For those who aren’t motivated by journaling, these unique approaches will change your mind
Like exercise, most of us know the value of journaling. The problem tends to be a lack of motivation, not of understanding.The trick is to find a journaling method that excites you. Then you’ll be willing to show up on the page every day.
“Everything I’ve ever done was done with excitement, because I wanted to do it, because I loved doing it.”Ray Bradbury, Zen and the Art of Writing
So, I’m not going to waste time telling you all the reasons you should journal, instead I’ll give you eight journaling formats that will inspire you to commit to this helpful habit.
I’ve tried all of these methods. What I find works best for me is to give a new method a 20 day trial period and then it becomes part of my journaling bag of tricks. I tend to see what kind of mood I am in and then use the journaling style that suits me best for that day.
Read poetry as a Jumping-off Place Into Journaling
For 30 days, I read a poem daily while doing the Ray Bradbury Reading Challenge. The poetry moved and inspired me. I was driven to journal about the poems I was reading and capture my insights.
“Listen to presences inside poems,/ Let them take you where they will.”Rumi, The Essential Rumi
Poetry speaks in metaphors, rather than the concrete examples of prose. This is why some poems strike your heart, while others fall to the wayside without touching you. You bring your personal experience to every poem. Through metaphors and figurative language, the poet can connect her experience with your own. Use poems to prompt your own reflections.
If you don’t currently read poetry, the “Ten Poems” compilations of Roger Housden are a great starting point because he follows the poems with essays.
Contemporary poets I love include Mary Oliver, Nikita Gill and Maya Angelou. High school poems by Langston Hughes, e.e. Cummings and Edgar Allan Poe should be revisited with the eyes and heart of an adult. Hafiz and Rumi write spiritual poems overflowing with love.
Lynda Berry Cartooning Journal
I recently discovered Lynda Berry’s books which resemble someone’s personal composition book filled with drawings and prose. She is a cartooning teacher and writes about the power of drawing, even when you are afraid that you aren’t good enough.
In Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, Berry suggests a daily journal format that focuses on observations you make, rather than reflecting upon yourself. Her instructions are simple: Divide a journal page into four sections
- Label the top left “Things I did”
- Label the top right “Things I saw” (I made this “Things I felt/saw” because I wanted to remember my emotions of the day too)
- Label the bottom left “Things I overheard”
- In the bottom right you draw something. It can be a still life, a cartoon, anything that inspires you
A terrific side effect of this journaling format was that it inspired me to do more art work. I made collages, cartoons and coloring pages to tape into my journal. It also became a place to record future writing ideas.
In her book, Making Comics, Lynda Berry suggests a different type of journal. She still has you divide the page into four squares and the same as above. However, she gives directions for the opposite page.
Divide the opposite page in half horizontally. Pick one item off of your “Today I did” list. Make a cartoon about it on the top half. Then write the scene in first person present tense — like it is happening right now. I did this after I had a panic attack in an MRI machine. It helped me process the event and let go of my shame.
The philosophy of Stoicism has been around since Ancient Greece. It is similar to the practices taught in Al-Anon so this could be a great method for struggling spouses or parents. I tend to use this method when I am upset by the actions of other people. It helps me reframe the conflict.
The Stoic Method is a helpful way to calm yourself and take stock of what you can control and what you can not control. It helps you to stop wasting time worrying about things out of your control. You only have control over the following things:
- Your choices/refusals
- Your yearnings/repulsions
- Your purpose
Ryan Holiday has made Stoicism popular. He has a book of prompts called The Daily Stoic Journal. It includes a daily prompt and space to write morning and evening reflections. Examples of prompts: Will I accept the situation and still fight to do and be good? What principles govern my behavior?
5 Minute Journal (5MJ) by Tim Ferris
This is a quick journaling format that centers around making lists. You answer three questions in the morning and two at night.
