7 Reasons to Journal

writing-828911_1280Journaling is one of the best tools to make meaning out of the chaos of life and if you aren’t already doing so, I highly recommend you keep a journal.

While a computer journal will work, hand writing has several added benefits. It helps us learn and retain information, engages motor skills and memory and is a good cognitive exercise if you want to keep your brain sharp.

Here are seven reasons to journal:

Vent

We’ve all had a day like this. You forgot to set your alarm so you’re running late. In your haste you end up spilling coffee all over yourself so you have to go and change. To top it all off, there is an accident on the freeway and traffic is at a standstill. By the time you get to work you’re wound up like a rubber band, ready to snap.

Or you’re replaying past events or conversations in your mind that left you stewing, feeling disrespected or unappreciated. Lay it all out in your journal. Labeling and acknowledging your feelings lessens their impact. A good venting will help clear space in your head for what you do want to focus on. Writing it out will help you let it go.

Problem solving

Why is it that you are so tired during the day but the minute you crawl into bed you have that one thought – “How am I going to…?” “What am I going to do about…?”  – that derails any chances of sleep? Our brains like to feel like we are in control and writing it down can help us gain it back. Journaling helps you think through a problem, weigh pros and cons, and come up with solutions.

First, define exactly what the problem is. Let’s say you’ve been hit with some unexpected expenses and you’re worried about money. Put it on paper. Make a budget, brainstorm some options and come up with a plan. Maybe think about preventative measures for the futures, such as setting up an emergency fund.

Find patterns of thought or behavior

Take a look at where you tend to get stuck. Does your interest start waning on a project when things get tough?  Do you start getting careless when you are on the brink of a promotion and end up sabotaging yourself? Notice what patterns come up. Awareness is the first step to change.

You should also be aware of the words you use. Words let you know what your mindset is. For instance, when something goes wrong (it happens, that’s part of life) do you use words like “always” (I always screw up) and “never” (Good things never happen to me)? Do you “should” on yourself? Observe the language you use to describe your world. Is there a better way you can phrase something?

Acknowledge Successes

Humans are a negative bunch. We tend to focus on what’s wrong, exaggerate our weaknesses and downplay our strengths. We all have things we do well but often take them for granted because if we can do them easily, surely everyone else can too, right?

Wrong! Just as it is important to learn from the things that don’t go as planned, it’s vital to celebrate and acknowledge when things do go right, when you’ve mastered a new skill, achieved a milestone in your career or managed to fix that leaky faucet all by yourself.

The satisfaction of accomplishing something, breaking out of our comfort zone, seeing the results of our hard work are part of our growth process and should be celebrated. Remind yourself of all the things that you have achieved to counter balance your not-so-successful attempts.

Sort out your feelings

Have you ever had one of those days where you just felt…off? You’re snappy with your family, feel restless or anxious. Or there’s a big lump sitting in the pit of your stomach, slowly rising up to your throat. Your body is sending you a message and writing can help you decipher it. Go for stream-of-consciousness writing, just let whatever comes to you spill out onto the page. Maybe something will show up and you can deal with, maybe not but the act of exploring it will help calm your limbic system, that part of the brain that deals with emotions.

Creative expression

You can do whatever you want in your journal. Write out your hopes and dreams, bucket list, make plans for your ideal home, business ideas, doodle, collage, tell stories, keep track of quotes or sayings that inspire you and anything else that you can think of or don’t want to forget. It’s yours to do as you please.

Say it with confidence

If there is a conversation that you want to have but are having a difficult time starting it, rehearse it in your journal. Your emotions are likely to get in the way of any logical thought unless you can clarify what you want to say and rehearse it.

Here are a couple of don’ts when journaling

  • Don’t make your journal precious, in the sense that it has to be “perfect”.
  • Don’t worry about scratching stuff out or making it look “pretty”.
  • Don’t worry about spelling. Use shorthand or come up with your own abbreviations.
  • Don’t share it with anyone (unless you feel comfortable doing so). Let it be your safe haven, where you can let everything hang out.

Are reasons just another excuse?

My friend had an interesting conversation. She wasn’t able to attend a class and when a friend texted her with the homework, she replied with the reason she wasn’t able to attend. Her classmate said she didn’t have to give an excuse. In which she replied that it wasn’t an excuse, she was just explaining why she wasn’t there or, then she asked, “Is that the same thing?” To which the classmate replied “Yes”.

(A disclaimer here, when we make a personal choice/decision, we don’t owe anyone an explanation.)

As a coach, I listen for the words that my clients use. Language is powerful and it tells a lot about a person and their mind-set. Changing our language can also help change our mind-set.

So is a “reason” just another “excuse”?

One of the definitions of excuse is: attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify

Reason is defined as: a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event. Another definition is: the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. I think this latter definition is integral to the first definition.

Some people might use the two words interchangeably but I think there are several distinctions that should be pointed out:

  • An excuse is used to deflect blame and avoid responsibility for our actions. It is outer-driven, we are victims of unforeseen circumstances. Reasons don’t avoid responsibility. A reason shows, and here’s where the second part of the definition is important, our thought process and how we came to our decision/conclusion.
  • An excuse is not aligned with our integrity. When we give an excuse, we usually know, deep down, that we are at least partially to blame. Reasons are in alignment with our integrity.

A good way to tell if you are giving an excuse or a reason is to notice how your body is reacting. When I give an excuse, I can feel it in the pit of my stomach which travels up through my body, like an electric current, to my ears. I feel a sense of…shame is the word that comes to mind. I am uneasy.

When I am explaining myself, giving a reason, my body is at ease. I feel a sense of lightness. I am speaking from my “truth” (based on my beliefs and values) and it resonates with me.

The bottom line is this – what is your intent behind these words? Is it to deflect blame and responsibility or are you owning up to your choices?