Therapeutic Journaling Part 10: The Gratitude Journal

One of the most overlooked, but also one of the most powerful kinds of journals you can write, is the Gratitude Journal. All too often we’ll journal out our problems and hopes for the future that we forget to take stock of what we currently have: The Present Moment.

It’s all we ever have and no matter how much loss we’ve suffered in the past and how much more we’ve got to gain in the future, so long as we’re simply breathing, we have a lot to be thankful for. Maybe you’re not where you want to be in life and maybe you’re suffering a crisis. The mere fact that you get to live and be given the opportunity to learn and grow from hardship should be appreciated.

It’s a strange concept, to be thankful for even hardship. But if you really think about it, without sadness and hardship, we would not have much appreciation for happiness and the good times in our lives. There’d be no contrast. And in the business of contrasting, instead of journaling out your problems all the time, take a moment to be grateful and acknowledge where you’re at.

“He who cannot be contented with what he has will not be contented with what he wants.” – Socrates

It was true over 2000 years ago and it’s still true to this day. Practicing gratitude can help reframe your mind toward abundance rather than always focusing on scarcity. We have evolved to focus on scarcity because human survival was much harder before than it is now, so we’ve still got a lot of leftover monkey brain residing within us. Not to say it’s entirely useless because starvation and poverty are real problems, but I think it’s safe to say that if you can afford the internet connection in order to read this post, there’s a high chance that you’re living a comfortable life, if not a luxurious one.

Yet that’s the problem, right?

Comfortability.

We work so hard to get to the point of comfortability because being challenged is difficult, we just wanna laze around and watch Netflix or play video games all day because they’re the most fun and easiest things to do. But then we tend to grow stagnant when we live a little too comfortably. So just as we need challenges to help us grow, we also need ample rest so we have the energy to tackle the challenges of life.

It’s a balancing act that we will never perfect, but will definitely try our entire lives to employ. You want to be journaling your problems out for the catharsis and possible problem solving that can come with it. And you also want to be writing about the things you’ve achieved thus far and be grateful for what you have in life, even if it may seem very little.

Harkening back to the Socrates quote, sometimes we get so busy chasing things that we think will make us happy that we somehow forget how to just be happy. We think that next relationship, that new job, or that new toy is what’s gonna make us happy, and maybe we get one or all of those things and then it’s like “so what now?”

That’s the tricky thing with life.

It’s good to have goals to strive for so that each day you live is filled with some sense of purpose and direction. But as that old cliché goes, “life is a journey, not a destination.” It’s cliché because it’s true. If you’re not moving toward an aim you are then aimless and begin to feel the weight of existential dread falling upon you.

So you work, work, and work, and you finally achieve your goal, and then you’re confronted with a whole new problem: “what’s next?”

Achieving one goal only opens you up to having a whole new set of problems you did not think possible, and since you have much more life left to live, then the process repeats. Until the very end of your days there’s always gonna be one more mountain to climb because it’s just what we do as human beings. We inherently do not feel like we are or have enough and so we strive to fill ourselves with more and more experiences and possessions—all of which are not bad things in and of themselves, but none of them really mean anything unless we take the time to be grateful for them.

If you have nothing pertinent to journal about, no issues to solve, then take a moment to write a Gratitude Journal because we could all use a little respite here and there. Give thanks to the people you love, the art that you’ve consumed, and even thank yourself for showing up for your daily practice. Life is very short and we tend to go from one thing to the next in a heartbeat, so giving ourselves a moment to breathe and feel that heartbeat, even for just a fraction of eternity, we are reminded that it is Your Write to Live.

Therapeutic Journaling Part 9: Improving Your Self Talk

What all journaling comes down to is improving how you talk to yourself. It’s definitely what I’ve learned from my Trifecta of Tribulations a few years ago. We all have a tendency to narrate and frame our lives in a certain way that can cause us suffering. A lot of it has to do with unmet needs, unmet expectations, and just a general sense of pressure we put on ourselves to be a certain way and experience life a certain way, instead of just letting ourselves be.

With journaling, you can write down the ways in which you behave, how you think and feel about them, and then decide on a course of action on how to proceed knowing what you know. Take stock of who and how you are throughout the day and compare it to how you would like to be better in the future, but also be kind to yourself if you don’t live up to these new ideals you set for yourself.

