047: Journaling – The Most Effective Tool in Your Personal Development Toolbox with Amanda Stern

Amanda Stern

In this week’s episode, I talk with journaling coach Amanda Stern.

Amanda helps ambitious professionals to journal their way to self-discovery, success on their own terms, and a life they don’t want a vacation from. She works with clients 1:1 and in groups to help them understand how to use journaling as a mechanism for growth, change, and transformation. She shares journaling inspiration and resources, as well as lots of journal prompts in her weekly newsletter and in her daily posts on LinkedIn.

💝 Key Takeaways

  • Discover how journaling can be the simplest, most effective and versatile tool we have in our personal growth and professional development toolbox.
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to journaling, and each of us get to find what feels good to us.
  • While journaling might not be intuitive to everyone, everyone CAN learn to journal – and journal in ways that will yield the results you’re looking for.
  • Amanda shares many journalling prompts for anyone who needs some help getting started with their journalling practise.

🔗 Where You Can Find Amanda

🌹 Rose’s Resources

📖 (Imperfect) Transcript

We use Descript to provide this transcript which isn’t always perfect but wonderful all the same. (affiliate link 😃)

Rose:Hey, it’s Rose and welcome to another episode of the Sensitive CEO Show. And in this week’s episode, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Amanda Stern. Amanda is a journaling coach, helping ambitious professionals journal their way to self-discovery success on their own terms and a life they don’t want a vacation from.

Welcome, Amanda. I’m thrilled to dive into the topic of journaling with you today. 

Amanda:Yeah, thanks for having me, Rose. I am so happy to be here and so happy to share with your audience today.

Rose:Thank you. And I would love for you to share a little bit about your background and what led you to journaling, like coaching people in journaling. I’m so curious.

Amanda:Yeah, so I always say that I found journaling when I was an angsty teenager. I remember having an especially hard day. None of my friends could come to the phone, and I picked up a notebook and a pencil and started to write, and I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember that I wrote for a really long time.

And when I was done writing, I felt better. And I felt lighter and I thought, Ooh, there’s something here. That was really the first time I had connected writing with how I felt. And so the next night I picked up my pen again and again the next night, and before I knew it, I had this really robust journaling practice.

And I journaled pretty religiously for 7, 8, 9 years. And then I got married and then I had some kids and I found that I was not journaling as often, and I will tell you that is my one regret in my life because not only did I miss recording the cute and funny things that my kids did, I missed out on a whole lot of years of getting to know myself and who I was and what I wanted.

But I really came back to journaling with fidelity about nine, 10 years ago. On the day my husband came home and told me he had decided he’d be happier not being married to me. All of a sudden I was faced with this choice of what I’m. You know, how am I going to handle this? What am I going to do? So I reached for my journal and I forced myself that first night to write what I was grateful for.

And I will tell you it was very hard because I did not feel grateful for very much in that moment. But I came up with eight things and I thought if I could be grateful for eight things on this hardest day of my life, I’m really going to be okay. And that for me was the start of really discovering what my journaling can do for me.

That my journaling helped me rediscover myself. It helped me thrive through this divorce that I didn’t want and didn’t see coming, and really helped me to write my way into the future I wanted and to the person I wanted to be. 

Rose:Wow. What an amazing story. And it sounds like it really, it really got you out of a deep hole when you both needed it.

Amanda:It absolutely did. And what’s funny about all of this is even though journaling had been such a mainstay in my life, I didn’t really talk about it cuz I didn’t know how to bring it up in conversation. And so all of this journaling coaching work came about accidentally on purpose. I say, I started showing up on LinkedIn.

I needed something to write about cause I was learning from so many people and I just wanted something that I could put back into the world really as a thank you and some reciprocity for all I was learning. And I thought, well, I don’t know what to write about. I could probably talk about journaling for three or four days, though, maybe a week if I stretch it, and that’ll buy me some time to figure out what I really wanna talk about.

That’s all this was supposed to be, but really, it landed so beautifully and resonated with so many people. And I discovered early on that this practice that is so intuitive for me, isn’t intuitive for everybody, but everybody can learn to journal and everyone can learn to journal in a way that feels really good to them.

So that’s really my mission these days is to help people see how useful and wonderful journaling can be, not just in general, but in their lives in particular. 

Rose:That leads so nicely to my first question. I wanted to ask for someone who may be new to journaling or hesitant to start, what advice would you give them to help them get started and to establish a consistent journaling practice?

