Over the years, I have learned that there is nothing better at getting me into an improved headspace than writing. Writing gives me the time and space to process, make sense of and organise my thoughts. Even when I’m incredibly busy and my life in general feels hectic, I make time to write. In fact, those are the times I need it the most! It helps me navigate all the busyness with a clear(er) mind. And on a side (but significant) note, it’s when I come up with some of my best ideas! So it’s even benefited my PhD project too.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the thoughts racing through your mind, and yet you can’t quite grasp and fully comprehend each thought because there’s just too much going on?
I feel that way when I haven’t journaled in a while. And the only way I’ve found to put my mind to rest is to write. To capture the words trapped as a thought in my head down on paper. And unfailingly, everything just makes a bit more sense. My worries don’t seem quite as daunting in black and white.
Journaling provides an opportunity for introspection – to pay full attention to yourself, your thoughts and feelings. It’s something we often don’t make a conscious effort to do with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but it is important.
And though journaling may not be for everyone, I do suggest giving it a go even for a few days. What’s the worst that could happen? If you hate it, you never have to do it again!
On the other hand, the potential positive outcomes are incredibly valuable! After all, there are few things more important than your mental wellbeing.
You may be thinking, “What do I even write about?” or “How do I even start?” Well, I’ve put together a few really useful journal prompts to get you started! You don’t have to go through the prompts in order or in one sitting, especially if you don’t have the time to do so. If all you have each day is 10 minutes to write, pick one prompt from the list below and write for that span of time.
So grab a pen and notebook or bring up a new document on your computer (for a digital journal), and write away!
1. What do I need to do today so I can sleep soundly tonight?
Like me, you may have a hundred and one things on your to-do list and you feel like you never quite get to the end of it. Whew! I’ve now come to accept that I probably will always have something that I have to or can do, especially as a PhD student, and that I just need to do the best I can with the time I have. And so this journaling prompt comes in. What needs to get done today so you feel good (enough) when your head hits the pillow tonight? This may be uni related or not.
Tip: Keep this list short.
2. The braindump
Declutter your mind and get all the things down on paper. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense or not. The point here is to simply write down what’s occupying space in your mind. I often write bullet points or create mind maps when I braindump. Feel free to be creative and use whatever format works best for you!
Tip: Set a timer (e.g. 10 minutes) and write as much as you can.
3. How do I know that to be true?
Just because you have a thought or feeling, doesn’t make them true. This is especially the case with negative self-talk. We’re often so hard on ourselves, and are our own biggest critics! Perhaps if you delved a bit deeper into that thought or feeling you’ll find that it’s mostly unfounded? Give this a go!
Tip: For every few sentences you write, ask the question “How do you know that to be true?” again to dig deeper.
4. How do I want to feel today?
Some days I want to feel accomplished, productive, motivated or focused. Other days I want to feel rested, relaxed or carefree. It usually depends on what’s been going on that week – whether I’ve been busy or not so much. How do you want to feel throughout the day? Have a think!
Tip: Be as descriptive and detailed as the time allows.
5. What’s the worst that could happen?
I like asking myself this question because I do have a tendency of expecting things to fail or not work out, which can cause me to unnecessarily worry. So I think about this and every time I do, the worst is never as bad as I initially fear. If you do something or don’t, what’s the worst that could happen?
Tip: Once you’ve written all the worst things that could happen, ask yourself “What’s the best that could happen?”.
6. What am I grateful for today?
It’s easy to get bogged down my negatives, especially when you’re going through a particularly challenging time. But I feel like it does help, even on really tough days, when you make a conscious effort of finding things to be grateful for. They may be seemingly little things like running water or heating at home. Or you may be grateful for the supportive people in your life. There are no right or wrong answers,
Tip: Try and write at least 5 things you’re grateful for!
7. If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I be doing today?
I think this is a fun one to explore! Write down the first things that comes to mind, you might be surprised.
Tip: This might be useful if you’re starting to think about jobs after university.
These are only a few suggestions of places to start in your writing. Journaling is entirely personal and for you to do however you please. Remember, this writing is for you. You won’t be showing it to anyone (unless you want to). And you don’t even have to ever read it yourself. The important thing here is the act of writing. The value is in the process.