Walk the Five Paths of Journaling

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Journaling lets us travel across wide-ranging landscapes and through wild terrain. We think of this adventure as a guided tour down five paths leading toward improved:

  • emotional well-being
  • creativity
  • productivity
  • physical health
  • mindfulness

The Path Toward Emotional Well-Being

Therapeutic journaling, also referred to as expressive writing, is proven to help navigate depression and anxiety and improve our overall emotional well-being.

Journalers walking the path toward emotional well-being are able to:

  • Practice gratitude. Journaling provides an opportunity to regularly evaluate what’s working well in our lives. Periodic reflection on successes leads to a more hopeful and positive outlook.  
  • Be in the here and now. When we live each moment deeply, we are happier.
    Tuning into our five senses and writing down what hear, see, and feel, helps us connect with moments in more meaningful ways.
  • Practice affirmative writing that inspires resilience. Journaling gives us the chance to cultivate self-forgiveness. Rewriting our narrative helps us to change the stories we tell about ourselves. 

The Creativity Path

Journaling helps catch and cultivate bold ideas. It inspires the emotional resilience that’s required to navigate a life committed to creativity.

Poetry, travel, and art journaling are examples of methods that help nurture our creative spirit. If you are more at ease with a pen and paper than paintbrushes and canvas, discover how uplifting it is to wander from your comfort zone and experiment with new methods.

Journalers on the creativity path:

  • gain new perspective from novel vantage points.
  • ease tension through creative forms of expression like experimental poetry or soothing art techniques such as pattern studies.
  • quiet their thinking and make space for imagination.

The Productivity Path

Productivity journaling helps evaluate priorities so you spend more time engaging with the people, activities, and work that brings deep meaning and joy. On this path, we ask the question why we do the tasks we do each day? In response, we grow more selective in choosing which tasks we’ll commit to.

In our interview with Ryder Carroll, creator of the wildly popular Bullet Journal, he asks “what if the task-list were to become part of an “existential” exploration that assesses the quality of experiences that fill our days?” We love this idea and the fact that journaling helps us to achieve this mindset.

Journalers on the productivity path ask:

  • How do the tasks on my to-do list make me feel?
  • Which of these responsibilities do I want more or less of in my life?
  • Of the tasks I completed today, which ones were essential? Which provided fulfillment, pleasure, and meaning?
  • Which of the items on my list could be eliminated without any negative consequences?

We are a culture on auto pilot trying to accomplish an infinite list of tasks. Journaling helps streamline task lists so they become a reflection of the life we want to cultivate.

The Path Toward Physical Health

Since the 1980s, social psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker has been a pioneer in the field of expressive writing. His research shows that those who journal experience:

  • stronger immune health
  • better sleep habits
  • improved mental health
  • regulated blood pressure
  • reduction in pain caused by chronic disease

And, a 2008 study by researchers from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research revealed that people who keep a weight loss journal were more likely to achieve and maintain their health goals. 

Journaling establishes new communication lines between our brains and our bodies by giving us space to check in and evaluate our physical health and comfort. As this communication pattern deepens, it’s possible to interact with your body in the spirit of teamwork.

Journalers on the path toward physical health:

  • check in regularly to hear what pain their bodies are attempting to communicate and to hear what care they are asking to receive.
  • connect and communicate with their bodies in a voice that is patient, forgiving, and compassionate.

Over and over at Journaling.com, we’ve seen the myriad of ways that journaling helps achieve health and wellness goals.

The Path Toward Mindfulness

Journaling gifts us with quiet moments to pause for reflection. The chance to cultivate mindfulness changes the tempo of our days giving them new color, shape, and direction.

A journaling practice with an eye toward mindfulness has the power to:

  • broaden perspective and cultivate acceptance.
  • neutralize counterproductive emotions.
  • help us live life moment by moment.

Journalers on the path toward mindfulness:

  • experiment with new writing styles in order to exercise different parts of the brain and to train the mind to express and examine internal processes.
  • bring meditation to their writing practice. Mindfulness expert and a recent guest at Journaling.com, Beth Jacobs recommends beginning a session in a relaxed pose. Concentrate on breathing. Keep a journal or computer nearby. Every time your mind wanders from breathing, jot down your thought as a note, word, or brief phrase. The thought you write might be a worry, a bodily sensation, or a task you need to finish. You’ll end up with an informative list containing themes to explore.

It is often said that it’s the journey not the destination that matters in life. Journaling is a reliable tool to guide you on your journey and along whatever paths you find yourself walking. Happy travels!


Three Tips to Get You Started Journaling Today

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We aren’t fans of telling people what they should or shouldn’t do. In fact, I’ll bet this article’s title is the only directive you’ll see on our site. We believe it doesn’t matter how you journal, when you journal, or even what tools you use. It’s okay if you type, air write, hand write, or dictate. Your journaling practice will be as unique and eclectic as you!

