can start this letter with the prompt, "I wish I could tell you..."
Write a letter to your future self. Research shows that people who write down their goals are much more likely to accomplish them. Write yourself a letter that contains your hopes and dreams for the year(s) ahead. Date the envelope with a time in the future that you plan to open it. What wisdom can your future self tell you that is useful right now? Alternatively, try writing from the perspective of your child self to yourself now. What can you learn from yourself? Try making predictions or working through things that may be bothering you.
Write a letter to a child. Whether the child is your own or someone close to you, writing a letter for the child to read at a later date is a beautiful way to chronicle your hopes and dreams as well as create a tangible expression of your love. When my children were born, we created time capsules for each of them to be opened on their 18th birthdays. They contain, along with items collected by family and friends, letters I wrote to each of them when they were babies. This is something you can do each year on your child's birthday. Create your own rituals.
A Multimedia Approach
When I was a teenager, I used to love to write in my journal at the beach. I remember stretching out on a towel next to my cousin Joanie, pens in our hands, looking to the clouds for inspiration. My journal was a small brown leather book with a string that wrapped around it. In it, I scribbled words, and sometimes wrote a "Quote of the Day" or "Song of the Day" in the margin.
Here was a larger, black, perfect bound book, and, the first time she showed me a glimpse of what was inside, I was awed by her artistry. Joanie's words flew across the page in every direction, surrounded by drawings and items she had clipped from magazines, newspapers...At that moment, I realized that a journal didn't have to be simply a receptacle for words. It could be a multimedia affair, a place to glue ticket stubs and photo booth candid shots, a place to draw and a place to dream.
This month, make it a point to incorporate items into your journal, whether they are articles or images, a feather or leaf found on a walk. Glue them into your journal and write about them. DOn't be intimidated. You can keep it simple with a single word or go deeper if you'd like. You may find that certain images evoke emotions that motivate you to write and others may not need words at all!
Using Lists as Creative Prompts
Just like exercise and healthful eating, keeping a journal can be another tool in your health arsenal. Whether you can carve out 30 minutes at a coffee shop or library to write, or you make it part of your routine at home, writing can be cathartic, making you feel instantly better. Not sure what to write today? Try making some lists and see what comes from them. Writing lists can be fun and provide a creative boost when you're stuck.
Here are a few listing-writing prompts to try:
- List the top 10 most significant events in your life. These can be happy, sad, illuminating...Don't censor yourself, just write down what comes to mind. Pick one of these and expand on it, if you wish.
- Make a list of things in your home that belong to you and are meaningful. If you could choose one item that represents who you are, what would it be and why?
- Keep lists of books you want to read, movies you want to see, places you want to visit.