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Published January 22, 2014, 02:47 PM

Positively Beautiful: Journaling can be an important habit for happiness

My son Grant and I were downtown shopping for his cousin’s birthday present a few weeks ago. She loves arts and crafts, and we found some fun items at the art store.

By: Susan Mathison, INFORUM

My son Grant and I were downtown shopping for his cousin’s birthday present a few weeks ago. She loves arts and crafts, and we found some fun items at the art store.

As usual, Grant spied a few things that he wanted. I asked him to narrow it down to one item, and after much thought and a bit of whining, he settled on a very cool journal with a dark cover and neon astro-robots, stars and rockets on the front. But the real magic was the little lock and key on the side.

Grant has been proudly carrying around his “private journal” ever since. As his teacher knows, he’s not really into writing at this point, but he treasures that journal and carries it proudly. To me it represents promise and possibility. Maybe it will be the key to handwriting prowess and hopefully more.

I love a crisp, blank journal for the same reasons. Author Laura Vandekam considers journaling one of the most helpful habits you could ever create.

She states, “Life happens whether we are mindful of it or not, and being mindful of the quirky, the fun and the meaningful makes these things stand out more in the mosaic of one’s time. We see what we’re looking for and, as I’m reminded every day, writing things down can help us see. Journaling helps us remember the moments that we never want to forget, and improve just about everything in the process.”

Journaling is a creative process that helps us access memories and wisdom that we may have buried under layers of busyness. We all have issues to work through, and journaling by hand, keyboard, collage or paintbrush helps us to explore the darkness to find the light. Journaling has been shown to reduce stress and increase self-esteem. It improves mental and physical health. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Free write. Write as fast as you can – whatever comes to your mind – without regard to spelling or punctuation. This “brain dump” helps you clear your mind and prepare for the day. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron suggests doing daily Morning Pages and describes this process well.

2. Write about your childhood, or any phase of your life. Write specific memories and notice any trends that occur or insights you have about your present life. A friend gave me “The Book of Myself,” by Carl and David Marshall, a grandfather and grandson duo. It provides many questions to trigger memories. It would be a great way to begin your autobiography.

3. Free associate. One word sparks another and so on. Watching where your mind takes you can help you get “underneath” issues you may be dealing with.

4. Create timelines, graphs or word clusters (“mindmaps”). Use these tools to brainstorm and explore trends, patterns and different perspectives. There are cool online tools like Gliffy, XMind and Coggle that can help make these look cool, too.

5. Write letters. Clear up issues or unfinished business. Even if you never end up sending it, writing can clear up stuck energy.

6. Draw or collage. Think of the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Brene Brown has a wonderful online course through www.Oprah.com that encourages art journaling to explore concepts in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She even has videos in which she and a friend share as they paint and color and write.

7. Keep an idea journal. Jot down ideas that come to you throughout the day. I have a little mini-journal that fits inside my wallet.

8. Make lists. Fears, things you’re grateful for, aspirations, nature, your bucket list and more. Making lists aggregates information in ways that give you a big picture view. Ilene Segalove and Paul Bob Velick wrote “List Your Self: Listmaking as a Way to Personal Discovery,” which gives suggestions for lists you might want to create.

9. Ask and answer questions. Pretend someone is interviewing you about an issue and answer their question. You can answer out loud or by writing. Consider recording and transcribing. You may be surprised by what comes out.

10. Record your dreams. Do this right away in the morning. What do the images and feelings in them tell you?

11. Use a template. “The 5 Minute Journal” by Alex Ikonn is a great example. Each page has a place for the date, a quote and three simple questions.

Author Michael Hyatt has a text document that he saves on his computer. He says it gives him “a track to run on,” and helps him journal consistently. He asks himself these questions:

What did I do yesterday? What lessons did I learn? What am I thankful for right now? How am I feeling right now? What did I read today? What are my plans for today? What one thing must I accomplish today?

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.

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