Nature Journaling: Infuse Your Writing with Words from the Wild

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Any opportunity to examine life through a new lens is a gift. The time we spend outdoors provides a different vantage point. The smells and sounds that flood the senses as we walk in nature shifts thinking and puts us into a more mindful state of being.  

What is Nature Journaling?

Nature journaling is simply the act of recording observations we make in the wild. These can be about the sky, bird songs, and trees we encounter, or about internal revelations that surface as we walk. Sketches, paintings, poems, and narrative text are all methods used to record these moments.

The Benefits of Nature Journaling

  • Nature journaling sharpens our focus. When we stop to record observations, we look more closely at details. We see more. We notice patterns.
  • Time in nature helps declutter and quiet overactive thinking.
  • New ideas and creative inspiration grow roots in the wild.
  • Inspired learning takes hold as we learn to identify new birds, insects, flora and fauna.
  • As we cultivate deeper awareness of nature’s cycles and rhythms, we become better stewards of the environment.
  • Time outdoors is invigorating and infuses all forms of self-expression with vibrant energy.
  • Multiple studies show a correlation between time in nature and mental health.

How to Get Started

Just like most journaling techniques, there is no right or wrong way to keep a nature journal. Some journals are filled with words, while others burst with bits of art and treasures collected on walks.

You may choose to journal while you are out on your walk. If so, you’ll only need a lightweight journal, pen, and art supplies. Or perhaps you’d prefer to carry home a few souvenirs from your walk—an acorn or a bird’s feather as reminders of moments to write about when you return home.

Nature Writing Prompts

Its liberating to be out in nature without an agenda, task list, or actual plan. And yet it can also be grounding to enter a new environment with one’s eyes turned to a goal or purpose. If the latter point resonates, take some of these ideas on your next walk in the wild.

  • Experiment with leaf rubbings
  • Revisit a special spot each week for a year and note the changes the seasons bring. Make measurements. Note changes of color. Observe plants going to seed or just about to blossoms. Sketch or write about the processes at play.
  • Keep a catalog of birds, flowers, trees and insects you spot. If you see something you can’t identify, snap a photo or make a sketch. Bring home the picture and look it up.
  • Carry an animal tracks identification book and follow wild “footsteps” through snow and mud. See where they take you, and write about the places you wind up.
  • Create nature stamps with goodies collected on your walk. Decorate your journal with them.  
  • Bring a question on your walk or a problem you are wrestling with. Walking in nature provides new clarity. When you are able, write down what you discover.

Nature Journaling with Children

Nature journaling is a way to get outdoors with your child and connect them with the environment in meaningful ways.

This moment together can be relaxing and grounding. It will evolve naturally with little preparation on your part. There’s no need for much structure or planning. Rather it’s a time to move slowly with your child—or to race through a nature-made obstacle course if that’s their thing! It’s a moment to wake up to the amazingness of everything that surrounds us.

Help your child see what’s happening beneath their feet and high above their heads. Guide their eyes toward the complex ecosystems that surround them. Count how many shades of green and brown your child can see. Encourage the use of all five senses as they walk. What do they see, smell, touch, hear, and (if you know how to safely identify wild foods) taste?

When your child is ready to rest, find a warm sunny patch of grass. Drink some water, and then pull out those journals. You may be amazed by the ways your child fills the pages.

An Exercise to Practice While Sheltering in Place, with Merle R. Saferstein

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In 1974, I participated in an Ira Progoff workshop in which we were given a values clarification exercise asking us to list twenty things that bring us happiness. Upon completion of the list, we were given a number of questions related to what we had written.

Based on that exercise, I have created the following exercise which I am currently using in journaling circles and legacy classes which I am facilitating.

List ten things that brought you joy prior to sheltering in place.

List ten things that currently bring you joy while sheltering in place.

