Dr. Maria D. Reyes
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of life, work, changing friendships, marriage, parenting, stress, grief, anxiety, depression, or being the caretaker for a family member, you are someone who could benefit from journaling. (In other words, if you are a human, you could benefit from this practice.)
What is journaling, really? Does it mean sitting down for hours on end, pouring your heart and soul onto the page? For some, yes. For others, not at all. A journaling practice can take form in a variety of ways. There are hundreds of books, techniques, classes, videos, and how-to articles out there in the world to help you get started.
For some, the results of a Google search on the word “journaling” can be completely overwhelming. That’s where this article comes in. Below, you will find distilled descriptions of three effective and affordable journaling methods.
Bullet JournalingBullet Journaling is a highly organized approach to journaling with a primary focus on increasing productivity. While it is a very branded and mass-produced product, you can apply the Bullet Journal method to any notebook that you find at the dollar store.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by a never-ending to-do list, or from the many responsibilities you have in different areas of your life, the Bullet Journal Method may be a great fit for you. In a nutshell, this method allows you to download all of your tasks into one book that is organized by monthly and daily timelines.
This method can help you to prioritize the many tasks of your life, and it will provide you with a quick-glance overview of what needs to be done in every area of your life. It can help you to digest everything at once, as opposed to feeling like all of your tasks are unrelated and happening on different timelines.
If you have tried free-write journaling and it has become overwhelming because it just turns into many paragraphs of, “I can’t forget to do ______”, or, “I really wish I had the time to do _______”, then the Bullet Journal method might be the practice for you. It is possible to take all that overwhelming information, prioritize and organize it with this simple system, and then feel the stress lift off your shoulders.
Life organization and thought organization leads to more freedom, more time, and less anxiety. Try this method for three months, and notice how much time and space you can create in your life. If anything, you will absolutely notice that you are at least sleeping better, because your mind is not racing before bed every night. This one improvement alone can be a game-changer.
Visual journaling is the use of words and images as a form of self-expression. The goal is to use color, words, images, and textures to get out of your thinking mind and into a free-flowing, uninhibited, and uncensored creative space. While visual journaling may sound like it can be very involved and only useful for “real artists”, that is the exact opposite of the goal of visual journaling. This technique will help you to say YES to your impulses, and in turn, to say YES to yourself.
Here is an example of a visual journal entry. Let’s say you go for a hike or a walk through a park, and you are struck by the beauty of the changing leaves around you – or by the perfect green you see, depending on your region and the season. Maybe you pick up a leaf or two along the way, and they end up home with you.
You take those leaves and secure them to a blank page (of a Visual Journal, which has thicker pages and is made specifically for this kind of journaling), and then grab your colored pencils, markers, or paints and pick a color that speaks to you based on how the leaves make you feel. In the land of Visual Journaling, every choice you make is the right choice because it is your choice.
Maybe, as you are coloring around or over the leaves, some words come to you, or maybe a quote comes to mind as you continue to create this entry. So, you incorporate that word, phrase, or quote into your creation. This exploration can happen for five minutes, ten minutes, an hour – however long you have to listen to your creative intuition.
You let it dry, close the book, and that is enough for one day. You can come back to this entry a month or a year from now to learn from it, or to add to it. This practice is great for parents because you probably already have access to kids’ art supplies at home. This approach is especially fun to do with children, to introduce them to the idea that art is an intuitive, therapeutic experience of self-affirmation and imagination.
If that approach sounds too involved for you, there are many other approaches. You can start to use books and magazines as your sources of inspiration, too. Start with some images that are cut out from magazines, and take out a book that speaks to you today. As you read, feel free to get involved in making creative additions to the book as you land on words or images that inspire you.
Give yourself the freedom to “mess up” the page, and create something completely different with your additions than the page you started with as a base. This approach is great for people who feel intimidated by the blank page.
Or, you can just grab your visual journal, pick a word to write in the center of the page, and start to fill the page with colors that you associate with that word and the feeling of that word. You can also trace a shape on the page (circle, star, diamond, etc.) and write inside that shape, to change up the monotony of traditional left to right writing techniques.
The moral of the story: there is no “right” way to do visual journaling. The only goal is to get involved and to make something. The hardest part is the beginning. But, for people who really struggle with the written word, this is truly the way to unlock the floodgates of self-expression and self-reflection. Try it for a week, and see if it works for you.
Release the pressure to feel finished with your visual journal entries. Set a timer for five or ten minutes a day, and see what you can express in that time without it having to be “perfect” or “done”. You can also allow yourself the freedom to work on the same journal page in stages, one day at a time.
You might add to the same entry for a month or a year if it still speaks to you. No matter what, give yourself this opportunity to express yourself in this creative way. Saying “Yes” to your creative impulses daily can change your relationship with yourself.
Fun fact: if you find that you love Visual Journaling, you may also enjoy a Journaling Bible to expand your personal Faith practice. Journaling Bibles have extra space and guided exercises that allow you to get more involved with your Bible Study. If it works for you, it can completely change your experience of the Written Word.
This approach to journaling was developed and endorsed by Julia Cameron, creator, and author of The Artist’s Way. Otherwise known as free-write or brainstorming, this approach allows you to release any and every thought you have onto the page.
If you are someone who does not want to have to follow rules or a system, this is a great journaling practice for you. The suggested practice is to journal for five pages (no more, no less) upon waking. This means the second your alarm goes off, you grab your pen and paper and get writing. Uncensored thoughts are the name of this journaling game.
The goal of this method is to capture the thoughts of your mind before the news and the coffee intervene. Sometimes you will find yourself capturing your dreams from the night before onto the page, and unloading some very surprising thoughts that cross your mind in the first groggy minutes of the day. The best part about this practice is that you have a hard stop.
Once your fifth page is written, you are done with your daily download and must move on with your day. Some mornings it will be hard to get five pages, and some days the words will come pouring out of you without any effort. If you practice this method by the book, you will transform your mornings and you will gain very intimate access to your inner voice.
It is amazing what your heart, soul, and mind have to say when the morning news isn’t there to replace your own thoughts. If it is not possible for you to write in the morning (early work schedules, kids, dogs, etc.) then this practice can also happen right before bed. Instead of letting the evening news fill your mind with intense images and language, turn off your devices and download your day onto five pages.
Get all of the unfinished sentences, thoughts, and moments of the day out of your body and into your journal. This will help you to sleep better, and it will certainly relieve the stress from your long day.
As you explore these options yourself, you will soon realize that commercialism has taken hold of the world of journaling. It is easy to get lost in the sea of pretty journal covers, expensive supplies, and themed books that are out there. But, you don’t need your journal to be extravagant. You need your journal to be effective, private, and unique to you.
All it takes is a pen or pencil, and a blank piece of computer paper or a sheet of lined notebook paper, depending on your style. You get to choose what works for you. Throw the rule book out the window, along with the idea that you have to do this very personal journaling process the “right” way. Say “Yes” to yourself, one journal entry at a time. Keep it simple, and start today.
“Coffee and Journal”, Courtesy of My Life Journal, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Scrapbook Journal”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Leaves, Coffee, and Journal”, Courtesy of Thought Catalog, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Photos and Journal”, Courtesy of Emma Dau, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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