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A Journaling Tool for Uncertain Times

I’m feeling extremely ADD lately. One minute, I’m working on a patient newsletter for work; the next minute I’m googling the word “popular sovereignty” for my kid; five minutes later, I’m making a list of canned vegetables that we should probably have stored in our basement. Just in case.

Life is upside down. What’s normal isn’t normal, and all the things I normally rely on for a sense of security, connection, and balance don’t look the way they should anymore.

In this time of insecurity and unknowing, I find myself leaning more heavily on the constants in my life—the (distant) presence of my friends, the support of my husband, and the creative practice that has carried me through other painful and uncertain times.

Journaling has always been, and continues to be, a touchstone in my life—a morning practice that centers my spirit and connects me with a sense of purpose in my day. Especially now, when each day already seems to blur into the next, a sense of purpose feels all the more important.

Earlier this week, I committed to sharing weekly journaling prompts for people who find themselves wanting to either start or expand on an existing journaling practice. What I’m going to offer today isn’t a prompt, so much as a tool. Derived from the 12-step concept of taking inventory, this journaling tool can help you structure reflective writing time and answer the question I often hear from people who want to start a journaling practice: “But what do I write about?”

Here’s how it works:

You’re taking an inventory. And not of the canned goods and paper products in your basement. This is not a grocery list or a to-do list. This inventory is a way of thoughtfully organizing your thoughts and allowing yourself to feel heard. Your entry might look like a list, but feel free to expand on any item that needs your attention because giving your thoughts and feelings attention is basically the whole point of this exercise.

The three sections of your inventory are Concerns, Positive Actions, and Gratitude.

Especially right now, “concerns” might also be fears. Most of us are living in some level of fear right now, even it’s just on the back burner set to a low simmer. Fear is normal, and it can often indicate something that needs attention in our lives, even if that only means an opportunity to put it on the page so that it stops rattling cages in your mind.

The next section, “positive actions,” is the place where you get to acknowledge the things you’ve done in the last day that you feel proud of. Writing this journal entry can be one of those things. Other ideas include managing to work from home for a few hours while also keeping the fish sticks coming for the hangry kids in your house; taking a walk outside in the sunshine; or even showering (which hopefully you’re doing at least a couple of times a week).

This section is an opportunity to give yourself credit for the things you’re doing to keep yourself sane right now, and it’s also an opportunity to notice the spaces in your life where you’d like to put more focus. If your entire list of positive actions are items checked off of a to-do list, or a list of the ways you took care of other people, maybe there are places where you could show up for yourself a little more. Sometimes, my list of positive actions includes taking a nap, which is barely an action at all. But it’s a way that I’ve prioritized self-care, and tuning into what I need is basically the whole point of journaling.

Lastly, your gratitude list. I encourage you to aim for at least ten things. On a rough day, coffee tops my gratitude list. But there’s always something I can be grateful for. And I can always circle back to the other sections of my inventory. If one of my “concerns,” is how the hell I’m going to balance working from home with supporting my kid while she carves Ancient Rome out of sculpey, an item on my gratitude list might be the fact that I have the ability to work from home and a stable job that likely isn’t going anywhere. Because there are thousands of people right now that can’t say the same.

Often, and this part is optional, I end this inventory with a prayer, either whispered out loud or written down. Because every single time I do this exercise, I learn something new about myself—some area of my life that’s been needing attention, some fear that I need to turn over. For me, prayer is what sifts the action items from my inventory. Dear God, help me to breathe. Help me to take one day at a time. Help me to stay present to my children. Help me to trust that you’re in this with me—that I’m never alone and I’m always safe.

Inhale. Exhale. Amen.

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