Find the Joy in Today

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Let’s be honest. Joy is easier to find some days than others. When the sun is shining, our families are well, work is fulfilling, and we have free time for play, joy feels abundant. We don’t have to look for it or give it a name. It just is.  

Inevitably, rainy days come, the people we love hurt, work changes, and in the midst of the pressure we forget how to play. These days are difficult but also significant. When we accept life’s challenge to learn to find joy even in tough times, we develop resilience and inner peace that endures.

So where do we find joy? How do we cultivate good feelings when they are nowhere to be found? The research is clear; journaling is a powerful, well-proven tool that helps manifest joyfulness.

Journaling allows us to:

  • practice gratitude
  • cultivate affirming thinking
  • be in the here and now
  • reframe ideas and put them in a positive or growth-oriented light
  • live mindfully

30 Days of Joy: How to Rewire Your Brain for Happiness is an excerpt from an upcoming book by Journaling.com’s founder, Rebecca Kochenderfer.

Rebecca introduces you, week by week, to new joy habits that will transform the way you experience life. Discover the many ways journaling helps rewire the brain for a more optimistic and proactive outlook.

Featuring a collection of inspiring prompts, this guide provides a series of activities that will reset your thinking and open up pathways that lead to peace, joy, and confidence.

This download is our free gift to you. Visit Journaling.com to become a member of our community (it’s free too!) and use this guide to help discover the joy and meaning in all of your days.  

Journal to Manifest Your Goals, with Sara Caputo

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Journaling is well-recognized as an effective mindfulness tool, but did you know it can also help us to set and achieve major goals? Sara Caputo joined us on the podcast to show us how.  

Sara is the founder of Sara Caputo Consulting–a coaching, consulting and training business based in Santa Barbara, California, and she is the author of The Productivity Puzzle: What’s Your Missing Piece? Part workflow analyst, part stress-relief therapist, and 100 percent to-do list ninja, her approach is simple—to help  individuals, teams, and small businesses find strategies and solutions that work specifically for their brains, their goals, and their lives.

To learn more about Sara’s work, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Sara began journaling as a child. As she grew older, she noticed the goals and intentions she wrote about were becoming actualized, and she recognized the connection. Journaling helps us to manifest our goals. Convinced by her personal experiences, today, Sara counsels others to manifest their own objectives through journal writing.

Writing down our goals, Sara explains, frees us up so we can back away and see the idea from a variety of vantage points. In turn, this lets us respond with optimal effectiveness and awareness.

Journal to Sharpen Your Focus

As a coach, Sara encourages clients to be highly specific when writing down goals. “The more clear our words can be, the more likely it is things will unfold as we’d like them to.”

The science substantiates Sara’s experiences. The power of writing down an action plan, she explains, helps make a connection from the hand to the brain. The physical act of writing down our goals turns on the reticular formation system which is a network of pathways that connect the spinal cord, cerebrum, and cerebellum, and in turn impact our consciousness.

Sara describes one study to demonstrate the power of the reticular formation system. Participants were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to write down all of the items from their grocery list. The second group wrote down nothing. Even without the lists in hand, people in the first group could recall which items they needed with greater ease than those in group B who’d written nothing down. Sara connects the dots and explains. Our brain starts working on our goals the moment our pen hits the paper.

Sara’s Suggestions

Sara shares tips to maximize mindful efficiency.

  • Write a to-do list right before bed to help the reticular formation system sort out the details as you sleep.
  • Don’t always tackle the most urgent seeming item on your to-do list. Be strategic about what you let your brain know is important; otherwise we will always take the quick win and never accomplish the important long term goals that matter most.
  • Keep your journals. Old journals are reminders of the power of writing down goals.

MJR: Give it a Try!

Sara describes the approach she takes to begin each new day. MJR, as she refers to it, is a plan Sara developed that involves meditation, journaling, and reading every morning.  

  • Meditation. Sara uses an App, Insight Timer, which provides free guided meditations. For 3-5 minutes each morning she focuses on deep breaths and on setting her intentions.
  • Journal. Sara strives to fill a page of her journal every morning. At this moment she notes the things she’s grateful for, writes about actions she’d like to manifest, and explores and releases worries.  
  • Read. Sara has a quote book she reads from to glean inspiration and perspective. She reads other non-fiction during this time as well because it’s the moment in her day when she’s best able to focus her attention.

Sara emphasizes the importance of establishing healthy habits. Practices like her MJR approach are only likely to happen if they become implemented as a regular part of one’s day. Sara finds it helpful to engage with her routine before her family wakes in the morning. Find the time that works for you, and then stick with it, she suggests.

Journal your Biggest, Boldest Intentions

When we journal about big ideas, we grow more comfortable with them and develop the confidence we need to carry out the plan. Journaling, Sara shows, is the important pre-work that needs to be done in order to actualize our boldest dreams of all.