Amanda:Yeah. I always start with the why, like why do you want to journal? What do you want journaling to do for you? Because journaling can do so many things. I mean, we don’t have to look very far to see the benefits of journaling or read about them, they’re scientifically proven, but not every way of journaling is going to bring us every single benefit.

There are so many beautiful ways to journal and every way brings a benefit. So we really have to think about what we want our outcome to be so that we can choose the techniques that are going to help us get there. Because I work with lots of people who come to me very frustrated about journaling, who say things like, I just, I don’t get it.

I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work for me. And worse, the really, the worst thing I hear is, oh, there must be something wrong with me because I can’t figure it out. And really, in more cases than not, it’s just a misalignment between what they’re looking to achieve, what they’re journaling and how they’re going about it.

So that’s really the first thing I tell people. The second thing I tell people is to look at your life and see what you’re already doing, because most people do something that if it’s not journaling, it’s journaling adjacent. So anybody who plans, anybody who keeps a workout log, anybody who keeps track of any kind of data, That’s if, if it is not full fledged journaling is really, really close and there are are some really easy things we can do to move just record keeping and data, into journaling or your morning planning into journaling. It’s a really small bridge we need to build. 

Rose:And do you, I know you mentioned, after your divorce, well, when your husband came home that day that the first things you wrote were gratitude, is that the mainstay of the journaling that you practise and that you teach your clients?

Amanda:I believe that everybody should have a gratitude practice of sorts. I do a lot of gratitude journaling, but it is not the only kind of journaling I do. I teach a lot of building blocks, is the way I see it. Or like Legos, right? You have your different blocks that you build with and. Really the basics for me are like stream of consciousness writing, just taking your pen and putting on paper, whatever comes to mind.

That’s like building block one, building block two. I love to use their journal prompts. And these are really great for people who are intimidated by the thought of starting with a blank page or really great if you are not sure exactly where to go or. If you’re not sure what you have to say, giving yourself a starting point.

And it doesn’t have to be something complicated. It can be something as simple as, how do I feel right now? Or, what am I looking forward to today? Or what, what do I need in this moment? Right? So giving yourself a place to start gives yourself a really nice container. To keep your thoughts and then gratitude, I think of really as the third building block, because there is nothing that makes life better than having a gratitude practice, right?

We know that. Gratitude makes the good times even better, and gratitude lifts us up when we’re feeling low, like it just is the secret magical ingredient. So some days I just do gratitude journaling. Someday I mix it in with other forms of journaling. I love getting to have a practice that has lots of different techniques in it so I can mix and match depending on what I need every day.

Rose:And do you have a certain amount of time that you journal for? Do you say five minutes or 30 minutes or just whatever happens that day?

Amanda:Yeah. I journal in the morning and I find my journaling usually takes about 20 minutes or so. I have just a good chunk of time in the morning that I fit journaling in with some other activities.

And so it really depends. I never give myself a quota. I write until I feel like I’m done. So some days I sit and I can write 3, 4, 6 pages and I have a lot of words and it comes easily. And other days I sit and I think, and maybe I write three or four sentences. And there might not be well-written sentences or coherent sentences, but really just the act of showing up for myself every day is what’s important.

Giving myself the opportunity to have that space, to think, to assess, to meet myself where I’m at every day, just has been so valuable for me. And by showing up at the same time every day, I really believe the answer’s nowhere to find me when they feel like I’m ready to hear them. 

Rose:Do you think, Amanda, that journaling is particularly effective for highly sensitive people?

I know that you’re also an H S P, which is why you’re on the show. 

Amanda:Yeah. I think that journaling is for everybody in some way, shape, or form, but not every way of journaling is good for everybody. I find that people who are very, anxious. Quick to go to the shame place or the sad place or the negative place.

People who when they sit and write, will kind of ruminate and do like the negative spiral, right? Those are people who do very well, generally with journal prompts. And anyone who’s ever journaled with me knows that I tend to use journal prompts with a positive spin on them because, I don’t believe any of us need any help being negative.

We do that very well on our own, but using positive journal prompts to help kind of lift us into that place is really helpful. Journaling has been really great, for me in particular to help me connect with what I’m feeling and to be able to process what I’m feeling because I find sometimes feelings are a lot, and sometimes feelings look very close to other feelings and emotions. And being able to sit and journal helps me be able to more clearly identify how I’m feeling, and once I can clearly identify how I’m feeling, that makes it easier for me to identify what I need and to ask for the help that I need.

