Sunday, December 30, 2012

To Journal or Not to Journal

A Break For Thinking
A Break For Thinking (Photo credit: ninniane)
by Kealah Parkinson

Journaling can be very helpful for sorting out your feelings. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the idea of starting or keeping a journal. But the fact is, to be its most helpful, journaling is used in its simplest form.

Here are the basics of journaling:

(1) Define the reason you want to keep a journal

Maybe you don't want to actually "keep" a journal at all. Rather, you may likely want to simply get the thoughts that are bothering you out of your head. And putting them on paper is an excellent way to get them outside of yourself. In a case such as this, it's not necessary to buy a special notebook or keep it in a sacred spot.

You can grab any scratch pad that's handy and use any writing utensil to record your thoughts at any time. And you can even throw those thoughts away once you've gotten them out of your system (you may use a recording device to achieve the same results).

(2) Use the journal as consistently as is comfortable for you and your needs

For some purposes, such as enhancing creativity, daily journaling is important. But when it comes to maintenance of feelings, daily journaling is often unnecessary. Again, simply record your thoughts when you cannot get rid of them-and can't think clearly enough to work your way through them without this extra aid. The more you engage in this exercise, the easier it will become for you to work through your bogged-down feelings without a journal.

(3) Be specific in your journal entries

While it may be helpful to write a general sketch of what's going on or what's bothering you in the moment (and it often is), this doesn't exactly help you to solve the problem. To do that, you'll want to be as specific as possible-not only about what's happening, but also about how you feel about it. Saying (or writing), "I feel bad," is too vague.

Give those bad feelings precise names that accurately convey your emotion: angry, hostile, over-excited, guilty, hurt, confused, disappointed, etc. If you find that you can't put a name to it-or that you are too commonly using generic words like bad or upset to describe how you feel-it's okay to write that you're unsure what to call the way you're feeling. But do take the time to think about it and practice naming what you feel very specifically. This also gets easier with practice.

(4) Don't forget to focus on the positive

After you've vented, it's important to give yourself closure on the situation at hand. One very easy way to do that is to think of what you're grateful for, because even in negative situations, we can always find something positive (for example, if "I'm mad at my husband for not helping with the dishes," I can later recognize that "I'm grateful he's been working so hard to bring in money this week and also that he appreciates my cooking for him").

I've been journaling for a variety of reasons since before I could even write in cursive. Although I've gotten a lot of different benefits from journal-writing, the longest staple has been an objective observation of my feelings in situations that might otherwise overwhelm me. I have employed all of the above techniques as needed with quite positive results.

For more helpful hints on this subject, check out the blog of my colleague, Barbara J. Henry, a.k.a. "The Journal Lady."

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