Answer in the morning:
- 3 things I am grateful for (don’t say the same thing every day. Be specific)
- 3 things that would make today great
- 3 daily affirmations “I am…”
Answer in the evening:
- 3 amazing things that happened today
- 3 ways I could have made today better
Daily Mandala Drawing
I learned this journaling format from Kathyrn Costa in her book The Mandala Guidebook. She suggests drawing a mandala, as soon as you wake up, every day for 30 days. Mandala is Sanskrit for “magic circle.” It was brought to the West by psychologist Carl Jung and used in both his practice and personal life.
“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time…Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:…the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well, is harmonious.”C.J. Jung
Jung believed that the confines of the circle helped focus the subconscious. Freely drawing within that space could reveal deeper thoughts.
I combined daily mandalas with lines of poetry or things I was learning about through my reading. For example, I did a series of mandalas about the Greek goddesses while reading The Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives, by Jean Shinoda Bolen.
This journaling format was first introduced in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It has been described in many blogs and books. Some authors give it a different name such as brain dump, free write, or stream of consciousness.
Every morning, write as fast as you can for three pages or for a set amount of time. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or writing rules. The point of this is to write fast enough to get past the surface chatter and reveal what is really on your mind.
This is a good technique to do before meditating. It lets your monkey mind have her say and, hopefully, chatter less. It is also a great way to get over resistance to writing because it breaks down the barriers and helps you cut through the mental junk.
Brene Brown and Byron Katie Questions
- What story am I telling myself about this situation and is it necessarily true?
- What are emotions and what are the facts of the situation?
- What am I ashamed of?
- Write about the problem in third person to distance yourself from it.
If you find this type of journaling helpful, then you should also read Byron Katie, Loving What is: Four Questions That can Change Your Life.Her books help you get over childhood events and resentments that are impacting your life today. She also helps you stop repeating old stories and negative internal mantras.These are her four questions:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- What would you be without that thought?
Pick something in your life and think of a metaphor to symbolize it. For example, if you are getting sucked into other people’s problems and choices, imagine a whirlpool. Build on that image and think of all the ways your current situation is like a whirlpool. Picture how you can escape or avoid the whirlpool and write about it. A cartoon would add to this exercise.
Another take on this metaphor exploration is to think of an activity that you spend your free time on. Expand it to make it a metaphor for your life. For example, when I was ballroom dancing, I wrote entries on the following: I imagined myself dancing into old age; becoming the Belle of the Ball; and dancing like no one was watching.
How can you create a metaphor using your passions for — cooking, weight lifting, shopping — to apply to other areas of your life?
Thematic Prompts for Specific Issues
Body Image and Healing
Write a love letter to the body part that you criticize or are having health troubles with. Dig deep and find all the benefits of that body part. I’ve read great letters other women have written to their bellies and thighs. I did this after my mastectomy from breast cancer. It was profoundly healing.
This is a great check in for your overall health. Draw a hexagon and divide it into 6 pieces: intellect work, emotion, physical, social, spiritual. Shade in each slice for how full your life is in that category. Journal about where your wellness wheel is out of balance and what can you do today that would have the greatest impact towards restoring balance.
I did a variation on this in a journaling workshop. The edges of the hexagon were roles women tend to assume: The Perfectionist, The Procrastinator, The Comparer, The Hopeless One, The Overachiever, The Good Person. The task was to journal in response to each role. This also became a type of mandala.
Draw a compass and write about each direction.
- North: your north star, what are you doing to support your life purpose?
- East: sunrise, what new beginnings are appearing in your life?
- South: spontaneous creativity, how are you exercising your creativity now?
- West: sunset, what endings are appearing in your life?
Make a list of everything you are passionate about now or were in the past. (subjects to study, hobbies, pastimes, exercises, games)
- Question why you are no longer doing some of them.
- Is there a way you can do more of them?
- Write a passion statement promising yourself what specific steps you will take to pursue passion items from your list.
Past, Present, Future Stories
Write a one page story about an event in your past. Then write a one page story about an event in your present that you are struggling with. Read both stories and then write a third story set in the future where you apply the lessons you have learned in the past and present stories.
The key to developing any habit is to commit to the practice and be willing to push through the resistance. Not all of these journaling formats will appeal to you. Pick the most intriguing ones from the list and give them a try.