That’s the important thing about goal setting: aim high, but don’t break your neck.

We all know of a multitude of ways in which we can operate better in the world at large, but we often feel disappointed in ourselves whenever we don’t live up to that standard. This is where journaling can be helpful in keeping track of your past, present, and future trajectory. By observing yourself as objectively as possible, and maybe even seeing yourself as a protagonist to your own novel, you get to write yourself out the way you so please.

Do you want to be the protagonist or the antagonist of your own story?

Sometimes we’re both, such is the human condition. We are walking talking contradictions claiming to have one value and then betraying them seemingly in the next heartbeat. Then comes the shame and the guilt around it. Why? Because we all have a potential future self that is actually judging us in the present. We know we could be better, but often make excuses as to why we’re not living up to that potential.

It’s one thing to have that inner commentary constantly justifying why we squander our time away, but it’s a whole other thing to write that down and face the painful reality that that’s what you actually think all day. When you read back on your journal entries as if it’s a good friend reporting to you the contents of their mind, then it becomes excruciatingly clear how much work you have left on improving yourself.

Whether you write an Internal Family Systems Journal or not, a journal is essentially a conversation you have about yourself, with yourself, and to yourself. So much of the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our thoughts because the quality of our thoughts affect our words, and in turn our words become our actions. To keep track of all these things is to develop the self awareness required to move forward in life.

That’s all life really is in the end, an ever going journey to understand ourselves and operate better day by day until our final breath. The learning never ends until our lives do.

And that’s another thing journaling can help you discover. That you are constantly faced with your own mortality and so much of it has been squandered on self defeating thoughts that hold you back from moving forward in life.

It’s perfectly fine if you fill an entire notebook full of yourself doubt for the catharsis, but what do you once you get that out of your head and onto the page? Well, you do the excruciating practice of actually reading back to yourself what you’ve written and imagine your journal self as someone you care deeply about. What would you want to tell them in counter or support to what they’ve said?

I know in my experience I could be quite harsh on myself to the point of causing my own depression for several days. I used to beat myself up for making mistakes or not living up to my potential to the point of not letting myself do any writing or not letting myself reach out to friends or family to talk to. I was too ashamed of myself to think I was worth all that trouble for people to care about, let alone believe my writing had any merit beyond mere self expression.

Self expression is key, though.

That’s the most important thing about journaling that people need to understand. It has nothing to do with being a good or bad writer or if it makes any sense. It’s all about getting to express yourself as freely as you want because the page is the safest place on the planet.

Anne Frank said it best when she said, “paper is more patience than people.”

The page won’t judge you or shame you for thinking what you think.

The page won’t challenge you on your thoughts.

That’s all completely up to you to do. You can start off journaling with the express purpose of letting your darkest, deepest secrets and desires onto the page, but in the end it’s up to you whether you want to do something about any of that or not. My opinion is that you should, but my opinion shouldn’t matter to you when you’ve got your own intricate inner world that I will never understand, and you’ll have your own reasons for resisting the challenge that journal brings forth. Let alone journaling at all.

But once again, in my experience, I’ve become acutely aware of how damaging myself talk has been, calling myself names, making myself feel guilty and ashamed about certain things I do or say, and giving myself an overall lifestyle of dread and misery.

After several years of journaling and about half a year of therapy, though, I’m starting to see how much time has been wasted on doubting myself and not believing in myself enough. Trusting myself is an even bigger point of contention, but I’m getting there. I’m finally at a place where I can get depressed and tired of life, but simply retreat to myself and recover instead of telling myself how much of a failure I am and unloading my negativity onto others.

If I have a trusted friend or family to talk to a certain thing about. Hell, that’s what my therapist is for when I want an even deeper dive for help beyond unconditional empathy. She will challenge my thoughts and beliefs, pose questions about them, and I am left speechless and mindless a lot of times because it stops the usual noise that goes on in my head.

With journaling and therapy, the goal is to tackle your thoughts and feelings to the point where you really do need to take a moment to stop, breathe, and think before you answer. Whenever your mind stills itself and stops the usual chatter, that’s when you know you’ve hit some big and need to take your time to figure it out.

