The Power of Journaling – Part 2: techniques

Last week, I talked about The Power of Journaling and how it can help you get a bird’s eye view of things.  It allows different perspectives to emerge and gives us additional options for how to deal with things.  Now, I’d like to offer some techniques so that you get the most out of journaling.

Journaling when needed
Probably the most common mode of journaling is writing whenever we feel the need to write.  This is usually dependent on problems or issues that arise.  While this is better than not journaling at all, it is more like damage control versus trying to prevent a problem in the first place.  Although venting can be useful in improving perspective, it can also trap us in a cycle of only complaining about things.  One way to shift this type of writing is to make it a point to write when achievements or other positive events in life occur as well.  Another is to write at certain times of the day.

Morning Pages
A technique for journaling that I find useful is called morning pages.  It was developed by Julia Cameron, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of learning the technique from directly.  It consists of three pages of stream of consciousness writing (i.e., writing whatever comes to mind) first thing each morning.  There is no attention to grammar, punctuation, or even making sense.  Nobody else will read what you write.  Julia generally encourages writers or those who are creative to employ this technique before pursuing their creative endeavors.  This technique works in that it helps you take out your mental trash so that you start the day with an empty trash can, preventing it from overflowing as you go about your day.  Personally, this technique has helped me come up with some good ideas, arrive at insights, connect things in my mind that seemed unrelated, and of course, to vent my feelings.  In fact, when writing morning pages regularly, I have felt as if I talked out my issues with another person.  No longer did my feelings need expression or leak out when I didn’t want them to.  Interestingly, none of these outcomes were my intention.  They were a nice by-product of writing first thing in the morning on a daily basis.

Evening Pages
Morning pages can also be done in the evening, a la “evening pages.”  However, given its time of day, it naturally tends to be more reflective of the previous day.  Cameron’s take on this is that it’s less effective than morning pages since we are powerless to change a day that has already passed.  However, I disagree.  I believe there is still much to be gained from journaling about a day that can only be reflected upon in retrospect.  I have found the same benefits that I mentioned above, including insights into why I did what I did on a given day and how I could do things differently next time.  Letting go of the day at the end of it also made it easier for me to fall asleep.  Personally though, I prefer to write in the morning if I can.  If you have the time, consider writing both in the morning and in the evening.  If not, experiment with one time instead of another.  I leave it up to you to decide which time of day works best for you.

Close your Eyes
Another take on stream of consciousness writing is a variation on morning pages that a friend of mine came up with.  He sits in front of his computer first thing in the morning and sets a timer for a certain interval of time, say 20 minutes.  During this time, he closes his eyes and types nonstop, at a comfortable pace rather than typing as fast as possible.  Again, there is no regard for spelling, grammar, punctuation or making sense.  The effects of this technique are similar to morning pages, but it can bring forth rawer writing and access to deeper parts of ourselves than other forms of journaling.  This technique is also best practiced on a regular, daily basis for best results.

Whether we write with ink and parchment, pen and paper, on a tablet or computer, much can be gained by journaling.  It can give us perspective on whatever we’re dealing with through the distance and healthy detachment that it brings.  Without journaling, we may be limiting ourselves to a street-level view when a more powerful bird’s eye view of things is available to us.  I’m curious to hear how you journal and how it has helped you…

jack grabon
Jack Grabon, LCSW-R, CPC is a holistic therapist and life coach who helps those on a spiritual path to resolve deep-seated issues and live happier, more meaningful lives. He offers in-person sessions in New York City, as well as phone and Skype sessions. Contact him now for a free consultation.
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2 comments on “The Power of Journaling – Part 2: techniques
  1. Colleen says:

    I have used journaling as a way to purge bad energy after a bad day – especially when it is keeping me up at night. I’ve read about Julia Cameron’s morning pages exercise, but have always been intimidated by the concept until now. I guess I never saw this as something I would find useful – maybe I saw myself as someone that wakes up each morning as a blank slate- which I definitely am not. I did write each day for a while and found it was very supportive for getting in touch with what is important and building a positive mindset. It became something of a gratitude journal. After reading your post I may try the morning pages exercise – I never saw this exercise as a way to manifest the best in your day. I’ll check in with my experience at a later date.

    • Jack Grabon says:

      Most people associate journaling with venting or complaining, so I’m glad to hear that your gratitude journal was helpful. I would say that morning pages can work as ventilation, as a way to manifest positive things, to setup your day, or for whatever we need in that moment. Great to hear that you’re keen on trying it out. Keep us posted on how it goes!

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