How to Journal Properly for Emotional Growth
Journaling should only take 5 minutes as an exercise each night.
At the end of the day you either use a word document, journal app or an old fashioned notebook like I do and write out the following.
1- Things I did well today.
2- Things I didn’t do well and what I should have done instead.
3- What I’m angry about and what/who I’m avoiding, and why.
Section 1 – Each thing you did well should be noted in a sentence or two. This section isn’t for noting down any accomplishments at work or how well you baked a cake etc., it’s more for noticing what you did well in relation to other people (mostly.)
Did you ask your boss for a raise, tell your neighbor to turn down their music, call your mother who always berates you and tell her to stop etc. Another way of summing up this category is recording what happened when you asked for what you wanted, and what happened when you said “no” in whatever forms those took.
What feelings came up for you? How did you feel afterwards? Was it stressful and if so were you happy you did it anyway?
An example might look like this, “Today I finally worked up the nerve to ask my boss for a raise. I was sick to my stomach beforehand but after it was over I wondered why I was so nervous.”
Or, “Today I decided to give myself a break from work even though that’s very hard for me to do. I am too hard on myself and drive myself to exhaustion because I don’t feel good enough.”
Section 2 – Again write out each thing you didn’t do well in a sentence or two as it relates to your interactions (whether real or in your head) with others.
An example might look like, “I stressed myself out cleaning today because my mother was coming over. I did more than I usually would have for myself because I was afraid of her criticism. Next time, I’ll clean to my own standards, not hers.”
Why (deeper level) – “When she criticizes me I feel like a child again and I feel I can’t handle the stress that comes up for me. And even though I’m a grown up I still want her approval etc.”
Or, “Today I wanted to tell my neighbors to turn the music down but ended up not doing so. I rationalized to myself that it wasn’t so bad and that I didn’t want to be a nuisance of a neighbor. Next time I’ll prepare to say something that is polite and let them know in a friendly manner.”
Why (deeper level) – “I was afraid to say something because I feared they wouldn’t like me anymore or maybe they’d retaliate somehow.”
Section 3 – Here is what you might write in this section after those examples in the first two sections above, “I’m angry about the fact that I have a hard time standing up for myself and am avoiding confrontation with others, especially my mother.”
And that’s about it. 5 minutes max once per night.
Obviously the examples above are about asserting oneself and I choose that because it’s a popular problem but you can use the above journaling structure for any issue you have. You may be plenty bold and assertive but need to learn to be more vulnerable and listen to others and so your journal entries would reflect that.
Enter therapy. The purpose of therapy is to discover your issue as concretely and as simply as possible, so that you can then work on it with your journaling, group therapy if you decide to go that route, or any other practice you decide to take on.
You need to define the problem first or else you’ll be all over the place. You can still make progress and it is recommended that you do anything that you can to spur on your growth if you can’t go to therapy. Meaning you’ll benefit still from journaling or from whatever else you’re doing if you can’t see a therapist.
If you can’t journal every night then do it as often as you can. After a few months you’ll look back through the pages and see a pattern emerge, as well as how you’ve progressed from the very start. I’d suggest looking back once per month to see where you were and compare it to where you are now.
Growth is slow and sometimes it feels like we’re never getting any better, hence looking back every so often.
I highly recommend you get started with journaling asap. It’s free and a powerful tool to make your life better.