And in the end you will learn exactly how you need to approach yourself on a daily basis. The kind of empathy and compassion you know you deserve, giving yourself the kind of self talk you need to survive the throes of life. This doesn’t mean delude yourself into thinking everything is fine when things are going to hell, but it does mean taking ownership for the ways in which you can influence the circumstances of your life to the best of your ability.

Improving our self talk is important because we get so used to hearing the same thought patterns over and over again, and we start to believe them. We don’t even know where so many of our thoughts and beliefs come from, whether we’ve come to these conclusions rationally, emotionally, or simply by default. We’ve given our power away by getting influenced by our peers, family, or society, but in the end we are the ones, at the individual level, who are ultimately responsible for the way we think, feel, and act in the world at large.

Therapy, coupled with journaling, is how reclaim that power.

Therapeutic Journaling Part 7: Pre and Post Meditation

As I mentioned in Part 5 of this blog series, I have learned to manage some of my ADHD symptoms through journaling. In addition to that, I also like to meditate before and after I do any kind of writing, whether it’s journaling or creative writing.

In today’s Meaningful Monday post we will explore what meditation is, how you do it, and why you should add it to your writing routine.

What is Meditation and How Do I Do It?

Meditation is a formal practice of mindfulness. Where meditation requires you to sit or lay still, mindfulness can be practiced in motion like when you’re doing yoga, going for a walk, or even cooking a meal. It’s the practice of being aware of your thoughts and either accepting them as they pass you by, without judgement or attachment, or by trying to keep your mind clear of thoughts entirely especially when you need to focus on something.

Meditation is mindfulness to the max where you set a certain amount of time to simply sit, breathe, and observe your mind. For each inhale and exhale, you bring your mental focus more and more toward the flow of your breath and recognizing all the sensations that are occurring in your body, as well as becoming aware of the thoughts passing through your mind.

Once again, without judgement or attachment to your thoughts. Just let them be.

A common misconception about meditation is that you are supposed to sit still and have an empty mind, which can be achieved and quite liberating, but you cannot expect yourself to do that the first time. Let alone the first 100 times because meditation is actually difficult to do if your mind races like mine. ADHD or not.

Because of this, people think that they’re “no good” at it and will just fail because of how much they think, but that’s the point! To get some control of your mind, you need to let it do its thing while you observe from a bit of a bird’s eye view rather than being honed in on ground level. Let your thoughts pass like the wind, and not that gaseous kind of wind, but an actual gust of wind.

Why Should I Meditate Before Journaling?

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s preferable that you handwrite your journals so that it forces your mind to slow down, focus on one pattern of thought, and create some sense of order of the chaos that may be occurring in your mind. While putting your thoughts down on paper is one good way to slow your mind down and free up your mental real estate for better thoughts, meditation is the perfect aid to it.

Meditating allows you to slow your mind down even more, especially if you’ve gotten good at focusing on your breath. You should be inhaling slowly until you ca no longer inhale any further, and then exhale slowly until you can no longer exhale any further. You might notice that your breath is shallow throughout the day and this lack of oxygen to your brain is what causes it to think anxious thoughts. Without a proper air supply, your brain’s ability to breathe is obstructed.

Meditation will help you lift as many obstructions as possible.

As you meditate before you journal, what you can do is start setting intentions for what you want to write about. Think about the order in which you’ll convey your thoughts, what kind of entry you’ll be writing, and what the purpose of that entry will be. Maybe you want to gain some insights on how to resolve a relational conflict, work out the pros and cons of life decisions you need to make, or maybe you just want to make sure you get the most of your writing time.

You are definitely free to sit down and write whatever comes to your mind (which is all writing anyway, fundamentally), but for journaling in particular, it’s good to construct a game plan of what you will be writing about it in particular. This will allow you to increase the chances of making sure most, if not all, you write ends up being beneficial for you at the end of the session.

I Already Meditated Before Journaling, Why Should I Do it Again Afterward?

It’s important to also meditate after journaling because putting an abrupt stop to your self reflection might make you forget all the lessons you just taught yourself within your writing practice. If you drive a manual transmission car, it’s the difference between stalling in a parking spot vs slowly shifting gears down and turning off the car properly.