Your Action Plan

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Dr. Dan Seigel in which we discuss journaling’s positive effects on the brain.

Journaling to the Rescue, with Lucia Capacchione, PhD

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From the moment our interview with today’s guest began, it was clear this would be the first conversation of many. Lucia Capacchione, PhD, ATR, REAT is an extraordinary thinker, art therapist and pioneer in the fields of expressive arts therapy and journal therapy. Her knowledge of these topics is wide and deep.

Lucia is the bestselling author of 23 books on journaling using drawing and writing. She originated The Creative Journal method and bilateral journaling: drawing and dialoguing with both hands. Her books include The Creative Journal, The Power of Your Other Hand, and Recovery of Your Inner Child. She has created Creative Journal programs for schools (K – 12), cancer support groups, and trainings for educators and mental health professionals. Lucia has a private practice and is director of Creative Journal Expressive Arts Certification Training for Professionals. 

We sat down to discuss how journaling with our non-dominant hand can help address anxiety, stress, relationship dynamics, and physical pain.

To learn more about Lucia’s groundbreaking work, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


Journaling to the Rescue, with Lucia Capacchione, PhD


From first-hand experience, Lucia knows the power of journaling, and she credits the practice with saving her life. At age 35, Lucia became so ill she was bedridden. The medications prescribed did not help, and her condition remained a medical mystery for many years. In desperation, she turned to the journal she’d just begun keeping.  It was there that she could unload the anxiety and confusion she was feeling.  

Lucia began to write her feelings out and grew fascinated as she realized the ways journaling contributed to her growth and understanding.

In time, the source of Lucia’s ill health was discovered. She recovered and went on to become an art therapist. When she began this work, she immediately started assigning clients journaling prompts as a means to tap into their subconscious. Her book The Creative Journal features the prompts she used along with art from her students and clients.

Journaling Improves Health

Having survived her own health crisis, Lucia became interested in James Pennabaker’s ground breaking research that showed journaling’s impact on the immune system.

Dr. Pennebaker asked one group of people to journal about trivial events while a second group was asked to journal about personal crisis and trauma. Blood tests were administered before and after the writing sessions. Those who wrote about a crisis were found to have heightened immunity whereas no changes were detected in the blood of those who had jotted down trivial events of the day.

Since this finding, there have been a multitude of studies that show the impact of journaling on physical health, including one that showed patients who journal before surgery heal more quickly. Lucia explains that when our emotions are not released they become somatized. Journaling helps us connect with and extract strong emotions so that they do not make us ill.

Writing with Your Non-dominant Hand

Lucia explains that the value of journaling with the non-dominant hand is it provides access to the right side of the brain which specializes in emotional expression and intuition. She contrasts this with the left hemisphere which is the verbal center of our brain.

The limbic system is the part of our brain that controls our physical and emotional responses to stimuli.  Lucia describes this region as a gating mechanism and explains that using the non-dominant hand, unrooted in verbal expression, helps us access this system and get to the heart of the issues we need to explore.

When we write with our non-dominant hand, we use both side of the brain. Lucia explains how we pull words and language from the left brain and run it through the corpus collepsum which is the part of the brain that establishes communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. In effect, we are synthesizing language and our deepest thoughts and emotions.

Manage Stress

In her book, Drawing Your Stress Away, Lucia provides journaling and drawing prompts to help us manage stress. She shares an example.

  • Scribble your heart out. Start scribbling on scrap paper. Begin with your non-dominant hand. Use crayons and fat markers. The stress you carry will begin to pour out. Do this for as long as you like. Note that it’s the movement on the paper that releases stresses.
  • Dance on paper. When you feel finished with the first step, put on some calming music. Use both hands and imagine they are performing a duet. Resume scribbling, but this time allow the music to flow through you and inform the movement and markings you make on the paper. Avoid the temptation to draw pictures. Leave only tracks that represent the movement of the music through your body and onto the paper. Feel the stress leaving.

Lucia notes that this can be a meaningful exercise to practice with children. It’s applicable to people and at any age.  

Manage Anxiety and Depression

Lucia’s work proves that strong emotions and feelings can be released by drawing them out.  To combat anxiety and depression she suggests drawing a picture of the issues you wrestle with. Do this with your non-dominant hand.

For example, a person who is feeling boxed in, Lucia suggests, would draw an image of themselves in a box. Next, they engage in a dialogue with the image.  It would look something like this:

Dominant hand writes: What are you?
Non-dominant hand answers:  I’m you stuck in a box. 

Dominant hand writes: How do you feel?
Non-dominant hand answers: I feel shut down. I feel locked up.

Dominant hand writes: What’s making you to feel this way?
Non-dominant hand answers:  You are putting me in all of these different boxes and schedules. I’m tired.

