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How to Level up with Journaling

In my eyes, journaling rides that fine line between simple self-help tool and controlled-tumbling-down-the-rabbit-hole-of-life woo. So whether you're a little of the former or the latter, hang tight because there are some takeaways for all of you here.

I bought the open journal pictured above on December 8, 2014, when I was going through a rather traumatic time in my life. I remember having to force myself to go to the mall down the street to buy it and nearly having a panic attack. I'm not naturally afraid of social or public settings, but I was energetically in a deficit and couldn't handle the mall vibe. But I needed to spill my feelings somewhere.

And that's precisely what I did. For one month. On January 4, 2015, I scribbled in my final entry, and my journal was forgotten about.

In September of that year, I started experiencing some health issues and decided I needed to keep track of daily food intake, supplements, what time I woke up and went to sleep, what day of my cycle I was on, and how I was generally feeling overall. I wanted my journal to give me the 30,000 ft view of my life, and I was hoping to find some answers within it. I did this for 13 days.

Fast forward to this year, and I found myself itching to start journaling again, but I kept putting it off because I knew how short lived it could be. I didn't want that. I really wanted to learn and grow. I don't always remember every detail, how I felt, how something actually played out—and I wanted a better record since I had been putting in some serious mental, physical, and spiritual work this past year. And to be really honest, I just needed a safe space to work out my thoughts and feelings. Since moving away from my nearest and dearest soul sister in Los Angeles, I needed some type of spiritual "friend" to love, support, and guide me. I wanted that to be my journal.

So in typical fashion, the Universe sent me an opportunity it knew I needed. Danika Brysha's Brunch Series Tour was rolling through Austin, and I had some "fun money" I could spend to buy a ticket, so I pulled the trigger. Danika, the ladies who attended, and the food were incredible—but the biggest takeaway I left with that day was inspiration and direction on how to journal. 

Starting May 1, 2018, I put pen to paper, and this time it was different. I gave myself some structure, mostly based off of Danika's journaling techniques and also some things that I learned from Aubrey Marcus's new book Own The Day, Own Your Life

I quickly realized that:
  1. Structure is essential for getting you started and acquainted with your new friend (the journal).
  2. Your mood and needs are going to vary from day to day, so it's best to be fluid with your approach. I'll explain that in better detail below.
  3. It's going to take time for you to warm up to your journal—just like a real (human) friend—before you start pouring your deepest and darkest secrets onto its pages.

By structure, I mean something that gives those blank pages some context. If you're new to journaling, you'll probably not know how to begin. Below are all of the categories I started implementing when I first started journaling. (Note that I credit Danika Brysha [DB] or Aubrey Marcus [AM] for the categories they recommend.)

Monthly Challenge [DB]: This is an item you "challenge" yourself to each month. For May, my challenge was "no drinking (not even a taste)" and "5-minutes of active meditation 3+ days/week." I quickly realized one new habit per month was enough and just stayed committed to the "no drinking" challenge. The beauty of putting something like this into writing is that I saw so many moments where I would have said I wasn't drinking alcohol but would take drinks out of my husband's cocktails. Drinking someone else's boozy beverage is still drinking. So that really made me stay accountable. By June I decided that the word "challenge" was triggering and had a negative connotation to me, so I changed it to "Monthly Promise."

Top 3 To-Dos [DB/AM]: Recommended by both Danika and Aubrey (although Danika puts her's at the start of her day, and Aubrey puts his at the end of his day in preparation for the next day), the whole idea is to get shit out of your head and onto paper. If it's not in your head, it's not weighing you down. I started by writing "work things" down and soon realized I wanted to keep work to-do's on my office whiteboard and not in my journal. My to-dos then became household chores, errands, self-care, creative projects, or really anything that makes me happy. It's vital to schedule those things into your day too.

Gratitude x3 [DB]: Listing three items in which you have gratitude. I always start the sentence "I am grateful for/that..." I have been practicing gratitude for years in my head. It makes a big difference to write it down.

Affirmations x3 [DB]: Writing three affirmations that help you feel empowered, worthy, motivated, supported, loved, not alone, brave, strong, you name it. If you're not a creative writer, you could always look some positive affirmations up online that resonate with you and write them in your journal. I always just write from the heart and create affirmations that are topical for how I feel in the moment or are related to what's going on in my life. They usually differ a lot, but one that is consistently on repeat for me is: "I am love. I am loved." 

Biography from My Future [DB]: This is a fun exercise that lets you get creative and design your future a decade from now or an hour from now. It allows you to try things on for size without commitment. It helps you see what resonates and gives you focus on what you actually want to pursue. My bios typically included my career, children, health, marriage, and happiness to name a few.

Mission [AM]: Setting a mission for your day, week, month, year, life, helps give you some direction and a moral compass to follow. I prefer a daily mission because my work and lifestyle allow me to be fluid and I like to focus my days in specific, mission-driven ways. My missions varied from work, wellness, and self-care focuses.

Free Journal: This one is my addition! Once I've done some or all of the above (5-10 minutes worth of writing), my brain-hand connection feels primed, and the real-real comes out. I talk about things currently going on in my life (the good and the bad), relationship matters, past traumas, and so so so much self-analyzation and reflection. Another great tool I've utilized is writing letters to people that I'll never actually give them. I learned about this technique from my favorite podcaster, author, and all around bright light, Christine Hassler.

Free journaling is magic for me. It's grounding. It's flow. It's therapy. I've learned so much about myself since May. When I have a question, such as how I truly feel about something or where a past trauma spawned from, I just let my pen do the talking. It's almost eerie, like an Ouija board, the pen takes over and gives the answers I need. I feel a deep connection to my true spirit, and the love and words flow.

I don't think this ability is anything unique to me and I genuinely believe I can teach others how to get in touch with this part of themselves to learn and heal. This will indeed be something I journal about in the days to come. I will find the answers and be of service to those who need the guidance.

On June 28 I filled the last page of my 240-page journal. Eighteen pages of 2014-2015 blabbing, and 222 pages consisting of 60-days worth of focused, intentional learning, loving, and healing. Finishing that journal was emotional. The same feeling you get when you finish a beloved book. It's been nine days since I closed that journal and I have yet to unwrap one of the three new journals I bought. I don't know why. It's the same journal (by design), but I've been putting it off. And you know what? In these past nine days, I have been a moody and frustrated weirdo.

So, that said, I'm going to open that journal now and start writing!


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Are you interested in learning more about how I journal? I'll be sure to share more soon so be sure to stay in touch (my newsletter or IG are the best routes). In the meantime, you can grab my favorite Moleskin journal here.