Meditating after journaling will help you ease out of that mindful mode you might find yourself, especially when whatever you’re writing happens to grip all your attention and you allow your mind to truly spiral toward every conceivable thought and feeling you happen to recognize in yourself during that session. For some, myself most especially included, journaling can be a very intense process where it brings up a lot of discomfort, and tackling all that discomfort by bleeding it out of the pen can leave you mentally and emotionally wiped.

Sometimes even physically.

All the more reason to meditate because you might feel a sense of adrenaline reaching certain insights about yourself, and you need to breathe and contain that adrenaline so it can be expended in a healthy way afterward. Plus, meditating after journaling can literally allow you to meditate on everything you just learned about yourself so your mind makes the distinction between what you took out of it and what you’re putting into it in return.

Catch you all in the following parts of Therapeutic Journaling!

Therapeutic Journaling Part 6: The Progress Journal

So we’ve been digging in pretty deep into our psyches with the last few posts on journaling. From part two’s focus on chronological journaling and part four’s focus on your Internal Family System, and not to mention a surprise hit entry on Shadow Journaling—I think it’s time to take it a little easier on ourselves today and focus on goal setting.

While I do think it’s important for us to contend with our shadow side and work out the worries of the day in a journal, we can’t always be digging that deep and getting that emotional because that could be very taxing. In fact, although I am a big proponent to expressing your darkest deepest feelings as earnestly as possible, there can be a point where it can be a bit excessive and you can become too identified with your problems as opposed to having them shed on the page.

To reverse that, we also need to learn how to write Progress Journals to keep track of our goals and ambitions. This can range from your progress in therapy, your progress in your novel, or anything else that you’re working on in life to give yourself a moment to take stock of your life thus far, especially when you feel stuck.

Even if you’re not feeling stuck, it’s even more beneficial to focus on your progress because if you’re not inhibited by any emotional weight holding you down, you can propel that much further in your goals by continuing to take stock anyway.

So why should you write a progress journal and how do you even do it?

What You Measure Grows

If you approach your life like it’s a game you start to notice just how much the quality of our lives are based on “high scores” in different aspects of our lives. How much money do we have in the bank? How many reps can we lift x amount of lbs of a dumbbell? How many words can we write a day?

It is important to jot down these numbers because then you could compare and contrast them throughout the weeks to see how you’re faring in a specific goal. So let’s take writing for instance. Say your goal is to write somewhere between 500-2000 words a day. If you have a word count tracker where you mark each date and total word count for that day, you can keep a tally of how well you do throughout the week.

(Keep your eyes peeled for a future post on Word Count Goals as I will share my own Word Count Tracker and how I use it.)

Some days you’ll be under par and some days you’ll be over par, and in a different section of your Word Count Tracker, you can even briefly mention how and why your word count was a certain way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that being under the word count is bad, rather maybe other things came up that day, and that is something you can mention in a Progress Journal

The whole point of a Progress Journal is to have an open, honest, and earnest conversation with yourself about how far you’ve come in the project, and what you have left to do. It even doubles as a perfect pre-writing warm up exercise because you get yourself thinking about your novel at the bird’s eye view rather than being honed in on the story at ground level. Sometimes it helps to get that broader perspective before you pan the camera down to where the novel focuses.

So keep track of your scores for everything in your life and write entries about how and why you were able to achieve so much or so little in the day. If you score low, it’s not about blaming external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals, rather it’s taking accountability over how you allowed external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals.

I get that a lot of us lead busy lives, but if writing truly is our lifestyle as we believe it is here at Your Write to Live, then we should always make the time to write. Much like anything else in life, it’s not that we don’t have time for certain things, rather we don’t make time for them unless we find them all that more important above everything else. And when it comes to self care and mental health, they damn well better be more important above everything else or everything else begins to fall apart if we’re not well taken care of.

But I digress!

The Progress Journal Manual

My Progress Journals before every writing session were always recapping what I’ve written the day before, or the session before if I have more than one that day, and meditating on what I have left yet to write. Sometimes I’d be focused on shifting my mindset toward being positive, and if I had that inherently intact for a day, then the fun begins where I’ve focused a lot on working out my ideas. This same approach can apply to other things too aside from writing. Even something like weight lifting or any other form of exercise you want to do on a daily basis, you can reflect on what kinds of thoughts and feelings arise as you’ve approached your goal for that day.

