Journaling: Try it – maybe you’ll like it.

Daily Mindfulness Gratitude

There are lots of things research is showing are useful to our mental well-being, such as, journaling, gratitude, meditation, exercise, etc.   But many of us think I don’t have time for one more thing!  Or, perhaps we just don’t know how to integrate these practices into our daily lives.  This week I’d like to spend some time on one of these important skills, journaling, and explain why it is important.   In addition, I’ll provide some tips for integrating it into your life, including how I made it work in my own life.

I hear the collective groan.  Some of you are thinking “Journaling?  What am I a 13 year old girl?” And some of you are thinking, “I’ve tried it, but I never stick with it!  I give up.”  But wait!  First, journaling is different than a diary.  We aren’t just documenting our life.  In a journal we may investigate reactions or emotions to happenings, but it’s also a place for inspiration and creativity; a place to keep track of your good ideas, or whatever you want to write about, dreams, goals, etc.  Many of the reasons research shows journaling is good for us, explains why it’s popular among teenage girls and it also explains why this practice is good for everyone!  Here are just a few of the reasons journaling is a positive habit.Keep calm and write something

  1. Writing helps us evaluate our reactions and thoughts and emotions.  This is good because it helps us determine where our habits lie – perhaps habits we’d rather not keep.  It helps us separate truth from fiction in our mind and our world.  We will also often write things that are surprising to us, it helps to sift out our real feelings.
  2. Writing apparently uses a different part of the brain than just thinking, which is why different thoughts will come out.
  3. Journaling diminishes symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other health conditions.  It also strengthens the immune system

There are many ways to journal.  I’ve listed a few here, but no matter how you do it, this is not writing for the public.  Don’t worry about grammar, just write.

  1. You can just open up the journal and write, kind of spit out what you’ve been thinking about and see what else comes out.  It can actually be really good to set a timer for 6-10 minutes and just keep writing.  You’ll be surprised at what comes out.
  2. Reflect on events, books, or inspirations that have deeply impacted you and why.
  3. Reflect on your goals, what you hope to achieve, long term goals.
  4. Reflect on moments of joy, memorable meals or meetings, places you’ve visited.
  5. Perhaps you choose to keep a journal about some specific activity, for example, many people journal after they meditate.

Another reason you should journal is it can help you knock out the need to practice gratitude at the same time.  Woohoo – 2 for 1!  Taking the time to regularly write down the things we are grateful for has been shown to have many benefits, including “Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy, optimism, and happiness; acting with more generosity and compassion; and feeling less lonely and isolated.” As reported by the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude. Who doesn’t want those benefits?  And really, you can get them by just writing down three things you are grateful for every day!

My Bullet Journals
My Bullet Journals

I’m going to admit.  Personally I’ve struggled with journaling.  For so many years I knew it was important, and would start and make it a week then 2 months later I’d try again with the same results.  But finally I found a system that works for me.  It may not work for everyone, but here is what works for me.  I found that I had 4-5 little notebooks around at all times.  One for journaling; another for notes from a class; another for notes for work; you get my drift.  This just kept going as I gave each area of my life its own notebook.  Well one day I was on a plane flying back from Boston and I got to chatting with the guy next to me.  That flight from Boston to Denver flew by as we talked the whole time!  And you won’t believe it, but eventually we got around to journaling – perhaps he saw that I kept taking out a different notebook to write down notes as we talked.  Anyway, he introduced me to the Bullet Journal.  I love it.  This one book is my journal, daily and monthly to-do list, the place for all notes from all meetings, all research, all reading, etc.  I just use my own notebooks, I don’t order any special books. If you have a system that works for you – keep using it!  But if you are looking for a system, check out this link.  The video demonstrates how to get started.  Why has this allowed me to journal more?  I don’t know, but something about having one place to write everything has been beneficial.  I always have that one notebook with me.

If you’ve been able to maintain a regular journal, please post on what has worked for you.

Here are two other links that talk about the practice of journaling:

  • http://www.mytherapyjournal.com/whyjournal/
  • http://www.fastcompany.com/3041487/body-week/8-tips-to-more-effective-journaling-for-health
  • http://tinybuddha.com/blog/10-journaling-tips-to-help-you-heal-grow-and-thrive/

Practicing Gratitude

Everyday Mindfulness Gratitude

I’ve written about gratitude before, but can we focus too much on gratitude? This past Saturday, was a great day.  Despite heavy wildfire smoke and ash falling on us, there was a lot going on in Missoula and we were all stir crazy enough to be out and about in the smoke enjoying it.  We had a big college football game in town, and all the people that go along with such an event; we had our yearly Roots Festival with streets closed off downtown and lots of great, free music; and to top it off friend’s had the perfect backyard gathering.  It was a day of visiting with lots of friends in both quiet and loud atmospheres, art friends, music friends, sports friends, etc. That night as I was in bed, preparing to fall asleep, I quietly asked myself what I was grateful for at that moment.  Research shows that feeling grateful gives us more joy and happiness; lowers our blood pressure; improves the strength of our immune systems; and helps us act with more generosity and compassion.

