Thursday, March 8, 2012

Self-Discovery: Keeping a Journal

DiaryAsk and Answer Questions (Photo credit: Barnaby)By Suzanne E Harrill

Writing is a good way to get to know yourself, solve your problems, lower your stress level, and balance yourself emotionally.

If you are new to this, buy a notebook to begin keeping a journal, not a diary, a journal. What is the difference? A diary reports events and usually makes sense if another were going to read it.

A journal, on the other hand, is about your emotional reactions to people and events, insights you have in understanding yourself, lists of your needs, wants, values, and goals.

You can write about your dreams, both daydreams and dreams during sleep, giving your feelings and your hunches free range to explore meaning for you. A journal is a good place to record your guiding beliefs and patterns of behavior that keep you stuck, and your rewrites.

It might include letters to people who have hurt you, even if it happened years ago. Sometimes these letters are written only to help you express and process your feelings. Wait a couple of days if you choose to mail a letter to make sure it feels right.

Time stops emotionally when you have an emotional trauma and a part of you gets stuck. Writing out your angry, hurt, and sad feelings helps move those frozen emotional parts of you, to bring the light of understanding with new clarity and interpretations from your aware, adult self, and to integrate these experiences.

If you have a fight with a family member, use your journal writing to sort out your feelings and to make sense out of your reactions. Then you may decide to write that person a letter to open communication and share where you are without being as emotional.

Once you begin writing and expressing yourself, you may discover it reminds you of a similar pattern with one of your parents or it may repeat some of your parents' dance with each other. You may not even have realized this, but journal writing can help you stumble upon other earlier issues that fuel the reactions you are having with this person in your present.

Journals are not for others to read and do not make sense to anyone else. In fact, they are personal and need to be kept out of reach of the curious in your households. If you feel your privacy will not be honored, then mail what you write to a friend, therapist, or understanding family member.

I have worked with a few people who find writing leaves them too open and vulnerable. So they write down insights and process their experiences and then destroy what they have written to avoid any risk of being hurt by another invading their privacy.

Write in your journal a minimum of 20 or 30 minutes a day. This may sound like a big commitment to those of you who have never experienced the healing effects of journal writing. Try it for a month or two before you judge this process. Forget any memories of school and needing to write in complete sentences, neatly, or with correct spelling. Just express yourself. Over time you will get the feel of it.

If you walk or exercise your physical body daily it becomes a habit; so does expressing yourself in your journal. It is especially helpful to write during times of rapid growth and healing, high stress, holidays, anniversaries of painful events, or when irritated with work or a family member.

One tip that helps motivate me is to have many different colored ink pens, and then I choose the color that I feel like writing with each time. It is amazing how easy it is to write some of your issues in purple, while others respond to green or orange.

Journal writing is a process, and awareness grows in this process. One or two days of writing usually does not help you as much as the richness found in a series of writings. Here you see bigger patterns, deeper themes, and many more details. Many people resist writing, possibly because it reminds them of the pressures of being in school.

For journaling you don't need to worry about spelling, writing in complete sentences, or grammar. Just express yourself. Until you try it for a while, it is difficult to understand the benefits of writing down your thoughts and feelings. The most remarkable thing for me is that insights sometimes pop out of my unconscious and onto my paper, and often I had no idea these ideas were there.

Use the following questions and suggestions to get you started. Once you have answered them go back and do it again. New information always come forward.

Journal Questions for Self-Discovery

Describe your parents. How are you alike and how are you different from each? What are the most significant traits, guiding beliefs, or patterns of behavior that you learned from each of your parents? Which of these do you like and which do you dislike? What did you learn from each parent about money, anger, prosperity, communication, relationships? (This question alone could keep you writing for many days).

List what you like and dislike about your own character traits. Take one characteristic that you wish to change. Write every thought, feeling, and memory you have related to this trait. What blocks you from moving this trait in a positive direction? What are some baby steps you can take to improve this trait?

Describe how you will look, act, and feel when you have transformed this trait in yourself. Take a moment each day to feel and visualize this updated trait in yourself as if it is already true. Continue with more of your traits that you wish to transform.

What motivates you in life? Where do you feel your passion?

Write about your most developed and least developed part of yourself - physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. What things do you need to do to balance yourself?

Write about the people who are/were mentors or role models for you? Begin in childhood. Who did you admire and why? What have you learned from each of them? What do you like about each? Which of their values, characteristics, behaviors, and beliefs do you choose to emulate?

Think about the most exciting future you can imagine. Write a story about your future as if you are writing a novel or movie with you as the main character. Make it the way you really dream of and move beyond your current script.

Write about the most negative thought or feeling you have about yourself. Write some healing affirmations to reflect what you now know is true.

Get in touch with some of your fears, like fear of rejection, abandonment, not being perfect, or not being good or smart enough. Write about each. When do you remember first having them? What events trigger them today? How do you see yourself healing these? Create some affirmations.

Write about significant emotional events that have influenced your life.

List your needs, wants, and goals.

List your values and rank order them. Notice which ones are your biggest motivators.

List ten guiding beliefs. Rewrite the limiting ones.

Write a letter to someone you are angry with, hurt by, resentful towards, or unable to forgive. You do not have to mail the letter unless your inner guidance directs you to do this.

Record your dreams. Include how you feel about each dream and what you think each may mean. Look for themes and patterns in your dreams over a period of time.

Who were the people and situations that influenced your self-esteem in the past? Write about your positive and negative feeling experiences. What does your inner guidance tell you to do about healing the past?

Write about conditional and unconditional love. What did you experience and learn from your family of origin? from your religious teachings? from the media? Who do you love unconditionally? Discuss.

List things that you do, or want to start doing to nurture yourself.

Write a letter at the beginning of each year or on your birthday, expressing all that you want to experience and accomplish in the next year. Open your letter the following year and see how well you did. Notice whether you had unreal expectations of time, either allowing too much or too little time to do what you say you wanted to accomplish, create, and experience.

Suzanne E. Harrill, M. Ed., LPC empowers individuals to build awareness, heal self-esteem, create satisfying, life-enhancing relationship, and to grow spiritually. Suzanne is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is the author of many self-help books for adults, teens, and children.

Some of her books include: "Seed Thoughts for Loving Yourself", "The Harrill Solution: Secrets of Successful Relationships Revealed", "Empowering You to Love Yourself", "Simple Secrets for Building Self-Esteem and Finding Your True Self" and "I Am a Star: A Children's Self-Esteem Book."

Learn more about Suzanne, read no-cost articles and read detailed descriptions about her books at http://www.innerworkspublishing.com.

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