Sticking to the example of writing, though—since this is Your Write to Live, not Your Write to…Lift?—you could just as easily write about your perceived Writer’s Block. Doing so is what made me come up with the Shadow Journal in the first place, actually. I would get so deep into my head about why I have all this resistance toward doing something I know that I love, but can’t bring myself to do. It was no longer about the book itself, but myself, and how I have to contend with my own shadow almost every time only to realize that after each session, I come out stronger and smarter than I ever thought possible.

While it is best that you know how to regulate your own motivation for writing, there is no shame in asking for help and that’s why I’m happy to announce that I will be offering Writing Coaching services later in the year so I can help other writers cultivate healthy writing habits of their own that suit them, as well as provide a sounding board for their ideas.

Whether you can’t afford writing coaching services or simply want to do it alone, though, Progress Journaling is the next best alternative to keeping yourself in check and bouncing your ideas around to see if they are sound. You can even join writing forums online or a critique group in person, but I believe that the less people there are and the more intimate the experience is, the more value you can get from reflecting on your progress.

So if you’ve got a grip on the whole mental and emotional aspect of writing, then you get to have a whole lot of fun simply writing about your ideas for your current chapter. Progress Journaling is also a less structured way of outlining, though outlining chapter and GMC graphs are still important, and can lend you more freedom to write and retract some of your ideas as you write them.

Often times you will find yourself writing about a particular idea and realizing it sounds dumb out loud or doesn’t even getting used in the end anyway. Which then makes room for the good ideas you’ve been waiting for, and that’s the thing about ideas which I’ll write about next week: the fact that generating ideas is a muscle you need to exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at them.

Therapeutic Journaling Part 5: Giving Order to My Disorder

It’s not easy for me to admit this to anyone, especially since it was hard for me to admit it to myself for a long time, but I have what’s called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The symptoms beyond inattentiveness include difficulty multitasking, low impulse control, and emotional dysregulation among many others. While I won’t go into great detail of which symptoms I have and don’t have, suffice it to say this mental illness of mine has held me back in life for as long as I can remember—and for a lot longer than I care to admit.

One of the things that helped me to get my scatterbrain into order, though, is journaling. Because of the hyperactivity in my brain, it’s difficult to maintain a linear form of speech, let alone thought, and it can be quite the Hell to go through when I am presented with a task I need to concentrate on. As a result, my inattentiveness to the present moment has cost me better grades in school, concentration at the various jobs I’ve had, and most especially overall motivation to do anything in life—even the things that I love like writing, composing music, and even playing video games at times.

While my brain still fires at 1000mph making me think of everything and anything across all space and time, I have managed to slow it down a bit through journaling. Even if you are neurotypical and do not suffer from ADHD, you might still have some times in your life where you can’t stop your thoughts from racing because you have found yourself in a stressful situation in life.

For us ADHDers, though, that’s basically our default mode of being; constantly overthinking things and having branching thought patterns that lead in seemingly unrelated directions.

However, it is through journaling where I’ve come to understand where some of these branches actually intersect. There are certain things I often think about that if I were to convey them to you, you might not see how they’re even connected at first, but let my motormouth fly and maybe you’ll see how I associate one trivial thing to a more significant thing.

ADHD Tangent Alert!

For instance, I’ve gotten a lot strange glares whenever I’ve said that you can develop self-knowledge through video games. People often dismiss video games as mere leisure and possibly a waste of time, but I’ve put a lot of thought into it and I can confidently say that they are more than what meets the eye. Ask any gamer, myself included, what a certain game means to them, and more often than not, they are more than happy to talk your ear off about all the things they love about it. They might not know it, but I am hyperaware of those reasons being reflections of what we value in art and in life.

After all, art is what we are when we’re paying attention, and video games are an amalgamation of different artforms condensed into one interactive experience. The visual arts of graphics, the sound effects created to go along with well crafted animations, along with the music they have to heighten the feel of a level. Video games are interactive experiences where you learn how to master yourself in a given environment, all with its own set of rules, boundaries, and possibilities.

