A quick Google search will reveal the phenomenon that is meditation in the mainstream conversation on health and well-being in 2017:
“A 5-Minute Breathing Meditation to Cultivate Mindfulness”
“10 Reasons You Should Meditate Every Day”
“19 Science-Backed Reasons to Meditate”
“20-Minute Mindfulness Meditation For Being Present”
It would seem that in our desperate quest for mindfulness and happiness, meditation has transitioned from the spiritual realm to the everyday practical.
Millions of people have embraced this practice once reserved for monks and yogis, and there is no denying the benefits. Meditating guides you to self-regulate your thoughts and clear your mind — helping you achieve peace, serenity, and reducing stress.
The practice of meditating — seeking silence and a clear mind while being attentive to your body — may be rejuvenating for some. But it’s actually pretty torturous for a Type A extrovert like myself. Being around other people is how I unwind and recharge! I’m an external processor so I work through stresses by talking about them, a.k.a. the opposite of meditating.
Embracing silence is a challenge. Trying to clear my mind stresses me out.
In my own effort to “be more mindful,” I have tried at length to practice meditation. From guided exercises to sitting silently in a sacred place to trying to clear my mind by walking in nature — each has been an interesting experience, but none has helped me feel ready to be more present.
Luckily, another trendy practice popped up in my Google searches for practicing mindfulness: journaling.
I recently started a new job in a very different work environment than I was used to, so I was turned onto the idea of writing down my thoughts by an article on the benefits of keeping a ‘work journal.’ I decided to give it a try.
Every evening after dinner I started writing and reflecting on what I accomplished that day and what challenges I encountered. I usually wrote about a paragraph and then ended each entry by highlighting one ‘win’ of the day and one goal I had for tomorrow.
After a few days, I wasn’t only writing about work-related things in my journal. After all, no single part of ourselves is completely independent of the others. My marriage, my faith, my friends, and my work — all affect my ability to focus on living purposefully and mindfully.
What I love about this exercise is that instead of trying to clear my mind, I could engage with the thoughts that stood out to me throughout the day. As an external processor, it really helps to get my thoughts out in the open — whether by talking through them with someone else or by writing them down. Writing in the journal, I speak to myself in a more compassionate, thoughtful, and encouraging way than if I had been stuck in my head.
If I made a mistake that day, I called myself out for it.
If I went above and beyond, I recognized it.
I always nudged myself to do better the next day.
Instead of dwelling on the past, I learned from it and moved on. Celebrating my accomplishments, big and small, gave me the confidence boost I needed to tackle bigger challenges. Achieving my goals became more realistic, because I walked into the office with a greater sense of purpose.
Processing these thoughts in my journal helped me achieve the mindfulness that I think many meditators are after: becoming more aware of my thoughts and feelings — as well as my physical reactions to the world around me.
Daily journaling has been especially helpful as an extroverted newlywed living with an introverted husband. When my husband isn’t home or isn’t available to talk all evening long, I’m not stuck in a rut, unable to process my day — thanks to writing about it my journal.
It also helps me get through the tough parts of my day when they come up. I have made a promise to myself to check in with how I’m doing at the end of every day — and that’s just enough to hold onto when the going gets tough. In the moment, I can take a deep breath and commit to doing the best I can. Later in the evening, I’ll put more thought into what I could have done better and what I will do to be my best self the following day.
Having spoken with people who are good at meditating, I have come to realize that the clear-headedness they achieve through silent reflection is the same mental clarity I experience after journaling. Processing my thoughts on paper increases my capacity to “be present” — and makes me a better person.
So if you struggle with meditation, you’re not alone. You might just be an external processor like me! While there is much value in finding peaceful, quiet moments in your day, don’t be afraid to take up journaling as an alternative mindfulness practice. You might just find yourself living a healthier, more purposeful life as a result.