Watching my daughter determinedly draw and write all over a page one afternoon, I asked her, “What are you doing, Ila”? Looking up distracted she responded, “I’m ‘mind-braining’ mama, I have a lot to get out.”

“Oh, got it,” I responded with a tiny laugh. 

In that moment, I realized how many times she must have watched and listened to me talk about mind-mapping and journaling over the years. True to form, she adapted these strategies to fit her needs and created her own way of getting her thoughts out onto the page…

But why get thoughts out onto the page? Isn’t that just more work? 

Put simply, our mind’s job is to take in, synthesize, and store information – as well as to create new ideas. In our complicated lives, there is a lot of information plus a multitude of ideas to manage! Creating a way to organize, examine, and simply slooooowwww down the thoughts is useful as we aim to understand ourselves and to become more effective in our lives. This often brings a level of calm and order to the many streams of thoughts moving through our minds. For some, this is also an important strategy to “pop the bubbles” of worry and reduce anxiety.

So how do we do this?  I call it “journaling deconstructed”. In undoing the “should” and rules around journaling, you get to explore different techniques, choose ones you like, and create a strategy all your own. The important part is to journal in a way that works for your mind and your lifestyle  

So, what can journaling deconstructed look like? There are so many strategies with which to play. Here is a brief overview of some simple journaling techniques:

Mind Map: For some, this is a great strategy to (1) get all of the bubbling thoughts out of your mind (think fireworks) and (2) for brainstorming. There are no rules, and it may look messy. This is a tool to help identify the many parts of your thinking and your ideas.  Once the thoughts are on the page, you can further explore and deepen into one or more of the parts – noticing connections, spurring creativity, or simply relieving your mind of its burden for a moment. It is yours to explore.

Here is a simple example of a mind map that I created in planning this blog post. Each one of the bubbles has, potentially, many more side ideas that I can further explore.

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For some, this may feel like liberation on the page; for others, it can feel like chaos! That is the beauty of discovering what type of journaling works for you and trying it out. This is similar to what my daughter was doing.

Brain Dump Journaling: A “brain dump” via a narrative (just writing). Allowing for the thoughts to flow without expectation that it looks any way, is any length, or has any resolution. Making room for your thoughts, feelings, worries, aspirations, and process.  Bottom line is that there are no rules, no space for judging, you are simply getting thoughts out and onto the page.  

Worry Journaling: Daily practice and containment exercise where you set aside 15-30 minutes per day to “just worry” (no problem solving, etc.) so that if at night, when worries arise, you can tell yourself: “I will worry about that during my worry time tomorrow”. You can follow up with problem solving time if needed.

Visioning: Making room for your ideas, dreams, and aspirations to fill the page. Possibly creating short- and long-term steps towards actualization.  

Lists: Bullets and sound bites – A favorite for those whose brains work well in a more linear fashion. Getting the ideas on the page feels easier when they are organized in some way. For Example: Pros and Cons lists; To Do lists; Daily Category lists such as family, work, health. Under each heading, one can bullet their thoughts. This provides simple structure in a non-narrative format.

Gratitude Lists: Super helpful to identify what/who you are thankful for and what is good in the world. Gratitude is good medicine. It helps to balance out the worrying brain. *Can be used as an add-on to one of the above strategies. 

Classic Diary Style: Logging the day’s events and using this chronology as a reflection tool.  Very useful in noticing patterns over time in relation to health, mood, behavior, self-care and relationships.

So, for April, consider experimenting with a hybrid designed journaling strategy just for you. As you prepare to start the experiment, what do you need?

  1. Create a consistent time to journal. Possibly setting aside some time in the morning before the kids are awake or before bed. The consistency will help develop the habit.
  2. Get a journal, notebook or drawing book with a pen, colored pencils, pens, etc.
  3. Let yourself imperfectly start to journal – write, mind map, list, doodle…
  4. Enjoy your exploration for the month and reflect. Notice how you feel after you journal. Notice if you are able to organize and/or prioritize your thoughts. Notice if you are able to “pop the worry bubbles/thoughts” with the facts. (More on this in a future post).
  5. Grab a sticky note and jot down this sound bite and stick it on your journal.

“Out of my mind and onto the page” 

We would love to hear how your journal odyssey unfolds. What strategies work for you? How do you fit it into your day/week? What struggles bubble up?  As a side note, the journaling works really well with “starting the day before it starts you”. For ideas on how to get up early, creating more time for you, and possibly for your journal, check out the first Sticky Notes and Sound Bites Blog here.