One of the best ways to grow your mindfulness skills is by keeping a daily journal.
The simple fact of writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you put some distance from what your mind is telling you.
It works a lot like coaching by reflecting back to you what you are thinking, feeling and doing. And the benefit is that unlike coaching writing a journal is free and you don’t need any fancy apps just pen, paper and time.
When you start writing a journal, I think many people struggle over how and what to write.
You may think that to be creative; you should just write anything that comes to mind in whatever order.
But consider having a basic structure to your journal writing so that you can build consistency and quickly find information later on.
I start with the things I am grateful for, writing about the people I love, my relationships and how I can be a better partner, father, friend and son.
Then I write down my emotional state right now.
What emotions am I feeling and where I am feeling them in my body.
What colour are these emotions, their shape, size, does this emotion tell me anything?
What does it say about me?
What does it want me to do?
What does it say about the things that are important to me?
Writing about my emotions in this way helps me to see that emotions are just another part of my experience that change all the time.
Even if I write at the same time each day, my emotional experiences will be different. Thus I become more aware and open to my different emotional states.
It also helps me to identify emotions that push me towards unhelpful avoidance behaviours. For example, a feeling of anxiety sometimes has me foraging for carbohydrates in the kitchen.
Then I write about my thoughts and usually, this is whatever comes to mind at that moment.
It could be ideas, plans, worries, what I’m struggling with anything that comes to mind as I am typing.
If my mind is being overly critical and I notice that, I’ll start writing critical thoughts with the phrase,
“I notice that my mind is telling me….”
Adding this phrase at the start helps me defuse from my thoughts instead of identifying with them.
There is a difference between,
“I feel worried about the meeting tomorrow.”
“I notice that my mind is telling me that I am worried about the meeting tomorrow.”
You don’t need to be your thoughts to use your thoughts.
Now I can read the thought and ask myself why I am worried? Have I not done enough preparation for example?
Or is this an old thought that my mind always produces right before I do something important. Is this a story I tell myself that isn’t helpful?
I then write about my goals for the day, who I will speak to and anything I need to do to prepare for my coaching calls.
I write down my three-month goals every day as well. This keeps them in the front of my mind, so I am always aware of them.
I finish off my writing about my intentions for the day these are the same unless I have something else I need to do.
-Acceptance, Love, Peace, and Health-
The idea here is that these represent my core values. So when I’m faced with a difficult choice or emotional barrier, then these remind me of the intention behind my actions.
I know meditating brings me a sense of peace, thus when I’m in a low mood and don’t feel like meditating. My intention reminds me of why that action is important to do even if I don’t feel like doing it.
Time Of Day
I try to journal twice a day.
Once in the morning after meditating and once in the evening before I go to bed.
I’ve recently started to ignore social media and the news in the morning, and keep my mind free from noise after the previous night’s sleep.
Writing first thing in the morning helps me to put myself in a place where I’m reminded of my thoughts, ideas, goals and intentions before the day starts.
I meditate with my partner first then write in my journal before eating breakfast. I don’t need to write lots unless I am feeling the need to do, so it only takes a couple of minutes.
In the evening before bed, I write about how the day when and any planning for the next day.
Again I use the same structure as above.
Then I finish off with any planning for tomorrow before writing the sentence – I’m leaving the day here and going to bed.
This gets me mentally prepared to leave the day in the past and go to sleep.
Indexing and tagging
I use an app called Journey it has the ability for me to tag my entries, so I can find them later on.
If you are using pen and paper Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer, created a system then helps you organise and index a written notebook.
The example that is given on the website is more focused on planning and task management. But you can easily adapt the approach to fit journal writing.
Mindfulness and journaling go together like music and lyrics.
If you don’t know how to start to be more mindful, start writing the lyrics to your life down first the music will come later.