  • Now that you are sheltering in place, do you see anything different about how you are bringing joy into your life?
  • What do you miss the most from before?
  • Do you think you might add something new to your life after, and if yes, what would that be?
  • Prior to sheltering in place, how did you reach out to others? Currently, how are you reaching out now? What does that look like for you?
  • Is there any way that you feel a shift in your core values since sheltering in place, and if yes, how does that look to you?
  • What did you learn from doing this exercise?
  • When I reflect on this, I notice….
  • When I reflect on this, I feel…
  • What makes me happiest these days is…

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.

Experience the Magic of Vision Boards, with Dr. Lori Ann Roth

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Vision boarding is a perfect companion activity to traditional forms of journaling. We had to the pleasure to speak with Dr. Lori Ann Roth who shares how vision boarding can help you grow comfortable with new ideas, enhance awareness of potential opportunities, and crystallize a dynamic new action plan. She also shares ideas to help you start your own vision board today.

Lori Ann is a life-long learner with over 35 years of experience helping individuals be their best. She is the president of “Learning and…Reflective Growth,” a company that specializes in training and coaching, and she is the author of The Journal Book: Your Journaling Journey.

To learn how you might incorporate vision boarding into your own journaling practice, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

What Is a Vision Board and What Do I Do With It?

A vision board is a collage designed to be a source of inspiration. It usually features images, quotations, and stand-alone-words that represent the maker’s goals and desires.

An office wall can be the perfect place to hang your vision board. Let it motivate and influence your actions as you go about your day. At her former workplace, Lori Ann managed a team of employees, and they crafted boards together and hung them in a common space where they would see them each day. Alternatively, if your vision board is for your eyes only, hang it inside of a bedroom closet door to ensure that it inspires you every day!

Resource Ideas

Just like traditional forms of journaling, vision boarding does not require fancy materials. In fact, you probably already have all the materials you’ll need.  

  • Hang on to old magazines. Get out your scissors and enjoy some old-fashioned fun! Clip images that represent your juiciest goals and intentions. Look for quotations and words that inspire, and glue them onto your board.
  • Google it! Search online for specific images you desire, and print them in color on quality photo paper.
  • Grab a dictionary and thesaurus. Choosing just the right words to paste onto your board takes time and patience, but the results are worth it.

Make Your Own Vision Board

Lori Ann shares tips and techniques to help you begin visualizing your wildest dreams!

  • Set a goal. Lori Ann believes that the secret to creating a successful vision board lies in the preparation done beforehand. She encourages people to identify goals and desires in clear, comprehensible terms before moving forward. This first step, she explains, is an opportunity for deep self-reflection. This is the time to explore values and wishes and to envision the future you’re working toward.
  • Make time to visualize the life that you want. Many people create a new vision board once each year. For some, the start of the new year seems most fitting, while others mark birthdays, anniversaries, or the beginning of a new school year by making a vision board. Choose what works best for you. There’s no wrong way to do this.
  • Write it all down first. It can be a challenge to identify or pinpoint specific goals, but journaling first can help.
  • Gather and glue. Collect the images you’ll use for your board and start pasting!

What the Research Teaches  

Citing the work of Australian psychologist Alan Richardson, Lori Ann points to a study involving three groups of basketball players. The first group of players repeatedly practiced shooting hoops together. The second group did not practice; instead they visualized shooting hoops successfully. The third group did not practice or visualize throwing basketballs. Predictably, the players in the third group did not improve their skills. The players who improved most were those that practiced shooting hoops. Interestingly, those in group two who only visualized their improvement did nearly as well as the players who had practiced playing ball.

The research findings grow more interesting with a second study Lori Ann mentions involving players who combined visualization with practice. Overall, these individuals experienced the best outcomes.

From this study and others like it, Lori Ann concludes that it’s the combination of visualization and action that bring our goals to fruition.

As we continued to talk, Lori Ann shared the deep impact vision boarding has had on her personal life. After being single for 15 years, she recognized it was time for a new relationship. Lori Ann began to visualize the relationship she desired. Combing through a magazine, she even found a picture of a man who radiated qualities she was drawn to. She vision boarded this image along with other photos and quotations that evoked fun and romance. To accompany her vision board, Lori Ann wrote two typewritten pages to express her feelings and desires in words. Along with visualizing a relationship, she took action steps by going on dating sites and putting herself out there among good people she could connect with. It was through this process that Lori Ann met her husband to whom she’s been married for 2 ½ years!