Rose:I love that. And do you also recommend to review, to have like a regular review of what you’ve written each week or each month or anything like that?

Amanda:I will say it absolutely depends on what you’re looking to achieve. People ask me all the time, well, how often do you go back and read? And the answer is, as often as I feel like I need to.

I tend to go back if I’m looking for something specific that I wrote. I tend to go back to review goals and my progress that I made. On my goals, I have a weekly practice of checking in on my progress. And so when I sit to do that, I’ll usually look back to the week before, sometimes a couple of weeks before, just so I can really measure how far I’ve come, over a period of time.

But I don’t necessarily reread my journals just for fun. You know, people ask me this all the time. They’re like, well, what if. You know what? What if I just read back through it and I’m just so embarrassed about what I wrote and I’m like, cool. You don’t have to read it. And furthermore, you don’t have to keep it.

I mean, I keep all of my journals because I want them, but at some point, once they’ve outlived their usefulness to me, they can go. I know people who keep a very good journaling practice, and when their book is done, they throw it in the fire pit because it served the purpose for them.

So it really is. What do you want your practice to be? And I think that’s the most exciting part about journaling is that there is no one size fits all, but that each of us who wants a journaling practice can find a way that feels really good to us, that’s aligned with our goals, that helps us really achieve the outcomes we’re looking for.

We just sometimes have to be a little creative about how we get there. 

Rose:Do you ever come across people that really struggle with. Doing it consistently. And if you do, what advice do you give them?

Amanda:Yeah. I am shocked over and over, Rose at the amount of perfectionism, the level of perfectionism I hear with people and their journaling people come to me really frustrated all the time because I just, I can’t do it. Like, I’m really excited. I know it would be helpful, and I journal for a day or two, maybe a whole week, and then I forget. Right. And then they feel really guilty about it, which is interesting. And I felt this, you know, myself, once upon a time when I was a really sporadic journaler, I found that I come to, I would come to my journaling and start with a phrase like, it’s been six weeks and four days since the last time I journaled.

Like its confession. Like my journal has feelings, like it cares, right? And when I approached it that way, it really set me up. Really to start from a place of shame of I’m, I don’t feel good about this, and that made me not want to journal. And so what I tell people is, if you miss a day or two, or six or six weeks or six years, just jump right back in.

You don’t need to apologise. You don’t need to fill in all the blanks. You can just start exactly where you are right now, and if there’s information you wanna fill in later, cool. You can do it, but you don’t have to. Our journals don’t have to be told in chronological order. We don’t necessarily have to journal every day.

If that doesn’t work for you, I journal every day because I need to. That’s what I need so I can show up every day as my best me. But I know a lot of people who get a lot of mileage from journaling five days a week. Or three days a week, or every Sunday afternoon, right? So we each get to find what works best for us.

And I think that is really the coolest thing, that there’s no one right way to do it. That what works for you might not work for me, and what works for me might not work for you. And that’s okay as long as we’re both getting what we need from our practice. 

Rose:I love that when you said that, it reminded me, I, which I’d totally forgotten, but I used to write in my journal really sporadically.

I’m very, very consistent. Now, I can’t remember the last day that I missed, but I do remember, I would come to my journal sometimes after six weeks and, and I would. Same. I’d kind of apologise to my journal and I’d feel shame and guilt and, and then I’d write, and then I probably wouldn’t write for another four weeks or something.

And so that’s so funny that you brought that up, because that brings back memories from probably 10, 20 years ago of when I used to try to cultivate a consistent practice. So very interesting. 

Amanda:Yeah, and I hear this from so many people, and I also hear things like, oh, I can’t journal because my handwriting is terrible, or I’m a terrible speller.

Right? So it’s interesting to see the barriers that we put in our own way. So I love to tell people that our journals don’t judge. They’re not sitting there waiting to judge you for how often you write or the quality of what you’re writing. It’s not judging your ideas, your words, your sentence structure, your grammar, your spelling, your handwriting.

It’s not judging how straight your margins are or how you dot your i’s with big loopy hearts, right? Or whatever that thing that you do that you’re self-conscious about it. You know, if your handwriting is awful and that’s going to keep you from journaling, type it. Use an app, find some way to do it. dictate it, talk.

Leave yourself voice notes, keep a video journal, whatever feels natural to you, and play to your strengths and is really gonna motivate you to show up and do this for yourself. That’s the way you should move forward and do it. 

