Journaling for Personal Transformation: Understanding What Really Matters - See Change Studio

Journaling for Personal Transformation: Understanding What Really Matters

By Elaine Kiziah, Ph.D.

Like this? Share it with others!

In this section of my journaling how-to guide, I'll begin outlining the ingredients for a transformative writing experience.

These first two essentially relate to your mindset — and to understanding what really matters when it comes to your approach...

1. It's the Experience, Not the Words

The very first thing I want to point out to you is something that most people COMPLETELY misunderstand about journal writing. And it's this…

The words you put down on paper don't matter.

I'll say that again…

The words DON'T MATTER. What matters is the experience you're having as you write them — the emotions that come up, the insights that arise, the decisions you make, and the other subtle shift that happen inside you.

I'll put it another way…

The words you leave behind in your journal are actually an artifact of the journaling experience — a reflection of what was happening inside you. They're not the main point.

The words you leave behind in your #journal are actually an artifact of the #journaling experience. They're not the main point.

Click to Tweet

​I know so many people who won't journal because they feel pressure to produce something beautiful and profound. But here's the truth…

When I go back and read through old journal entries that were HUGE for me — transformational writes like this one or this one — I'm sort of left cold by the words themselves.

None of them read as very profound or artful. All of them are only a faint echo of what actually happened for me as I wrote.

Reading them can remind me of the experience, how it affected me, and what I took away from it. But it can't re-create the experience. So clearly, there's something going on that's about more than just the words themselves.

When I wrote the journal entries I mentioned above, I wasn't worrying about what the words would sound like afterward. I was completely immersed in the experience instead.

And that's a BIG part of what allowed it to be so transformational.

Try It Yourself

Write bad on purpose. Try using incomplete sentences. Ignore spelling and grammar rules. Jump around from one topic to another without any transitions — just following your own thoughts. Or write lists (or make mind maps, diagrams, or stick figure drawings) instead of prose.

Make it as messy as it needs to be for you to get the message that this isn't about "producing" something. It's about having an authentic (and potentially transformational) experience of connection with yourself — or with something even larger than you.

2. Release Your Attachment to Outcomes

It may seem paradoxical, but if you want to achieve powerful outcomes from your journaling, you MUST release your attachment to achieving any outcomes.

In other words, you might sit down to write and catch yourself thinking something like, "I better get _____ out of this, or it will have been a waste of my time." Anything that sounds vaguely like that is what I mean when I talk about attachment to outcomes.

Here are some examples of the kinds of outcomes I often catch myself grasping at:

  • an emotional or spiritual experience
  • an aha moment or insight
  • an improved mood or outlook on something

All of those things are possible with journaling. But they're far more elusive when I'm reaching for them than when I let go and instead focus on connecting inward.

In fact, many of my journaling breakthroughs occur the very moment after I let go of outcomes. 

Truthfully, this happens to me so often that it almost makes me laugh now... 

  1. I forget how important it is to let go.
  2. Then I catch myself part way in, grasping yet again for a particular outcome.
  3. I consciously release and instead focus my writing on the here and now.
  4. And then *BANG* suddenly an insight shows up, or something moving happens, or I'm changed in some way by what I'm writing.

All this doesn't mean you can't set an intention for your journaling. In fact, I think that's a powerful ingredient (which I'll talk about in the next section).

But that's different from beginning your journaling with a preconceived notion about where you need to end up in order to consider it a successful write.

Try It Yourself

To shift your focus away from outcomes, choose an alternative "finish line" for yourself. My favorite is to set a timer (e.g., 20 minutes), but you can also aim to fill a certain number of pages. When the timer goes off, or once you've filled your third page, for example, then you can stop. Or you can keep going if you want! But you don't have to feel like you're waiting for some outcome to signal that you've successfully journaled.


And there we are.

Those are the two foundations I've discovered for powerful journaling — focusing on the experience instead of the words, and letting go of outcomes.

In a sense, they're both about letting go of shoulds and surrendering instead to the magic of what's happening in that very moment.

Without these mindsets in place, the rest of what I'll share with you will be less likely to work — because you'll be getting in your own way the whole time.

So soak this in. Practice letting go.

And then get ready for some more tasty ingredients in the next section as we turn our attention to our next topic — what you can do to prepare yourself for a good write.