Lori Ann left us with a few words of advice. A wonderful aspect of journaling is that there are so many approaches and all of them are right. Lori Ann assures us that vision boarding works similarly. Some of the people she works with take a linear approach to vision boarding. They might make boards with goals for the next six months, year, or even five years ahead. Others find this format too restrictive and choose a looser, less linear method that does not involve timelines.

Choose the method that resonate for you. The important thing is to be open to the messages your board reveals and to take the steps that turn vision into action.

Your Action Plan

  • Connect with Lori Ann on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Also visit her website.
  • Read Lori Ann’s new book, The Journal Book: Your Journaling Journey.
  • Listen our conversation on The Power of Journaling podcast.
  • Start work on your own vision board today!

If you enjoyed our conversation with Lori Ann, you might enjoy our article “Walk the Five Paths of Journaling.”

How to Get Started Travel Journaling, with Lauren Hooper

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We talked with Lauren Hooper, podcast host and seasoned traveler, to discover how journaling and travel make a perfect pairing. We are certain Lauren’s insights will inspire you to take along a journal on your next big adventure.

Lauren is a crafter, adventurer and storyteller who has lived overseas with her husband and pup for 6 years and created a career out of creativity and adventure. Lauren co-founded the Get Messy Art Journal program and now runs Radiant Art Retreats, hosts the podcast How She Creates, teaches online courses for creatives at lauren-likes.com, and is currently redesigning her popular travel art journal which will be available this spring. Lauren’s work explores the intersection of art, travel and good in the world.

To find out how you can incorporate journaling into your next travel adventure, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Lauren took her first creative steps as a child scrapbooking with her mom. This activity sparked in her a love of art and an appreciation of all-things creative. Growing up Lauren knew she would be an artist.

As graduate students facing the challenges of a limited income, Lauren and her husband made an amazing discovery. They did the math and realized that they would save money in the summertime if they got rid of their apartment and traveled instead. They used this time to visit with friends and see the country. A love of travel was ignited, and it became their life plan to see the world.

Throughout these travels, Lauren kept her pen moving. Filling notebooks with insights and reflections on the places she visited felt like a natural thing to do, and before she knew it, Lauren was a self-identified travel journaler.  

Lauren’s lifestyle continues to gift her with travel journaling opportunities. Today she lives on the campus of a university in the United Arab Emirates. With enthusiasm, she describes taking walks and biking in her close-knit community surrounded by desert and just a stone’s throw away from the city of Dubai. With gratitude she acknowledges, “Every day is an adventure.”

When Lauren reflects on what travel has shown her, she acknowledges, “You don’t know how much you don’t know until you know!”  She explains the ways living overseas has opened her mind up wide to people and experiences. “There is no wrong way to do life,” she tells us. Travel reveals the different ways a life can be lived well, and Lauren finds herself excited by the opportunities this mindset makes possible.  

Lauren is an avid journaler who speaks of her practice with contagious enthusiasm. “I love journaling. I love that it has so many levels and facets. This morning I did morning pages. Later I got out my art journal where I sprayed ink and glued pictures. Maybe I’ll add some writing to it.” Lauren uses a variety of journaling methods and embraces opportunities for creative play, experimentation, and variation.

The Benefits of Travel Journaling

The journals Lauren creates yield enormous benefits and enrich her travel life in meaningful ways because travel journaling:

  • facilitates deeper learning and reflection by keeping you present in the moment.
  • cements memories and helps the brain process “newness overload” often triggered by travel.
  • slows you down to help savor each minute.
  • helps replenish energy which in turn enhances the travel experience.

Don’t Forget Your Camera

Photos improve our memory of events and Lauren considers her camera an essential tool. Telling stories with pictures is one of her favorite things to do, and she encourages journalers to take photos. Lots and lots of photos. While traveling, Lauren suggest jotting down a few notes on a phone app that coincide with the pictures you’ve taken. At the end of the day, with very little effort, you’ll have captured the details you want to put into your journal.

