Written by: Lori L. Cangilla, Ph.D.
If you think that your gifted mind and emotions are more intense than other people’s, you are correct. Gifted adults are neurologically wired to experience enhanced emotional complexity. They also report more significant worry and rumination than peers of the same age.
When I work with gifted adults in therapy, one of my goals is to help clients learn to externalize and manage these heightened emotional and cognitive processes. It would be unrealistic to expect anyone to have full control over their minds and hearts, but we strive to reach a point where they feel empowered to live well with their thoughts and feelings.
One of the main approaches I recommend to my gifted clients is journal writing. If you groaned, sighed, or rolled your eyes, you probably are like many of us who have had negative experiences with journaling. Maybe it was assigned for a class and read—or worse, graded—by an instructor. Perhaps you’ve lived through the betrayal of your childhood diary being read by prying eyes. Or you’ve tried journaling and found it to be less than helpful.
I’ll be the first to admit that journal writing is not a miracle cure. Your results may vary. But I have never had a client who truly engaged in the journaling process and had nothing happen.
Journaling is a powerful tool for externalizing our thoughts and feelings. And externalizing is good for us. We may experience emotional relief, if not catharsis, from using our journals to name our feelings and the contexts in which they occur. Journaling can help us gain mental clarity about our options, resources, values, opinions, and needs, all of which help us to make decisions and plan a course of action. It also affords us the necessary distance from our relationships or our problems to shift our perspective and contemplate alternative interpretations. Not bad for something that can be done anywhere and at minimal cost.
How to Journal in a Sustainable, Satisfying Way
I see people struggle with journaling because of negative past experiences that interfere with actually sitting down to write. People bring perfectionism to the process, get hung up on what format to use, or self-censor out of fear of being discovered.
Just start writing.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to journal. Use a bound book, stickie notes, a white board, a phone, computer, or tablet. Do it when you first get up, in the middle of the day, or before bed. Use a guided journal like the one I authored, create a bullet journal, or free write and let yourself “brain dump.” Or use a combination of methods to get what you want out of the journaling process.
The best journaling for you is whatever kind you’ll actually do. Think about what fits practically into your life. It’s best to start small and build on your process, rather than subjecting yourself to a failure by setting goals that are too lofty or don’t work in your lifestyle. I often ask clients who are struggling to get start journaling to “write one meaningful word on more days than not” between our appointments. Often this kind of micro-goal primes the pump, making it easier to write more words and/or write more frequently.
You can always refine your process. In fact, I think it’s important to continue to adapt how you journal as your life evolves. If writing a word a day isn’t cutting it, let yourself trust that you can figure out how to improve the process for yourself.
Wrestle with the ways that perfectionism and anxiety show up in your journaling process. If you miss a day, week, or even years of journaling, start over. When you question if you are doing it right, acknowledge your uncertainty and do whatever seems best at that moment. If you don’t know if journaling is making a difference, keep going until you either see a change or come up with a new approach to journal writing. Imperfect journaling is good enough to give you the benefits of the process.
I do not have a perfect journaling process. I don’t journal every day. When I do, it’s not always long and it’s rarely pretty. I love a beautiful bound journal and my favorite pen, but I’m more likely to journal on my laptop, phone, or a stickie note because that’s what is handy. I’d love to say that I always carve out dedicated times to journal, but sometimes I squeeze it in while waiting for a bus, sitting at my child’s activity, or in between meetings. But I always come back to journaling, and that’s what I want for you, too.
Give yourself the gift of developing your own journaling practice. I’d love to hear how it impacts your life!
Lori L. Cangilla, Ph.D., is licensed psychologist and gifted adult who specializes in working with adults who are gifted, creative, and highly sensitive. She created the Singularly Sensitive approach to empower clients to embrace their full identity and find creative, holistic, mindful ways to build lives of meaning, purpose, and contentment. Her book, Wander and Delve: A Journal for Bright, Creative, Highly Sensitive People Forging Their Way (2023), is available to help you build your own Singularly Sensitive life. You can join Dr. Cangilla’s mailing list on SingularlySensitive.com or follow her on Instagram (@singularlysensitive).