You can find even more out about the science of gratitude at the following links:

Usually it’s simple, “I’m grateful for my home, my husband, fresh air, or the kale growing in my garden.”  But, this time my mind went in a different direction.  I found myself thinking bigger.  Thinking, “I’m grateful for the diversity of people I interact with on a daily basis.  I’m grateful I have friends, peers, acquaintances, past coworkers, etc. of different ages; male and female; from different cultural and geographic backgrounds; gay and straight; people with different political ideals; different religious and spiritual beliefs; those who love sports and those who don’t care about sports; those who love live music and those for whom the radio is live enough; people I disagree with on a few things in life and people I disagree with a lot.”  Just like most people, I tend to gravitate toward those with whom I have common thoughts, but I am grateful for those people that help me gain perspective on other viewpoints.  Those who are willing to have hard conversations that help both of us grow and learn.  Even when I still don’t agree, by understanding their viewpoints, the feeling of me versus them is less, and the feeling of how interconnected we all are increases.  Recognizing all of this and acknowledging how grateful I am really did increase my joy and my optimism.  It did increase my compassion toward others and it helped me breath just a little easier, even with the smoke in the air.  I acknowledge that my feelings are not very scientific, but I encourage you to try it and see if it works for you!

Do you have a minute right now?  Instead of putting it off till later, take this moment to feel grateful, whether it’s for the little things or the big things.  Sit upright in your chair with both feet on the ground, resting your hands lightly in your lap – move them away from the keyboard.  Gently close your eyes or gaze lightly out the window and sitting with your breath, feeling the inhale and the out breath, just allow yourself to sense what you are grateful for right now - even if it's coffee.  Feel that gratefulness as it spreads throughout the body traveling with the breath, like a hidden internal smile spreading into all areas of your body.  Sit like that for a few breaths, then exhale, open your eyes or move them back to the screen and get back to your day.

Gratitude Apps and actions:

  • http://thnx4.org/ - A gratitude journal that you can share or keep private and by doing it and answering their questions you help with research on gratitude.
  • http://getgratitude.co/ - A gratitude journal app for the iphone.
  • In addition to keeping a Gratitude Journal, or instead of keeping a journal, you can choose to actively show your gratitude by sending ‘thank you’ or ‘I’m thinking of you’ cards.  And it is perfectly fine to just mentally ask yourself about your gratitude, like I do as I crawl into bed.

A Little Gratitude

Everyday Mindfulness Gratitude Inspiration Mindfulness Practice

Recently a friend had one of those experiences that caused her to find gratitude – if only for a short while.  The kind of experience that caused her to be grateful to walk through the doors of her house without any assistance; grateful for her family and friends; and grateful to be here every minute of the day.  The kind of experience that reminds those around her to be grateful because we never know what’s going to happen from moment to moment or day to day.

Why does it take one of those experiences to remind us how precious every moment of life is for each of us?  To remind us that whether it’s a pleasant moment, an unpleasant moment, or a boring moment it is our life and we should accept it and be thankful.  Why is it much easier to get caught up in life and let day after day go by without really thinking about it?Pink Flower

Researchers are finding gratitude to be a wonderful thing.  It helps us be thankful for the good moments and it actually increases life satisfaction, optimism, and joy and decreases anxiety and depression.  You can find all the details about why Gratitude is good for us on this gratitude page provided by the Greater Good Center at Berkley.  In addition, this Berkley site supports your efforts by providing ideas for how to cultivate gratitude.

As you finish this post, I invite you to sit back in your chair.  To close your eyes and take 3 long deep breaths and then as your breath settles back to its normal exhale and inhale, be grateful for that moment and the things we take for granted in every moment.  Be grateful for your eyes that allowed you to read this post or your ears that allowed you to listen to it.  Be grateful that you woke up this morning and that your normal day filled with acquaintances and loved ones and strangers is all around you.  Add the things you want to be grateful for today.  I invite you to feel gratitude and warmth toward yourself in this very moment.   You may then want to use some of the tips in the Berkley article above to begin cultivating more gratitude into your life, without the need for a life changing experience.

Share with us what you are grateful for today.