Travel Journaling Tools and Tips

When it comes to travel journaling, Lauren’s focus is on simplicity and fun. She cautions journalers not to become overwhelmed by the process.

  • Make a plan. Decide what you will journal about. Keep it simple. You might try something like the top three highlights you enjoyed today.
  • Gather materials. Again, Lauren encourages sticking to the basics. A journal, a pen, and maybe a glue stick or a stapler will get you started. To add a splash of color, Lauren recommends carrying along a small watercolor set or colored pencils.  
  • Establish a set writing time. It might be before bed after a long day of travel. If it’s helpful, set an alarm so you don’t forget.

Once your pen is moving, Lauren suggests a concentrated focus on themes such as gratitude or storytelling that hones in on the highs and lows of the day. Go deep, she encourages. Unearth all of the details. You’ll be so grateful for the memories. Above all else, she reminds us, travel journaling should enhance the trip and not become another checkbox.

Create a Keepsake

Online services make it easier than ever to organize your journals and transform them into keepsakes. Lauren mentions a service called Chatbooks that will compile travel photos on Instagram into one attractive book. Lauren uses this feature often to pull together photos from her own travel adventures.

A Dream Comes True

When spring rolls around, Lauren will see a dream long in the making come to fruition, and we can’t wait to see the results!  Early in her travels, Lauren spent hours preparing for trips by making customized journals full of colorful prompts and paint. Doing this preparation in advance meant all she had to do on the road was get the words down. There was no need to concern herself with layout details she didn’t have time for. Not surprisingly, people noticed these journals and began asking for their own.

Soon, Lauren’s journals will be available in print. Lauren describes her guided journals as “books full of prompts that tickle the artist’s brain and help them express what they see.” Lauren’s goal is to provide a tool that inspires creativity and eliminates overwhelm.

Lauren left us with final thoughts we hope you’ll take to heart. “Take your journal and write about whatever is bubbling up in your heart and mind that day. Write about the most beautiful things, the hardest things, the memories and moments that come together to create this beautiful travel life soup.”  Yum! Doesn’t she make it sound so delicious?

Your Action Plan

If you enjoyed this conversation with Lauren, you’ll find my interview with journal art expert Caylee Grey full of inspiration.

Discover Legacy Journaling, with Merle Saferstein

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Our guest today, legacy journaler Merle Saferstein, discusses writing techniques to help you extract your journals’ deepest insights and share them with the younger people in your life. We think you’ll find the process she describes inspires an experience as meaningful for the writer as it is for the recipient.

Merle was the director of educational outreach at a Holocaust Center in South Florida for twenty-six years. When she retired in 2011, she developed and currently teaches a class entitled Living and Leaving Your Legacy®. She lectures on the subject of legacy nationally and internationally, trains hospice staffs on how to do sacred legacy work, and works with individual patients at the end of their lives. She is the author of Room 732, is a council member of the International Association of Journal Writers, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post and Thrive Global.

Merle provides tools to craft an enduring gift for your loved ones. She also shines new light on how you’ll think about your own legacy. Great stuff here! To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Defining Legacy

Merle is a vibrant, engaging speaker. She’s got the spirit of a storyteller and understands the long lasting impact one’s stories have on future generations.

Legacy journal writing is defined by Merle as “words written specifically for the benefit of others.” This form of writing has benefits not only for the recipient but for the writer as well.

The Benefits of Legacy Journaling

A life-long journaler, when Merle began her own legacy work she was struck by all that she’d processed through the act of writing. “I consider myself a very positive person, but when I sat down to work on this project and reread all of my notes, I realized I’d wrestled with a lot of tough feelings and emotions, and my journal was the place where it all went. It was through writing things down that I was able to maintain the positivity I associate with myself.”

Merle points to the ways legacy journaling enriches our lives by providing:

  • an opportunity to impart wisdom.
  • new insight into a specific moment in time.
  • deeper understanding of important people in our lives.
  • historical documentation that can be passed on to future generations.
  • preservation of important times and places.
  • clarification of values and beliefs.

