"Journaling helps!" says the therapist. "How do I journal?" asks the client.
I'm glad you asked. There are many ways to productively journal. If you've found a means that works well for you, I'd love to hear about it. If not, check out the ideas below.
Make sure it's safe.
It's sheer terror to be really gut honest with yourself only to find that you were unknowingly being gut honest with your third cousin Marcie, all of Twitter, and your boss. If you're not confident your writing is confidential, burn or delete it after you write. You can still gain therapeutic benefit from writing it down. (Note: author is not responsible for burned fingers, burned curtains, deleted hard drives, etc.)
Write for you, not for your grammar teacher.
Now is not the time to worry about whether "furious" has two r's or to bemoan your scrawly penmanship.
Write in your heart language.
Each language you speak connects with a different part of your brain, a different set of experiences and memories. Feel free to toggle between languages, alphabets, or both.
Write down events.
Not sure where to start? Remind yourself of what happened throughout your day, or what happened in the event you're losing sleep over. Write the big picture story or jot down the details. Recounting what actually happened may bring clarity. If the same event continues to bother you, write about it until it loses its sting. Your journal won't roll its eyes at you for telling the same story again.
Write from your heart.
Set aside logic and how you think you SHOULD feel and jot down, uninhibitedly, how you DO feel. Emotions are part of being human, and having emotion (even intense emotion) doesn't make you a bad person. Like physical pain, emotional pain lets us know something isn't OK. Emotion can be a conduit to healing. Start by being as honest as you possibly can with yourself.
Write from your head.
Don't get stuck in emotion. Let logic speak too. What do you know to be true even though it doesn't FEEL true?
Write with compassion...
... including self-compassion. What is hard right now? What is it you need right now? Even if that need isn't meet-able in the moment, acknowledge it. What is one thing you can do to take one step towards health? What would the most loving person imaginable say to you right now?
Just start. Journaling takes practice. If you don't start off with a 4.0 in journaling - good news - it's not a competition. Exercise the muscle. Make it a habit. If you don't burn/delete your work, you can go back later and see how far you've come, how you've changed and what you've overcome.
If creativity comes naturally to you, let it flow! Bust out your gel pens, your digital design skills, and have fun with it. Incorporate drawing, quotes, photos, spreadsheets, music... introduce the world to a whole new genre of journaling.
Write down your takeaway.
Don't wait for the instantaneous cha-ching lightbulb moment that solves all of your problems. See if you can find the one tiny action, change, phrase or reminder that you can grab hold of today, right now. Write that takeaway down somewhere that you will see it often. Make a small change right away.
Laura Lanford is a professional counselor with a special place in her heart for internationals, expats, immigrants, refugees, third culture kids and all who have been "uprooted". She focuses on trauma, grief and loss, attachment and relationships, and finding connectedness and a sense of home in a world of global uncertainty. Learn more at lifeuprooted.com.