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5 Tips for Journaling

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Journaling has become one of my main ways to self-reflect, to grow, to anchor myself in safety, gain new insight and self regulate. If you are taking my Building Safety Anchors course, this would probably fall into the Cognitive Anchors learning and practicing module. It's a lot more than cognitions, but thoughts are a big part of it.

If you're new to journaling, stuck on journaling or need a different take, this might be for you.

I. Alternate speed

Journaling doesn't have to be a slow, tea-sipping, curled up experience. It could be. But it could also be fast and furious. Literally, it's okay to be furious and let your fury out through journaling. It's okay to be fast, to be anxious. Allow your feelings to dictate and come through in your speed.

When you're journaling from a shutdown state, it might be slower. Your journaling might not have much energy to it and might be fairly minimal in amount produced. And in all honesty, sitting in silence and breathing, then journaling might be a better idea versus just jumping to journaling.

When you're in a sympathetic flight/fight state, then your journaling might be faster. You might feel the impulse to move faster, to write faster, to sketch faster. I find that when the sympathetic energy surges, I tend to start scribbling or rapidly dumping words one after the other in a column that eventually sort of blend together. In this state, the movement is more important to me than what is on the paper. More on this later on.

It's important to be mindful of the experience of your journaling. To be mindful of the speed you're working at and the feelings underneath it. Really experience the sensations of your speed and alternate when you feel some polyvagal shifts happening.

II. From feelings

It's important then to journal from your feelings. Your thoughts, your images, your memories are all going to be instrumental in the journaling process as well. It's really the marriage of all of these things (more below). But your feelings could very well be your starting point. There might be a feeling you're having that you're feeling particularly stuck on. Or is too much at that moment.

Sadness is a feeling that might bring you some heaviness or emptiness. Anxiety is one that might keep you too distracted and revved up. Anger is a feeling that could keep you in a mindset of blame and focus on others. Take these feelings and bring them to your journaling.

This means you give yourself permission to have those feelings in the first place. You give yourself permission to experience them and to externalize them into the journal as well. Give yourself permission for them to be felt and to be real.

III. The marriage of experiences

Allow yourself to alternate and fluctuate amongst and between the "marriage of experiences":

  • thoughts

  • feelings

  • memories

  • somatic sensations

  • spiritual/religious

When you utilize all of these, you're really tapping into the more complete you. Cognitions are one aspect of you. But cognitions come from a polyvagal state. And so do your feelings and your somatic sensations and maybe even your spiritual experiences in that moment.

All of these pieces are a reflection of whatever polyvagal state that you're in. As you feel into and experience these pieces, you're bringing mindfulness to your polyvagal state. And this mindfulness will allow your autonomic nervous system to climb the polyvagal ladder, back into a state of safety and social connection. Or closer to it, at least.

IV. Process vs Outcome

The importance is in the process. Not in the outcome of what's on the paper. Journaling is similar but ultimately different than creating a piece of art or a short story. They're all creative expressions and the process of creation is important in all of these. But with journaling, there isn't an end goal in mind for a finished piece that will be submitted to others to view or judge. It's just for you. No one else needs to see it.

If you're thinking in terms of a finished product or a result, then the viewer that is going to be judging the finished product is you. Journaling is about noticing and allowing. Not judging and evaluating. So view your journaling as an unfolding process that you get to witness, not a product that you get to view and judge.

If you do, what you're inherently doing is judging yourself, your feelings and all of the other pieces of the marriage of experiences. What you're pouring into the journal is hopefully an honest reflection of you. That honesty requires interest, curiosity and love.

Focus on the process of the shifts that are happening within you. Focus on the process of the speed that you are working at and how that feels. Focus on the feelings and images and memories and thoughts that arise within you as you peel back layers and come more to the present moment through journaling.

My course can teach you other ways to come to the present moment as well. I call it being "anchored" in the present moment. It's really being anchored in ventral vagal activation, the biological pathways responsible for safety and social engagement. There are other potential anchors that you could use to be more present and I teach you about them in the course, then guide you in practicing them as well. Learn more about Building Safety Anchors by following the image below. (More blog after the image)

V. Don't use a journal

Who said journaling needs to be done in a journal? Yes, journals can be really fun to use. I love looking at journals and sketchbooks when I'm at an art store. I love holding them and flipping through the pages, especially sketchbooks. They're cool and they bring a certain calm, right?

But journaling doesn't need to be limited to a thing that was created for journaling. It could be done on a plain piece of paper that you throw away when you're done. It could by typed into a Google Doc. I like to use One Note on my Surface Pro 7 (I got the i7 model). It gives me some room to play with colors and line weights. It's fun to use with the Surface Pen. It just feels right for me. At least for now.

But let's go a step further. Why does it have to be written? Why not speak your thoughts into a voice recorder? Or use some sort of microphone dictation on a word document? That way you could harness your energy through speaking. Maybe at this point it's not "journaling" anymore, but I think it counts still. Point being here is that journaling doesn't have to look a certain way or be in a certain thing. You do what feels like the next right thing for you and your needs.


I hope you benefited from this blog and got a new angle on your own journaling practice. Let me know what you do that helps you!


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