This guest post was contributed by Sasha Glasgow of Frank and Feel (@frankandfeel). She is a ‘writer, doubter, doer’ and runs www.frankandfeel.com as well as hosts the podcast This is Your RemindHer. Sasha also sometimes hosts writing workshops (details available via her website).
Journalling: said to improve your mood and memory, and boost creativity. It can help you to improve your communication with yourself and others, while also being a great way to declutter your mind. While it’s all well and good knowing these benefits, the question that I’m most often met with is: “ok, but how do I do it?”
At its core, journalling is an ongoing conversation with yourself. It’s a great way to routinely (whatever that looks like for you) check-in with yourself, and hear what you have to say. By simply writing: “I feel…” and then completing that sentence, congratulations – you’re journalling (that was an example of a sentence stem, by the way).
I don’t have many rules when it comes to journalling, but the one thing that I stick to is to concentrate on how it feels instead of how it looks. I actively ignore scribbles, crossings out, spelling mistakes, sloppy handwriting. None of that matters. I write single word sentences and use bullet points, brainstorms, doodles, arrows and lists within my journalling practice.
Journalling as a freedom space
I journal most days. I think that is expressly because in my no-rule book, I don’t set expectations around frequency, style or length. It can feel as though there are enough rules in life, I don’t bring them in my journal too. That is my freedom space. The words come as they come.
Aside from a blank page, the only other thing that I don’t want to see when I journal is an edited version of me and my thoughts emerging in ink. We can spend so much of our time editing ourselves in many real-life situations, so I fight to make sure that my journal isn’t one of them. And I’d encourage you to as well. If we are just going to hide from ourselves on the page, it’s almost like another to-do list item or surface-level should of a self-care practice that has the potential to give so much to us if we meet it honestly.
Journalling and desire
One of the ways I meet myself honestly in my journal? Through connecting with my ddesires. Kathleen Adams, a psychotherapist and author of Journal to the Self, told the Huffington Post. “It (jouranlling) lets us say what’s on our minds and helps us get — and stay — healthy through listening to our inner desires and needs.” 
As mentioned, I regularly use lists in my journalling. This is because they are sharp and snappy. Imagine a shopping list. You wouldn’t write, ‘I’m going to buy tomatoes, because I might want to make a pasta sauce, and I’ll need them for a salad.’ You just write tomatoes. In this same way, I encourage those that journal with me at workshops to participate in ‘I want lists’: sharp, snappy, shopping lists of the things we want to call into our lives. Without qualification, interrogation or consideration for anyone but ourselves.
I use these lists to try and get into a regular habit of hearing and seeing my desires written down and giving myself that permission to have them. Even if you do nothing with it, I find that act alone very freeing. It’s not something I feel we allow ourselves to do very often, and I mean… how will we ever know what we want in life if we don’t allow ourselves to know and express what we want?
For your journal: take two minutes to write an ‘I want list.’ If you hesitate when you go to write something, write it twice, underline it. It’s meant to be there. Enjoy the practice of simply letting yourself want what you want.
Journalling: in it for the long haul
I don’t look for big revelation each time I journal. It’s simply whatever is in my mind at the time. And I use this as a lesson in itself. This time is useful to hear all that we have to say, because we’re worthy of listening to ourselves and being heard. This acts as good practice, because as I see it, if we get used to hearing ourselves regularly, recognising our voices and giving priority to our thoughts and reflections, when something that really demands our attention comes up, it will have more chance of being heard and adhered to, instead of dismissed.
In a 2018 Cambridge University Press journal, a research article entitled Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, noted that in the longer term, “many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes and self-reported emotional health outcomes.”
The Intuitive part of intuitive journalling
The word intuition means ‘the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.’ Personally, I find that I can only journal about things that connect with me – that spark a thought, reaction or memory instinctively. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I believe that prompts are everywhere: song lyrics, quotes from books I’m reading, TV programmes, the things you see on social media. I pay attention to the things that make an impression, or stir a reaction. That’s how I navigate what feels worthwhile for me to write about a lot of the time. I have a look at the images that I ‘save’ to a board on Pinterest or Instagram or the things I take a screenshot of, and find ways to gently probe and ask questions about what they mean to me and what prompted me to take note of them.
For you to try: Have a look at the last few things that you’ve saved somewhere, a sentence in a book that you’ve highlighted or a recent screenshot and gently question what it is about that thing that made you save it for later. To do this, I often ask who what, when, where, why and how questions, such as: who did this make me think of? What situation or memory came to mind? What emotion does this evoke? Why do I feel x emotion?
Journal for joy
Finally, I regularly make space to journal for joy. The benefits of gratitude journaling g have been widely reported, but I have a personal practice of listing what I call ‘tiny delights.’ These are things that I already include, make time for and have built into my days. It has more autonomy than gratitude for me, which sometimes I can feel is something that I have to go in search of just to find something to note down. Tiny delights though are the small things that I have already called into my every day by design: a freshly made bed to greet me when I get home. Actually reading more my dedicating the first 15 minutes of the day to reading. The delicious fruit salad I had with breakfast.
For you to try: go ahead and compose your own list of tiny delights. These aren’t extra to-do’s they’re things that already exist.
In summary, if you’d like to build a journal practice, here are my top tips:
- Don’t pay attention to how it looks, how long you journal for, or if it’s not every day. Focus on the act of self-expression and the fact that you are making time for yourself
- Journalling isn’t only about writing page after page of words. If helpful, include doodles, brainstorms and bullet points as ways to get to the words initially
- If using prompts or when searching for prompts to journal on, write with what connects with you not just what you’re presented with
- Journal for joy
- And one more… find a good spot that actually makes you want to hunker down for a few moments with your thoughts. That could be on a park bench, in a coffee shop, the comfiest chair in your home or in bed.