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How journaling reduces stress and boosts creativity

Did you know there’s robust research showing that writing a journal helps us let go of difficult emotions, cuts down on over-thinking and procrastination and leaves us calmer, clearer and less stressed?

The research shows a journal habit:

  • helps your brain regulate your emotions (less shouting at the kids/your spouse/the TV)

  • gives you an outlet for your full range of emotions (yes, it is healthy to feel anger, fear, jealousy, envy, no it is not healthy to bottle them up or throw them on your nearest and dearest)

  • boosts your ability to cope with change and adversity (and who doesn’t need that right now?)

  • strengthens your sense of identity and feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence (vital for people not working whose identity has been entwined with what they do)

  • build your self-awareness and emotional intelligence (which will stop you being replaced at work by a robot – yes seriously)

I encourage all my executive coaching clients to keep a journal

After all, coaching is a change process; one that requires reflection, un-learning and experimenting with new ways of doing things. The process of change will throw up the full range of emotions and will challenge us to think differently about ourselves. So, look again at those research findings above to see how keeping a journal can be an important part of the coaching process.

As I write this, I realise that coaching is an act of creation; generating new insights, opening up new possibilities and choices.

And there you go. Sitting down and writing has allowed that new thinking to emerge for me.

But I’m going to be honest, most of my clients don’t end up keeping a journal

For some of them it seems a bit “woo” and for some of them it seems so hard to get started. There are few things more intimidating than a blank page and a sense that this is an extravagant indulgence when you are so busy (and perhaps also stressed).

Getting started with journaling is HARD and it CAN seem a bit well, woo.

So let’s start with a few common myths:

Myth #1 Writing a diary and a journal are the same thing

They’re not. A diary tends to be a record of things that you’ve done or plans that you have. What I call “out-there stuff”. Journaling is “in here stuff”; thoughts, feelings, reactions, hopes and dreams. There can be an overlap between the two, but writing a journal is a structured form of brain dumping. Or what we call in psychology “letting go”.

Myth #2 Writing a journal is about neat handwriting, good grammar and having something important to say

If writing a journal was about good handwriting, that would count me out. Journaling can include doodling, scribbling, drawing and mind maps. You certainly don’t need good grammar. Developing a journal habit will show you that you always have something important to say, it’s just a case of allowing what needs to be said to come out on paper.

What really holds us all back from writing a journal?

We are held back from writing a journal because of the way we learnt to write

We didn’t learn to write in the same way we learnt to talk. Our speech developed through experimentation and lots of trial and error. Our errors were often seen as adorable by our care givers; toddlers mangle the language and it’s cute and funny.

We learn to write under supervision and strict rules

We aren’t allowed to make up our own spelling rules; we have lines to write on and punctuation to get to grips with. We have teachers and parents watching how and what we write and we are being marked and assessed right from the get-go.

So it’s hardly surprising that when we are adults and we get faced with a blank page in a journal, our Inner Critic and our Inner Editor hold an intervention and start telling us loud and clear that we have no idea what we are doing; who are we to think we are worthy enough, smart enough, reflective enough to fill this beautiful book with words?

Writing a journal is both an act of creativity and a doorway to further creation

There are no rules or limits when you use a journal. If you begin with a blank page in your journal, you could just ask yourself: “How am I now, in this moment?”

The process of answering this question by writing, doodling or drawing for just a few minutes allows you to untangle what you are thinking and feeling. This opens a space cognitively and emotionally. This “decluttered”, grounded state is the perfect start point for creativity. You have given your brain processing speed to consider new ideas and you have given yourself the emotional capacity to take risks.

In this curious, creative space you have also reduced your stress, as neurologically it is impossible to feel both anxious and curious at the same time.

For more reading on how to get started with journaling, click here.


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