Many years ago, I noticed sharing my thoughts with others helped me work through issues and clarify my beliefs about various topics. When I was sharing my thoughts, I noticed I had to explain ideas differently and elaborate on aspects that in my head made perfect sense but not when spoken out loud was not as clear for my listeners. The confused looks and unexpected questions by others forced me to process my thoughts differently and refine my ideas and beliefs for them and for myself. I already knew from writing papers in school that if I got my ideas on paper and then leave it for a while, when I returned to it I would see if differently and find grammatical errors as well as being able to clarify my ideas better. So why wouldn’t this work with spoken thoughts? Would it help me work through my thoughts the same way it worked when I spoke to others?
I experienced something very interesting when I spoke my ideas and thoughts out loud when no one was around. The words I used seemed to have my meaning to me and I could identify where I needed to spend more time clarify my own thoughts to myself. I would get stuck trying to explain a concept or not know what to say next. However, when these ideas were in my head, it always made perfect sense. I also discovered that when I asked myself challenging and/or inquisitive questions, I would find out very quickly what ideas needed more research and uncovered underlying beliefs that represented my true desire, goals, and passions.
This is the essence of journaling. It is more than writing down words in your head or describing events in your life. Journaling allows for self-discovery within the words on paper. When you put down your thoughts on paper, you have the opportunity to consider them from different points of view or identify patterns in your behavior that would be more difficult when they are left in your head.
In this co-parenting resource, I am introducing the practice of Journaling. However, this type of journaling is not the same as keeping a record of events and behaviors for the purpose of winning a legal case. In this resource you will learn about the use of journaling for personal growth and self-development.
Divorce has been compared by many as war. I liken it to being run over again and again by a bulldozer. Whatever way you define it, most divorce/co-parenting situations can be a roller coaster of emotions that wears down all those involved. Being involved in a hostile and uncooperative co-parenting relationship can also be a very lonely place. Your friends, family, and neighbors may not understand what you are going through or understand the fears and challenges you are facing. Even if they could understand, many co-parents don’t share such personal information with other in order to avoid judgement, embarrassment, shame, or guilt.
In order to take on and conquer the challenges of co-parenting, you have to take care of yourself first. One way to do this is by journaling. By journaling on a regular basis, you will gain insight and identify patterns in your behaviors and emotions. It will help you challenge unhealthy thought patterns, explore all sides, and monitor progress. Although it can be cathartic to just get your thoughts on paper, the act of journaling is much more than ruminating over traumatic events in your life.
Journaling allows you to purge emotions and stressors related to co-parenting. It is a private way to reconnect with your inner voice and begin to trust yourself again, especially during those days when everything is going wrong and it does not ever seem like things will get better. Using a journal to explore these difficult and often hopeless times will help you reconnect with your true self, work through irrational thought processes holding you prisoner, and encourage more rapid and thorough healing.
You can explore your thoughts and emotions without pressure from others or fear of criticism, which could help you find meaning and define your passions. It will also help you identify areas you need to work on. This is an important aspect of journaling because we all struggle with self-awareness at times.
THE BENEFITS OF JOURNALING
I know it’s hard to believe, but there are more benefits to journaling. Research has shown journaling can facilitate many mental / physical health benefits including, but not limited to:
Disclaimer: If you find yourself overwhelmed while journaling or unable to process your thoughts without becoming too distressed, you may want to consider working with a psychologist or mental health therapist.
HOW TO JOURNAL
“Practice makes perfect” my childhood piano teacher would say. Practice will not make perfect when journaling, but you will get better and likely get more out of it if you have a consistent practice, preferably a daily practice. I often provide the following caveat to the parents I see in my clinical psychology practice before they start journaling. It will not feel right at first, but the more you do it (practice) the easier it will get and the more comfortable you will feel. It’s like writing with your non-dominant hand. It won’t feel right and you won’t be that good at it. After a while, if you continue to practice, it will begin to feel more comfortable and your penmanship will improve. Here are some more suggestions and considerations before you begin.
exploring your thoughts and promote self-exploration.
provide a list of some of the more popular journals later in this article. The nice part about these
journals besides looking great is they have prewritten prompts to help you.
set-back and want to dismiss any progress you have made. Past journal entries could help to challenge all-or-none thinking by showing you where you were and where you are now.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO JOURNAL
There are many ways to journal. For the sake of brevity, I will share two popular examples to get you started. The first is a thought journal, which is a commonly used Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tool. The Thought Journal is designed to assist you in identifying, correcting, and replacing unhealthy, irrational thinking. This is a more structured form of journaling and may appeal to those of you who are not as comfortable about freely writing your thoughts down on paper. Below is an example of what a thought journal template may look like.
