Write it Down: Journaling for Self-Discovery and Expression
By Julienne B. Derichs LCPC
Life is full of change. At times, we find ourselves in situations that we do not fully understand. I often suggest to the clients that I work with, that they explore their feelings, thoughts, and ways to take action by keeping a journal. Keeping a journal is like having a best friend who is always there to listen and reflect day or night.
Journaling can help you:
- Increase self-empowerment
A blank page can seem a bit overwhelming. People often ask for a bit of direction with this process. There are three main themes of journaling:
- Self Exploration and expression
- Working through thoughts and feelings
- Exploring ways to take action
Pick out a journal that you like. Remember that the only critic that will read your entries is you! So be kind to yourself and don’t think you have to write anything that will make sense to anyone else. You do not even have to spell correctly.
Try keeping your journal with you at all times or keep it on your nightstand and write just when you wake up or just before going to bed. If you’re not sure where to start here are some ideas for journaling:
Self Exploration and Expression
- Write a feeling word in the middle of a blank page and put a circle around. Around the circled word write everything that comes to mind in association with that word.
- Write down what happened today and how you felt about it.
- Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. List all the big things, all the small things, and everything in between that you can think of.
- Circle the three most important things on the list you made. Write a paragraph for each, expressing your appreciation to the person who had the most influence over it. If possible, turn this into an actual letter and send it.
- Make a timeline that represents your life. Fill it in with the most significant events that have shaped you: your early years, your teen years, and each decade that has followed. Draw pictures or icons next to the most important events. Write a few pages about your feelings about the timeline.
- Describe how your life would be different if _______ ( you fill in the blank), had or had not happened.
Here are some examples: If your parents had divorced. If your parents had remained married. If your mother had not passed away. If you hadn't moved to ______. If you had or hadn’t gone to college. If you had never met ______.. If you hadn’t split up with __________. If you were truthful about ________.
- Make a list of five places you’d like to visit. Describe what you imagine them to be like.
- Write a letter to yourself as you were at age 6, 8, or 12. Ask yourself:
What did you need most at the age? What your life is like now? What you have learned since you were that age? What you want him/her to know? What you want him/her to beware of? What you want him/her to enjoy every moment of?
- Write a letter to your own parents. Tell them what your life is like now.
- Keep a log of the feelings you have during the day. Write down the insights you have about the patterns you see emerging in your life.
- Write about what life was like before you became a parent.
- Write about what you wish you had known before you became a parent.
- Make a list of the things you still want to learn about being a parent.
- Write a letter to your children, even if they have not yet been born. Tell them what you want them to know about you.
- Write a letter to your grandchildren, even if they have not yet been born. Tell them what you want them to know about you.
- Write a letter to your descendants one hundred years from now. Describe what your life is like today.
Working Through Thoughts and Feelings
- Write a letter to a person you are angry with. Say everything you are feeling and wish you had the nerve to say. Draw a picture of the person the way you seen them in your minds eye.
- Make a list of all the things you wish you could do before your life is over.
- Make a list of the things no one knows about you.
- Write a list of the top ten qualities a mate must have in order for you to stay in a long-term relationship.
- Describe what it was like when you first met your partner.
- Write about what you wish you had known about your partner before you married him/her.
- Write about what you wish your partner had known about you before (s)he married you.
- Write a letter to someone from your childhood or adolescence who didn’t appreciate you or who misunderstood you. Tell the person what you want them to know and how you feel about the lack of connection between you.
- Think of someone you never acknowledged for something important. Write that person a letter and acknowledge him or her.
- Think of someone who never acknowledged you for something important. Write them a letter and tell them what you want them to know.
- Write about three things you most regret doing or not doing. Describe what happened and how you feel about it.
Exploring Ways to Taking Action
- Number a sheet of paper from 1 to 50. Ask yourself the question: “What makes me happy?” List everything you can think of. Cover all areas of your life. List at least 50 things.
- Make a list of the things that you feel upset about right now. Write down as many as you can think of until you can’t think of any more. Then choose the top five.
- For each of the top five things you identified, list 10 things you can do to gain control of the situation. Circle the top three from each list.
- Write about the four things that you most like to challenge yourself about in the next year.
- Write about the four things that you most dislike doing and would like to stop doing in the next year.
- Make a list of five phenomenal events you want to happen in the coming year. Write a paragraph or two describing each one and how your life will be better if it happens.
For each of the five phenomenal events, make a list of:
- Five barriers or forces that block or prevent it from happening.
- Five positive influences, things that encourage or support its happening.
- Five things you can do to reduce the barriers and strengthen the positive influences.
Write down all of the reasons that you are stuck…stuck in a relationship, bad work situation, stuck in conflict with a friend or family member, or stuck in a particular belief or way of thinking. Give yourself a lot of good reasons for sticking it out. Then begin to challenge your reasons for not taking action.