Rose:I’m glad you brought that up because I was going to ask, I used to write in paper journals and I’d always get really pretty books and make a big thing about it, put some nice pictures on the cover.

But the last few years I’ve just used my iPad, but with a pencil. I used the Apple pencil and I, I actually really like it and I’ve got all of the entries. You know, sort of chronological and all very well organised into years and months and, and everything. So I still write, but you said that it’s just fine to type or speak as well.

That’s really good for people who don’t necessarily want to write. 

Amanda:Yeah. How we do it is much less important than that. We do it as I always tell people, you know, cuz it’s, it’s funny, again, going back to excuses I hear all the time, people say, oh, I’ll start journaling when I find the perfect journal.

And then they go on this search to find the perfect journal, whatever that means for them. Right? Could be a fancy composition notebook, could be an Italian leather journal, right? Or anything in between. But then once they find their perfect journal, they’re afraid to write in it because they don’t wanna ruin it.

Right. There’s no wrong way to do it. it’s okay if we, if we write and have to scratch words out, it’s okay if we lose thoughts. It’s okay if we accidentally skip a page in the middle, right? Like, There’s no wrong way to do it. The most important thing about journaling is showing up for ourselves and giving us that opportunity for reflection because it’s that reflection piece I feel like is most critical to our journaling.

And I hear people tell me all the time, too, well, I don’t wanna write about my feelings in my journal. And I say, okay, cool. Don’t, right? There’s so many ways to journal in so many areas of our lives so that we can journal about that. We don’t have to let something like that keep us from having a successful practice, right?

If we just wanna keep a work journal. How helpful would it be to spend 10 minutes at the end of your workday, kind of reflecting on how your day went, what did you accomplish? What, what was difficult for you? What, what did you achieve? What did you overcome? How are you going to move forward tomorrow?

Really setting yourself up for success there and keeping a record of all your wins. How helpful would that be at the end of the year before your review? Right. and you don’t have to. You don’t have to write about how you feel about it, if that makes you squirmy, right? But if on the other side you wanna dig into your feelings and emotions and all of that stuff, there’s an avenue for that too.

And I think that’s what’s really cool about journaling is it’s so versatile, it’s so effective, universally it can work really in any area of our lives. 

Rose:So many wonderful tips, and I, I love that you shared some of the prompts for the end of the day. And I know that you, you did earlier, share some prompts for the beginning of the day, but could you share maybe two or three to get people started if they’re new to journaling?

Amanda:Yeah and these are some of my favourite prompts that I use in the mornings. I’d love to ask myself, what is the most important thing for me to do today? How can I show up as my best me? I like to ask, what does my soul need today? Right? How am I gonna take care of that spirit part of me? I ask, how will I feed my mind today?

How will I take care of my body today? And who can I connect with today? And then I make a plan to make those things happen because it’s nice that I identify, you know, I’m gonna call my, I’m gonna contact my sister, I’m gonna connect with her, but she doesn’t live nearby. I have to do something in order to connect with her.

So is it, I’m gonna text her. Am I going to forward her that funny meme I keep seeing and thinking of her every time I see it? Am I gonna call her on my way to work? Am I gonna write her a letter? Right? What is my plan? And really by making my journaling really action oriented, I hold myself accountable to do those things and really help move my life forward.

Rose:Oh, wonderful. What great tips. Thank you so much, Amanda. And before we wrap up today, I have one question that I ask all of my guests. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Amanda:Yeah. And this will not surprise you at all. I take to the pages of my journal.

Rose:Oh, I knew you were gonna say that!

Amanda:Yeah. I take my pen and I ask myself, well, what am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling this way? Right? Because sometimes we think we feel a certain way until we dig down a little deeper and realise there’s something underneath, right? Like if we feel angry, we might be sad underneath, right? But that one emotion really.

Really does a great job of hiding it. So when I’m feeling really unfocused, I wanna know why, is it that I’m, I have something I’m worried about? Or is it that I just don’t like the task that I have to do, right? Because the answer I get will help me identify the strategy to, to get past it, to, to refocus, to figure out a plan on how I’m going to get myself back on track.

Rose:Oh, I love that. Thank you. And I’m gonna pop all of your links in the show notes, but where would be the one place that you would like people to connect with you?

Amanda:Yeah, folks can find me at goodthingscometothosewhojournal.com.

Rose:Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Amanda. It’s been wonderful talking with you today.

Amanda:Yeah, thank you so much, Rose. It’s been my pleasure.

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