Opinion with Seb Reilly: The journaling method to combating negativity

Positive thoughts

I don’t know about you, but after a year of social distancing, I’m beginning to feel a little isolated.

Perhaps it was getting my first vaccine jab that did it. Up until then, life was continuing, but it now feels as if that light which has appeared at the end of the tunnel—the glimmer of hope that one day this all will pass—has given me a different perspective on things.

It has been a year as well, pretty much to the day. I haven’t shook anyone’s hand in a year, or hugged anyone outside of my household. A year without physical contact with the outside world is a long time.

In these kinds of situations when everything appears negative, I like to try and realign my focus on the positive. One method I find works particularly well is journaling.

A friend of mine, Julie, is a world-renowned authority on journaling and has written extensively about the mental health benefits of putting pen to paper and noting your own thoughts. She offers prompts and workshops, and really knows her stuff, but there is one aspect of her methodology that has really stood out to me, and that is gratitude journaling.

The idea is to list three things every day that you are grateful for. Over time this will add up to an expansive collection of positivity. My approach to this, which is a slight variation, is to write “I am grateful for” and then carry on the sentence. I don’t do this daily, but whenever I feel I need to.

Writing in this way forces the mind to look at the good instead of the bad. What you write, the way you write it, and how detailed you write is entirely up to you. It never needs be shared as it is not for anyone else. It is a technique I practice regularly, and I used it this morning, in fact. I have been struggling for a while to write this column (this is the fourth version, with each written from scratch) as every time I try to reflect on a year of lockdowns and social distancing I find the words I write are not to my liking.

I’m not an eternal optimist, but nor am I a pessimist. I think of myself as a realist, and I like to be somewhat balanced in my perspective. Focusing on the past year means either looking at the really bad that has been happening, or listing off personal positives, neither of which seem appropriate or beneficial.

It was only when I was thinking of the things I am grateful for that the thought of sharing the journaling exercise I was undertaking came to mind. We can all moan about COVID-19, and we each have hardships and struggles, but we also all have things we are grateful for, however small they may be. Considering those instead of the difficulties can prevent us being overwhelmed, and there is certainly a possibility of that happening.

When contributing to the discourse around our current situation—or writing things in general—I like to offer inspiration. I would highly recommend that if you need a little boost, try gratitude journaling. Get a scrap of paper, or a page or a notebook, or open a note on your computer or phone, and then write what you are grateful for. Then read it back, and celebrate those good things.

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