Journaling is a hugely beneficial activity that offers an opportunity for reflection, self-expression and personal insight. Here’s my three tips for making the most of your journaling, and a challenge at the end…

Click above to see the accompanying video on The Overthinker YouTube channel

1. Write for you

Journals are personal things. People often write as if someone is looking over their shoulder. They worry, consciously or otherwise, that someone might read this one day! And then what will they think?

I was like that for a long time, too. It’s a mindset that significantly impacts what you allow yourself to write in your journal.

But the whole point of journaling is the ability to write anything you want. It really is unlikely that anyone will read what you’ve written, and even if they do glance at your words – so what? The benefits of expressing yourself freely in your journal far outweigh any such risks.

The trick to overcoming any self-censorship is to catch yourself hesitating. If you falter before writing something because you’re worried that someone might see it, give yourself permission to write that stuff down anyway.

2. Review and expand

Like many people, I write morning pages. A lot of people don’t review this writing. You certainly don’t need to, and for a long time that wasn’t something I did. But sometimes, interesting thoughts, useful suggestions or ideas would appear on the page in front of me in my morning pages.

I recognised that these little nuggets could be incredibly useful. So now, when I feel there’s something I might need to act upon, make use of, or develop, I make a little mark in the margin. Just an indication that this is something I want to come back to. Making this mark quickly means I can keep on writing without interrupting my train of thought.

At some point later, you can then look back over these little highlights. If they’re still important or interesting, you can then transfer them to another book just for this purpose. When doing this, it can be useful to look at them as if they were written by someone else – which in a sense they were, as they came from your murky, morning subconscious mind.

At this stage it can be useful to expand upon them, and make connections with other notes. Reviewing, embellishing or even discarding such writing is an important way to gain insight into what’s really on your mind.

And this brings me on to point three.

3. Look for patterns

When you’re reviewing your notes, look out for any patterns that might emerge. Are you repeating yourself? Asking the same questions or making the same observations time and time again? This might occur over days, weeks or even months, but if things are cropping up repeatedly, they’re probably important.

Looking for patterns in our private writing can reveal things we might not otherwise see because we’re just too close. Writing the same thing down over and over again is a message from your subconscious.

Something important to note here: if potential courses of action could have major ramifications, are potentially life-changing, or have serious consequences, for you or anyone else, do consider talking to someone before you act upon them.

The Challenge!

Write morning pages every day for a week. Make a little mark wherever there’s anything that feels important or useful. Don’t stop to think about it, just make the mark and keep on writing.

Then, at the end of the week, revisit these little notes from your more detached perspective. If there are any patterns or repetitions, write these down somewhere else: they may well come in useful.

Just don’t overthink it.

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