Personal story

Increase Self-Awareness and Discovery Through Journal Writing

Terrie Leigh Relf, Writer’s Bureau Author

Edited by, Madeline Borkenhagen

September 16, 2016

Before I discuss several reasons why keeping a journal can be a beneficial practice, I wanted to share a little bit about my background. I’ve been journaling – and keeping a journal – since I was around eight years old. My grandmother started me out with the practice due to my having nightmares, strange recurring dreams, and as a place where I could explore my day-to-day experiences.

“Your journal is private,” my grandmother told me. “You don’t need to share it with anyone – not even me.”

I did, however, share it with her . . . And she provided valuable comments and insights that continue to guide me decades later.

Throughout my teenage years, I filled volumes of notebooks and hard-backed journals. When I turned 18, however, I threw almost all of them away in an attempt to not fixate on the past. I have regretted this from time-to-time, in part because some of these journals contained my early poems and short stories. There were also times when I was just curious about what I had thought, felt, and believed at a particular time in my life. After my teenage self tossed out those journals, I made a vow not to do that again. Consequently, I filled others, many of which are still in baskets on my shelves. And yes, I occasionally read and reread them.
You’re probably not surprised I became a writer – and a writing teacher and coach. I realized the therapeutic power of journal writing early on (as did my grandmother, who had a degree in psychology). It increased my writing skill, allowed me to express myself without being interrupted (or judged), and otherwise enhanced my insight and creativity. It was a safe place, my journal. My friend. My confidante. And yes, it often spoke back to me. I sincerely believe that this practice connects us to our own inner Muse.


If you’re still reading, you’re probably curious about how a journal writing practice could be of benefit to you. If you already keep a journal, I hope you discover something new here. Some people may choose to keep several different journals, each with their own purpose. I’ve known quite a few individuals who use college binders and tab the sections according to content, while others choose to keep separate notebooks or Word files. I recommend keeping a small notebook, pad or index cards (computer pads and phones work, too!) to jot down ideas, topics to explore, insights, and questions – the list is endless!

So, in non-hierarchical order, here are several ways that journal writing can increase self-awareness, discovery – and more!

“It was a safe place, my journal. My friend. My confidante. And yes, it
often spoke back to me. I sincerely believe that this practice connects
us to our own inner Muse.”

To tell your story.

Each and every person has many stories to tell, of who they are, what they’ve experienced, and what they’ve accomplished in their lives. What are you most proud of? What is important to you? What do you value? These stories may also include what you’re currently wrestling with, such as surviving a traumatic event or grieving the death of a loved one. They may also include your goals, dreams, and how you plan to accomplish them. In other words, you’re creating the future you envision and are dedicated to creating. This is a way to embody your future in the present moment and imagine how it will be – complete with all your senses. See it as a map to chart your journey to success!

To discover – and explore – your beliefs.

Have you ever been in a discussion where you or someone else challenged your beliefs? Did you re-evaluate them as a result? Did you Journalwonder at their origins and choose to explore them more fully? Say, for example, that you now have an advanced degree and you USED to believe you’d never attend college, much less earn a master’s or doctorate degree. Your belief about your ability to accomplish this major goal clearly changed. Can you pinpoint where, when, and how this shift occurred? Your journal is a place to explore these beliefs, the feelings that arise surrounding them, and the impact they have had – or may continue to have – on your life. You can also explore beliefs that no longer serve you as well as those beliefs you are open to believing.

To access your subconscious mind.

When you’re in a relaxed state and are able to just allow your pen to move on paper without consciously engaging your intellect, you can open a channel, or conduit, to your subconscious mind. I’ve always referred to this as dreaming on paper. It’s a form of self-hypnosis, because you are in an alpha trance state. This is where creative ideas proliferate. This is where our real beliefs linger. And this is where we also have the capacity to create change – and access our higher conscious mind as well.

To clear your mind.

When you have a lot going on in your life, whether it’s challenging circumstances or an overload from studying or other daily obligations, having a place to engage in an “info dump” is a great idea. True, you may have friends and/or family with whom you can do this, but what if they’re not available? What if they’re not in the mood to hear about your day at work or your latest insights? What if you don’t want to share the thoughts – and feelings – that are cycling through your mind? Having a journal to “dump” all this into is a great practice. Furthermore, if you have trouble sleeping at night – or even if you don’t – having a place to record the day’s events, shopping lists, story ideas, and other to-do’s can all be transferred to the page. Just imagine silencing all that discursive chatter so you can sleep . . . Furthermore, the mere act of consciously writing these items down will seal them in your memory, which is another benefit of this practice.

To keep a daily – or regular – log of your activities.

Curious how you spend your day? Are you focused on creating more time for certain activities? Looking for a method to record the frequency with which you perform specific tasks or which ones you engage in most often? Think of this type of journal as your own personal assistant. Refer to it often.

To list your short and long-term goals – and the progress you make – with each.

Sometimes, out of sight IS out of mind, so writing down your goals in a journal is an excellent way to keep track of them, chart your progress, and yes, evaluate and re-evaluate them as well. What is it that you want to accomplish today? By next month? Next year? Writing down goals – especially as positive “I statements,” is also an excellent way to begin manifesting. You can also include a detailed step-by-step plan of how you will accomplish your goals.

To record sayings that inspire you.

In addition to recording the sayings – or adages – themselves, you can also explore how they specifically inspire you. What does a particular song lyric, passage, or poem say to you? Does it bring back pleasant memories? Invoke a contemplative or positive state-of-mind? Create ecstasy or bliss? This can also be a place where you create your own unique affirmations.

To give thanks.

I also refer to this as a gratitude journal. Creating a daily gratitude practice can assist with the healing process, and I truly believe it’s cumulative. The emotional state of gratitude has the power to alter your feelings and create a positive – and happy – state-of-mind. For example, if you’re in pain, it may be challenging to write about what you’re grateful for, but even a few items can assist with transforming that pain into pleasure. You could list anything from enjoying a cup of coffee at your favorite cafe to finding the right therapist to guide you with the healing process. One way to approach this journal is to alphabetize. In other words, you would list everything you’re grateful for that begins with the letter A and progress through to Z. This is also a great practice to engage in throughout the day and at bedtime. You can do this off-the-page by saying – or thinking about – what you’re grateful for while you take a walk, wait in line at the grocery store or numerous other day-to-day situations. This can also become a daily ritual following meditation or other contemplative practices.

To connect with – and explore – your creative ideas.

Whether or not you want to be a professional/published writer, your journal can be a place where you record – and explore – your creative ideas. You can be as playful and expressive as you want! Consider including doodles, drawings, and collages as well as photographs and other memorabilia – such as travel brochures.

To explore your therapeutic experience.

Many therapists have their clients keep a journal as an integral part of the therapeutic process; some therapists may even refer to this as homework – mandatory or otherwise. This is an excellent practice that can assist you with focusing in on the purpose of each therapy session. You can also make note of what arises between sessions, ask questions for ensuing sessions, as well as explore your therapeutic goals. For example, if you are in therapy to help you through a major life transition, such as your children moving out, re-entering the job market, or the end of a relationship, your journal can be the perfect place to process what you’re feeling – and how you envision – this new chapter in your life.

Terrie Leigh Relf

Terrie Leigh Relf

Freelance Author

Terrie Leigh Relf has a bachelor’s degree from Naropa University in Buddhist and Western Psychology, a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in Rhetoric & Writing from SDSU, a master’s level certification as an NLP & Hypnotherapy Life Transformation Coach from Bennett / Stellar University of Integration Coaching & Life Transformation, and master’s level certification as a Reiki practitioner from Marcia Borell of the Usui School.

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