Sticking to positive topics in online journals
March 4, 2012 8:42 PM   Subscribe

How can I keep to positive topics when journaling?

Off and on, I've written in journals via traditional paper and the site 750 words. I use paper when I have something specific to work out, and 750 words for daily journaling.

One of the problems I have with just basic journaling outside of writing about a specific problem is that I just go on and on about the most negative topics. I'll start out just writing about my day and then it turns into a lot of negative thought and anxiety. I want to explore what's going on in my mind, but I hate seeing these negative thought patterns just being regurgitated onto the journal. How can I keep to more positive topics without drifting into superficiality? I've been in therapy for a while and feel better exploring negative thoughts there, with my therapist there in real time to work those out with me. With journaling, I'd like just time with myself to explore what's going on in my head. Yes, there's negative things in there, but positive things too and I want to get at those!
posted by sweetkid to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I appreciate that you are interested in exploring what's going on in your mind, and I don't think you shouldn't ignore the negative thoughts and anxiety. I think it's really hard to do this, and it's a skill that takes practice, but I'd suggest working through how these thoughts are negative/irrational/unhealthy as you go along. It's definitely going to be a fake-it-til-you-make it kind of thing at first, but once you establish that these thoughts are wrong and irrational, you'll eventually (hopefully) stop accepting them as true and develop a healthier attitude. Every once in a while a negative thought like this enters my mind and I just think, "Really, Liz? You know that's irrational. Just stop" and the anxious thought passes. This takes work, and is at times a constant battle, but it's extremely helpful in changing this behaviors.

Anywho, this is pretty much the basis of CBT. This workbook has some great exercises that I think transition well to journaling. I own it, so if you have any specific questions, feel free to memail me!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:12 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My partner and I often do 3-3-3 verbally, and it might be a good structure for you on days where you want to consciously avoid negative thought circles.

- 3 things you liked about today
- 3 things you learned today
- 3 things you're looking forward to in the future.

We try to do this at night during times that are particularly frustrating... It helps cut down on how much we belabor our day-to-day blahs.
posted by samthemander at 9:20 PM on March 4, 2012 [15 favorites]

Hmmm. Writing negative things out actually helps me deal with them, but I realize it may be different for you.

One of the things I learned in therapy (and maybe you have too) was to question my negative thoughts. Like when I think "This bad thing is definitely going to happen" I stop and think "well is it really 100% going to happen? Or is it only a 50% chance? Or maybe even less."

By the same token, when I write down something negative, I go on work through the possibilities on paper. So the negative is just a starting point for me to get to the fact that the end result maybe won't be that bad.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:21 PM on March 4, 2012

Best answer: Also, there's no reason happy things have to be superficial.

It's fine to write down things you're grateful for. I do it sometimes. As long as you're not just writing "puppies" or whatever, it challenges you to think just as much or more as being negative would.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:29 PM on March 4, 2012

Best answer: What if you set a rule for yourself that if you feel like you need to write about something negative or problem-focused, you will also write at least half as much about how you want to work on that problem to improve something about it/solution-focused?
posted by so_gracefully at 9:38 PM on March 4, 2012

Stop writing with yourself as your audience in mind, and start writing to other people - even if it's a private journal that no-one else reads. If you're going to recount your day, don't be all boring about it from this Other Person's point of view, find the story in your day and tell that, or find the aspects that they, not you, would find interesting, and write about that.
Write for a different audience.

Bonus result: Years later, you'll love reading your old entries.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:25 AM on March 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I recently started journaling, and I am in a pretty dark place in my life so I understand where you are coming from. I have two tips that helped ,improve my mindset when journaling.

What I try to do is first list three positive things, just as bullet points - which could be as simple as a good tv show I watched or a friendly conversation I had. Then I pick one of those things and try an analyse or write more about why I like it and what makes it positive. I general find that this transitions into talking about myself/life in a positive way and has been quite helpfull.

Also - I have a list of cognitive biases that I try to retread and go through every time I finish I make a point of going through and identifying and cognitive biases and negative thoughts, striking them out and adding a more optimistic take on the same circumstances.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:40 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how committed you are to the "online" part of this journal, but I had this problem during years of journaling on paper until I started taking an entirely new tack.

Instead of expecting myself to produce an unbroken stream of introspective words, I started journaling about what was going on on the outside. Making observations. Describing sounds and sights, atmospheres and the physical world. I switched from a blank book with a sewn binding to a small square sketchbook with a spiral binding, which seemed to invite more sketches, pattern drawing, creative lettering, pasting-in ephemera, and short note-making as opposed to lengthy spews of self-obsessed rambling.

This was a great move. My journals from sketchbook era are a thousand times more interesting to read than the ones from "droning on about my hopes fears and concerns" days. They capture the experience of being in that moment, what the world looked and felt like. And there was no possibiilty of forgetting what the emotions and concerns were - they are embedded in your mind, first and foremost, and emerge from the rereading and reviewing of everything you created to depict that moment on paper.
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions all. Just want to point out a few things: I'm not necessarily set on the online thing 100%, but I do like that it tracks words for me so I have an endpoint to strive for. I have other outlets for scrapbooking/drawing etc and mostly am attracted to the stream of consciousness, "what's on my mind" approach of this type of journaling -- blank paper and Go.

I'm not trying to ignore negative thoughts, I just think I work through them better with my therapist. I'm interested in things like samthemander's approach with the "3 things." What I think the issue is is that I get so caught up in negative feedback sometimes that I can't even hear the positive things that are still in there, asking for my attention. I'd like to give those thoughts structure and a voice.
posted by sweetkid at 8:39 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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