Beyond empowering

Discover the therapeutic benefits of journaling


published : 24 January 2021

Twenty years ago I started writing a diary. Uncensored, unpolished, and unmasked sentences. I needed to name the feelings and experiences that were consuming my young mind. I was trying to tell truth about myself and to myself. Over time, I became very precise about my thoughts and feelings. It is only a few years ago, that I came to understand that writing has saved me from burnout so many times. To my astonishment, there is forty years-long research on expressive writing lead by Professor James W. Pennebaker, that supports the idea that emotionally charged writing can increase our general well-being, job satisfaction, and emotional intelligence. 


According to PsychCentral, keeping a journal can help you:


- Clarify your thoughts and feelings

- Get to know yourself better

- Reduce stress

- Resolve disagreements with others

- Solve problems more effectively


This information motivated me to implement journaling as an essential method of building self-awareness, and well-being in my private and professional life. Journaling is a key technique of our training sessions at Beyond Empowering and in this article, I want to explain to you why. 


The power of using our words 


In her book Emotional Agility, the psychologist Suzan David wrote that trouble labeling emotions are associated with poor mental health, dissatisfaction in jobs and relationships, and many other ills. She also says that learning to label emotions can be transformative. As she explains, the act of translating our emotions into language can stop our brain from activating our amygdala, the brain’s radar for danger, and the trigger for the fight-or-flight response. This helps us stay in control. This book taught me so much about the concept of emotional agility. According to this author, emotional agility is a process that enables us to face our emotions courageously and compassionately. It is a practice that supports us to live in the ways that align our values and intentions. 

We all have a choice to make a pause and ask ourselves:  What am I feeling right now? What is this emotion trying to tell me? What difficult conversation do I need to have with myself? What can I do about it? 

For me, writing about my problems was a natural way of self-regeneration. Without knowing the real impact of my journaling, I was intuitively helping myself overcome difficult times. When I found out about Pennebaker’s writing rules all started making sense. In his study, Dr. James Pennebaker found out that people who wrote about their emotionally charged days experienced an increase in their physical and mental well-being. They also reported more success at work. I was astonished by this information! Can it be that easy?! 


How to journal about emotionally charged days?


According to Panabeker’s writing rule, you should set a timer for about twenty minutes. Get your notebook ready and start writing about your past day or week. Start writing without worrying about spelling or how poetic your writing is, just follow your thoughts with curiosity. Don’t be judgmental or ashamed of your thoughts. Your journal is only for you. After twenty minutes, you can throw the paper away if you wish. This is a process of emptying your mind. You should repeat this practice over a few days and try to make it a habit. 


My journaling can be classified in the following way: 


  1. Journaling triggered by some unpleasant/pleasant events
  2. Journaling as a habit of emptying my mind
  3. Gratitude journaling as a process of a positivity boost


Journaling as an online facilitation method


When the covid crisis hit and we all had to be agile and quickly start learning online ways of facilitating meetings and workshops, I had the opportunity to test Pennebaker’s writing rules both with myself and also with the participants of my workshops. I experienced journaling myself while being a participant in one self-developing program which used this method. I could see how joyful and rewarding it was to be present online but to have a moment to connect with your body and mind through actual writing on paper. Miro, Mural, Google documents are all great and fun, but having a moment of silence, taking your time to write down your perception, having a breath in with your eyes closed is incomparable to any app out there. No app can fix your soul or mind. It has to come from you asking some brave questions to yourself and taking the time to reflect on them. 


If you encounter with our trainings in the future, you will know the science behind many self-awareness and self-compassion journaling exercises we use in our process. It is our intention to build new great habits together with the people we are working with because these will have a long-lasting impact on your life. Of course, writing isn’t fun for everyone. Some of us grow more through empowering conversations or recording themselves talking. It is important though to listen to our body and our instinctive needs for self-regeneration. 


Written by Venesa Musovic, Co-founder of Beyond Empowering, Program Designer, and Facilitator  



David Suzan, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life

Pennebaker, JW. Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval

Tasha Eurich, The right way to be introspective (yes, there’s a wrong way)

Rick Harrington, Donald A. LoffredoInsight, Rumination, and Self-Reflection as Predictors of Well-Being