What matters is this: if you’ve ever been curious about journaling and have thought about giving it a try, today is the day to get started.

There are more ways than ever to kick-start your journaling practice. Our best advice is don’t get bogged down in the details. There’s plenty of time to experiment with different methods, tools, and techniques. And later on we can help with all of that. But today the only objective is to begin.

Tip 1: Cultivate Emotional Space

If you are somewhere by the sea or in a cozy mountain retreat, lucky you! Pour some tea and start writing about it!

It’s more likely that you are reading this article on a noisy commuter train, or at a sticky counter top left behind by a family member. If you wait to write when the setting is “perfect,” journaling is probably not going to happen regularly for you or even at all.

The good news is an environment conducive to journaling isn’t so much about the landscape outside your window or the paint color on your walls. Of course these qualities have value, but they are more like the icing on the cake. We don’t need them in order to engage with a meaningful journaling practice. Instead, it’s vital that we cultivate a hospitable emotional space within ourselves so that we can be open to the powers of journaling.

Everyone is different and will achieve uncluttered emotional space in unique ways, but here are ideas to start with.

  • Take time. Today, before you begin, announce your intention to anyone who is around. I am taking twenty minutes to tend to something important. If you need me, I’ll be free after that. Stick with this promise. If guilt starts to rise, pay attention to those feelings and write about them.
  • Close the door. This action signals your journaling practice is important and worthy of your attention.
  • Turn off your phone. Just like you might for an important meeting or to read a bedtime story with your child, unplug.
  • Get comfortable. Are you hungry, thirsty, cold, warm? Tend to any physical discomforts you can before you start writing.

Tip 2: Maximize Your Time

For people new to journaling, the blank page can be daunting. When words don’t flow or come immediately to mind, we grow distracted. We jump up to adjust the thermostat or fixate on an ache or pain. Just like any mindfulness technique, journaling grows easier with practice. Here are a few tips to help get your wheels turning.

  • Decide what length of time constitutes a meaningful writing session to you. Twenty minutes, for example, is a reasonable goal. Set your alarm and don’t stop writing till the time has passed.
  • Keep your pen moving for the allotted time, and don’t stop! Even if you are simply writing the words “I can’t think of anything to write about,” you are exercising the part of the brain you’ll want to engage with throughout your journaling practice. We call this freewriting. This form of writing taps into unconscious thoughts and brings them to the surface. People are often surprised by discoveries that surface in these moments.
  • If it’s helpful, come to the session with a writing prompt. This tool can make it easier to face the glare of the blank page.

Prompts to Get You Started

  • I’ve started journaling because I want to know more about____.
  • I would like to use my journaling practice to help me____.
  • The aspects of my life I love ____ and things that I’d like to change are ____.

Tip 3: Check In With Yourself

After you’ve finished writing, take a few minutes to check in with yourself. What challenges came up in your first journaling session? How did your body feel?  Were your thoughts more focused or did your mind drift? Did you learn something new? You may even want to spend a few more minutes writing to unearth your answers.

Now schedule your next journaling session. Commit by writing down that time in your journal or planner. Honor this appointment the same way you would a get-together with a friend or an appointment at the doctor’s.

If you decide that journaling is a tool that works for you, we invite you to become a member of the Journaling.com community. Membership is free and entitles you to how-to articles like this one, interviews with journaling experts, and tips to keep your journaling practice fresh and fulfilling.

Embrace ALL Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love, with Randy Taran

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We sat down with Randy Taran, founder and CEO of Project Happiness, to discuss her newest book Emotional Advantage: Embracing All Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love.

For years, Randy has been one of the leading experts on happiness and positive psychology. Her current research is an expansion of her groundbreaking work. Randy’s new book explores the ways acknowledgement of and engagement with all of our emotions helps us create a life we love. It’s a privilege to share her uplifting message with you.

Randy is also co-author of the Project Happiness Handbook, which uses journaling to bring the best of positive psychology, neuroscience, and mindfulness to youth. Randy produced the award-winning documentary “Project Happiness” exploring the nature of lasting happiness through interviews with George Lucas, Richard Gere, Richard Davidson and the Dalai Lama.

Randy’s work will transform the way you engage with your emotional life. To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


A Message of Hope

With a community of 2.5 million people on Facebook and Instagram, Randy’s messages of hope, along with science-based strategies for greater well-being, are reaching people when they need it most.

For years Randy’s focused on happiness and positive psychology, and she remains enthusiastic about the benefits of  a perspective shift toward positivity. But recently, she was hearing from more people who wanted to learn how to live with other emotions like anxiety, sadness, fear, and anger. Randy found herself drawn to this question both as a topical issue and on a more personal level as well.

