How Journaling Can Change Your Life

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Last week, my husband Curt recommended that I listen to a recent episode of the Hidden Brain podcast because it was about the psychology of journaling from a cognitive standpoint. The episode is called “The Story of Your Life” and it shares stories of people that processed their past traumas by journaling. I looked into this and found that it is based in cognitive behavior therapy—a type of therapy that explores mental health with scientific information about the brain—and is called “cognitive journaling”.

While my prompts in the JMB Living Journal and my own daily journaling are more focused on current events and mindfully navigating each day, I find the concept of journaling’s impact on the brain (and vice versa) very interesting and something I intend to take advantage of more often. 

Journaling is an incredible outlet, both for archiving your life and therapeutic purposes. I wholeheartedly believe that journaling is a life tool for mindfulness, introspection, joy, and growth. In the past, I have mainly shared tips for daily journaling and planning, but there is so much value in holistic journaling as well. 

How is writing important?

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The Ancient Greeks had a concept called “logos”, which has a literal translation of “word/thought/reason”. Logos means to turn your thoughts into words. This is a writing concept rooted in a philosophy that recognizes the power involved in forming and speaking/writing a thought; when a thought is turned into words, it becomes a tangible concept rather than an internal idea. Logos and its meaning ties together cognitive journaling and daily journaling with affirmations.

When we set affirmations to begin our day, we can use them as a theme for the day to give us strength and confidence in what we intend to accomplish.

I find that affirmations help me move past the doubts that arise in my mind, while at the same time helping me feel connected and aligned to the course I am plotting for my life, through my desires and dreams for the future. When I say or write an affirmation, I am setting an intent to receive an end result.

This practice allows me to receive anything and everything that I encounter in a more mindful way with a growth mindset: obstacles, positive things, and everything in between is accepted with the mindset that I choose, and, therefore, contributes to success and growth because I feel more prepared and in control. Do I feel this way 100% of the time? Absolutely not. I too have days where I lose my temper or beat myself up for what I screwed up or what I didn’t accomplish. Yet this practice on a regular and daily basis helps me move forward with greater momentum and more joy in the journey than if I were not taking the time and effort to make this part of my routine.

The act of writing down our thoughts and dreams is an act that finalizes our thoughts and makes them more tangible for us to carry out. This is less about preparedness and more about being as mindful as possible throughout all aspects of life, so that we can go through each day with a sense of purpose and a theme to navigate our days while still growing and seeing beauty and joy along the way.

Taking Control of Your Narrative

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The Hidden Brain podcast episode said “The intent is in the narrative”. I clearly use daily affirmations, as well as writing daily thoughts on gratitude and abundance as a tool and advocate that everyone use these to help navigate their days with an intent and defined mindset. However, I also especially like the concept of free journaling, where you start writing with no direction and your mind leads your most weighty or important thoughts and memories to the page. I find this particularly helpful when I am feeling angry, anxious or upset.

There is much value and potential in occasionally dedicating time to prompted journaling beyond your routine daily journaling practices. Hearing the Hidden Brain podcast connect intent to uncontrollable aspects of life made me consider applying intent to our daily narratives. 

When it comes to freeform journaling or lengthy entries for a deeper prompt, consider your intent when writing your narrative. If you are writing about a traumatic event or part of your childhood, write unfiltered and freely to reveal your thoughts, feelings, and let your inner child speak—then allow your hindsight to frame your narrative and recollection.

Add a paragraph with your current perspective and outlook on the past event. This will help you grow and move on, as long as your intent is positive and growth-centered. Perhaps one narrative’s intent will be healing, another processing, and another grieving. Whatever you want to feel and need to happen, write your story and journal entry with that intent and perspective. With freeform journaling, your intent might not even be to write about past trauma or a series of subconscious feelings—that is why I think freeform journaling is so beneficial.

Here are some ideas for meaningful freeform prompts:

  • Write about the most memorable positive and negative childhood memories you have. Write about how it touched all five of your senses, what it felt like emotionally, and why you think it stands out to you. What meaning does it have to your current self vs. your childhood self?

  • What was the most challenging day of the last year and why?

  • What are you looking forward to most in your life?

  • What would your life look like if all the dreams you hope to achieve were already a reality? What would you look like? Where would you be? Who would be with you? Take your time to describe how your life would look in great detail.

I enjoy simple freeform prompts to truly let my mind and subconscious have as much creative freedom as possible without being constrained by answering a prompt exactly.

Journaling Intentions

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Allowing the mind to follow its own path of significance allows a train of thought that brings your biggest needs to your attention. When I journal without a specific purpose, I start off by writing my stream of consciousness about the current moment and move to what I am thinking, what is going on in my life, and allow my natural thought process to lead my writing.

In this, I organically begin to write about what is weighing on my mind and impacting the level of ease in my life. Affirmations and manifestations are meant to help bring your dreams to you and are supported with our actions. Holistic journaling and applying intent to our narratives allows us to have more internal control on external factors, by re-writing the story in our brains. Together, these journaling tools bring us closer to achieving what we both want and need most.

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