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I keep three journals and I take them everywhere.
They’re labeled: “Gratitude,” “Tracking,” and “Brain Dump.”
Journaling is how I document, release, and explore myself. In fact, many of my Elephant Journal articles have come from my brain dump journal.
I used to put all three of these things in one place, but I noticed that when I was having a good day and wanted to write the details down, I was often met with my last brain dump of negative jargon. With one glance of the words, I would begin to spiral back down to that place.
I would find that I had used up so many pages on brain dumping or habit-tracking that I didn’t have room for another use before I ran out of space to write. And my gratitude list was easily lost in the mess.
This birthed my three journal system. Now, I have one place for each topic. Perfectly organized chaos.
Brain dumping is the place to go when you have so much on your mind that the thoughts race and swirl with seemingly no end. There are things you need to say but can’t (or choose not to), but they don’t go anywhere until you write them out.
Often times, I find that when I’m brain dumping, there’s a hidden part of me that is given room to speak. I’ll write about how stressed I am, and once that’s all out, I’m met with words that help me to resolve my own feelings—that show me the other side of the situation or a hopeful outcome.
The dark cloud has moved and the sun shines through. This doesn’t happen when I’m twirling around with my thoughts and feelings, offering them no place to go.
“If I get it all out on paper, it’s no longer inside of me threatening the life it belongs to.” ~ Anna Malik
My tracking journal is my most neurotic journal, but I find it helpful. This is where I place the things I’ve done throughout the day (which I call the “I did it list”) as well as goals I’d like to meet. When I’m trying something new, I track my progress.
I’m currently adding new self-care habits to my days, so I made a calendar in my tracking journal. Each day, I fill in the square under which habit I’d accomplished. This keeps me on track and provides a visualization that shows me which areas I’m doing well in and which areas I’m slacking.
On another page, I’m journaling the details. I write down what I did, for how long, and how it felt. Some things I’m tracking here are my journey through increasing physical activity and facing fears. Through tracking, I’m able to see the progress I’m making and use it as a reference if I ever fall back “in the hole” and get lost again.
Gratitude journaling was repetitive for me. My family, my friends, our health, our safety, our home. Every single day I am grateful for these things and every single time I thought of gratitude, this is what I listed. Often times, I listed nothing else.
It wasn’t until I dedicated an entire blank journal to gratitude that I began to expand my list. I felt guilty not listing these things every day, as if not doing so meant that it doesn’t count. But was I going to fill an entire book with the same five things?
Once I had given myself the space to expand, I gave myself the opportunity to as well. These five things were there at the top of my list, and they weren’t going anywhere. They wouldn’t be buried behind pages of unrelated thoughts and feel the need to draw attention back to themselves before moving on to anything else. This was a gradually growing list of little things, and I had given them the space to grow.
Having a gratitude journal is like having a library of appreciations throughout each day of my life—every one of them different and unable to be overlooked or forgotten. A smile comes to my face when I open this journal and see how many little things I have gathered over time to appreciate.
I secretly hope that these journals become ancestral treasures that my descendants will look back upon for perspective and reference, as well as myself. This is probably because I’m fascinated by personal stories and history. How cool would it be to read your grandparents’ journal and dive into a portal of their time?
Outside of the personal benefits of journaling, I’d like to be the keeper of such things for my future family.