Hear me out!!
I hate journaling.
What if I told you that ‘journaling’ doesn’t have to be what we usually think of as journaling.
It doesn’t have to include sentences.
It doesn’t have to make sense to a reader.
It doesn’t even have to include words.
Why journal at all?
Journaling has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms, boost immune function, help cultivate gratitude, and improve memory function. It can also help you process and make sense of your internal world.
In work with my clients, we are often reprocessing past troubling experiences and making sense of them in the present. Journaling helps to connect dots between the past and the present and to make sense of what happens to us in our lives. It can help us understand how our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about ourselves influence us. Coupled with therapy, it can facilitate internal change at a faster rate than therapy alone because it can help the work continue between sessions. It has a lot of great benefits, but journaling doesn’t have to necessarily be done the way you may think.
Letting go of the expectation
I tried journaling for years. In elementary school with my little lock and key journal, in middle school with some stylish notebooks with my favorite band stickers on the outside, in college on LiveJournal (it was the early 2000s). I’ve purchased pretty journals. Simple journals. Journals with prompts. Journals with lines. Journals with dot grids. Journals with blank pages. I tried using one pen, colored pens, a pencil, even a Sharpie. It never worked because this expectation was always present in my mind: I have to write words…in sentences…and it has to be readable for the day I want to read it 10 years from now. I’d stick to it for a day, or a week, or once every six months, and find the empty journals mingling with my books when I packed a couple years later for a move.
Don’t get me wrong. Regular journaling works for plenty of people but, for some of us, it just doesn’t click. So let it go: the expectation of what a journal is supposed to be. Whatever it is in your head (pretty, long, list of daily activities, emotions, daily, deep, funny!) Let that expectation go. This will free you up to play with it to find your journal jam.
If that’s all you need-to let go of the expectation-then go, play, create your own journal!
If you’re like me and you need some examples to play with,here are some ideas:
Non-Journal Tip #1: Nonsense is Just Fine
It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you..and maybe not even you.
It doesn’t have to be logical and it doesn’t have to be pretty.
When you journal, you’re reprocessing whatever it is you’re writing about, so even if you never look at that page again or it’s chicken scratch that is unreadable, it is helping you make sense of something internally. This, alone, is a major benefit.
Also, when you are writing, you are literally using your body at the same time as the internal emotional processing, which means your body is aiding in the processing at another level, simply by moving your hands as you write. Processing through the body is also extremely beneficial in mental health. When you’re writing about something emotional or impactful, and your body is moving along with the internal processing, it is an added bonus.
Non-Journal Tip #2: Bullet Point Journaling
(not to be confused with bullet journaling, which is a totally different thing)
It doesn’t have to be in sentences to count. Write your journals in bullet points, like you might write notes during a lecture, training, or meeting. This way your writing can keep up with your train of thought or your flow of emotions.
Relationship with mom -
Non-Journal tip #3: No Words (ok, or maybe some)
Notice I did not say “art journaling.” Because that’s another expectation, and we’re letting go of those today. Instead, think VISUAL journal.
Doodle. Draw. Let your pen/pencil/crayon/marker/paint brush do its thing to help you express an emotion, thought, idea, memory, realization, belief about yourself or a situation, mantra, positive affirmation, etc. Create the story of what happened, of how you feel, of how it should be or how you want it to be.
Visual journaling is especially helpful to my clients that do parts work with me that enjoy spending time with their parts and creating them on paper or tablet without words.
Some people get really into it and like to add lots of color or mixed media or even painting. But that is absolutely not necessary. It can be a plain ol’ Bic pen or #2 pencil. Or 3 colors. It shouldn’t have to feel like work.
I’ve included some of my own as examples below. I mostly doodle on my tablet with my tablet pen in a digital notebook. I recently started watercolor painting and have done that twice, but I’m not usually in the mood to put that much thought into it and love being able to just open the tablet and get to it.
If you would like some more ideas to get your creative flow going, google “visual journal” and click on images to see all kinds of examples! If you really want more guidance, google “visual journal for beginners.” Remember, only do this if it sounds like something fun to play with. No expectations. (My broken record is STRONG, y’all.)
Non-Journal tip #4: Voice Journaling
Use your phone’s voice recorder app to record your thoughts and emotions as they flow. This is another one of those options that’s great if your thoughts move much faster than your pen or fingers across the keyboard. It can also help mitigate the mental blocks that sometimes come with processing through typed or written language.
And much like the body processing that happens with your hands, utilizing the voice can be beneficial in the same way. You move the thoughts and emotions out of your head and through your voice AND back into your ears at the same time.
One extra tip that I do have with this kind of journaling is about security. If you want to ensure your recordings are private, be sure that the app that you use doesn’t have access to your recordings and that you have password protection at some level.
Some other thoughts on Non-Journaling Journaling
Once upon a time, I was a teacher, and I learned early on that people learn and process so differently from person to person. The same can be said for how we process our internal experiences for mental health benefits. It’s why I sometimes draw what I’m explaining for some clients, use language for many, use hand gestures to show spatial understanding, and paint visual pictures through words for others. Through non-journaling, you can learn and cultivate your personal internal processing language YOUR WAY.
If you’re a visual person, doodling or drawing may be a great fit.
If you think quickly but like writing, bullet point journaling may be for you.
If you learn aurally, it may work for you to speak your journal.
Or maybe you like a combo of any of the above or mixture of any of the above or something entirely different that you’re considering right now…again, no expectations! Maybe what works on a given day depends on your mood. Just play with it to discover what works best for you.
I hope this takes some of the edge off of journaling and that you find one or more of these ideas to be helpful. I especially hope that it brings some play to the task as you explore your inner world through non-journaling.
Check Out the Accompanying Meditation
If you want to incorporate a little meditation into your non-journaling, check out my non-journaling meditation here. It includes a pre-journal meditation, 10 minute journaling time with music, and a post-journal meditation.
You can also check out the vlog version of this blog here...
Be well, y'all!
Crystalyn Jass Kirkpatrick
Crystalyn Jass Kirkpatrick, M.Ed., NCC, Licensed Professional Counselor
Texas online therapist in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and everywhere in between via
Crystalyn Jass Kirkpatrick Counseling PLLC
Phone, call or text: (512) 265-0913
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