Mindful or Mindless? Both have a place in your journal

Will keeping a journal make you more mindful?

Simply put – yes! Keeping a journal will help you to be more mindful.

But only if you’re mindful about keeping your journal.

Say what????

Have you ever had the experience of reading, getting to the end of a sentence, paragraph, or page, and not recalling any of what you just read?

What was happening instead? It could have been an argument we had with a spouse. Fantasizing about winning the lottery. Or just blanking out because what we were reading wasn’t super interesting.

We know it’s possible to read something and not pay attention to it. The same can happen with writing. Once we nail down the mechanics of actually moving our pen across the page, it’s also possible to write without attention.

There are benefits to this. When we put our pen down and just keep it moving, we open ourselves up to the possibility of releasing an idea or message that we need to hear. Especially when we go back and read what we’ve expelled onto the page.

What can happen when we toss in a handful of mindfulness?

Before we jump into that answer, what exactly do I mean here by “mindfulness?” At a basic level it simply means that one is conscious or aware of something. It can refer to life circumstances, awareness of surroundings, or recollection of a history.

Digging a little deeper, the phrase mindfulness is being used more and more to describe a mental state of focusing on the present moment. A mindful individual is aware of her own self and calmly accepts bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. This use of mindfulness can be taught and used as a therapeutic technique.

So, what can happen when mindfulness and journaling collide?

In a perfect world, these two tools meet at the bookstore and there’s instant attraction. They were made for each other and wedding bells chime.

Mindfulness while we write can happen at two levels. The first is awareness of the process of journaling. By this I mean I’m sitting, I’m writing and I’m paying attention to the mechanics of it. I feel the pen on my hand, I notice a tenseness in my body and shift my weight so it becomes more comfortable, and I’m cranking right along.

The second level is noticing the words coming out on the page too. They are selected carefully and with intention, maybe even with purpose. I’m writing about an incident at work. How I feel about my upcoming doctor appointment. Celebrating a small victory in my business.

This double-dipping mindfulness is highly useful! It’s a great technique for using writing to solve problems and come up with solutions to the curve balls life throws our way. It’s also the perfect technique when we’re writing for the purpose of record keeping. In either scenario, we’re paying close attention to the details. Or we’re being mindful writers.

But…what if mindfulness and journaling met in a coffee shop, went on a couple of dates, and mindfulness discovered journaling’s habit of leaving her shoes in the middle of the floor and clumps of toothpaste in the sink?

Does this mean they don’t belong together?


They just might need a little compromise. Or even couples counseling. Because it might be possible that our journal writing routine doesn’t need us to be more mindful at all. It all depends on the purpose of your writing.

If you’re writing to process emotions, for release, or even a distraction from your regular work, then stick with the moving of the pen across the paper. Set a timer, start your hand in motion, and let it go where it wants to. You could end up with swirly doodles or you could end up with the next bestseller in the arena of self-improvement.

In other words, don’t try to be mind”ful.” In fact, try to be mind”less .” Let your thoughts, and your pen, just wander where they need to wander.

This strategy works wonders any time you’re stuck, feeling like you need some direction, or even falling asleep in the middle of a task you’re not super excited about doing.

After you complete a mindless writing session, take a deep breath, shake your arms a few seconds, and slowly and deliberately read over what you’ve just written. Look for the clues in the text about your next steps. The red flags that let you know its time to exercise caution, or the green flags urging you ahead.

In other words, take your mindless writing and turn it into a mindful reflection. How can your mindless writing help you move forward?

Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.

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