Presence Journal (Free Downloadable Guide)
If physical exertion and struggle is one way to release excess energy and feel right with the world, writing would be the mental equivalent. In the same way that our body requires exercise, nutrition and maintenance, so does our mind.
We strongly believe that for us to enjoy the full benefits of a long and happy life, we must care for our bodies and minds, and use them to create healthy relationships and connections with the communities of people around us. These are the three pillars of true well-being.
The process of journaling is quite difficult in the beginning, and we may find ourselves frustrated, staring at a blank page, or embarrassed by what we write.
It should bring us peace to know that some of the greatest people of all time took to journalling and likely experienced the same feelings as we do. JFK, Leonardo Di Vinci, Serena Williams Winston Churchill, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Oprah Winfrey and, potentially the most famous journal of all, Anne Frank. Each wrote in a journal for their own unique reasons, but each has gone on to influence the world we live in today.
So, we’ve put together a free journalling guide which is exactly what we use in our own process of journalling. In truth, the guide was created for ourselves in order to make the process of journalling feel less chaotic and random. We have perfected the guide and published it, so that we can share it with you.
This is a free downloadable PDF and printable guide, which can be used to guide daily journaling.
It is really, really important to us that this document is genuinely helpful, so please direct any feedback or comments to us by getting in touch.
While we could rely on anecdotal evidence to suggest that journalling before bed dramatically improves sleep, there are several studies looking at this very topic, and prove it in science.
A study – this one [source] – looked at those who completed a quick 10-minute writing exercise before bed. It found that a task, as simple as writing a to-do list, allowed the participants to fall asleep (on average) 10 minutes faster, than those who didn’t complete the task.
The findings suggest that the possible reason for this improvement could be down to the fact that the subjects mind was less chaotic when trying to sleep.
It found that those people with busy lives (with more stress) tended to struggle to sleep more on average, and the likely cause being the brain cycling through information in an attempt to organise the day done, and the coming tasks ahead.
It is a very relatable feeling to be tossing and turning, with random stressful thoughts popping into our minds at the worst moments.
The simple process of writing down appears to start a cognitive organisational process which offloads some of the stress and anxiety. The study identified an overall reduction of rumination and cognitive arousal.
A more relaxed mind ultimately leads to decreased sleep-latency and lower levels of general anxiety at night. Therefore, better recovery and healthier sleep pattern.
While your day doesn’t need to be stressful, the simple act of writing a to do list, or writing about your day, allows our minds to process all of the information it has absorbed, and process it in a healthy way.
The result being a less anxious and disturbed mind, and a sounder more restful sleep.
The practice of keeping a journal is a key part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is the treatment for numerous mental health conditions – including anxiety and depression (believe it or not, stoic philosophy played a fundamental role in it’s development).
Anxiety is a general feeling of unease, created as a neurological response to possible danger. It is a feeling which has ensured our survival as a species; it sends signals from our brain to our body to be on alert and ready to act for self preservation.
It is quite normal, and helpful, to feel anxious before a big event or challenge.
However, in todays world, we are beset by challenges on an almost constant basis; we have created a world where we are subject to the perpetual feeling that we are being threatened and in danger, which creates the feeling of chronic unease, often without an initial stimulus.
At the very worst, general anxiety can remove our agency; whether it cripples us with fear in a social situation, or fear irrational perceived dangers, chronic anxiety has extreme consequences for our mental well-being and physical health. Not to mention our performance in sports.
Writing and journalling about the moments of your day is proven to reduce general anxiety, lift depression and give us purpose [source]. It is itself a form of active meditation and mindfulness (bringing our minds to the present moment).
The simple act of documenting the moment, of how you are feeling and analysing it fro a distance, is a process of externalisation.It is often very easy to identify problems with other peoples lives, but almost impossible to see into our own lives.
To document the moment provides an objective standpoint to look from.
We can use the process to clarify our thoughts and identify any reoccurring issues or behaviours which may not be helpful to our general mental well-being.
Writing organises our thoughts, prioritises problems, rationalises fears and dumps our anything unworthy of our attention.