Legacy journaling enables Merle to maintain meaningful records for her grandchildren to hold onto. Since their births, Merle’s journaled about their shared moments. She also writes about specific subjects she wants her grandchildren to consider, and periodically offers a life lesson for reflection. Merle has not yet decided how or when these journals will be presented to her grandchildren, but she’s confident in the connection she knows they will foster.

In addition to this gift for her grandchildren, Merle has taken on an ambitious and significant legacy project that grabbed our attention. Merle has filled over 360 journals in her decades of journal writing. That’s right, 360! Years ago, she decided to glean highlights from these pages to put into a format she could share with her family.

Marriage was the first topic Merle dove into. The timing proved perfect as she’d just been asked to officiate her great niece’s wedding.  Merle’s own marriage of 52 years, and all she’d written about it, proved to be the perfect primary source. The entire process entailed boiling 100 pages down to just 12. “I needed to excavate those ideas most worthy of sharing,” she explains.

One pearl of wisdom Merle chose to include was her take on the old adage she’d been told years ago. Never go to bed angry. 45 years later, Merle recognizes that emotions run deep and that sometimes we need time to sift through strong feelings in order to make meaningful peace with them.


The wisdom that comes with living is a gift to share.

Merle Saferstein

Project Ideas

In workshops, Merle guides students through the different forms their legacy journaling can take.

  • Legacy love letters. So often our hearts and minds fill with thoughts we forget to express. Merle suggests marking graduations, birthdays, and other special days with a legacy love letter. Here important sentiments, wishes, and values can be poured onto the page in a memorable way.
  • Ethical wills. Those wishing to pass on life’s lessons and dreams for loved ones may compose this spiritual document meant to be shared after the writer has passed. The ethical will does not contain directives and is intended to read as a hopeful, positive piece of writing that recipients can hold onto.
  • Memoir, autobiography, scrapbooks, and oral history are other popular forms Merle encourages.

Legacy Journaling Tips

When it comes to process, there’s not one “right way” to approach legacy journaling, but Merle shares her own methods to help you get started.  

To begin extracting gems from her personal journals, Merle broke the project down into manageable stages she shares below.

  • Identify your intended audience. Deciding who this writing is for helps you hone in on what material is especially relevant.
  • Read. Spend some quality time looking over your journals. Reread pages carefully and immerse yourself thoroughly. Give new awareness a chance to spring up and present itself.
  • Identify the themes you want to share. Use stick-it notes to mark ideas and topics.
  • Organize the text.  In Merle’s case, she identified 70 topics she wanted to cover. She made files for each on her computer and put relevant text into corresponding files.
  • Edit and synthesize the text. Keep on refining until you have the product you want to pass on to family members.

Merle summed up our discussion with words that truly resonate.  “The wisdom that comes with living is a gift to share.”

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Merle’s work. Visit her online.
  •  Listen to my conversation with Merle.
  • Get started on your own legacy journaling project today. It’s never too early to start.

If you’ve enjoyed this conversation, you might also appreciate our interview with Brenda Hudson, author of Story by Story: 15 Projects to Write Your Family Legacy.

Journaling: Relief for Anxiety and Depression, with Maud Purcell

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When it comes to journaling, the research is conclusive and inspiring; expressive writing is a practical tool that improves emotional well-being. It was a pleasure to sit down with psychotherapist Maud Purcell to discuss the ways she uses journaling techniques to help clients navigate depression and anxiety.

Maud Purcell is a Founder and Executive Director of The Life Solution Center of Darien.  She has been quoted in the NY Times and The Wall Street Journal and interviewed nationally and internationally on television and radio.

To listen to our conversation, visit our podcast, The Power of Journaling, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Identify Root Causes of Strong Emotions

Journaling, Maud explains, is a powerful lens that helps us to see the root cause of strong emotions. This fresh clarity helps us to address old problems in new ways.

