Writing a path to well-being


Journaling has a multitude of benefits, from empowerment to growth. It's a daily routine that could change your life, and all it takes is a pen and notebook.

Journalling is a tool for empowerment, growth, and life balance. It’s a daily routine that could change your life, and all it takes is a pen and notebook.

Writing is a private activity that allows you to express your emotions and vent frustrations. If you are trying to make your way out of confusing life events or simply desire a more balanced life, consider spending 20 minutes every morning to write out your feelings. Alternately, you may want to keep a journal by your bedside to record your thoughts at the end of the day.

Some journal writers choose to go public with Internet blogs. Artists use these online journals to share their creative process, while travellers use them to document their adventures for family and friends.

My earliest journals, written when I was in my twenties, were structured and predictable. As the years rolled by, the entries became more in-depth. My inhibitions disappeared and occasionally truths and insights emerged.

Getting started

To begin, choose the perfect pen and blank journal, easily purchased at book or stationery stores. Promise to set aside time to write. You may choose to incorporate photographs or drawings alongside the text.

Date your entries and begin by simply recounting events from the previous day—or cut to the jugular and describe how you are feeling in the moment. Why do you feel this way? What do you want to change in your life? What is your dream, and what do you have to do to get there?

Using prompts (see sidebar) may help you get started, or go ahead and write your stories, both mundane and monumental. It’s a strategy that’s been used by great writers such as Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin, and Allen Ginsberg.

A reason for writing

Journals have many purposes. They can be a healing tool or a way to capture your daily routines and the people you’ve encountered. It may take time and patience, but trust that the process and discipline will lead to meaningful self-awareness.

The most important aspect of journalling is the emotional release—putting into words what’s in your heart. This could be secrets or issues you are reluctant to confront. Permit yourself to set down your thoughts without judging the grammar or quality of the content. It is a notebook for your eyes only. Through the journal, which is a mirror and a friend, we discover our intentions, and it is our intentions that guide us.

Writing and reviewing journal entries can help you gain perspective and wisdom. You can pour out on paper your self-doubts, pain, and anger, working through those feelings toward a more positive outlook. When you break through the cycle of negative self-talk and explore other approaches to life, personal growth will follow.

To keep or to toss

What to do with those stacks of journals accumulated over the years? You could perform a ritual paper shredding if you want to maintain your privacy in the hereafter. Or you could box the notebooks and, as you would with old photographs, occasionally dip into them and enjoy looking back. From this, you gain a sense of acceptance of your life journey, with all of its sins and triumphs.

Tips from the experts

Among the popular pioneers of journal writing are Christina Baldwin and Julia Cameron, both of whom have written books about how to write based on their own workshops and courses. While Baldwin, a psychotherapist, emphasizes self-discovery in her books, Cameron, an artist and teacher, encourages journalling as a means to open up creativity. Especially helpful is Cameron’s advice on writing what she calls morning pages—daily stream-of-consciousness entries.

Marlene Schiwy, PhD, has been conducting workshops in journal and autobiographic writing for 20 years. She brings her Jungian training, academic experience, and love of the creative process to her instructional approach. Soulwork is Schiwy’s term for all forms of self-exploration. She teaches her students to read and reflect on published journal writers, and provides them with thought-provoking prompts for their own writing.

Healthy expression

Recently, people with health problems have been turning to expressive writing as a way to meditate and become more aware of their body. American journalist and nurse Diana M. Raab used journalling to help deal with cancer and has written about her process in Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey (Love Healing Press, 2010).

In the past few decades, researchers have delved into the benefits of writing, and a bulk of scientific literature supports the benefits of releasing thoughts onto the page. Psychologist Adriel Boals, of the University of North Texas, found regular expressive writing resulted in better working memory, improved social skills, and relief from anxiety and depression.

In addition to improved mental function, regular writing was found to improve physical function as well. In a 2005 article that appeared in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, researchers concluded that because of the role it plays in stress reduction, journalling contributed to a stronger immune system, improved respiratory and circulatory function, and enhanced sleep.

Whether it’s for therapy or simply a way to reflect on your day, you are never too busy to put aside important time for yourself. Start writing and enjoy the benefits of good health and spiritual well-being.

Start with a prompt

The following list of questions will help you get your words flowing.

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What is your dream job?
  • Finish the following sentence: “I wonder… Repeat 10 times with different endings.
  • What powers do you have that you hide? Why?
  • List 10 things you are grateful for.
  • Is there a U-turn you want to make? What do you need to do to make it?
  • How can you succeed?
  • How can you best serve others?
  • What do you fear?
  • Who do you admire? Why?
  • What did you dream about last night?
  • Finally, consider collecting affirmations, which can be inspirational quotes from well-known people or those you’ve written yourself, in sync with your aspirations.

All the pretty notebooks

Give the gift of journalling to someone on your list with some beautiful and eco-friendly journals that will be a pleasure to use.

  • Winnipeg-based Botanical PaperWorks makes a stylish, eco-friendly 150-page journal they call Think & Write & Grow. The cover, embedded with wildflower seeds, can be planted when the journal is finished.
  • Ecojot, of Scarborough, Ontario, uses 100 percent recycled paper and vegetable-based glue in their brightly designed notebooks. The company has designed a line to support the Jane Goodall Institute, which seeks to protect endangered species.
  • For a truly personal gift, create your own handmade notebook. If you need some expert guidance, the Canadian Bookbinder and Book Artists Guild offers workshops in locations across Canada.

Check out this season’s craft markets for original and handmade journals by artists in your area.

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