Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Solve Your Trickiest Problems With a Pen and Paper!

how to journal
Do you journal?  I've found it's great therapy tool.
I used to tell therapists my deepest and darkest secrets.  Years ago. 

I wasn't sure my issues merited speaking to someone every week, however.  I discussed this with a friend and he told me: “Your therapist is vacationing in Europe and expanding his dock off of your problem.  Of course he's going to convince you it's serious!”

I don't know if that's a fair assessment of therapy.  But anyhoo. Haven't ever been to therapy after that conversation. 

That's not to say I haven't had my fair share of issues to process.  In lieu of therapy, I've found journaling is a great tool for processing emotions, finding solutions to problems, and generally listening to my life.

The 79-cent Therapist

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Of course you do.  --Like if you could just unload on a good friend you'd gain insight into (or at least some relief from) everything on your mind?

One fact of life is people aren't always there to listen.

About a dozen years ago I came upon the book, “Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth” by Kathleen Adams.  It was on a list of recommended reading from an elderly British teacher I took a writing course from at Seattle Central Community College.

In it, Adams describes a journal as her “79 cent therapist” (this book was published in 1990; I don't know that you can purchase ANYTHING for 79 cents anymore!) and has this to say about it:
My therapist is available 24 hours a day and hasn't gone on vacation in almost three decades....I can tell this therapist absolutely anything.  My therapist listens silently to my most sinister darkness, my most bizarre fantasy, my most cherished dream.  My therapist accepts all of this and more without comment, judgement or reprisal.
She doesn't put a limit on what journaling can or cannot be: a stream of conscious recitation of your day, a mind-map on a specific topic, an imagined conversation with a friend or relative.

And the aim of journaling is various, as well: to simply emote, to heal past memories or difficult relationships, to document the present for your future self, to help make a decision.

Journaling allows you to process things faster than if you let something sit and solve itself; Adams recalls how an intense journaling weekend allowed her to recover from a break-up in just a few days!

She encourages treating journal time formally--setting aside a specific time and even beginning with a ritual, such as lighting a candle.  I haven't achieved this level of discipline but it is alluring.

Sure-Fire Journaling Techniques

Adams discusses TONS techniques in her book.  Here are a few I've found especially effective.

--Lists of 100.  This journal technique entails creating a list of 100 on a chosen topic.  Some topics I've used are “100 things I'm afraid of” and “100 things I can blog about”.  Other topics she suggests include “100 things I'm stressed about”, “100 things I'm grateful for” and “100 things I like about myself”.

This tecnhique is helpful for getting at the heart of a problem and brainstorming solutions.  The idea is to write to 100 as quickly as possible, as soon as an idea enters your head.  It's ok to write the same thing more than once.  Afterwards you analyze the list and categorize your answers (this takes some time).  Adams says they generally fall into 3-4 distinct categories, and I've found this to be true as well.

You'll be surprised at what you uncover when you dig to the end of 100.  I've found the most insightful and helpful entries come in the last ten.

--Time Capsule Writing.  Another technique I've been using for years now is time capsule writing.  At the end of the month, I spend an hour summarizing everything that happened.  Then, at the beginning of the next year, I read through all the month summaries.

This journaling practice gives me a great perspective on the events of the entire year.  I started this even before I read Adam's book, as a means to record and measure growth even when I felt like none was taking place.

When I read a record of my entire year, I identify recurring themes, and recall things I had completely forgotten about (sometimes I'll write my dreams in these summaries and that's interesting).

Time capsule writing can be kept on a daily basis as well.

--Imaginary Journaling.  This is a great technique if you're struggling with a decision about what job to accept, where to move, what vacation to take.

You journal the imagined outcome given you'd made each of the choices.

This taps into your subconscious, and makes you understand the feeling that you have associated with each of the decisions.  The idea is that you know the right choice, it's inside of you, but takes some work getting to the surface.  

This method of journaling helped me decide to teach English in China rather than Prague.

Cheap Therapy Solution

We all have so many of the same issues: setting boundaries with family, accepting ourselves, being in a rut, ignoring our feelings, failing to get enough exercise and sleep.

And a lot of these problems can be solved simply by taking a concentrated look at them.  I once kept a sleep journal when I had chronic insomnia, and found the act of keeping the journal (didn't make any dramatic changes to my lifestyle) had me sleeping through the night!

Have you ever used journaling as therapy?  What's your recourse when you need to take a closer look at a problem? 


  1. I've always loved journaling, I don't do it as often as I used to (I actually wanna change that), but I agree it's therapeutic. I think colouring books help relieving life stress as well, at least it's something that personally makes me feel good and helps clearing my mind. Great post!

    1. I love how coloring books have become a trend for adults! I've never done them myself but can imagine it'd be therapeutic.

  2. Journaling is great. Sometimes, I wish that I still kept some of my old journals so I can see what changed over time. I agree with the pros about journaling. At the end, some people might need to see things laid out IRL. I love the different ways that journaling can be done! Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy ♥

    1. Yeah, I don't keep most of my old journals either, Nancy. It would be interesting to spend time looking back at all of that.


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