Journaling for Self-Improvement

Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind. – Natalie Goldberg

If you read this blog regularly, you know I talk about my efforts to become a Women Making Strides. “A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.” Journaling is one of the greatest tools I have to improve myself as I strive to be a Woman Making Strides. It is a way to care for my mind and spirit.

My quest to be a Woman Making Strides is an effort to be the leader in my own life. Life is short, and I want to make the best of it. I can’t do that if I passively go with the flow, never pausing to assess where I’m going. Or worse, if I follow other people’s ideas of what my life should be. For too long, I’ve been looking for answers from other people. I read various self-help articles, blogs, and books—but none are satisfying. That is because no one really has the answers for me except me. Sometimes I think I don’t know what I want or how to get there, but when I journal, I realize I do have the answers.

Journaling takes me out of my daily routine and allows me to pause. Otherwise, life just carries me along in its current. Have you ever thought about your last days on earth? What will be your regrets? What will you be grateful for? These are good questions to reflect on and write about in your journal.

Even if you’re not a leader by the world’s standards, you are the leader in your own life. It is too late when we’re on our death beds to say “I wish I had . . . .” Or “I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time doing such-and-such. . . .” or “I wish I’d been nicer to so-and-so.” Journaling gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect on our lives, and make changes as needed.  You can’t excel at being a leader in the world without first being a good leader in your own life.

Journaling helps me with clarity and decision making. I am honest in my journal pages because no one but me will see it. Seeing the pros and cons of a decision in black and white helps me clarify my thoughts and feelings. For example, when someone asks me to take on a new activity, I go to my journal. I list all that I am doing currently, and usually I am surprised. I have too many activities, especially for someone who wants to write more. This helps firm up my resolve to say “Thank you, but no.”

Recently, I knew I “should” go for a run or walk, but I didn’t feel like it. So I wrote down my pros and cons in my journal. Cons were:

  • It is wet out and more rain is forecast.
  • I’m not in the mood to run.

Pros included:

  • I want to maintain my running fitness so I can keep up with my running group.
  • I am seldom in the mood to run alone, but once I go, I never regret it.
  • If I don’t want to run in the rain, I can run indoors at the park district fitness center.
  • I could walk with an umbrella, and then I wouldn’t have to change clothes.

Ultimately, I wrote, “Sue, is this all that tough? Come on. Get off your duff and get moving. You’re trying to lose weight and running is a more efficient workout than walking. Even if you only run half an hour, that’s good.” And so I went to the fitness center and ran. Without journaling, I’d have stayed home because that’s what I felt like doing.

Woman running on a wet day

Woman running on a wet day

Life is not always perfect, and sometimes I feel moody or annoyed at myself. Or I’m irritated by other people’s actions. When I point the finger at someone, I need to also point that finger at myself and ask what I can learn. Is that behavior true for me, too? Journaling helps me get a new perspective on the situation—for example, I realize I can’t do anything about the other person’s behavior. The only person I can do anything about is myself. I can change my own behavior and be nicer to the person or resolve to be a good role model, even if that person doesn’t do the same. I can decide to put it all in God’s hands and accept that what will be, will be. Putting my worries on paper is a safe way to vent and let go, rather than lying awake at night worrying. And what seems to be free-floating anxiety can often be clarified and resolved.

Sometimes I journal at home using my computer. That is most convenient, and then I can read what I wrote (rather than struggling to read my handwriting.) However, I most enjoy journaling in nature, which lets me feel God’s presence as I look at the beauty around me. Many of my journal entries begin with “Dear God.”

I have a means of journaling that is probably somewhat unique—I go for a journal drive. I drive around my local arboretum, parking my car periodically. Then I write in a journal, either in the car or on a nearby bench, and I sip a beverage such as tea or a hot chocolate. Sometimes I have a series of questions and answer one question per spot. Other times I just write. Each spot brings a new perspective along with the new view and new sounds of nature. When I leave my journal drive, I have a new perspective on a situation, or I decide whether to do something, or I come up with an idea for a blog post. In any case, after doing a journal drive, I feel nourished and satisfied.

Do you keep a journal? What is the greatest benefit for you?

 This post is dedicated to my friend Dawn Herring in honor of the fifth anniversary of #JournalChat Live on Twitter and Facebook. Find out more about Dawn and her journaling resources at http://refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com.

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About Susan Ekins

Freelance writer and blogger at Women Making Strides. Interested in personal leadership and empowerment. Wanting inspiration and to inspire. Leader in church ministries. Blog: http://www.WomenMakingStrides.com/ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/WomenMakingStrides1
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8 Responses to Journaling for Self-Improvement

  1. nanciec13 says:

    I am off and on with my journaling but I too am making strides! I like to do variations on a theme–so I may choose the blank page, or working off another writer’s perspectives; maybe a little artwork; and perhaps some blog time!

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  2. I have been keeping a journal off-and-on since I was thirteen years old. It started out as a “Dear Diary” when I was lamenting an impossible crush on a boy. I tend to write more often if I am strugling with something than when I’m doing fine, so it contains more grief than joy, which doesn’t really reflect my life experience. It has served as an instrument of introspection (as you have illustrated); I think we all would be more sane if we kept a journal.

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    • Susan Ekins says:

      Joanne, I hear you about venting via the journal. Good way to get those feelings out of the body and onto the page–“angst on the page”. Thank you for dropping by!

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  3. I have been keeping a journal off-and-on since I was thirteen years old. It started out as a “Dear Diary” when I was lamenting an impossible crush on a boy. I tend to write more often if I am struggling with something than when I’m doing fine, so it exudes more grief than joy, which doesn’t really reflect my life experience. It has served as an instrument of introspection (as you have illustrated); I think we all would be more sane if we kept a journal

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  4. Noreen Watts says:

    I don’t actually journal in the same way as you are doing, but I love your ideas. I have to sort of write daily how I feel, just briefly, due to my TMJ diagnosis. I mainly describe my pain, dizziness, etc. This is to keep a record for myself and the TMJ center. I also write a blog and have a face book fan page for my blog which keeps me somewhat journaling for my own satisfaction and some accountability with respect to exercise/weight loss. I love your blog posts. They are very motivational.

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  5. I keep meaning to return to a daily ritual of journaling and then don’t. Your words are gently encouraging me to “just do it”. I have always find myself being a better person when I journal.

    Hope this weather pattern settles a bit, Susan. Have a good day.

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  6. I kept journals when I was younger and have a stack of them. But when I go back and read them they seem so repetitive, re-visiting the same issues in great detail. It probably helped me at the time to write about things, but now I worry about what I’ll leave behind when I’m gone. I don’t want a stack of journals for my kids to feel obligated to read. I still have the journal my mother wrote that I found after she died several years ago. I skimmed a few pages and it was so depressing. I didn’t have the heart to read it then and still haven’t. I do know that journalling is supposed to be a wonderful tool for writers, and done in the right spirit I am sure it is. It sound like yours is. But I have a journal-phobia now :). Perhaps that’s why I blog instead. Then I’m only writing about things I feel comfortable sharing with the world.

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