Dominant hand writes: How can I help you?
Non-dominant hand answers: I want to stop doing things that don’t fulfill me. I want to start exercising and painting.  

Manage Your Health

Lucia recommend similar methods when addressing physical health. She shows how we can talk to individual body parts to manage symptoms.  

  • Lie down. Notice the areas of your body where you experience discomfort.
  •  Draw a picture of your body, and color the areas where you eperience pain.  
  • If there is pain in your shoulder talk with it:
    What are you?
    What’s causing this?
    What can be done about it?

Manage Relationships

In her book The Power of Your Other Hand, Lucia explains the physiology of writing and growing with your non-dominant hand and shows how this can impact our relationships in significant ways.

  • Sit down and imagine you are having a conversation with someone significant in your life.
  • With your dominant hand, express your feelings: “I’m angry that you walked away in the middle of our conversation last week.”
  • Put the pen in your non-dominant hand and write what the other person would say. “I left because I was scared. I thought you were going to start blaming me.”

In her work, Lucia has observed that all kind of insights come up using this method to help us better understand another person’s perspective. 

The Future of Journaling

If journaling is a tool you rely on, you are not alone!  With happiness, Lucia predicts the future for journaling is bright. “I do book signings, and when I am in bookstores they always put me in front of a wall of blank books. I always tell my audience that when I started speaking about journaling many years ago, there weren’t any blank books in the bookstores. You had to go to an art store to get something to journal in. Now there are all these beautiful options.”

It’s Lucia’s dream to take journaling to public schools. The research shows that journaling helps students manage disruptive behaviors, test-taking anxiety, and positively impacts the social atmosphere in classrooms.

Your Action Plan

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Deborah Ross in which we discuss journaling’s effects on the brain.

Journaling to Create Calm, with Marni Amsellem,Ph.D.

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As we learn to navigate life during a pandemic, anxiety is on the rise. For this reason, we are especially grateful that Dr. Marni Amsellem joined us to provide tips to help us stay centered. Founder of Write, Reflect, Grow, an online community focused on journaling, Dr. Amsellem is also the author of Self Reflections: A Journal for Exploration and Growth.

To find out more, listen to our conversation, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


Journaling to Create Calm, with Marni Amsellem, Ph.D.


Do What Works

Both in her professional and personal life, Dr. Amsellem sees the value in journaling during times of stress, and her advice is pragmatic. “Do what works.”  She describes her own journaling routine as important, but notes that the schedule she’s established is fluid, flexible, and able to accommodate her changing needs. Dr. Amsellem encourages others to work with the schedule that makes sense for them.

Some of us like to write at the same time each day. Others write to process a particular issue. You are the expert here. Do what works for you.

Just like there is a schedule to suit every need, there is a journaling method that will fit best as well. Some of the people Dr. Amsellem works with incorporate technology and journal on computers, while others prefer paper and pen.

Dr. Amsellem encourages the exploration of all forms of journaling. Food diaries and sleep journals are two tools she often recommends to those striving to recognize life patterns. In her own life, she finds freewriting especially helpful.

Understand Your Method of Coping

Coping skills, Dr. Amsellem explains, describe the action we take to help get through a difficult situation. Some of these methods are more adaptive than others. Substance abuse and poor eating habits are examples of coping strategies that make a difficult season more trying. On the other hand, talk therapy, exercise, and journaling are methods that help us get to the other side of challenges. Dr. Amsellem speaks to the value of identifying methods of coping and examining if they lead to calm or chaos. Journaling can help us identify our strategies.

Manage Anxiety with Your Journal

As the pandemic forces our fast-moving society to temporarily slow down, journaling can help us observe and understand what’s happening both around and inside of ourselves. Whatever journaling method you decide suits you best, Dr. Amsellem points out it’s likely to ease anxiety by:

  • providing clarity
  • identifying patterns
  • processing decisions
  • revealing emotions
  • and helping us become more flexible and accepting in our thinking.

Getting Started

You have everything you need to start journaling today. Answers are there within you.

Use your journaling practice for self-reflection. Unearth old coping methods that helped you survive stressful times in the past. Consider if these tools might be of use now. Or write about new coping skills you’d like to develop. A guided journal with prompts can help focus your attention onto a specific theme you wish to work on.

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Dr. Amsellem’s work. Visit her online at:
    www.smarthealthpsych.com
    www.writereflectgrow.com
    Twitter
    Instagram
  • Check out Dr. Amsellem’s new guided journal Self-Reflections: A Journal for Exploration and Growth. This beautiful collection of prompts was designed to guide you in exploring what lies within, identifying what may hold you back, and getting clear on where you would like to go. Visit her website for details.
  • Listen to my conversation with Dr. Amsellem.

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Dr. Dan Seigel in which we discuss journaling’s positive effects on the brain.