She explains, “Writing this book gave me an opportunity to delve into the history, science, and strategic applications and insights that come from embracing all of our feelings.”

Randy’s research suggests our emotions are gifts. “Our emotions are messengers that provide information. They are like data points,” she observes. “Our emotions are messengers from the deepest part of ourselves. If we welcome and appreciate these messages, they have the power to enrich and inform our lives.

Our emotions are messengers that provide information. They are like data points.

Randy Taran

Randy acknowledges the emotions she writes about are powerful, and there is a tendency to want to sweep them under the rug. Guilt is an example of a powerful emotion. “No one wants to feel guilty, and so sometimes we run from this feeling,” Randy points out. “But guilt brings us back to our core values. It’s a wakeup call that announces when something doesn’t feel right.” In other words, she explains, “guilt provides an opportunity to course correct.”

Anger is another significant emotion with potential benefits. “Anger can feel like a forest fire burning up everything in its path. Anger is a potent emotion with power. But, where would Martin Luther King, Gandhi, or the suffragette movement be if these individuals didn’t listen to and channel their anger productively. Anger inspires action.”

The key is to channel emotions skillfully. Randy believes we all have the potential to do so.

Name the Emotion

There is value in naming an emotion. Sometimes we don’t know what we are feeling. If we can name what we are experiencing, oftentimes we get to the heart of the matter.

Randy references the catchphrase of our friend, Dr. Dan Siegel. Name it to tame it. When we can label our emotions we can manage and channel them more effectively.

Randy’s Tips for Engaging with Emotions

  • Don’t wait for the fire. Check in when your emotions are just a spark. Tune in and ask,  “What am I feeling in this moment? Journal about the feelings you identify.
  • Before an emotion gains momentum. Take an inventory. How do you feel? Are you tired? Hungry? How is your physical state impacting your emotions?
  • Examine triggers. Understanding why a feeling comes to the surface is key in understanding how best to engage with it.
  • Identify your options. What can you choose to do with this emotion once you’ve named it?

Journaling Prompts

  • When_____ happens it triggers feelings of ______.
  • When I think about_____ I usually feel______.
  • When I am anxious my body feels like______.

The Choice to React

As Randy’s work shows, we have a choice to respond to our emotions in a constructive way and let these feelings help us advance. The other option is to make no decisions, to simply suppress emotions or unload them externally without a sense of resolution.

Assess Your Response

Try these journaling prompts to assess your response to complicated emotions when they arise.

  • What kind of patterns did I repeat?
  • Where did I gain awareness and successfully course correct?

Our emotions can appear to come out of nowhere but when we learn about our triggers we can identify what to do to keep ourselves in a balanced state of mind.

Speak to Yourself with Compassion

Randy cited the inspiring work of Dr. Kristin Neff, whose work identifies the three elements she refers to as composing self-compassion. These are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

1. Self-kindness. Speak and journal to yourself as if you were your dearest closest most beloved friend.

2. When we acknowledge common humanity, we recognize that people experience difficult emotions that can make them feel isolated. This knowledge reminds us we are not alone in our struggles. Challenges are normal and universally felt.

3. Mindfulness is about being aware of and engaging with the feelings you are experiencing

Self-compassion Promotes Emotional Resiliency

People who practice self-compassion are shown to bounce back from disappointment and challenges faster than people who just power through emotional struggles. Self-kindness, Randy teaches, sustains us on a deeper level and opens the door to positive change. These acts of compassion also strengthen neural pathways so that eventually this gentle response becomes our go-to modality.

What the Research Shows

Fear and anxiety are dominant emotions in the landscape today. Randy references one study that shows 1 in 5 Americans suffers from anxiety. Among teens this statistic is said to be even higher.

The World Health Organization has declared depression to be the greatest cause of suffering around the world for all ages, regardless of socioeconomic factors or gender.

These startling findings reinforce Randy’s notion that we must work with the big emotions that rise in our life. We need to use these emotions to empower ourselves and to foster a connection with ourselves.

The crux of Randy’s work shows that expressing the whole range of human emotions is how we experience life in a deep and meaningful way. It is how we maintain our humanity and develop empathy for others.

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Randy’s work. Visit her online at  Project Happiness.
  • Read her new book, Emotional Advantage: Embracing All Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love.
  • Listen to my conversation with Randy.
  • Try the prompts Randy provides in this article.
  • Practice self-compassion, and use your journal to help implement this principal.

Self-care, Randy reminds us, is never frivolous or selfish. Quite the opposite. When we are gentle with ourselves, when we meet our emotions with curiosity instead of judgement, that action impacts others as well. When we help ourselves we make the world better.

If your enjoyed this interview, you might also find our conversation with Dr. Dan Siegel helpful.