For a little over one year, I kept a journal. At the time, I had been practicing mindfulness for a while and figured keeping a journal could be a helpful daily exercise towards my practice and life in general.
I already knew the power of writing. The way that writing from the heart, allowing everything to flow out of you as it will from thought or feeling to pen and then paper, can help calm the mind and bring clarity wasn't foreign to me.
However, a journal was the opportunity to do that on an almost moment-to-moment basis. Sometimes, I'd recap the day at the end of the day. Other times, I'd jot down sentences as I was thinking or feeling something throughout the day.
No matter how I did my journal for that day, a journal allowed me to start a dialogue within myself about what was going on within and around me. It helped bring clarity where there was none. In this way, it served as very much an extension of my mindfulness practice.
A journal might not be for everyone. However, whether you think it will be a worthwhile exercise or not I suggest you give it a try at least once.
So then, how do you do it? The rest of this post will detail the obvious questions of what kind of journal you should or can use and how to write in your mindful journal.
Ways You Can Keep Your Mindful Journal
There are essentially three different ways you can keep a journal of any kind: with a program on your desktop or laptop computer, an app on your smartphone, or a physical notebook. Below are my suggestions for each category:
1. Mobile + Desktop/Laptop Combo: Evernote
Evernote is my "digital" journal of choice for a number of reasons. I use it for a lot of things including all of my research, note taking, and much of my writing, so I'm a little biased.
However, Evernote's ability to easily and clearly structure notes by date, it's smooth syncing across various devices such as your smartphone and desktop/laptop, while always keeping them safe and secure on the cloud means you have essentially everything you'd need in a digital journal.
2. App: Day One
Day One is a journal app I used for quite a while. I love its simple interface and ability to add pictures in a really beautiful way. I feel that adds a lot to the journal and allows you to capture memories in a really nice way.
Day One has a lot of nice features, so if you're interested in keeping a simple journal on your smartphone or tablet, this is my first suggestion.
3. Physical journal: Evernote Notebook
This is especially suited for those who prefer paper and pen. If you have no particular preference, this is what I suggest you use as physically writing on paper allows you to connect better with what you're writing and it's the easiest to take with you and jot down things on the fly.
My suggestion? Get the Evernote notebook. With the Evernote notebook, you can take notes in a nice physical journal while simultaneously providing the functionality to take a quick pic with your smartphone that uploads that journal page as it's own Evernote note, allowing you to archive journal entries forever in a safe secondary place online.
How and What to Write in Your Mindful Journal
Ultimately, there is no specific way you're supposed to write in a mindful journal. However, without some sort of example we can see and make use of, we're much less likely to take action.
There are three ways I've kept a journal before that I'd suggest you try out. The first is my main suggestion for an individual technique because it's generally the most enjoyable and allows you to look back on your day and see your progress in little areas, which is really motivating.
However, my main suggestion overall is to dabble in each of the three. Try them out at first and even after you do, switch off here and there whenever you feel like until you come to a method and routine that is most comfortable to you.
A journal is a very personal thing and writing in a journal a very personal exercise, so you need to find what works best for you. Here are three methods I've used for enhancing my mindfulness practice through keeping a mindful journal:
The Reflection method is simply about writing down the events of the day. You can either do this by writing down 3-5 things that happened that day (a set list of things), or simply writing out a few paragraphs.
The nice thing about writing it down as a list of things is you can choose to fill it in as you go about your day. You may or may not prefer this.
The Reflection method is nice also because it allows you to really let everything out for a few minutes each day. For a few minutes each you, you can do a sort of "brain/heart dump" and just let everything flow out of you unfiltered. This can often lead to some really interesting and helpful insights. Plus, the act of doing so in itself is very refreshing.
2. 3 Mindful Moments
The "3 Mindful Moments" method is simply about writing down 3 moments in the day where you noticed yourself being mindful. As your practice expands, feel free to increase this to 5 or more. However, it's mostly used in the beginning as an aid to bringing mindfulness into your daily life.
This method is interesting because it can be a nice aid to your mindfulness practice itself, accentuating the moments in which you were mindful. As a result, you'll think, "hey, I was a little mindful today!" when you might otherwise have thought you failed, giving you the motivation to keep practicing. Every little step, every little bit of progress, makes a big difference towards developing the practice and that's the intention of this method.
3. Recurring Themes
The Recurring Themes method is all about identifying the inner dialogue. You don't necessarily write something down the first time you notice it (any thought, feeling, or even sensation if you think it might be in connection with some other thought or feeling, which oftentimes can happen), rather, you write down those thoughts, feelings, and sensations which you notice continually keep arising.
An example of this would be doubting your ability to complete a project or to do a good enough job on it. As you go about your day, particularly when you think about the project, approach the time to work on it, are working on it, and afterward, you're likely to notice certain thoughts and feelings arise.
As you notice the recurring themes, write them down in one central place. Come back when you notice it again and begin to bring definition to this once vague and foggy internal dialogue and negative self-talk. Bringing this level of clarity to some aspect of your negative self-talk and internal dialogue can have a very healing effect.
Start Your Mindful Journal
No matter what type of journal you decide to use and how you decide to write in your journal, keeping a mindful journal can be a very calming and clarifying practice that goes hand-in-hand with the rest of your meditation and mindfulness practice.