Keeping a journal is simplicity itself. It’s just you with your thoughts. In her chapter of “journaling simplicity” in The Great Book of Journaling, Kathleen Adams describes three short, simple journaling techniques that you might find useful. See if they work for you!
I remember with fondness the long, languid journal writing sessions of my youth—a halcyon time before cell phones, e-mail, faxes, even answering machines. I typically wrote for two uninterrupted hours each day, spilling my dramas and recording my dreams and analyzing my thoughts and feelings. I have dozens of boxes, in storage, stuffed with wide-lined spiral notebooks from those years, meticulous chronicles of my 20s and 30s.
By my 40s, life was more complex. My private practice in journal therapy was growing roots and buds, the internet was a shiny new toy, and my routine two-hour journal sessions were a distant memory.
My journal was still an active part of my lifestyle, but my schedule begged for something more pragmatic. I actually discovered the power of “small and simple” in my counseling practice. Nearly all of my clients were willing to use writing as a tool in our work together. But I found that most of my clients echoed my own circumstances: “I’m so busy! Work is so stressful! Kids are so demanding! I don’t have time to write!” So, I came up with the following three short techniques:
1. The Five-Minute Sprint. This is exactly what it sounds like: Set a timer for five minutes and blast away. You can do it spontaneously when you’re mad, sad or scared, or you can write to a savory prompt. Whatever you do, write fast and furious and don’t stop to think. Unless your writing takes an interesting turn on its own, try to stay on topic. When the timer rings, finish your thought, read it back and write a reflection.
There are two things that make the Five-Minute Sprint especially useful. One is that nearly everyone agrees five minutes is an accessible unit of time. The second is that when you know you only have five minutes, the bottom line rises up to meet you. You get more done in less time, usually with robust outcomes. Paired with the reflection write, you may discover surprising insight, clarity and action orientation.
2. Captured Moments. Just as a camera captures a moment in time on film (or in pixels), the journal Captured Moment freezes an experience of emotional intensity in prose. One of the hallmarks is the way it is written from the five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch—and then brings in the sixth sense of emotional connection. Use juicy verbs and extravagant adjectives to help capture intensity. Writing in the present tense, as if you are back in that original moment, gives immediacy to your storytelling and may make it easier to enter the experience fully.
Although the technique of Captured Moments is not biased toward positive experiences, I tend to recommend it for capturing highs rather than lows. Many people are naturally fluent when it comes to writing about difficulties, pain, loss and challenge. They are less practiced at writing about life’s small pleasures, the ones that brighten a day or lift a mood or give a deep “ahhhh” of peace. Captured Moments of beauty, intimacy, grace, connection or generosity help us remember that within the sea of challenge, there are reliable islands of safety and comfort.
3. Reflection write. The reflection write offers immediate feedback on your own process and brings clarity and insight that might otherwise go unharvested. It is often the most important two minutes of any writing process.
Because the journal by its nature is a present-tense document, you might turn the page and go on to the next moment without savoring the wisdom of your own words. This is unfortunate; there is insight to be harvested in just about every story.
The reflection write begins with a read-back of what has been written, followed by a sentence or two of feedback such as — As I read this, I notice … or … I am surprised by … or … I suddenly see … or anything similar. Stay open for insights and clarity!
Try these! They may turn your intermittent journaling into a regular practice.
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