There are as many ways to journal as there are people alive on this planet. So the answer to the question “What is the best way to journal?” is “It depends. What do you want to accomplish?”
As a regular journal writer I have identified four different ways that I journal. I will go into what they are and the role each of them plays in my life. Getting clear on what we want to accomplish with our journaling allows us to do it purposefully.
Read on if you want to learn about the powerful versatility of journaling and what the best way to journal is for you.
How I Started Journaling
People journal for different reasons. I first began journaling when I was a teenager. I wanted to keep a record of my life which I could read in the future. I still remember my first journal; it was a spiraled notebook with a binding made out of rubber which simulated the bumps on a basketball. I felt it would be a cool notebook to use as a journal.
I used it once or twice.
After my dismal attempt at teenage journaling, I ignored the practice until my mid twenties. After struggling with heartbreak for a year I read about a proven method I could follow to heal my broken heart in the book “Getting Past Your Breakup” by Susan J. Elliot. The method involved writing.
It was then when I picked up the practice of journaling. Following the instructions in the book, I wrote through the pain and sorrow I felt in my heart. I didn’t know it then, but the book was guiding me through the grieving process. I was grieving for my relationship.
After a couple of months of doing this I began noticing that my heart felt more whole. I no longer ruminated so much on what had been and I could engage with the world more fully.
Journaling gave me my heart back and with it my joy for life and a burgeoning certainty that I could create the change I wanted to experience. Since then I have become an advocate for journaling and the power it has to raise our inner world.
Throughout that time I have kept journaling on and off. I have learned that there are four different types of journaling I do.
Each of them has a specific purpose.
There Are (At Least) 4 Different Ways To Journal
My journaling can take either one of four forms or a combination of them. The different forms are:
- Freehand journaling
- Journaling to forgive
- Journaling to grieve
- Journaling to appreciate
Naturally, this classification is not hard-and-fast. Everyone can journal in whichever way suits them best. But what I am certain about is that when I have something specific I want to work on (like anxiety) and I open my journal with that intention clear in my heart and mind, my journaling is like a scalpel; it precisely cuts through the tangles of my inner jungles and allows the sun to shine through.
This is why I believe it’s useful to get clear on the types of journaling we can do.
I will now go into what each of these types is and how they support my (and hopefully your) emotional life.
Way 1: Freehand Journaling
This is what I call “stream of consciousness” journaling. When I do freehand journaling I just write, without much analysis of what I’m feeling or thinking. It comes out smoothly and doesn’t involve any deep emotions or create any tense confrontations with my inner demons.
It’s like taking a stroll through the park. There’s nothing specific you’re looking for; you’re enjoying the scenery, taking in the fresh air, watching the ducks as they waddle around the pond. It’s a leisurely stroll through our inner world.
Freehand journaling is how I start most of my journal entries. It gets me in touch with my inner writer and gets me comfortable writing about my experience of being alive.
It might seem that freehand journaling doesn’t have a purpose, but it does, and that’s what makes it so powerful. As we meander through our inner world atop the raft of language, not searching for anything in particular, most of the times we find something. It’s an interesting paradox; by allowing our writing to come unimpeded we can actually get at what our deepest motivations and concerns are.
That’s why I’m such an advocate of wasting time creatively (not watching television or endlessly scrolling through social media). When we waste time we allow our consciousness to drift in a relaxed state across the vast plains of our being and we discover things about ourselves we would otherwise overlook. That’s how I discovered my love of writing.
Freehand journaling usually leads me somewhere; a place where work needs to be done. That’s when the next three types of journaling emerge.
Way 2: Journaling To Forgive
I journal to forgive when I’m experiencing anxiety, depression or anger. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves and when we journal to forgive we give a material release to our inner judge.
Eckhart Tolle writes in “The Power of Now” that anxiety is a symptom of spending too much time living in the future and not enough time living in the now. He also writes that depression is a sign that we’re living in the past, rather than being present. I invite you take some time to reflect on this. Can you see the truth those words are pointing to?
Can you identify when you feel anxious? What causes the anxiety?
Do you ever feel depressed? If so, are yo aware of what triggers it?
Our emotional storms tend to repeat themselves. For example, some people get angry over and over as an event (trigger) repeat itself in their lives. My emotional storms tend towards financial anxiety. I feel anxious when I begin imagining all the things I could be doing with my life if only this or that, happened.
The key word is “imagining.”
It starts when I perceive something which triggers an emotion which then goes on to trigger a thought, which then triggers more emotions and on and on it goes. My attention (which is the one thing we can control) gets pulled towards all these thoughts which then feed into the emotions.
Does this ever happen to you? If you’re human, I’d bet my britches it does.
If only there were a way to get off the grotesque merry-go-round of self-induced suffering we all climb on! Well, there is. Meditation is one way. Journaling is another.
How Journaling To Forgive Helps Us
Emotions aren’t logical. We can’t just reason them away.
Emotions also aren’t confined to the brain; they involve our whole body; especially our heart. Emotions are where our mind and body meet.
That’s why I don’t write “It’s all in my head.” It isn’t. When we perceive something that engages our emotions we start having thoughts. Those thoughts then produce more emotions.
So, if we want to cut the emotion-thought cycle we need to engage our emotions. Handwriting accesses more right brained processes (more emotion) than writing on a device.
Journaling to forgive helps us engage and release our emotions. If we do it thoroughly we can allow everything which is feeding the emotion-thought cycle to come out and get plastered on the page. You can read about how I do that with anxiety in this article.
