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Journaling Part 3: Journaling for change and growth

Journaling for change and growth

This is the third and final blog in a series on journaling where I cover why a reflective practice is helpful, journaling for coping with adversity and here I share a technique for people keen to try using a journal to facilitate more active change in their lives.

Growth emerges from freewriting and the coping process, yet there are also ways to structure your journal practice to help you feel the time is working towards change which can appeal if you are looking for more active transformation.

Clients who want to grab hold of an almost palpable issue or who have clear goals for therapy might like to explore this approach. Also, clients who are concerned about rumination or being stuck in cycles of thought and seek a sense of active progress out of difficulty might also like to give this a try. So let's look at bringing a change-oriented structure to your journal entries...

Each entry follows a three-stage process:

1) Freewriting (see blog 2 in the series)

2) Analysis

3) Actions

You might even use headings to keep you focused, such as ‘What happened?’, ‘So what?’ and ‘What next?’.

What happened?

I find it helpful to set a timer to limit my freewriting. It helps to avoid using all of my precious journaling time meandering through my mind. Allowing half the time you have for free writing is a helpful guide and, over time, you’ll find yourself being more focused and disciplined with the first section. Try and stay true to the event, reaction, emotions and thoughts and brainstorm it in free flow.

Take a break – tea or a dog walk for me. Some people prefer returning the following day but for me it's important to have distance from the freewriting but not to lose the momentum or risk not coming back to it so i recommend returning to the entry the same day.

Come back to reflect on your freewriting with some distance from the content, and do so with the eyes of a wise observer or friend rather than a critical parent.

So what?

Use your ‘so what’ section to answer the important questions; What is hard about this situation and why so? Could it be viewed differently? What evidence is there for the assertions, assumptions or beliefs? Do your reactions tell you anything about what is important to you at the moment, your values, however fixed or flexible to change? Are they welcome or unwelcome as you read a second time.

It can be helpful to imagine a compassionate friend analysing the expression on the page. Resist the urge to criticise with a parental tone. Ask yourself if there are alternative perspectives to the ones on the page? What do you take from the tone, the emphasis, what is on the page versus what is missing from the expression?

Top tip…I find it helpful to have a coloured pen and to circle or underline words or phrases that stand out. I try to remain curious. Endeavour to soften your face, raise the corners of your lips and allow a gentle loving smile as you read.

Of course, not every entry needs this power of analysis. The important point is that you separate from what happened – de-identify and relook at your reflection with curiosity and wonder. This effort is not easy for most people and it takes practice. As with any new mental activity it takes time and your development is unique to you. You are your own yardstick. Some days it will become easier and, if rehearsed enough, you may find you start applying this mindful practice at other points in your day.

Now what?

Your actions may leap from the page as you analyse your free text – ‘speak to mum’, ‘try relaxing exercises before meeting them’, ‘take this to counselling’ etc etc.

The most helpful ‘What next?’ sections tend to be brief, specific and relevant to the new awareness in your ‘so what’ section. You could brainstorm ideas and select one or two. You might start with a goal like – ‘work on my boundaries’ and focus them further by asking yourself; what can I try today that will take me in this direction? Such as ‘the next time x happens I will try to acknowledge what is asked of me but explain my needs before saying yes’.

Over time your ‘change’ journal entries can cultivate a powerful sense of control and achievement. Have a go!


This is the third and final blog in the series on journaling. I hope they give you inspiration, guidance and companionship in what can be a very solitary, albeit beneficial, process of self-care. These journaling tips are in large part thanks to my own experience journaling throughout my training and as a marker for trainee counsellors and so many thanks go to the University of East London and Norwich Centre for the inspiration.

I’d recommend Meg-John Barker’s podcast recording and resources and, if you are a Trainee Counsellor, this short video by the fantastic guys over at Counselling Tutor Podcast is very helpful

You can reach out to me for more resources here.

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