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JOURNALING: How & Why to Try a Problem-Solving Journal (Part 2)

· Article

JOURNALING: How & Why to Try a Problem-Solving Jou

Dear Diary,


Today I told the boy I like that I liked him. We had spaghetti for supper. This weekend we are going to the city to shop for new coats.


If you kept a diary as a child, this may look familiar. But diaries, or journals, look different for adults. Not only can they provide a permanent record of your daily life, but they can be a vehicle for catharsis and problem solving.


Regular journaling can help you relive events and circumstances in a safe space, without fear or stress. Writer Ernest Hemingway once said about his typewriter: “Portable Corona number 3. That’s my analyst.” And science supports the numerous health benefits of journaling. Dozens of studies reviewed in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment show journaling helps everything from reducing doctor visits, to lessening depression, and improving memory.


James Pennebaker’s landmark work on healing writing is responsible for much of what we know today about journaling’s effect on health and wellbeing. Pennebaker discovered that students who wrote about traumatic events developed greater immunity to disease than students who journaled about trivial topics. Pennebaker and others later discovered that writing about happy experiences also improved health. Hence, everything in your life experience is fodder for journaling.


Getting Started With the Problem-Solving Journal Technique


  • Write about you. For example, “I felt like this when that happened, and here’s what I thought about it.”
  • Write about things you notice. For instance, “today I noticed this happening and it got me thinking about … “
  • Write as if you are talking to a secret best friend. As children, we may have written “Dear Diary,” because the diary was our secret listener.
  • Use a prompt, especially if you can’t think of what to say. Prompts include phrases like, “the most unusual thing that happened to me,” “the worst day ever,” or “my favorite pet was … “


Let the ideas flow. “The power of journaling is not just in the writing but in the reading later,” says Kevin Huhn, an inspirational speaker focused on personal and business growth.


Resist the urge to create a polished piece, Pennebaker advises in his book “Opening Up by Writing it Down. ” Forget about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You are the only audience here.


The point is to get feelings, emotions, experiences, and thoughts from your brain to the pen—or to the tablet, computer screen or phone app if you prefer (although some experts find extra power in the physical experience of writing longhand).


What to Expect from Journaling


The benefits of journaling go beyond capturing your thoughts and making you healthier.


“The act of writing can bring clarity,” says Charlynn Ruan, a licensed clinical psychologist at Thrive Psychology in Los Angeles. When you write, you begin to release your thoughts. Think of it as making space for new ideas to appear.


Using a journal as therapy can help you learn more about yourself and help you prepare for future hardships. Reflecting in this way can enable us to gauge the emotional impact we have on ourselves and those around us, and help us recover from life’s stumbles like a breakup, job loss, or death.


“Many clients look back at their journals at a later date to gain clarity on certain seasons,” Ruan says. A divorcee, for example, “might look back at journals they kept during the marriage and see red flags they missed and identify ways they’ve grown as a person, and this gives them comfort that they will make a better choice in their next relationship.”


Ruan says journaling works best when it isn’t used just for venting and rumination, but also includes happy times, gratitude, and countering negative thoughts with positive alternatives.


Whatever your purpose, letting your pen flow may help you problem-solve and learn more about yourself.


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