Journaling is a Multi-Purpose Tool

Maud is a long-time proponent of journaling, and her enthusiasm is contagious. In her work with clients, she recommends they journal about a range of issues that include:

  • healing from traumatic events
  • problem solving
  • increasing gratitude
  • engendering hope and optimism for the present and future
  • triggering  creativity
  • finding meaning in life when circumstances make it difficult to do so

Journaling, brings issues hovering below the surface of consciousness into our range of vision. From there we better understand the exact emotions that need to be disentangled.

Before I ask someone to start writing, I’ll ask them to observe how they feel based on a scale between one and ten. Then they journal. Afterwards, I’ll ask them to rate their mood again. Almost every time, their mood is improved.

Maud Purcell

Achieve Left-Brain Right-Brain Assimilation

The act of writing accesses the left brain, which is analytical and rational. While our left brain is occupied with writing, our right brain is free to create and intuit. In this way, Maud explains, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use both parts of our brain for deeper self-exploration.

Tapping into lesser used parts of our brain helps us to discover creative ways to:

  • prepare for challenging conversations
  • determine a new life path or direction
  • come to terms with mistakes we’ve made and foster self-forgiveness
  • cultivate a spiritual practice

Journaling Facilitates Physical Healing

Citing the seminal work of Dr. James Pennebaker, a recent podcast guest on The Power of Journaling, Maud spoke to journaling’s impact on physical health. Dr. Pennebaker and other researchers have observed that journaling benefits our health by:

  • decreasing blood pressure and heart rate
  • improving immune system function
  • relieving pain
  • aiding digestion
  • improving sleep
  • decreasing asthma and rheumatoid arthritis

Bring Unconscious Feelings to the Surface

Maud explained that if we are out of touch with our own thoughts and feelings, there is an increased risk of experiencing anxiety and depression. When we write, unconscious feelings rise to the surface. Once we get these feelings onto paper, we can achieve a level of distance and objectivity which in turn gives us space to problem solve creatively.

Journaling Addresses a Variety of Issues

Our talk with Maud highlighted the ways journaling can address a wide range of issues.

  • In situational anxiety and depression, journaling helps us connect the dots so we better understand what triggers and maintains negative emotional patterns.
  • With the help of a regular journaling routine, significant milestones like accepting a new job or purchasing a home can be navigated with greater ease.
  • Journaling helps us to spot negative thinking and to focus instead on feelings of optimism, gratitude, and contentment.

Your Action Plan

Learn more about Maud’s work. Visit her at The Life Solution Center of Darien.

  • For more ideas and information, listen to my interview with Maud.
  • Invest in your journaling practice and gift yourself gorgeous pens, paper, candles, and teas to affirm your writing journey.

There’s No Wrong Way to Do This

When asked to share her best journaling tips, Maud responded, “There are no rules. Just put the pen to paper and write.”  We think these are some wise words to live by!

Five Ways Journaling Boosts Happiness & Well-Being, with Nancy Scherlong

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Happiness and a sense of well-being; it’s what we all want. In our podcast interview with therapist Nancy Scherlong, we discuss the variety of ways journaling helps to cultivate these feelings. Nancy affirms the transformative power of journal writing and provides uplifting new ideas to contemplate.

Nancy is a licensed clinical social worker in the states of CT and NY, a positive psychology coach, journal and poetry therapist, and expressive writing workshop facilitator.  She is also trained in the action methods of psychodrama and interweaves different creative art forms in her teaching, training, and workshops. She is an adjunct instructor for several Master’s in Social Work programs on the East Coast as well as a core faculty member of the online training school, The Therapeutic Writing Institute and the online platform Journalversity. She provides training and supervision to trainees in the field of journal and poetry therapy as well as consults with groups and organizations offering wellness programming and retreats.

To learn more, listen to our conversation on our podcast, The Power of Journaling, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Nancy’s work as a positive psychology coach dovetails beautifully with the goals of expressive writing. For a long time, Nancy explains, psychology emphasized pathology and everything that was wrong in peoples’ lives. Positive psychology strives to put the focus on everything that’s right.

