With most clients, we tend to come a point in our work together where I offer up the idea of journaling, an intervention that always used to make me squirm a little! This is because a majority of the time the suggestion was met with eye-rolling, polite laughter, exasperated sighs, or some confession of journaling attempts that never fully took off. Adding to my discomfort was the fact that I didn’t have much to back up the thought; I always kind of left the idea hanging out there with little to no follow up.
So finally I decided that I would either try to figure out why this suggestion wasn’t helping the work or I would stop throwing the journaling idea out there altogether. When I took a closer look, I realized that (as with most processes) I needed to be a little bit more specific about what the writing should involve. What was also clear was that writing needed to become a supplementary practice to the therapy, meaning it required some dedicated time and energy from the client and some intentional follow up on my end.
If you’ve been thinking about writing things out, start by marking out a part of your day where you can dedicate 10 minutes to writing, whether it seems like you have something to write about or not. If it’s “just really hard” or there “just really isn’t time” or you “just don’t feel like it,” keep at it anyway. As your mind tries to wander away from your writing, be gentle with yourself and remember these words from Anne Lamott…
“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”
Here are a few more ideas on how to get started…
Brain Dump: Best if done right after waking up or right before going to sleep. However you’re able, remove yourself from as much distraction as you can. Commit to filling one, two, or three pages with whatever is filling your brain at the moment. The objective is to just keep writing. Punctuation, spelling, and grammar can go out the window. There is no need for an arc or a moral. If you’re writing down one stream of thought and suddenly your to-do list pops in your head, it goes down on the paper.
One-Sided Conversation: If you have repetitive negative thoughts that regularly intrude on your day catch them on paper. Don’t follow the urge to turn them into something nice. Let them out honestly. During a time when the negative thoughts are not present, return to what you wrote and respond from a calmer, kinder place.
Right Hand Left Hand: When you are trying to process a difficult situation try writing it out using your usual writing hand. Next, re-write it using your other hand. Notice what changes in the situation or in your mood. You can also use this technique for the One-Sided conversation, writing out your negative thoughts with your dominant hand and responding with your other hand.
First Draft: Is there something swirling around your head that feels like it wants to be said? Whether or not you decide to direct these words to someone, write them down. Get everything out, noting where you experience anxiety or apprehension, remind yourself this is a first draft and besides, this isn’t being sent anyway! Maybe eventually you will voice your concern, hurt, or issue but even then, your response will be informed by your feelings rather than being dictated by them.
Light & Easy Prompts: If writing out your thoughts, feelings, or experiences seems a little daunting ease yourself into the practice with these prompts:
What’s a country you’d like to visit? How do you imagine your time there?
What would be the guest list at your dream party?
What is a book, movie, or song that has influenced you, and how?
Write five personal short term goals
Do you have any outstanding/unfinished “seasonal projects”? What are you doing to complete those projects?
What toys have you kept (or recovered) from your childhood? What toys did you have that you wish you still had (and not just so you can sell them on eBay)?
More In-Depth Prompts:
List the people that you trust. Write about your list. What are the boundaries of trust?
How does the changing of the seasons affect you? Do you find yourself looking backward? Forwards? Elsewhere? Which seasons affect you the most? Why?
Journaling Prompt – Do you have unquestioned beliefs? What are they? What has caused–or could cause–you to question them?
Pick a decision you’ve been considering (or putting off). Describe the worst possible outcome you can imagine. Now describe the best possible outcome you can imagine. Which outcome did you give the most detail? Which outcome seemed the most improbable?
Journaling can be a great way to gain insight on what’s really going on inside of yourself. That exploration can be difficult – as many habits are! Prompts, or guiding your journaling, is a great way to find enjoyment in this new habit. Do you have any journaling prompts that really inspire you? Leave them in the comments section!