When a problem is written down, we are able to strategise with a clear and unfiltered perception, and work to overcome it with a healthy and productive mindset. From personal experience, the feeling of self-confidence after overcoming something which would previously have triggered crippling fear and anxiety, is a reward enough on it’s own.
Our journal can clear our minds of unwanted thoughts and help us understand ourselves more. Once we do that, we can move forward with confidence.
The mind works in fascinating ways, and our ability to learn and pass on learning has set our species apart.
To be able to identify knowledge and use it to advance ourselves, and others around us, is the reason we have hospitals, medicine, cars, planes and the reason you’re reading this right now. Humans have learned, remembered the lesson, and used it to advice humanity.
It is no coincidence that the most impactful humans of all time, were avid journal keepers (Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Dr David Livingston to mention a few).
It is a fact that writing in a journal can improve our working memory [source], and help cement knowledge in our minds for longer. The act of writing helps our brains process the information and latch it to greater understanding, therefore, improving our memory and memory recall.
While writing is a simple act, your brain is doing something very complicated – it is thinking. If we have a problem, or moment of conflict, or a subject we do not fully understand, the process of writing it down allows our brain to view the information with increased clarity, allows us to pick apart ideas and play with concepts more easily.
When writing, we can lay the facts our infront of us and deconstruct complicated problems and solutions without emotion to cloud our view.
This process of fortifying competence has helped world leaders, business leaders and great thinkings make some of the most important decisions in history. Not only will you solve the problem, but that knowledge and solution will stay with us forever and ready to be recalled when we need it most.
There is some evidence to suggest that mediative writing for prolonged periods could improve physical healing [source]. While the mechanism behind this finding isn’t fully understood, it is suggested that the lowering of overall stress and cortisol management plays a role in wound healing and recovery.
This is particularly important for professional atheltes, where recovery is the most important aspect of their training. Many spend much of their time trying to recovery – and mediative writing seems to be a great way to calm the mind and sooth the body.
Traumatic events, whether they may be physical or perceived (the death of a loved one or close call, for example), can injure the mind, very much like the body can be injured. Cognitive trauma can wreck havoc on our lives by rewiring the brain and can lead to debilitating cognitive illness [source].
Studies have shown that journalling can dramatically increase well-being after a stressful and traumatic events [source] and start, accelerate and even complete the process of healing.
Our mind is wired to always look beyond our current moment.
Another biological mechanism which enabled our hunter-gatherer ancestors to hunt for the next meal, to find a safer place to live, or secure a higher rung on the social ladder within the tribe. Without it, we would have joined the Dodo.
Today, it manifests itself in our ability to look up and dream – for the next opportunity, the next pay bracket, the next new car or the join most current trend. To be liked, and popular, and successful and relevant.
Our ability to constantly look forward is equally as amazing and it is destructive. While it can offer the motivation to improve our lives, and the lives of our families and friends, it can also blind us to what we have already achieved and how great life is, at the very current moment that we are living. Often, this leads to feelings of worthlessness, being a failure and losing sight of the point of our existence.
Our mind is similarly wired to scan a narrow field of view to assess danger, and obesely focus on any potential harm we could face. An extremely helpful element of evolution, but not helpful in a world of our own creation.
Our propensity to focus on the negative, drives our mind to obsess about scary stories on the news, to attack each other in comments and view everything in the tribal lense of Us and Them.
Our obsession with the negative makes us more fearful, increases levels of general anxiety and blinds us to the fact that we are actually not in any immediate danger.
It is common in journaling to practice gratitude – which is proven to dramatically improve our well-being [source], and to rewire our brain to look at what good we have in our lives and, at least for a moment, forget about what we could have or what could be.
There are countless stories of people allowing their ambition to run wild and their need for more, consume their lives and make them miserable, unhealthy and unproductive.
There are even more examples examples of people loosing their perspective and overreacting on social media – driving them into a pit of anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
The simple practice of gratitude provably makes us happier, more fulfilled and content. It makes us less envious of others, less likely to act with violence out of ego and more likely to draw our attention to the positives we can get from any given situation (The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday’s book is fantastic for this mindset).
This practice of gratitude increases levels of compassion and gratitude which lead towards much happier communities of people. Life is simply more enjoyable when we are content with ourselves, and what we have.