The link between journaling and mindfulness

May 16, 2021 — Susan Verdes
The link between journaling and mindfulness

While journaling has been around for centuries, it feels like the pandemic has brought a new life to the habit. This makes sense given that keeping a diary is directly linked to mindfulness and our ability to cope with change.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be defined as focusing on the present moment and acknowledging our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. In a general sense, to be mindful means to become conscious or aware of something. Typically, this practice is about processing our emotions without judgement. In this way, we are able to find calm and stop worrying about the future or past.

Why is journaling important?

Most of us know what journaling is- perhaps, we think of it as recounting the events in a day or writing about our anxiety and stress. There are plenty of ways to journal, but the overall goal is to understand our feelings and recognize obstacles in our lives.

It may seem contradictory to the concept of mindfulness since journaling involves reflecting on the past and contemplating our goals for the future, thus taking us away from the present moment.

Yet on the other hand, writing in a diary helps streamline our thoughts. We are able to acknowledge certain thought patterns and putting them to paper allows us to let it go. This is similar to a labelling technique applied in meditation. We do not have to judge our thoughts as positive or negative. Instead, we can write sentences like, “recently I’ve been thinking…” By taking time to reflect on our thoughts, we can minimize their impact on us and how much we focus on them.

In the same way, we can record our physical symptoms and keep track of our daily emotions. This can help us let go of any aggression, cope with sadness, and understand mood swings / chronic pain. We can write phrases such as, “today I’m feeling…” This is close to a body-scan meditation, as we are bringing attention to our body for any sensation of pain or turbulence. The first step is identifying our feelings, then we can dig deeper and discover the root cause. Knowing why we are angry or anxious, can help ease the intensity of these emotions and improve our reaction. But we can also recognize patterns and potential triggers.

Another way to journal is through mantras, or positive affirmations. Sometimes we get stuck in a negative train of thought or have anxiety about the future. While that is understandable, writing down helpful reminders and phrases can boost our confidence and improve motivation (Healthline, 2016).

This is a common meditation practice, but journaling provides an accessible format to explore the affirmations more. A few mantras are: “I appreciate myself as I am,” and “I attract positive people and experiences into my life.” Or “I let go of what I cannot change and do my best with what I can.”

While starting a journal practice it may be difficult to express ourselves, or we may be struggling to dig deeper and examine our inner thoughts. In this case, following along to a prompt can be helpful. Some of my favourites include: “What do I want to focus on?” or “Where do I want to direct my energy/ What am I putting my energy into?” or “What’s worrying me today?” Or “What am I proud of myself for?” Lastly, “what inspired me today?”

There are many more journal prompts out there and I recommend writing down your favourites in your notebook, so they are easy to find. You can target these prompts to anything- like to explore a certain mood, to make a to-do list, to shift into a positive mindset, or practice self love. The prompt gives us something to focus on when journaling, just as we can focus on the breath in meditation.

The final method of journaling is creating a gratitude list. This list is usually the last couple lines of my day’s entry and is just a few bullet points. It doesn’t have to take on the whole page. Gratitude allows us to have clarity on what is important in our life and remember the things we usually take for granted.

Especially after having a bad day, thinking about something that makes us feel good, can lift our spirits. My gratitude ideas usually start with something that happened during the day- like eating a healthy meal, a phone call with a loved one, or hearing some good news. Then, I start to consider the typical things I am appreciative of like my family and my health. If you’re stuck, consider small wins you have had recently. Gratitude is again a familiar part of meditation.

Most importantly, journaling is a key tool for introspection, this embodies the awareness part of mindfulness. As we write about our day-to-day lives, our thoughts, fears, and insecurities we begin to rationalize our problems. This allows us to find harmony in our life and envision a brighter future. Meditation typically focuses on existing in the present moment and finding calm by placing our worries aside. But journaling allows us to solve the bigger problems we are facing, so they no longer influence us.

Why I journal

I have been writing in a diary for eight years. I never had a schedule or forced myself to write everyday. Rather, I believe my notebook will be waiting for me whenever I have something to say. I use it to help me break down my thoughts, to keep track of my memories, and face my fears. Personally, it is an important aspect of self care, as I create monthly goals and reflections. Also, if I am going through any tough emotions- like burnout, or a low mood, I use a few prompts to see what I can do or what’s causing me to feel this way. The process is unique for everyone and over the years I discovered my preferences and style. But, I do consider writing an integral part of my mindfulness routine.