Good gardeners know if you aren’t pruning and cutting away the things that aren’t thriving or useful, your plants or flowers won’t be as vibrant. We need to prune our thoughts in the same kinds of ways so we are growing our most vibrant parts. What we focus on is what will grow.

Nancy Scherlong

Resist Negativity Bias

In order to identify potential threats, our brains are hardwired to focus on negativity. Vigilance is a biological defense, and so it takes concerted effort and intention to notice what’s “right” in our lives.

Journal writing can help us tune into what’s right and to reframe what feels wrong. Nancy shares five writing tips to help us resist negativity biases and boost feelings of happiness and well-being.

  1. Practice Gratitude:  Harvest and Cultivate the Good From Each Day

    Nancy encourages us to take an inventory of whatever it is that’s working well in our lives.  To cultivate this practice in her own life, she uses The Five Minute Journal by Intelligent Change.  Here’s how it works:
    – In the morning, read a quotation or affirmation that inspires. Envision what will fill today with joy and meaning. These actions are like a reset button for the day ahead.
    – At night, reflect on what went well that day, and determine what your role was in making it go well.
    – Craft a plan to make tomorrow better.

  2. Journal to Be in the Here and Now

    – We know that when we live each moment deeply, we are happier.
    – Write what you smell, taste, and hear. Notice the birds that are singing or the aroma of the soup on the stove. Writing down details engages our senses and helps us to be in the moment.
    – Write with pen and paper to integrate body, mind, and emotions.

  3. Change Your Narrative

    – Cultivate self-forgiveness. The more we forgive ourselves the more we can be in the present. A focus on the negative is a pull from the present leading back toward regret and the past.
    – Write down how you talk to yourself and be deliberate in interrupting negative messaging. Rewriting the script helps us to change the stories we tell about ourselves. 

  4. Identify a Vision and a Goal

    – Nancy acknowledges this instruction can seem like a contradiction to mindfulness. Aren’t we supposed to be living in the here and now? But she explains that when we work toward visions and goals, we live our way into the future by the way we conduct ourselves in the present. In other words, if we are in touch with and practice the things that light us up–our passions–we find our vision naturally. Having goals and vision is a key point of happiness.
    – Make a vision board with words that project your goals. There are no rules; there’s no need for complete sentences. Use words, phrases.

  5. Practice Affirmative Writing that Inspires Resilience

    – Affirmative writing is the bridge between our current reality and our desired outcomes. It helps us identify a goal along with the actions that move us toward the goal. 
    – As you write, reflect on tough times from the past that you’ve worked through successfully. Difficult days survived are resilience markers reminding us of our capacity to overcome challenges.
    – Write in the present tense as though the future you desire is happening now. Nancy provides an example.
    – Let’s imagine it’s your hope that in six months’ time you’ll be an amazing chef.  Write as though you’ve already achieved this goal. Flesh out the vision in the present tense and claim success as if it’s already happened. Write about the classes you took, the people you talked with, and the resources you’ve consulted to get to this place. In doing so, you’ll come up with a game plan that leads you to actualize your vision.
    – Writing like you have what you want rather than transcribing a sense of longing is a radical shift in mindset that leads to happiness and well-being.

Nancy points out that our brains are highly capable of growth and change and that affirmative writing stretches our minds and establishes increased neural plasticity.

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Nancy’s work. Visit her online at www.changeyournarrativetherapy.com, on Facebook, and at the Therapeutic Writing Institute .
  • For more practical suggestions and inspiring ideas, listen to my interview with Nancy.
  • Establish a writing practice that works for you.  Devote ten minutes each day if you can. Pick materials and a schedule  that works with your personality not against it
  • Practice affirmative writing.

How will you implement these suggestions? Share your ideas with us on Facebook.

Three Ways Journal Planners Cultivate Happiness, with Mo Seetubtim

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Mo Seetubtim, founder & CEO of The Happiness Planner, conceived a novel idea. What if planners and journals were blended into one fabulous tool? Today, Mo designs beautiful products that can help you explore your inner world, master your mind, and find happiness from within. At Journaling.com, we were so impressed by Mo’s creations that we selected her Happiness Planner as one of the top 10 planners in 2019. It’s an enormous pleasure to introduce you to Mo and to the inspiring resources she’s created.  