A B C
(situations you become) | ( your Beliefs about A) | (emotional/behavioral
| | Consequences of B)
The other type of journal is a Gratitude Journal. This type of journaling can have many forms and prompts, but the basic idea is that you write about what you are grateful for in your life. I like this type of journaling because it asks you to focus on positive aspects of your life which are resources for you. It also forces you to look for things you are grateful for when so much in co-parenting relationships can be negative and overshadow what is also positive in your life. When we identify what we are grateful for or even what has come from situations that you are grateful for retrospectively, we shift our focus, promote improved mental health, and loosens up negative rigidity in our thinking, which is likely keeping you stuck and unhappy. In other words, if you are looking for it, you will find it. Below are some examples of prompts for a gratitude journal.
Gravitate 2 Gratitude – www.gravitate2gratitude.com – Amazon Description “Gravitate 2 Gratitude is an insightful and interactive gratitude journal. This creatively designed sacred space is yours to read, write (even color) reflecting your unique spirit to paper; to witness your evolution and rejoice in your progress. This is your opportunity to summon your infinite positive energy and awake to the little things that often go unnoticed that enrich your life every day.”
Start Where You Are –The Start Where You Are Journal offers a series of prompts, exercises, and inspirational quotes to help you flex your creative muscle and get to know yourself better.
Self-Discovery Journal For Men – Amazon Description – “121 Thought provoking questions, Self -discovery journal questions for men. These questions are sure t make you think about who you are and where you are heading. Why not spend a few minutes a day pondering over these questions and writing some of your thoughts down? You don’t need to start from the very first page or the question, just choose a random question and start writing.”
Bullet Journal – www.bulletjournal.com – Website Description “The bullet Journal is a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system. It’s designed to help you organize your what while you remain aware of your why. The goal of the Bullet Journal is to help its practitioners (bullet journalists) live intentional lives, ones that are productive and meaningful. All you need is a notebook and something to write with.”
The Five-Minute Journal – Amazon Description “Using the science of positive psychology to improve happiness. The Five-Minute Journal focuses your attention on the good in your life. Improve your mental well-being and feel better every day.”
Wreck This Journal – Amazon Description “For anyone who’s ever had trouble starting, keeping, or finishing a journal or sketchbook comes this expanded edition of Wreck This Journal, a subversive illustrated book that challenges readers to muster up their best mistake-and mess-making abilities to fill the pages of the pages of the book-or destroy them”
This Journal Has Feelings - www.knockknockstuff.com - Website Description “Whatever your #currentmood-cranky, angsty, sparkling, satisfied-this journal accepts you, just as you are. Inside, find the adjective that best described your state, write about it, and then find yourself a little more tranquil.”
My Dysfunctions – www.knockknockstuff.com - A journal for chronicling my immeasurably fascinating dysfunctions, neuroses, emotions, inner children, moments of shame and doubt, projection, self-loathing, misanthropy, and completely normal insanity because the only difference between me and the rest of the population is that I acknowledge how crazy I am and they’re all in a mind-numbing denial.
A FEW MORE THINGS TO CONSIDER
One final note on how to avoid some common journaling pitfalls. Don’t be perfectionistic with your journaling. Sometimes people will be too caught up on grammar and how they are expressing their thoughts. So much so that they are not processing the content and spending too much time on the structure. Earlier in this article you learned the importance of building a journaling habit. However, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t feel like writing one day or forgot to journal. It’s ok. You will have to figure out what days and times work best for you. I have many clients who will tell me that they have tried journaling in the past but it just made them too stressed. When we explore how they journaled, I often find they only spend time focusing on negative aspects of their life. I suggest if you are going to focus on negative things consider mixing it up with intermittent positive prompts to shift your thinking and mood. I hope this article inspires you to start your own journaling practice.
DAILY JOURNAL TEMPLATE (Sample)
DATE: _____________ TIME: ___________
IN THE MORNING:
I AM GRATEFUL FOR: (rel:, opportunity I have, (s) great happened, (s) simple)
HOW CAN I MAKE TOMMORROW BETTER:
Journal Prompts to Get You Started