I lost myself for a long time. The blur of my twenties was taken up by lostness. No major trauma, just the everyday grind of work, routine and distraction. Not knowing what I really wanted, I went with what was in front of me, or what I thought others wanted. And I became hollowed out, brittle, joyless.

Journaling was how I gathered myself together again. It was a conscious act of noticing and creating – one rooted in the mundane action of putting pen to paper. It became more than mundane. It became a map. 

Journaling involves discernment – even if you’re not consciously choosing what you write, our human hands can only scrawl out one word at a time. It is mindfulness brought to paper.

Writing is a means of taking the cosmos of your brain, accepting it all and funnelling out what’s important to you, right now, in the present moment. 

The conscious action of picking up a pen and a notebook helped me realise where I could make other conscious choices in my life. And so, my life changed.

Here’s how to use your notebook to find your way home again. 

1.Get messy with time, space and logic

You are in the present moment, choosing your words right now. But they could be about your dreams or fears for the future, or helping you understand the past. Or all three at once. Journaling weaves the strands of time together, helping you explore patterns, identify your guiding lights. Don’t worry about logic. Feel free to play. Let all of your selves come together.

2. Go easy

Sometimes the words don’t come. That’s all part of it too. When that happens it’s not about tightening the ropes, whipping the horse to go faster. It’s about letting the reins go, having a meander, slowing down. Allowing not forcing.

3. Write to hear yourself

True listening is so rare. People often listen to respond: to share their own story, to offer advice. And none of this is bad. It’s natural, and it’s how we make sense of one another – by taking someone else’s experiences and relating them to our own. But to be fully, truly heard and understood – that is a rare and beautiful thing.

When you write, just for you, there is no-one to hijack or misunderstand. Unless to try to do that to yourself. So don’t sabotage yourself. Set aside judgement. Write what comes first and listen.

4. Start a conversation…

…with yourself. Conversations are a way we make sense of the world. They are a to-and-fro, they have a shape to them. This is different to the endless ruminations we find ourselves doing in the middle of the night, wracked by anxiety and insomnia. Writing provides a focus, an order, and helps you work it through. It’s a way of asking questions of yourself and giving yourself a space to respond. Approach yourself with kindness and curiosity and let your anxieties unfurl on the page.

5. Give your head a break

We can try too hard with journaling. The beautiful thing is, there’s no getting it wrong. Whatever you write is the right thing to write. This is not a time for analysis, judgement or second-guessing. It’s a time for surrender.

Treat yourself gently and write. If you can’t think of anything to write, write about what you’re feeling in your body or head, what you notice about the room you’re in. Write what is true to you right now.

6. Don’t worry about being negative

We can get so caught up with focussing on the positive – wanting to attract the people, experiences and feelings we desire. We get scared about acknowledging fear, doubt, shame and judgement.

But that is denying a critical part of being human. We all worry, we all care about what others think, we all feel hard done by sometimes. And that is all just fine.

Your journal is the perfect place to put those thoughts and feelings. It’s a safe container for all the parts of us. Writing down the darker side of what’s on our mind doesn’t make us a darker person. Rather, it can release those feelings, allowing us to see them more clearly and choose what we want instead.

7. Journaling is not where it ends

Sometimes the same things pop up again and again in your writing. An episode from your past, a wish you have for your future. A longing for something different now.

That’s your cue. Do something. In my experience you won’t stop journaling about those things unless you’ve taken action about them. It might be research, it might be seeking help, it might be taking a risk on something that scares you.

It might be that you embark on a wild goose chase, or hit a dead end. But it won’t be wasted. There’s something to be gained from every adventure.

But it starts with choosing to spend time with yourself on the page.