Each morning, I use journaling as a way to cleanse, calm, and center the start of my day. I’ll write about whatever is on my mind, dreams half remembered, or my hopes and fears. I’ll document the endless minutiae about the machinations of the days, weeks, and months ahead. This stream of consciousness allows me to keep up with my to-do list. It re-connects me to my goals, reducing the sense of being overwhelmed that might otherwise engulf me.
Last year, I attended a journaling workshop that made many references to positive psychology. What inspired me was how it can help an individual deepen self-awareness and move towards goals.
The Power of Positive Words
Several writing techniques used in positive psychology experiments have proven to be very powerful. In 2001, Professor Laura King pioneered the Best Possible Self exercise, in which participants write for 20 minutes about an imagined future best possible self. The exercise produced positive outcomes in well-being. I have found this technique links me to hope and reminds me of my goals and values. It allows me to savor a positive future.The concept of the Gratitude Journal has been extremely well researched in positive psychology, with outcomes indicating improvements in happiness and well-being. With this exercise, writers focus their minds on the positive aspects of their lives by expressing thanks or gratitude. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude and has produced research over the last decade which he highlights “has linked gratitude to a host of psychological, physical, and social benefits: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, more feelings of joy, and a greater sense of social connection.”
James Pennebaker’s well-documented studies highlight the sense-making role of writing to help people build physical and emotional resilience and a new sense of hope after trauma. Recent studies from Rebecca North and her team look at how Expressive Writing produces positive results by helping people reassess their problems and find happiness even in negative emotions through writing. The emphasis here is on expression and acceptance of negative emotions associated with a problem along with an active search for possible positive consequences.
Jackee Holder has written in Coaching Today about the role that creative, reflective writing can play in a coach’s professional development. She offers an excellent Journal Journey workbook that includes exercises and some great references for the history and role of journaling.Looking Back at Earlier Journaling Approaches to Well-being
The work in this area is growing significantly, but as well as contemporary work, I have found myself intrigued with looking back as well as forward.
One significant proponent of journaling was psychotherapist and depth psychologist Ira Progoff. He was interested in helping individuals develop fulfilling lives He found that journal writing helped his clients work through their issues more rapidly. From his research, he developed the methodology known as the Intensive Journal Method.
The Intensive Journal Method Explained
The journal method enables us to answer profound questions, such as: what is my life trying to become and where am I now in the movement of my life?
As you may expect from someone who studied and worked with Jung, Progoff pays significant attention to dreams and other symbolic images such as feelings, intuitions, and hunches. The emphasis is to draw on these inner processes to find meaning and direction.
By attempting to answer profound questions, the individual can discover inner strengths, resources, and talents as well as and new possibilities.
Putting Theory into Practice
Progoff’s methodology explores four different dimensions, using structured exercises and meditation:
- Life / time – our life story, choice points
- Dialogues – our relationships with ourselves, our bodies, others, society, religion, and culture
- Depth – connecting us to dreams, symbols, intuitions
- Meaning – integrating wisdom and lessons into our values and priorities to create renewed clarity, meaning, and wholeness
This summer, I’m off to learn the intensive journaling processes that accompany the Intensive Journal Method. I will report back whether it changes my way of journaling, or if my current cathartic, brain-cleansing, idea-catching, contemplative, welcoming of the day stays as my default journaling technique. I suspect, after 30 years of untutored journaling, I’m ready for an upgrade.
Journaling as a route to a flourishing life? A means of problem solving? An opportunity to savor the future? I’d love to know how you use yours.
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Emmons, R.A (2003) Personal goals, life meaning & virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. L. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived, (pp. 109-128). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Holder, J. (2014). The Journal Journey Guidebook.
King, L. A. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 798-807.
North, R. J., Pai, A. V., Hixon, J. G., & Holahan, C. J. (2011). Finding happiness in negative emotions: An experimental test of a novel expressive writing paradigm. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6, 192-203.
Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.
