I don’t journal.
I’ve read plenty of articles suggesting I journal to destress, decompress, take care of me. I’ve read about benefits like better sleep, improved memory, and a healthier immune system. All that sounds great, and I’ll tell you that writing your own story can have some of these same benefits … but I don’t journal.
I have two problems with journaling. One, it seems to come with a pressure to do it every day, and while I encourage people to make time to write regularly, writing daily can feel like a lot of pressure. The second reason I don’t like journaling is that it can easily fall into rumination, repeated rants, and getting stuck in a rut of negativity. That’s not why I tell my story.
I believe that telling and writing your stories is a powerful way to really understand who you are and to connect with your authentic self, but it takes more than journaling to do that.
Finding Yourself Through Story
I have always loved stories, my grandpa, my mom’s dad, was an amazing storyteller and he often used stories to teach me how to be a good human being. He told stories of loss and redemption, kindness and love, hard work and results. I realized that he was teaching me to be a good person, just like him. And he did this without lecturing.
I’d had a journal in college but it was more for writing about what happened than anything else. But I never thought about writing my story.
I started my professional life as an attorney and when I became a mom, I left to stay home with my precious kids. I loved (and love) my kids but it was hard after the hustle and camaraderie of my high powered job. It was lonely and I felt that I was losing myself.
When my youngest went to school, I had space and I went back to work. But I also did something just for me. I took a writing class.
And as I wrote my stories and reflected on them in that class, I started to find myself again. I wasn’t just writing what happened like many people do when they journal. The instructions were to write and reflect on what happened. The goal was to wonder why the story was important and how we felt about what happened.
The process I’m talking about requires us to edit, revise and interpret the events of our lives. To write a story of redemption, this thing happened but here’s what I learned or how I got through. These stories contain moments of growth and agency — and writing them is therapeutic.
By writing stories of times when you struggled, were afraid or suffered trauma and then recognizing that you are still here, still ok and in fact got through those hard times, you can reflect on your own strengths, and see yourself in a different light. You can see yourself as brave, creative, persistent or determined, for example. And the next time you face something similar, you can tap into that knowledge to help you get through.
Literally, by telling yourself the story of how you handled something hard, you create a road map to help you navigate the next hurdle.
What Journaling Is Missing
Psychology, philosophy and ancient wisdom back up what I discovered about writing your story: Writing your story AND reflecting on it can enhance mental health and happiness and help you find deeper meaning. The magic is the reflection we bring to our stories.
If people write about their stories, they often write about the hard times, but writing our “happy” stories is as important as well. These stories help us see what energizes us, makes us feel alive and gets us in a flow state. These stories show us what we want more of in our lives,
What I’ve seen over and over with the hundreds of people I’ve taught to write this way is that it enhances resilience, helps us name what we value and notice what lights us up. We recognize what we believe, who we are and what we yearn to do. And that helps us live with joy.
I believe when we write about our struggles and triumphs, our joys and sorrows and reflect on what they mean, we create an inner compass and a coherent narrative. As a result, you can design the life you want, one that feels authentically yours.
Want to try it out? You can check out my Write Into Joy workshops to learn how to build resilience and joy through journaling & reflecting. Click here to see a list of upcoming workshops.