You spill your heart out to your best friend, partner, or sibling, looking for any hint of fulfilling advice or direction in the midst of emotional distress, and what do they tell you to do? Some will be supportive and give advice. And others may tell you to go to therapy, read a book, get over it, or journal. For some people, writing down your feelings help you work through pain, and provide temporary relief. Offering this option can often be a quick answer to try to make the person immediately feel better, but is it really a useful tool to use?

Journaling has proven to be transformative in my life. Since I was a teenager, I’ve processed life events through writing them down, and coming back to the recordings time and time again. Originally, journaling was a freestyle mind dump that would help me relax my mind so I could sleep, but later morphed into a method of processing deeper personal struggles, questions, and doubts. While I understand that this method doesn’t work for everyone, I believe that when we are encompassed with high emotion, we struggle to effectively deal with and react to our situations. Why not write it down, process it, and deal with it when you’re ready?

Some write, and immediately tear out the page, then toss it in the trash. Some keep it for years, and never read it, and some keep it for years, and read it. I do the latter, and would love to share with you a few effective ways to reflect on your journals.

Read with an appreciative outlook

We tend to write when we are in distress, and rarely write the positive. Be grateful for the lessons learned or any positive outcomes that may have come from the negative experiences you’ve written about.

Read while recognizing your growth

No matter how tough of a situation, take the time to note the ways in which you’ve grown since you first wrote in the journal. We are generally very critical of ourselves, blinded by all the negatives.

Read and observe the patterns and trends of your successes and failures

This is especially important if you keep making the same mistakes. You can see where the patterns begin, and then implement preventative steps.

Read from an un-centered place

When I’m feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed, I find that reading through my journals help me find peace and centeredness. I can see what methods have worked in the past and which ones have not.

Read from a vulnerable, open-hearted place

Let the river flow, as the old hymn would say. Feel how you feel in an unaltered and authentic state. Let it all out, and then write down how reading the journals made you feel, and the steps you’re taking to deal with the emotions, or sometimes lack of emotions.

Read with your closest confidant

Sometimes just the presence of a trusted person can help in reading extremely difficult past writings. As a person who loves being read to, my best friend read through a series of post-it marked journals, mapping out my entire ten-year relationship. This helped me realize my pitfalls, but also helped me feel them.

Read with purposeful intent

Reflecting is not meant to stifle you to being stuck in the past, but rather bridging the past into the present. After all, we unconsciously carry the past into the present anyway, so why not do it consciously? As yourself, “Why do I want to read excerpts of my journals?”

Think about all the stories, memories, and funny jokes you’ve forgotten over the years. Now imagine pulling out a dusty book full of these sporadic memories; reflecting on your writings can help recall special memories, process difficult situations and emotions, teach you about yourself, change your methods or behavior, and encourage growth.

Now go write, you beautiful soul.

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