Pennebaker, J., Mehl, M., & Niederhoffer, K. (2003). Psychological aspects of natural language use: Our words, our selves. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 547-577.
Progoff, I. (1993). The Write to a Fulfilling Life. An Interview with Ira Progoff – A New Times Interview originally printed in The New Times magazine, January, 1993, Vol. 8, #8. P.O. Box 51186, Seattle, WA 98115-1186. 206-524-9071 Published by: Silver Owl Publications, Publisher and Editor: Krysta Gibson. ©by Silver Owl Publications. Reprinted with permission of The New Times
Snyder, C. R., Rand, K. L., & Sigmon, D. R. (2005). Hope theory: A member of the Positive Psychology family. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology. (pp. 257-276). New York: Oxford University Press.
Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Pen and notebook courtesy of insEyedout
Man writing in journal courtesy of aurelio.asiain
Well-thumbed journal courtesy of Walt Stoneburner
Hunching over a journal courtesy of erink_photography
I have also been keeping a journal my whole life. I have used my journals to help me discover and fix my, shall we say, personality problems and issues, and to create cathartic stories and cartoons. As a result, I’ve become a happier, healthier person. Journaling shows us our faults and strengths, and opens up possibilities. Sometimes we are our own best therapist. Thank you for this article.
What wonderful reading to start off my work/play day, Fiona. Thank you.
I am going to share this with my MentorCoach students in my Positive Psychology Coaching course. I know they will be grateful. I was going to ask them to do the Best Possible Self, so I was happy to see you included it here. Now I have a great context.
Many people say they hate writing. Your article is insightful and motivating. Hop over your fear and do it = more well-being.
Taking the time to write for me, as you do, every morning, is often meditative and puts me in FLOW. I catch myself smiling. And I pause and savor that!
Write on, Fiona, and thanks, again.
Excellent article Fiona with some of the sound really useful research which more and more is confirming the many benefits of Journal writing. Good to see Laura Kings research as I think this really builds up the evidence to support writing about the good events as well. I will be looking at Rebecca North’s research as I am not aware of this research.
I am writing this on a train to Nottingham and on the bus realised I had left behind my journal. I felt a real disappointment and was almost tempted to drive back home. My journal is where I ground myself. It’s where I unload, recover and often discover things that are important, insightful. I remember things that I capture in my journal. I write lists, start, draft and finish articles, write down references, it’s all in there.
Thanks so much for your encouragement! I agree with the meditative/”flow” like state that can occur, and we know that having a daily practice that helps us have an inner focus is linked to many positive outcomes. I am intrigued by your comment that people say they hate writing.One of the (many) beauties of journaling is the fact that nobody else gets to see our writing and we don’t have to worry about spelling, grammar or even content. So… the inner critic is silenced.
Smiles back at you, Fiona.
I love the way you asked the inner critic to sit in the back seat! I coach many coaches who have told me their business flounders as they fear writing. I encourage them to be like Nike, and “Just do it!”.
I never liked to write, either, till I did my nationally syndicated radio show and TV show locally. YIKES. I learned by doing and finally found my voice.
I realized I had introjected what a very critical professor told me, You are a lousy writer. I expected more from you.”
I was 18 taking 19 credits, naive as all heck. I believed him for many years. Truly, it wasn’t until a few years ago coach friends read some of my funny (they said!) blogs blending humor and PP about my trip to Cuba, that I took the plunge.
I did as they suggested. Instead of blogging about my trip and how I saw PP in action, I wrote a colorful photo travel memoir book utilizing 2-page vignettes. One for each of the 24 strengths. How I saw Cubans, despite bleak existence, thriving emotionally. Humbly, “Photo Adventures in Cuba ~ Unlock Your Power of Positivity” was an Amazon bestseller for 22 months. Still shocks me.
I will continue to ignite fearful folks to have fun putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard.
Have a terrific weekend all.
Nice article. Thank you Fiona. Writing a journal is indeed liberating and empowering. The practice is a natural detox for the mind early on in the day.