I journal when I’m anxious. I identify my triggers and I forgive myself for whatever expectations I’m holding myself to. I remind myself that I’m doing my best and that’s all anyone can ever do. I then sign the page and close my journal.
My anxiety calms down immediately. It’s magic. Emotions are magical.
I believe journaling to forgive is the most regular therapeutic journaling we can do. The next type of journaling happens way less often, but is no less important.
Way 3: Journaling To Grieve
I lived for about a year with a broken heart. But I had no idea my heart was broken. I didn’t know what was going on inside me, so I didn’t know what I could do to help myself. I just knew I was immersed in lake of melancholy.
A pulsating knot of pain was caught in my emotions (body and mind). It tinged the world a cold gray and zapped the joy of life right out of me. I considered taking my life more than once. Thankfully, I never acted.
Therapists couldn’t help me. I left them speechless when I told them the story of my relationship. My passion was so fierce, the pain so deep, trained university psychologists couldn’t guide me through the work I had to do. I had lost the love of my life and I had been part of the cause. I knew I was guilty. Guilty of ignoring my heart.
I bought “Getting Past Your Breakup” and read it. It brought tears to my eyes, reading what the book was asking me to do, but it also said that doing it would allow me to heal.
So I did it.
It was journaling to grieve.
I Wrote To Grieve For My Relationship
Grieving is letting go of someone or something you loved. It’s a natural part of loving and losing. The deeper the love, the deeper the grief.
After my heartbreak I didn’t know I had to grieve. I had lost the deepest romantic relationship I had ever had, I was totally unaware that such a loss required deep grieving for me to heal and move forward. No one had ever taught me about this part of being human. I didn’t know that the emotional highs and lows I was experiencing were part-and-parcel of the grieving process.
Everyone I talked to told me that I should focus on my work or on finding someone else. That everything would fix itself.
As a person who has gone through grief I can tell you, it doesn’t get better on its own. We need to work through our grief if we want to move forward. Ignoring the pain of loss only suppresses it, it doesn’t heal it.
The book told me that the relationship I had been in was gone for ever and would never return. Even if the person and I got back together again, it would be a different relationship than the one which had brought us together. Accepting that was the first step in healing.
The instructions told me to write about the relationship in detail. To write about all the memories which I cherished from it and all the things I didn’t like about it.
It then told me to write about how my life would be different without the relationship and what I would miss about it.
The Process Took Months
I wrote about the places we visited, the challenges we faced together as only two young fools who are madly in love can do. I wrote about the parties we threw, the friends we made together and the times we supported each other through the shadows of our lives.
I wrote about the time we visited Philadelphia when we slept on a bench in a park because we didn’t want to spend money on a hotel.
About the time we visited New York City and took the wrong ferry at my direction. We didn’t get to climb the Statue of Liberty.
And about the way I felt when I fell for her. Like there was no one else in the world whom I could be myself with as much as with her.
That’s just a small part of the relationship I grieved.
I filled up two notebooks with writing and tears.
By the end of it I finally saw a shred of blue sky through the clouds of gray. It was the first time I had felt that after my heartbreak. And it happened through journaling. The book had other steps for me to follow, but I had put so much of myself into writing through the first steps I decided I was alright with that.
I knew I had put myself on the track to healing.
Journaling for grieving happens when we lose someone we love. Grieving for a relationship and for the death of a loved one actually activate the same brain regions. Both are the loss of a person; he/she will no longer be in our life and accepting that is the only path forward.
Journaling to grieve allows us to do that.
If you’re currently grieving, I believe in you! You can work through it!
Way 4: Journaling To Appreciate
I have written an article on the importance of appreciation. You can read it here.
What we focus on we get more of. By opening our journal and writing down the people, places, things and activities in our life which we are grateful for we focus our thoughts and emotions on the very things which make our life great!
By making the choice to focus on what we’re grateful for we train ourselves to look for those things in our life. And since the only things that happen to us are the things we pay attention to, we increase the value of the things we’re grateful for.
Does that make sense?
Journaling to appreciate raises the value of all the things you appreciate! It’s like a bank account in which only takes gratitude which gives you steady returns on everything you deposit! And there’s no limit to what you can be grateful for.
I don’t do this form of journaling often enough. But when I do I choose to focus on the things that really matter: my health, my friendships and romantic relationship, my senses, my knowledge and experience, the food I eat, the water I drink, the nature around me, the roof over my head. You get the idea.
By actively choosing to be grateful for these things they raise in value! Then you start feeling abundant, without doing much. And when you feel abundant you become abundant.
We get in life not what we want but what we are. Why do happy people have no trouble making friends wherever they go? Can you force anyone to be your friend? Of course not. People become your friends because of how they feel around you. And if someone is happy, they will make others happy.
This applies to everything. Even wealth 😉
Final Thoughts: Journal As It Suits You
I hope this article has shown you the how powerful and versatile journaling is. By journaling when we feel the need to we can effectively work through our emotional knots so our creative energy can flow freely and abundantly. Joe Dispenza says “When we master our emotions we master our creations.” This, according to my experience, is true.
All humans have it in them to be brilliantly creative and to craft lives which resonate with the deepest longings of their hearts. What most of us never learn is how to work through our emotional hangups so we can allow our life force to express itself fully.
I started this website to show people how learning about our humanity allows us to make new choices which bring greater freedom. When we know better we can do better. And the world desperately needs us to do better, for ourselves and for those who will come after us.
Next time you feel emotional turmoil, I invite you to open a journal up and write it out! Even if you don’t know what it is that’s causing your suffering, writing about it still brings you clarity. That’s how we all start building awareness of our inner world. We have to start somewhere!
How often do you journal?
To our wealth and success.