Self-Dialogue as a Journaling Strategy

04 May 2021 last edit: 8 June 2022

I'm not entirely sure how to convey just how much journaling has helped me. More than therapy, more than drugs, I'm talking real growth.

I'm someone who has kept multiple journals throughout my life but never really felt they were super helpful - or they would be helpful at first, and the effect would wear off as time went on.

Some problems I ran into while trying to journal:

  • Some days were 'uneventful' and I felt I had nothing to write about. Sometimes I'd have a string of uneventful days, and realize I had forgotten to write, and then felt guilty.
  • The 'eventful' days made me feel like I didn't have the energy or will to sit down and journal about it.
  • I felt like I had no idea what I wanted to write about, so I just wrote down a bunch of things aimlessly and, while it felt somewhat nice to do, it felt kind of useless.

I stumbled upon a really great journaling method by aggressively journaling every single day in completely different ways until I found something that provided me with relief and answers. I didn't stop until I found a method that felt that it was actually helping me, like therapeutically, in a real way.

For this to be truly effective, it's important for me to approach journaling by acknowledging that I am the only one in the universe who truly knows - or can know myself fully, because I am the one who is stuck being me all of the time. Therefore, on some level, I am the only one who holds the answer for the majority of my inner-questions and dilemmas. (e.g., only you know what you want, even if you haven't uncovered it yet).

When journalling:

  • I must be completely honest and make no attempt to hide from thoughts or feelings that arise. This can only be done (for me, personally) when I'm sure that no one's eyes will ever see it. Only then do I allow myself to be completely open.
  • I must acknowledge my internal dialogue - more than one voice with differing perspectives that both reside inside of me. This means making my entry more of a dialogue, one that explores many avenues and looks at things from all sides.

I try to keep these things in mind at all times.

The Internal Dialogue

I want to expand a little on what "internal dialogue" means and how it differs from monologue. A monologue is when you're talking at something, like a crowd of people, or an empty wall. A dialogue is when there is an exchange of ideas and opinions.

Humans are fluid creatures with complex pasts and often hold contradictory opinions and beliefs without realizing it. In fact, we do a lot of things without realizing it, mainly when we're stuck on auto-pilot and not thinking too much about anything at all.

Writing about these types of things is committing to unpack them, to chisel away the outer levels to get to the core.

At first, I found it strange and unnatural to try and have a dialogue with myself. Instead, everything came out like a monologue. I think what helped me in the beginning was writing my journals like a script of dialogue with questions and answers - both provided by me and approached with honesty and genuinely being open to figuring it out. Once I started asking questions and committed to answering them fully and honestly, and exploring those answers in depths, I started to feel this bring me actual relief.

It might be different for others, but for me I mainly feel the dialogue emerge from two different parts of myself. One part is less developed/more instinctual and emotional and the other more responsible, empathetic, and mature. The dialogue is mainly between these two figures, although I always seem to identify most with the former.

I don't write them out as a script anymore, and found a way to work with both voices in a more journal-like format. Sometimes, I really get into it and words just pour out of me. I end up revealing things I don't expect and coming to conclusions that actually satisfy me. It almost feels like automatic writing, but instead of channeling a spirit you're channeling your thoughts.

In theory I guess this could work as a thought exercise too, but I am terrible at "hanging on" to my thoughts in any meaningful way. For me to properly engage with an idea, I need to write it out.

Because this activity is intentional, it means I don't need to journal every day just for the sake of journaling. There are no daily achievements or sense of responsibility to write aimlessly. Instead I reserve journaling for when I need to figure out why I'm feeling a certain way, or how to solve a problem.

That means sometimes I start writing and know exactly what to write about, and sometimes I don't. The point of this exercise is to write it out, figure it out through investigation of your own answers and thoughts.

Summary:

  • Be completely open and honest with yourself.
  • Engage in a dialogue with yourself - ask questions and answer them as fully as you can.
  • Interview yourself about your thoughts and emotions. Especially important is "why"?
  • Refute your own ideas, if you need to - explain to yourself why you're wrong
  • When you figure out an issue to focus on, focus your writing on getting to the core of that issue
  • Talk to and treat yourself during these exercises as you'd talk to or treat a close friend.