Disposable Journaling for Positive Self-Therapy

How to reverse a bad day with this quick analog writing practice

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I’m no therapist. The method below works for me. Maybe it will work for you too. Please don’t use this as an alternative for clinical help, should your current state require it.

That being said, welcome to disposable journaling.

I’ve journaled on and off since I was very young. This was a way I dealt with everything from depression to feeling like an outsider. For years I kept book after book of self-loathing and terrible poetry.

As I got older I realized the world wasn’t so bad. I got comfortable in my own skin, and I didn’t want to re-read all those old journals (or anyone else to read all that old garbage), so I threw it all out.

Although it was years ago, the process was cleansing.

Recently, I dealt with some things in my personal life and I remembered how good it felt to unload on an empty page — this unbiased, zero-judgement, perfect ear.

I grabbed an empty legal pad and walked through the incident that was bothering me.

I wrote through every angle of the problem. When I was done I crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it away.

I felt better.

I touched on this process a little bit in a piece I wrote about improving our writing state, but I felt like I didn’t go deep enough. Here’s the writing state story:

In this story we’ll go deeper. I’ll attempt to explain both the simplicity and complexity of disposable journaling, as well as the potential uses.

Why practice disposable journaling?

  • There’s no one waiting for their turn to speak.
  • The entire conversation takes place within you.
  • You can go as deep as you want and there’s no judgement.
  • You can work on a micro-specific issue and take as long as you want to work through the problem. There’s no time-limit with a doctor and there’s no bored friend on the other side of the table — waiting for you to finish speaking.
  • You can attack a problem from as many angles as you wish.
  • This helps you see an issue through the other person’s eyes (as best you can without the person being there).
  • It’s painless.
  • It’s free.

Uses for disposable journaling

  • To break a habit.
  • To prepare for a debate at work.
  • To recover from an argument with a loved one.
  • To help get yourself in a positive state to do your best creative work.
  • To work through minor cases of depression and anxiety.
  • To help solve a complex social problem.
  • To feel better about yourself when you’re down.
  • To find purpose in your work.
  • To find your purpose outside of work.
  • To unlock greater meaning.
  • Any human interaction where we left feeling less than we should.

How it’s done

Disposable journaling is similar to the morning pages, created by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. While morning pages are designed to spark creative juices and bring out the best in our work, disposable journaling is meant to help heal us.

I’ll use a fictitious example to show how I’d attack an issue with disposable journaling:

Sam hated his job, but he felt stuck. He had a terrible morning, where someone cut him off in traffic and made him feel small by yelling at Sam through the open window.

Once Sam reached his office, his boss assigned a demeaning project to him — due in three hours. By lunch, Sam felt lower than he’d been in a year. He ignored requests by a coworker to go out for lunch, preferring to eat alone and self-loathe in his cubicle.

Sam worked himself into a downward spiral as he repeatedly replayed the degrading message from the bad driver. He walked through the door and barely greeted his wife. He snapped at her for hanging her keys on the wrong hook and went to bed without dinner.

The following morning, Sam woke up feeling low and lacking purpose. He was mad at the driver for making him feel bad, and angry at his boss for the demeaning project.

Instead of continuing to blame others, Sam took control of his situation. He removed a legal pad from his desk and started journaling.

At the top of the page he wrote: The Big Problem

  • Sam listed how the other driver made him feel humiliated.
  • Sam listed how the other driver ruined his entire day.

Further down he wrote: Real cause of big problem

  • Sam listed that he dug through his glove box for something unimportant, which caused Sam’s car to slow down twenty miles-per-hour under the speed limit, and aggravated the driver behind him.

Sam wrote: The other driver’s shoes

  • Sam listed how angry the other driver was for such a slow car in front of him — that the driver would miss an important job interview, which was critical for the welfare of the other driver’s family.
  • Sam wrote: ‘I can’t control the other driver’s emotions’ and circled it.

Sam wrote: My boss

  • He listed the demeaning project and why Sam felt it was demeaning. Turns out, the project was part of Sam’s job description, he just didn’t like doing the task. Coupled with the anger from the morning, the project moved Sam to a more-foul mood.
  • Sam listed the parts of his job he enjoyed. The joy his coworkers brought to his life, and ten things he could do to earn side income, which may lead to new work for Sam some day.

Sam wrote: Friends

  • He listed how he shunned his friends for trying to cheer him up.
  • He listed that he didn’t feel better after he sent them away.

Sam wrote: Wife

  • He listed how cold he treated his wife and how she was an innocent bystander in the mood swing.
  • He listed how he could’ve harmed his marriage if he wasn’t careful with the way he treated others.
  • He listed his behavior from his wife’s perspective, trying to attack the feelings from every angle.

Sam gave himself some action steps and positive self-reflection. When he was done with his page, he re-read it, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it in the trash.

Sam went to work with renewed energy and a better respect for his coworkers. He never dug in the glove box while driving again.

You don’t have to follow the same process. Maybe you want to use a mind map instead. I like to try an attack the problem from different angle, because we all play a part in our interactions.

What may seem like a problem that is totally someone else’s fault, could be something you caused, in disguise.

Where to go from here

Self-reflection can be tough. If we’re honest with ourselves this process of disposable journaling will make ourselves feel better.

Coupling this self-reflection with a quick pause can help your anxiety as well. Here’s a story I wrote about a fast breathing technique, to give yourself a re-set:

When done correctly, we use a stoic lens through which to view the negative experience. Try not to blame or shame while doing this journaling exercise. We want to get better and move on.

We try to attack it from all sides, dissect it, and find some takeaway so we won’t have to repeat the same experience twice.

Here’s a post I wrote about stoicism:

Be kind to yourself during this process.

Think of yourself as a detective for your own experience. This isn’t a time of judgement, ‘why was I so stupid?’ kind of thing. Disposable journaling is meant to help us get better.

I don’t know if this will help you, but it’s sure helped me. I’ve got all kinds of things to write about and throw away — maybe you do to.

We need your work. We need you to be the best version of you possible.

We’re waiting.

August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.

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