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My #1 habit to stay sane and boost my happiness

number 1 habit to stay sane journaling

April is National Journal Writing Month, also known as NaJoWriMo, a journaling challenge  inviting people from all over the world to keep a journal for 30 days. Since journaling is a huge part of my personal development, I thought the end of March was the perfect moment to write on the topic of journal writing as a tool for happiness to inspire you to join me for NaJoWriMo.

A few years ago, I had quite a rough patch when a health problem forced me to stay home for 3 years, unable to work. I had to experiment with different medication, dealing with the backlash of a myriad of side effects, ranging from memory loss,  to incontrolable shaking, to hair loss. The effects on my morale were devastating. As a self-proclaimed workaholic, staying home for so long made me feel useless, depressed and my self-esteem plummeted. There is one thing that allowed me to process the difficult situation I was in and to find positivity in those trying times : journaling.

I started back then a blog to share my healing story with the world and put words on my mixed feelings and scattered thoughts. It became a free therapy session every week, sitting down at my computer and writing all that I was going through and finding solace in the process. It became my savior.

Surely, not everyone would like to share their most private thoughts with the world the way I did back then. Hopefully, you can experience the same results using a simple notebook and a pen. Journal writing is a very powerful way to process difficult emotions and make sense of it all in the privacy of your own home.

Why journal writing is so effective

Journaling has been proven by various studies to have positive effects on your health, well-being, and productivity. James Pennebaker, psychologist and researcher at University of Texas discovered in one of his studies that journaling helps you come to terms with difficult events and experiences. He explained this phenomenon by the translation of events into words using language, which allows to process the experience in a new way. Here is a list of some of the benefits of journaling :

  • Writing removes mental blocks
  • It helps you better understand yourself, others and the world around you
  • It helps you clarify your thoughts and feelings
  • It is proven to reduce stress levels
  • It helps solving problems more effectively
  • It helps resolve disagreements with others

Some of the productivity benefits are :

  • It helps you think more creatively
  • It allows you to clear mental storage by dumping your thoughts, tasks and ideas onto the page
  • It helps your mind become more quieter and focus better
  • It helps you achieve your goals by clarifying your objectives and setting effective plans to achieve them
  • It allows you to record the progress you’ve made
  • It boosts your memory and comprehension

So many reasons to implement journaling into your life! Now let’s explore different ways to implement journaling into your daily life.

How to journal, methods and techniques

Most of us know what is keeping a diary. Everyday, usually at the end of the day, we recount the experiences and events of the day and share our feelings on what happened. But did you know that there are many other ways to journal? I have listed a few :

Stream of consciousness

The stream of consciousness method is simple but can be a little intimidating at first. Take a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind. Do not censor yourself,  it’s okay if what you write doesn’t make any sense, or if it seems scattered and unrelated. This form of journaling acts as kind of a “brain dump” to allow you to unload what’s on your mind. The popular Morning Pages created by Julia Cameron are based on this technique.

Unsent Letters

When you are dealing with a difficult situation with another person and you feel like you would need to speak your mind, you can write him or her a letter to express everything you feel about the situation. Do not worry, you will not send that letter, so you can be as blunt and brutally honest as you need. Sometimes, just the act of writing down your thoughts is enough to make you feel better. Or maybe you will choose to confront the other person and use the most important points of your unsent letter to address the situation, but your anger will have been already expressed, so your conversation might feel more serene.

Worst Case Scenario

Use the worst case scenario technique when you feel anxious about the outcome of a specific situation. In your journal, write down what you are worried will happen, and take the scenario to the extreme. How bad can it be? Most of the time you will realize that the worst case scenario is not that bad, and is not that probable.

Journal prompts

Having a writer’s block? Just starting out and not sure what to write? You can use journal prompts to get ideas of topics to write on. You can find several prompts online, on any topic you like. A quick search on Google will get you started.

Different types of journal

Apart from the classic diary, I’ve compiled a few types of journals. This list is not exhaustive and I am sure you can think of many others. Let me know in the comments of other types of journal that could be interesting for my readers!

One sentence journal

Popularized by Gretchen Rubin, the One sentence journal is a notebook in which you write down one line about your day, every day. The perfect journal for those who can’t find any spare time! It can be fun to look back at your previous journals to see what was going on in your life last year at the same time!

Topic related journal

If you have a passion or hobby, you can keep a journal on that topic, sharing your thoughts, ideas, projects, information… For example, I am learning to read tarot card, so I keep a journal with the cards meanings, symbols, correspondences, etc.,  and a journal for the tarot readings themselves. You can keep a gardening journal, an art journal, a journal to plan a trip, or any topic that interests you.

Dream journal

I like to write down my dreams when I wake up and look back on what was on my mind at a particular time. First thing in the morning, open your dream journal and jot down what you remember of your dreams that night. It helps to keep a notebook on your nightstand for that purpose. And you’ll see, the more you practice writing down your dreams, the more you’ll remember them!

Gratitude journal

Each day, write down one to three things that you are grateful for. Gratitude is often listed as a happiness booster as it helps us focus on what’s positive in our life. You can write down your gratitude list as a bullet point style, or long form, writing down full sentences on why this certain thing or person is bringing you joy. I keep a gratitude journal on my nightstand and write last thing before going to bed, to look at the bright side of my day before I go to sleep.

The way that I journal

I have been keeping a journal for as long as I can remember. At the moment, I keep a Bullet journal, which bring me a lot of joy and structure for my tasks and projects. I also keep a classic diary type journal in a gorgeous black leather notebook, a digital notebook in Evernote for my weekly, monthly and quarterly reviews, and a commonplace book, which is a notebook in which I write down pertinent information I am learning on different topics, quotes and the like. I use this notebook to write down my research for the blog posts that I write for Productive Happiness. I also keep a Tarot journal for readings and one for theory of tarot. Once in a while, I write in my Morning Pages journal when I wake up worried or anxious.

If you would like to know more about any of those, let me know in the comments below! I am for sure planning an in-depth article about my Bullet journal, so let me know if you have any questions about it.

Resources to go further

There are a few resources that I would suggest if you are just starting out journal writing, or if you would like to deepen your practice :
Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner, a well written and descriptive method to journal for healing and processing difficult situations

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest by Christina Baldwin. A very unique format, with the book on one side of the page, and quotes, journal entries and exercises on the other side.
The Miracle Morning book and website by Hal Elrod. The author offers a personal development ritual that incorporates journaling and is practices by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, myself included

The NaJoWriMo website. Sign up to receive journaling prompts for the whole month of April!

I hope this article has inspired you to try journaling in any form and feel for yourself the many benefits of this awesome personal development tool. If you have any questions, or would like to expand on any of the concepts listed above, leave a comment below and let’s get the discussion started!

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