When I was a child, I used to write a diary.
I wrote about my feelings, experiences, and everything else that crossed my mind. It was a safe place where I could get things out of my head and put on paper.
But, as many do, I didn’t continue writing a diary when I grew up.
However, a few years ago, I stumbled upon journaling (the adult version of writing a diary) and have begun to incorporate the habit into my life again.
By blending journaling with mindfulness, I can process my emotions, thoughts, fears, and goals in a place free from judgment. It helps me decide on what thoughts to act upon — and what thoughts to leave behind.
Mindful writing in 3 simple steps
Before you start writing, sit in silence for a few minutes to calm your mind down. Pay attention to your surroundings, all the different layers of sound, and check in on your own body.
Once you’re ready, make yourself comfortable for writing and take some deep breaths…
Step 1: Set an intention
Every writing session begins with setting an intention.
If you’re not familiar with intentions, you can think about it as a guiding principle you want to structure your writing session about. Intentions are about direction, unlike goals, which are about destination. By focusing on the journey, intentions pull us into the present.
Some examples of intentions are: “I intend to face my fears,” “I intend to bring joy into my everyday life,” and “I intend to give back to the community that has helped me.”
You can let the intention come to you naturally or use journaling prompts as inspiration. Some days, intentions come easily. Others… not so much. If you struggle with finding your intention, then that is your intention.
Step 2: Write from your heart
The next step is to write freely from your heart.
This is the core of the practice. It’s the part where you connect to yourself, your values, fears, and goals. However, it can be challenging — and scary — to get to know yourself so deeply. But sometimes, we have to do challenging things to grow as human beings.
Allow yourself to write about your feelings, biggest fears, goals, deepest thoughts, things that hurt you, things that make you happy, and whatever comes to your mind during the writing session. The text doesn’t even need to be coherent! Remember, you’re writing for yourself. Nobody is going to read it. Your journal is a safe place free from judgment.
You don’t have to reach a specific word count either. Just write without a particular goal in mind. Let your intention guide you.
Step 3: Reflect on what you have written
The last step is to spend a few moments reflecting on what you have written.
This part of the exercise is about accepting emotions and thoughts as they are. You can answer questions like:
What makes me feel a certain way?
What makes me happy?
What scares me?
Read through your text and write down what comes to your mind without judging.
Often, we label emotions and thoughts as either “good” or “bad.” However, this exercise takes a totally different approach: It’s about accepting emotions and thoughts as they are, no matter what you feel about them. It can be very liberating to accept your emotions and thoughts without feeling the need to judge them.
But Why bother?
In 2006, researchers at Western Michigan University conducted an experiment to figure out what impact journaling has on students’ well-being.
The participants were asked to write about a stressful event for 15 minutes at two different times in one week.
Even though they wrote for only 15 minutes each time, the researchers measured reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in the students. Worth noting is that only 61 percent of the students were comfortable writing about their feelings.
It’s fair to suggest that journaling has the same positive effects on adults’ well-being, too.
It’s Okay to mess up
If you’re a perfectionist like me and find it really hard to write spontaneously without editing, remember that it’s okay to mess up.
You can start over again, write in the margins, or draw pictures to prove your points. It doesn’t matter if you write bullet points, a letter, or an essay. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to journaling. This practice is designed to help you connect to yourself, so do it in a meaningful way for you.
Also, you will improve your writing skills with practice. Every time you do this exercise, it will get easier to express your emotions in text.
Finally, this exercise is not about writing the perfect text; it’s about connecting to yourself. So be mindful about the experience, write from your heart, and, most importantly, enjoy yourself.
About the Author: Christoffer runs Mindinary, where he writes about mindful living. He’s passionate about helping others slow down and bring mindfulness into their lives.