Keeping a journal is easier than you think. It fits well within a morning ritual, but the benefits of journaling can be had at any time. I know of guys who scribble while riding the subway, sitting in a coffee shop or bar, or in those blessed quiet moments between baby crying and baby getting up from nap.
If by the end of this post keeping a journal is something you’d like to do, finding the time may be easier than you think.
So why should you?
Dumping the Brain
While it’s not my favorite phrase, one of the best reasons for keeping a journal is for the Brain Dump aspect of it. (I thank the people over at Bullet Journal for my learning the term.) This is what has helped me get to sleep almost any night that I’m struggling. Just pour out words onto the page. I don’t stop and think. I don’t edit. I don’t go back and check spelling and grammar. I’m sure if I read it over there would be lots of sentences that would make my 8th grade English teacher reach for her red pen.
Good writing’s not the point. It’s about getting whatever I’m circling with out of my head.
And it’s remarkably effective.
No need, of course, to wait for insomnia to strike.
Having a hard time concentrating during a meeting? Can’t get your day started right? Filled with anxiety before you meet your parents for dinner?
(Maybe I’m getting used to this term…)
I’ve even used it for this reason prior to meditation. Sometimes I even have a little notebook nearby because if I jot that thought down, even during meditation, I can go back to being mindful and knowing I won’t “lose” something important.
Allright, I’m convinced: Brain Dump it is.
What Lies Beneath…
Once you start the habit of keeping a journal you’ll begin to notice some themes that continually pop up. These might have been obvious before the journal: you hate your job, you’re lonely, you’re overwhelmed…. But there may be other things you didn’t realize taking up time in your head.
Listen to this voice. Follow this line of thought. When you get into the journaling groove you might begin to surprise yourself about what this inner sense is telling you.
This is the idea of clearing out the noise. That noise has likely been acting as a defense for you to help you avoid difficult feelings or some kind of discomfort. And if you’ve been doing this long enough, you don’t even realize that the noise is covering anything up—it seems that the noise is the thing!
Let your journaling be a place to start to shake that up.
Many of the guys I work with are looking for a place for themselves. A place to reconnect with who they were before a partner, before children, before their highly demanding job. Sometimes they realize they never had that space.
And it’s left them wondering who they are and if it’s possible to connect with that person.
Your journaling space is private—that’s an absolute given. Spouse, roommate, whoever—you need to feel that no one else will read this without your express permission. You need to jot down a fleeting pissed off thought about your partner, about anyone and anything. This needs to become a judgment free zone. Self-judgment included.
Give yourself permission to take a look at those corners of your life and yourself that you avoid or blot out with [fill in distraction here].
The Basic Materials for Keeping a Journal
There are journaling apps and there’s always the old Doogie Houser method of using your computer (did he have Wordperfect? I kind of miss that.) I find it best to use pen and paper. I even splurge for a nice notebook and pen to make the process more, I don’t know, sacred perhaps. But no shame if you’re using a marble notebook and Bic pen.
Who you are and who you want to be may start to become apparent when you begin keeping a journal. Also, you may be surprised about what’s going on inside you. You might have more to say than you realize—but don’t be concerned if it seems like you have nothing to write about at first. You need to build the habit of showing up and filling a page (or 3 if we listen to Julia Cameron!).
The idea is to get what’s floating around in your head onto the page, look for the common themes, and reconnect to you. Happy writing!
I like to use journaling in conjunction with counseling as well as a way to connect what we do in sessions. If you’re a journaler already or are getting started, please share what the process is like in the comments below.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be. He works with all men but has a particular focus on providing counseling for fathers (and guys hoping to become dads!)