We've now come to the point in this journaling how-to guide where I'm going to show you the kinds of ingredients that can make journaling such a potent tool for transformation.
This is important stuff, because it turns out just any old kind of journaling won't produce the same benefits.
But it seems that, for pretty much everyone, there are certain ingredients and techniques that will help produce better journaling experiences and outcomes.
And that's why I put together this guide.
On the following pages, you'll find a compilation of those ingredients and techniques.
Some of these are based on research about writing interventions and what appears to make them work.
But the research about journaling has actually been pretty limited, focusing on just a handful of specific approaches. And, as I've pointed out, there are many different ways to use journaling — and therefore many different ways to journal.
So some of what you'll find on the following pages is based purely on my own experiences — as a journaler and as a journaling teacher.
Each time I write an entry that has an important positive impact on me, I ask myself this question (and I often do this with my students too):
"What was it about that entry or that journaling experience that made it so powerful?"
Of course there's an element of chance — or grace — in the outcome. But I've also learned there are things within my own control that are much more likely to set me up for a powerful experience.
And, added up over time, those experiences can be a recipe for transformation.
That said, if you follow all my advice here the next time you sit down to write in your journal, will it change your life?
Probably not. You might have a big "ah-ha" experience that starts you down a new path. But most of the time, transformative journaling is more about regular practice than it is about a single experience.
And that makes perfect sense...
If you were trying to get in shape, you wouldn't expect it to happen instantly after a single workout, would you? It takes time to build muscles and burn fat.
Journaling is often the same way. It can help rewire your brain, for instance, so you're more attuned to the good things in life. But changing your habitual thought patterns is something that requires practice.
That said, research by James Pennebaker and his colleagues has shown that just three or four 20-minute writes can have a big, long-lasting positive impact if you have an upsetting experience in your past that you haven't yet processed.
On the next pages, I'll outline what I've learned about the ingredients for transformative journaling. They fall into the following categories:
But before you move on...
If you haven't already, you might want to look at some examples from my own journal — entries that were real game changers for me...
In the next sections of this guide, you'll be able to see what was going on in those entries that made them so powerful — so you can use those same techniques in your own journal!