And much like a video game, journaling also allows for the freedom of expression the way an open world sandbox game could, as well as provide a clear and concise experience when constrained by linear level structure more commonly found in the games of yesteryear. The former kind of game makes it hard for me to find much value because too much freedom can feel aimless, whereas the latter is just what I need to make some order out of my disorder.

Let me explain!

While you can type a journal entry in a word processor, I highly suggest you handwrite your journals because there is no way your hand can keep up with your brain, ADHD brain or not. Whereas typing you might write everything off the cuff at the speed of light, and sure your output will be plentiful, but it might not be as bountiful as I’ve found handwritten journals to be in the past decade.

The reason being, of course, that handwriting forces me to slow down my thought process and choose my words carefully. Typing out a journal could lead to too much randomness and a lack of structure the way an open world game can, but ultimately it’s really choose your own adventure at this point.

But for me personally, I prefer the linearity of older gamers as it provided a structure for me to follow so I don’t get lost doing one pointless side mission after the other, constantly getting sidetracked from experiencing the main story, but anyways.

How I Strive For High Scores in Journaling

I write with a fountain pen and the ink for it runs out faster than your typical ball pen. The ink can also become quite expensive if I’m zipping through ink capsules and refillable ink bottles when I’ve got lots to journal about as I have the past few months. My 2021 was quite eventful and there is a lot to process, so I’m going through ink as fast as I go through underwear.

So because of this, I come at every session with the sole intention to at least try to stick to one topic so that no blot of ink is wasted. My entries aren’t always perfectly linear and on point with one track of mind, but at the very least, the past 10 or so years of this habit have helped me improve my capacity to reach near perfect linearity in my entries in ways I never thought possible before.

When I first started journaling in my early twenties, my entries started off as blatant rip offs of the New Age Spirituality and Self Help books I was reading at the time. They served as reminders of how I should approach life with a positive attitude as to not get crushed by the weight of cynicism and nihilism.

It wasn’t until the second volume where I started actually writing about my life at the most local sense rather than the universal and woo-woo sense. Simply put, I started becoming more honest and vulnerable, not to mention specific about my life, writing about things that I’ve gone through and trying to extrapolate lessons from them. All this, though, unfortunately brought out some cynicism and nihilism in me, but they were attitudes I was willing to challenge and improve from.

When this more open and honest approach to journaling began for me, it was an ADHD hell-scape because my thoughts were so much more scattered than they are now. I had almost no idea what to write about consistently because awakening to my own self-consciousness, it made me realize just how much I’ve repressed throughout my life and haven’t put much thought into.

This is why, even to this day, I’m still an avid advocate for self-knowledge. I surprised myself so many times in my journals admitting to so many faults I’ve had to correct, obstacles I’ve had to overcome, as well as realizing how fortunate I actually am as a human being despite how hyper-focused I might have been on negative emotions.

And that’s another symptom of ADHD that causes emotional dysregulation. While hyper-focus can give rise to creative and productive hyper-fixations—like I once had with studying Korean and playing video games, and that I now have with music production writing—it can also make me obsess over my negative emotions and get me lost in my own thoughts. Journaling about these thoughts and emotions have allowed me to take a step back and look at life in a broader picture. Reading back to a lot of my entries, I often scoff and chuckle at how seriously I took something that now feels trivial in hindsight.


Reason #873 For Journaling

So whether you’re an ADHDer like me, have some other mental illness, or are simply neurotypical, I highly suggest journaling for the same reason. To create an honest narrative of your life and discover what you truly. It is in journaling where you begin to notice certain thought patterns and what kinds of things you busy your mind with on a constant basis.

You may not even be aware of a lot of them, and that can be scary, but that’s the beauty of journaling. You can surprise yourself with not only how much you can remember or how much you actually desire in life, but also with the amount of strength you might actually have in tackling the challenges of life. Especially when you’ve verbalized what those challenges, what you think about them, how you feel about them, and what you choose to do about them.

Journaling, after all, in my eyes, is kind of like writing our own personal instruction manuals to this game called life. As we discover new rules and boundaries in life, jotting them down gives us a clearer picture of what’s possible for us and what isn’t. Then, and only then, is it up to us how much of personal agency will be spent toward the things we can control, and how much we are willing to let go of the things we can’t.