Meditation is a great first step toward self-improvement, self-awareness, and any kind of growth. By itself, however, it could fall a little short.
Add keeping a journal to your meditation practice and you could ramp up the benefits and see dramatic improvements quickly. These are my favorite tips for keeping a journal that can help you take advantage of your meditation practice and create greater progress in self-improvement.
Write quickly and productively
A journal should be a private space where you record thoughts and ideas that are for your eyes only. There’s no reason to worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. If a sentence is incomplete, run-on, or not written perfectly, who cares? As long as you know what you meant, that’s all that counts here.
Try to avoid repeating the same stuff over and over. Sometimes we need to ruminate on something from multiple angles in order to understand it, process it and move on. But if you’re consistently writing about how much you miss your ex, or how afraid you are of losing your job, you’re only reinforcing these things in your mind. Instead, find ways to make those more productive thoughts. Start writing about things you can do to take your mind off your ex or the steps you could take to keep your job or be prepared to look for a new one, for example.
Like meditation, the benefits of journaling are cumulative. You need to do it regularly in order to make any significant progress.
Personally, I recommend writing immediately after meditation. This is a time when your mind will be clearest, and you’ll be better able to focus. It’s also an easy way to ensure that you do it consistently because you’ve tied it to another practice you do consistently.
I also suggest journaling every day. This allows you to put down thoughts, ideas, concerns, anxieties, etc., while they’re still fresh in your mind rather than trying to recall them days later. This will ensure that your journal is an honest, real reflection of your state of mind rather than a fabricated image of what you think you remember being concerned about over the course of a week or a month.
Set some goals and reflect on them
If you want to use a journal for self-improvement, you need something to improve on, right? There is no self-improvement if you have no idea what you want to improve. So take some time to set a few goals (and write them down in the journal!), then reflect on them.
Reflecting on your goals takes a few forms. One is reflecting on what the goal is, why you want to do it, and what it means to you. This kind of reflection can help you to see the importance of a goal — or to realize that it’s not really a goal you want to go after, after all.
Another form of reflection is to reflect on the progress you’re making toward achieving the goals. Writing down what progress you’ve made, what progress you expected to make, and why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d hoped or why you’re farther than you thought you’d be can help you determine your next steps and assess other related goals.
A final form of reflection can take the form of reflecting on the goal after you’ve met it — or after you’ve realized you won’t meet it, if that’s the case. This is the point where you reflect on how you feel about meeting (or not meeting) the goal, what you could have done differently, and what this goal has taught you. You can also reflect on what you might want to do next — is there another goal related to this one that you want to set now?
A journal only helps you if you’re honest on its pages. This honesty can be difficult sometimes. We worry that someone might come across our journal, might read our most intimate and vulnerable thoughts, desires, and needs, and use them against us. We worry about the trouble that might result if the wrong person read something we wrote — hurt feelings, damaged relationships, etc.
You have to let those fears go. Complete honesty is absolutely necessary in order for your journal to work. This honesty will help you see where you need to improve, where you want to improve, and where you’re happy. It will also allow you to get all the fears, worries, and other thoughts that keep swirling through your head out of your mind so that you can let them go and move on to more productive thoughts.
If you’re sincerely concerned about privacy (living with an untrustworthy roommate or going through a nasty divorce, for example), then consider either hiding your journal in a safe or lockbox, keeping it on you at all times, or keeping it digitally with a password or PIN so that only you can access it. Also, remember that if you don’t tell others that you keep this journal, they won’t know it exists.
Ask yourself deep, thorough questions
It’s really easy to journal about what we had for dinner, what we did at work, or what we binged on Netflix last night. But writing about our deepest fears, our darkest desires, and the flaws that we hope no one else knows we have can be much more difficult.
Take the time to go deeper. Ask yourself deep questions, thorough questions about who you are, what you want, and where you see your life going. Ask yourself the questions you’re afraid to ask and even more afraid to answer.
When you ask yourself these questions, refer back to the previous point as well. Be honest with yourself when you answer them. Even if you don’t like the answers or they scare you, write them down anyway.
Refer back to your writing regularly
Getting your thoughts out on paper is great. It gets them out of your head so you can keep moving forward. But sometimes you need to go back in order to go forward.
Going back and reading what you’ve written before is an incredible tool for personal growth. It allows you to see the progress you’ve already made. You’ll see where you once faced what seemed like an insurmountable problem and overcame it. You’ll see where you were scared or hurt and managed to set those feelings aside to repair a relationship or conquer a situation.
Rereading too often, however, can keep you too close to your emotions and thoughts at the time they were written, so don’t do it all the time. I usually suggest going back once a month to read what you wrote over the last month or so. When you’re facing a bigger problem, or feeling the need for a pick-me-up, go back further in the journal. Once a year, go back and choose passages from the past year (or even further back) to dive even deeper.
Choose the journal that’s right for you
There are so many journals to choose from: from pretty, flirty, feminine ones to basic notebooks that could also be used to take notes in a high school history class. There’s paper journals or digital ones. There are ones that include tracking for moods, food or periods and ones that come with prompts to get you started when you’re stumped.
The right journal for you is the one that works best, that you like, and that has the features that matter to you. While journaling itself is important, taking some time to look over your options and choose one you really love is also important.
Don’t get too caught up in choosing the right one, but don’t rush the decision either. If you rush it, you may find that you avoid journaling simply because you don’t really like your journal. If you find there are a few you like and you can’t make up your mind, think about getting them all.
The choice between paper and digital may be your easiest choice. Often this is a matter of whether you prefer to handwrite or type your thoughts. If privacy is a concern, digital journals often offer a password or PIN option to protect them.
You can also simply keep a Microsoft Word document that is your journal. You can even put a password on it.
Ultimately, journaling is a tool. And tools only work if you know how to use them. The tips I’ve given here are the ones I find most useful. But you should adapt them as needed to suit you. You should also include others that work best for you. If it feels like you’re not getting any benefit out of journaling, that’s an indication that you should reflect on your process and see what could be changed to make it more useful to you.
Make your journal your own. Make it something that you look forward to pulling out and working with. Make it something you cherish as it provides you with the insight you need to know where you need to grow.