I recently dug up some of my old diaries and journals. The pages weren't just plastered with clippings from dELIA*S catalogs as I'd remembered—I'd actually written a lot in those books. It was equally hysterical and painful to learn what was going through my mind during those early years.
Little me filled pages with recounts of exciting events, fun musings, and messages of gratitude. But within the milky pen-drenched lines, some notes came from a deeper place of expression. I'd scrawled phrases like "I waste so much of my life worrying" and "why do I always feel so weird?" Even before I knew journaling existed, I instinctively tried to unravel my thoughts and feelings on the page.
My current journaling practice is similar. It consists of a lot of brain dumping. Brain dumps involve freely writing what's on your mind as a way to release or understand the clutter in your brain. Numerous great discoveries and ideas have come from my brain dumps, but that's only one journaling technique out of many. I was reminded of this as I flipped through my old notebooks. My younger self explored several other ways of journaling—techniques I'd like to try to reimplement, and I encourage you to consider them as well.
Creating lists is a great method for new journalers. It's also something I like to do when I feel the need to prioritize tasks or simply don't have the brainpower to form complete sentences. Little Saleema created lists of anything and everything—animals I'd like to have as pets, possible names for those pets, and, of course, the most danceable Spice Girls songs.
Prompt: Create a list of things that bring you joy, books you'd like to read, qualities you love in yourself, or songs that move you.
Today I don't journal with the main intention of going back and reading my writing. But little Saleema sure did. I wanted to remember everything and then relive it later, like my first school dance or how it felt to perform in the talent show, so I'd grab my notebook at the end of the day and furiously recount every last detail. It may not be healthy to record every single encounter throughout your day, but experience journaling can be a very powerful practice. You could reread your writing months or years later, reflect on the experience, or even reframe it differently if it didn't feel positive in the moment.
Prompt: Write about a memorable moment from this week. Note down how the experience felt in your body and any thoughts that popped up in your mind. Try to describe every detail.
"Gratitude journaling" isn't just a buzzword; several studies have shown that writing your words of thanks has incredible health benefits, including improved mood, increased happiness, better self-esteem, reduced stress, and even a decreased risk of heart disease. While I try to dedicate occasional mornings to appreciation, my old journals include words of gratitude in almost every entry—thanks for my pets, family, friends, and even the Spice Girls. Gratitude is something I'd like to work back into my practice.
Prompt: Using a phrase similar to "I am grateful for- ", note down three or more people you're thankful to have in your life, three or more of your own personality traits you appreciate, three or more accomplishments you are grateful for, or three or more ways you can express your gratitude today.
Poetry and fiction stories aren't for everyone, but they can spice up any journaling practice. Before I created the narrative that I wasn't a skilled writer, I would craft elaborate (and dramatic!) poems in my journals. These got my creative juices flowing, offered a challenge to my usual style of writing, and are amusing to look back on.
Prompt: Find a photo on Instagram or in a magazine and write a fictional story based on the image, or write a free verse, haiku, or any other poem style.
Clearly, my younger self was onto something, and I'm grateful I have the opportunity to reread my old notebooks. Did you keep a diary or journal as a child? If you can flip through it, I encourage you to do so! If not, there's never a wrong time to begin a journaling practice. I'll share more on journaling techniques, the science behind the practice, inner child reflections, and writing in general.