To learn more, listen to our interview or read below to see highlights from my conversation with Mo.

A global nomad who’s called numerous places home, Mo resides in Europe for now. In her travels, Mo has observed the ways journaling practices go hand in hand with a society’s reading culture. She speaks of how the French’s love of the written word correlates with their affection for journaling. The Japanese, who have a rich history of paper making and design, seek out aesthetically pleasing journaling products that reflect this cultural element.  

The seeds for Mo’s own journaling practice were sown by her father, a marathon runner, entrepreneur, and avid journal writer who recognized the ways writing helped expand his self-awareness. Today journaling is a regular and important part of Mo’s own self-care routine.

As Mo worked on her design for a product that combined the traditional daily planner with the act of journaling, she observed two key things. A planner requires one to look to the future. A journal inspires observation and reflection on thoughts and behaviors in order to develop deeper self-awareness.

Realizing that these tools were perfect complements and could be integrated into one straightforward resource, the Happiness Planner was born. Mo explains that a journaling planner inspires users to make time to prioritize the contemplation and evaluation of specific thoughts and behavioral patterns.

Three Ways Journal Planners Guide you Toward  Happiness

Mo discussed three ways journal planners help us to find more happiness in life.

  1. Journal planners help us to explore our inner world and observe thoughts and behaviors that might be otherwise overlooked.

    It’s hard to see negative patterns unless we learn to observe them. Journaling, Mo explains, lets us identify helpful and unhelpful patterns of behaviors so that we can cultivate ways of being that enrich our lives and eliminate all the rest. 

  2. Journal planners help rewire the brain.

    Mo reminds us that we can rewire our brain to change thoughts and behaviors and establish positive new habits. Journal Planners help us commit time to activities we aren’t used to doing. Whether this is exercise, cooking healthy meals, or making time for a hobby, once these activities are prioritized in your journal planner and are repeated over and over, you’ve rewired your brain and integrated these activities into your life.

  3. A journal planner helps cultivate a relationship with one’s self.

    Mo describes herself as someone who finds deep joy in solitude, and she notes that true happiness comes from within. A journal planner can deepen the relationship we have  with ourselves which in turn provides the clarity we need to navigate challenging moments in life.

Journal planners help us to explore our inner world and observe thoughts and behaviors that might be otherwise overlooked.

Mo Seetubtim

Writing Prompts to Identify What Brings You Happiness

Light a candle, pour some tea, and gift yourself with a moment to explore the journaling prompts Mo shares below.

  • Write about activities that bring you joy.
  • Identify your values and the actions that will help you live in a manner that promotes your system of beliefs.
  • Reflect on a moment in your life that brought deep joy. Consider ways to ensure these moments are repeated.

These questions require us to dig deeply. A journal planner facilitates this process so that it becomes an ongoing practice in our lives.  

Ideas on the Horizon

Mo looks forward to creating new tools to further support the journaling community. Her mention of theme journals especially stood out to us. She describes these as guided journals containing prompts and worksheets loaded with questions designed to address issues such as self-love, consciousness, attachment, and fear.

In the year ahead, Mo also looks forward to hosting engaging, fun-filled events focused on self-awareness raising and confidence building.  

Your Action Plan

  • The Happiness Planner isn’t the only tool in Mo’s journaling toolbox. Visit her website  to see all of the resources she offers, and choose the one that’s right for you.
  •  Listen to our interview with Mo on The Power of Journaling.
  • Spend time with your journal exploring Mo’s writing prompts up above.

Mo’s work is a joy-filled reminder that journaling helps construct a strong foundation made of self-awareness and understanding that can help us to weather life’s ups and downs.

If You Enjoyed This Interview…

If you found my conversation with Mo helpful, you may also enjoy my interview with positive psychology coach, Nancy Scherlong, in which we discuss the ways journaling cultivates a sense of well-being. Visit The Power of Journaling podcast to hear our discussion or read the highlights of our chat here on Journaling.com.