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Micro Journaling: Dynamite in a Small Package

Most people have thought about keeping a record of their thoughts and feelings at one time or another. The need to communicate lives in our spirit and DNA. Even those with an aversion to writing feel the need to share their stories in one form or another. Watch “reality” shows like Alone or Big Brother, where people find themselves without the normal support systems of family and friends. Get them in front of the camera by themselves, and thoughts and emotions spill out.

Journaling for Nonwriters

So the idea of keeping a journal sounds appealing, but the pressure of daily dear-diary entries doesn’t. That’s where micro journaling comes to the rescue. Your micro journal entry can consist of nothing more than the day’s date, or “Feel like dirt,” anything that gets out what you want or need to get out.

Before we get into the specifics of micro journaling, let’s look at some of the benefits of keeping a journal in general.

The Benefits of Journaling

Keeping a journal allows you to explore everything from superficial thoughts to the deepest, most secret things living inside you. It lets you make task lists for the coming days and log your successes and failures. But the benefits extend far beyond the practical and obvious. In 5 Ways Journaling Can Improve Your Life, Angelica suggests these other benefits:

  • Journaling allows you to create a safe place for yourself, free from judgment and insecurity. You can explore things that your friends might consider dumb, like how that hamburger or cup of coffee made your day. Maybe you’ll want to dive into why it made your day to find other ways to experience the same feeling, or what exactly drove you to find relief that way.
  • Keeping a journal allows you to explore positive and negative emotions. Writing them down makes it possible to relive the good times and brainstorm ways to turn the negative ones into strengths, even it’s just to find a better way of recognizing and handling things in the future.
  • Having a record of your triumphs and the hard times you’ve overcome can give you the strength to face any current battles in your life. It makes you mentally tough and tells you that you can overcome any challenges.
  • Journaling will help you focus on the now and put the chaotic flow of what-ifs in perspective. These insights will promote a healthier decision process that helps you get the most out of being alive.
  • You get to tell your story and awaken your inner creativity. You can find ways to express yourself that help those important to you understand what makes you tick.

Journaling v. Micro Journaling

When you think of a standard journal, phrases like “dear diary” and “Captain’s log” come to mind. A full page or even pages make up these entries. A teenage girl might discuss her feeling for that special boy in homeroom. Someone suffering from depression might pour his or her feelings onto the page. On the positive side, a person might reflect on the day’s events, like catching up with an old friend over lunch. Whatever the subject, it involves many sentences and paragraphs. It feels good and drains you in a positive way, providing relief or ingraining memories and experiences. But many people don’t have the time for this in-depth level of self-examination or don’t want or need it. That’s where micro journaling comes to the rescue.

An entry in a micro journal might consist of nothing more than a word or sentence, something short and sweet that evokes a feeling, reminds you of something that you need to do, or gets your mind rolling.

Fiction writers often use this technique for stories and novels. Some writers have even earned money writing books of fiction prompts. For example, a prompt like, “When I saw her, I realized it wasn’t the cigarette that was smoking,” opens worlds of possibilities. Is the woman on fire? Maybe she escaped from the underworld. Maybe she comes from the underworld. You can see how each of these written sentences fertilizes your imagination.

The same thing goes for micro journaling. You write a word or phrase about whatever you have on your mind. It takes less than a minute but aligns your thought processes to handle whatever you’ve written. You can stop with one thing or go as far as you like. Just the act of recognizing the things going on in your life and your mind legitimizes them. It can give them a life of their own or take away the power they hold over you.

I, for instance, had an addiction to fast food. For money reasons, I had to stop most of my eating out. My home-cooked meals taste better and leave me feeling better, but sometimes that urge to take a trip through a drive-thru becomes unbearable. So I write, “The tacos tasted like mush,” or “Everything tasted like grease.”

Those simple entries don’t stop the occasional cravings, but link to them. Now, “A trip through the drive-thru sounds good,” pairs with “The food tasted like garbage,” and provides the needed pause to reconsider.

It works the other way, too: “The hamburger I made at home rocked and kept me full for hours!”

It works the same with everything: “My walk energized me.” “Avoiding negative conversations makes the workday go faster.” “I love hearing birds in the morning.” Even, “Rude customers will not make me mad.” These simple, journalized statements set your thoughts in a specific direction.

And your entries don’t have to be affirmation-like declarations. Something as simple as, “Got the laundry done,” lets you tick a chore off your list and makes you feel good knowing you’ve accomplished something. Just writing the date tells you that you made it to another day.

How to Micro Journal

First, let’s get the rules out of the way. Literally. Get rid of them. Lonerwolf makes these suggestions:

  • Don’t worry about the medium. We call it writing, but you don’t have to put pen or pencil to paper. You can, of course, but don’t hesitate to type or dictate your thoughts into your laptop, phone, or tablet. Just get them down.
  • Keep your diary private. This allows you to explore the entirety of your self. It gives you permission to work through any thought or problem tickling your mind. And it makes it something special, something for you and no one else.
  • Forget about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just get your thoughts out. Your brain uses different parts and different processes for creating and editing. When you focus on getting the words just right, the punctuation correct, you invoke your rational brain and stifle the free flow you need to get the most out of your micro journal.
  • Don’t worry about quality. Your goal here isn’t to write the great American novel or even anything profound. It’s to rev your brain, clear the clutter, and explore the important things.
  • Set a regular time. This one I both agree with and disagree with. You do want to make entries every day, but don’t restrict yourself to one time alone. For instance, you can’t go wrong starting your day with an entry or list of entries. But if you’re having a tough workday, explore it in a sentence or two at lunch to shake it off.

Now to the meat and potatoes of micro journaling.

Todd Brison offers a four-step method for getting started. First, he says to write the date. Even if you write nothing else, you’ll always know you made it into another day. Next, make a list of ten things. Any ten things will do. They can consist of things like, “I hate getting up,” or “I love the way the morning suns streams in my window.” Make statements about work, how you plan to handle the day, and things you’re looking forward to doing.

Then, list something your grateful for. I might say birds, for example. My pet birds make life tolerable in the worst of times, and the songbirds living in the hedge outside my bedroom window add life and beauty to the start of my day.

Finally, put your journal away and get on with your day. The five or ten minutes you’ve spent with your list will have given your brain all it needs to do its job. “The whole point, really, of any intellectual morning routine is to make your brain go “hmmm,” Brison says. “When the brain goes ‘hmmm,’ you move from instinct to higher-level thinking.”

If you find yourself having trouble getting started, Lonerwolf offers these prompts to get going:

  • How am I feeling today?
  • What is an issue I’m facing?
  • What can I do about my most recent problem?
  • What thoughts are triggering my current feelings?
  • What is my plan of action to achieve my goals?

Remember not to make it only about problems. Some positive suggestions include:

  • What makes me feel grateful? I mentioned my birds. For you, it might be family, your car, your health, or your friends.
  • Find the beauty in the weather, no matter the conditions.
  • How does a good meal, a cup of coffee, a conversation with a friend, or your favorite song make you feel?

Deer Jumps Fence

A deer doesn’t go through a complex thought process before jumping a fence. It just jumps. Do the same. And don’t get hung up on rules, methods, topics, style, or anything. Keeping a micro journal is an exercise in self-indulgence. It’s all about you. Do what works for you, and make it something you look forward to every day!

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