Journal your thoughts

August 30th, 2014

The practice of journaling has been around for hundreds of years. Kings and presidents and leaders of all sorts practiced this art and many of their musings are archived as intimate and personal history.

I am thinking in terms of journaling for healthy aging. "Hmmm," you might say, “How so?” Studies have been done on the effects of journaling for health over the years and interesting results have ensued.

4 health benefits of journaling are (but are not limited to):

Reducing stress

Writing about your stressful situation will often lead to insights and alternative perspectives which may lead to a reduction of the physical impact the stress may have on your mind/body/spirit.

Problem solving

Writing about your problem without editing in any way—just writing from your right brain (emotional, free flowing, non-judgmental) may provide insights you have not thought of in your rational or linear (left brained) thinking. A “whole brained” approach to anything opens up expanded thinking processes!

Understanding yourself

Writing about a subject (more on this later) may help you to revisit experiences you have had but have not thought about (or unpacked) for years.

Exploring a disagreement

A therapeutic way of journaling about a disagreement is to write about it from the other person’s point of view. This is a technique I used in co-teaching a class “Managing Change and Conflict” at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). It is a powerful tool.

These are a few of the health benefits from journaling.

“Fine”, you say, “But how do I do it?”

The short answer is "easily.” The only rule is that there are no rules!

Some guidelines however might be helpful:

  • Find a comfortable time, place and materials, a notebook (your choice of color or design) and a good pen.
  • Make a decision as to whether or not you are going to share what you write and with whom. This decision makes a great difference in how and what you write.
  • Do NOT edit. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just write. Write from your heart as well as your head.
  • Select a topic. This will totally depend on your circumstances. For our purposes let’s assume this is a daily journal of your life. Leave junior high school and “Dear Diary” behind. Focus on what aspect of your day was important to you, who you interacted with, some ideas or special thoughts you had, a discovery you made and things you are grateful for.

As you begin this practice of journaling, you may discover you begin to see your life differently. In a creative writing course, I asked participants to metaphorically wear “glasses of a different color” each day. One day was to wear “rose colored” glasses and journal from that perspective. Another day was green glasses to see the world from an envious perspective. Yet another day was to wear blue glasses and see the world from a sad perspective. The discoveries were amazing and the debrief of the experience was insightful.

Writing about a person, problem or position that brings stress is therapeutic. I ask students to write without stopping or editing for four minutes and eleven seconds. They are then instructed to fold the paper without reading it and put it in a safe place. In two or three days they have a choice of re-reading it or destroying it unread. The purpose is catharsis. It is one strategy for addressing the problem toward the goal of letting go of it.

It is of great health importance to record things you are thankful for each day. Keeping a gratitude journal is a proven and powerful strategy to help you stay focused on seeing the glass half full. When I teach this topic, I add my caveat and say, ”It is illegal, immoral and fattening to list the same things you are thankful for (ie: my grandchildren) more than once a week.” Some days it is easier than others.

Thinking ministry

You might invite people to journal about the scripture from this week’s sermon each day and see how the same scripture speaks differently to you each day.

Or, journal about your thoughts about next week’s scripture (many churches use the common lectionary or post the next scripture in the bulletin) to see what it says to you and then how your interpretation and the sermon agree or disagree.

Focusing on how scripture speaks to you personally has the potential of insight and faith development.

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