One of the more powerful, yet simple, tools I’ve found in dealing with negative thoughts is journaling. Getting your thoughts, no matter what they are, down on paper is not only cathartic but also a great way to work through your feelings. It doesn’t replace talking about or addressing your problems, but it can help adjust your mindset.
Journaling can take many forms, and there’s no right or wrong way to keep a journal. Some people prefer writing in a paper diary, others digitally. Some like to write letters, and some just write freeform. The important thing is that you do it in a way that works for you. That being said, I have 5 rules to make journaling more effective.
When you’re writing in a journal it doesn’t have to be perfect. Spelling, grammar, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you write your stream of consciousness without worrying if you worded something the right way. Just spew out whatever is on your mind, let the thoughts flow.
Don’t Censor Yourself
The nice thing about a journal is you don’t have to show it to anybody, you have the freedom to write whatever you want. Don’t hold back how you feel, don’t keep it bottled up. It’s ok if you look back at what you wrote and think it seems ridiculous, silly, or cringe. It’s how you felt in that moment, and those feelings are valid, but it’s also a sign that you’ve grown or learned something from your writing.
Reframe What You Write
When journaling to help deal with negative feelings it’s easy to write with a negative mindset. You will inevitably write down self-deprecating thoughts, or the dreaded “what ifs”. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what was going through your mind as you spilled your innermost thoughts. But you should take the opportunity to use your journal to brainstorm how to challenge those thoughts.
You don’t always have to write about your deepest feelings and darkest secrets. Take the opportunity to write about something fun, something that makes you happy. I once wrote in my journal about how much I love Starbucks green tea lattes! It’s a lot more fun to be sure, but it’s also a great exercise in thinking with a more positive mindset.
Don’t Force It
Some people might say to journal on a regular basis, and while there’s nothing wrong with that approach if it works for you, I don’t believe forcing yourself to journal when you’re just not in the right mindset can be productive. Get yourself in the daily habit of taking an opportunity to journal, but if you have nothing to say, if the words don’t just flow, then stop and try again later, or even tomorrow. Forcing yourself to write something when you’re not able to really let your thoughts flow is going to be frustrating, and entirely unproductive.