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Session 239: Journaling for a New Year

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

At the end of a year, I typically like to share some journal prompts for you to write and reflect on. But I realized we hadn’t ever actually talked about why journaling can be so helpful and how you can get started. So we’re gonna dig into that today. Joining me for this conversation is Olivia F. Scott. Olivia and I chatted about what journaling can unlock in our lives, how to get started with a journaling practice, and she shares a beautiful journaling exercise for you to wrap up 2021 and usher in 2022.

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Session 239: Journaling for a New Year

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 239 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the episode after a word from our sponsors.

[BREAK]

Dr. Joy: At the end of a year, I typically like to share some journal prompts for you to write and reflect on. But I realized we hadn't ever actually talked about why journaling can be so helpful and how you can get started, so we're gonna dig into this today. Joining me for this conversation is Olivia F. Scott.

Olivia is the founder and principal consultant of Omerge Alliances, an integrated marketing communications consultancy. She also creates community and workplace wellness experiences via her Freedom At The Mat benefit corporation. Olivia and I chatted about what journaling can unlock in our lives, how to get started with a journaling practice, and she shares a beautiful journaling exercise for you to wrap up 2021 and prepare for 2022. If there's something that resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me today, Olivia.

Olivia: Thank you so much for having me. You know how much of a fan I am of yours and of Therapy for Black Girls, so I'm grateful to be here. Sincerely.

Dr. Joy: You know, I think we talk a lot here on the podcast, and just generally, and I know you use your platform to talk about the importance of journaling. Can you talk to us and give us a definition of what we mean when we say journaling?

Olivia: I am going to be broad with that because I like to give us grace. I think if we say that journaling is “only this,” then people in general, they're not going to do it. If we say journaling is you have to write something down, it's got to be five sentences big on the right-hand page, every day when you go to bedtime... I like to say that journaling is just chronicling my thoughts. I find that I have different journals in different rooms and in my purses–I have them everywhere. And when I have a feeling that comes to me, I make sure I get it out. And so I have found that there is so much release.

When there's something that's heavy on my spirit, Dr. Joy, and it's something that I'm wrestling with, I haven't quite been able to get it to a friend, I don't want to gossip about it, perhaps it's an unformed opinion around something but it's a feeling that I have, then I will just write it out. And I've been doing that a lot lately where it might be two sentences and it will be like: This happened and this made me feel this way; I am not happy; this hurts; it hurts when I think about how this went down. And I just leave it there. There's no resolution. Now, there are some times journaling is a bit more formal. When I go on a trip, we go on vacations and we may be journaling every single day, but I would never want to restrict us to it having to be that consistent and in a certain format. And we don't simply have the ability to do that every single day.

Dr. Joy: When you're saying like I have a different journal in lots of different places and it doesn't have to be formal or structured, what are some of the benefits of journaling?

Olivia: I think there is a benefit to us connecting with our inner divine, our spirit. And our spirit is telling us every day, through our thoughts and our feelings, how to conduct our lives. I really believe that. And so if there's something that's on your spirit or your heart or your mind, and you get it out, you're able to, first of all, release it, look at it, acknowledge it, and then make a decision about how you want to move forward. And it holds you accountable, too, Dr. Joy. If you've written something down in your handwriting, it's like this is how I'm feeling right now. Now, what we know is feelings change so it may change the next day, but this is what I'm feeling right now and this doesn't feel really good to me. And you can come back to it a couple of days later, when something else perhaps happens, to be like that's what I was thinking. I was thinking that.

And I have a really great example. I was married, wonderful ex-husband, wonderful, we're still friends to this day. But I'd had some reservations before we married and I was journaling really deep at that time. And that was that, we got married. When we moved from our apartment, (I never told this story before) when we moved from our apartment in Harlem to Jersey, I went back after the movers had cleared out our apartment and I just wanted to make sure they had everything. And there was one thing that they had left behind on the floor in our bedroom, and that was one of my journals. I flipped through this journal and I found all of my entries where I had been questioning–should I get married, is this the right time, is this the right partner? It was all this stuff in this journal. And I sat on the floor and I wept. I was like, you actually are not crazy. You were actually questioning this way before, and here you are in a trail of tears moving from Harlem to Newark, trying to make this thing better, but you were questioning it.

For me, to answer your question directly, that journaling process allows me to connect for a moment with my spirit, connect with my thoughts. My thoughts are mine, I don't have to listen to anybody else. This is between me, myself and my God, and this is how I'm feeling, and I want to honor myself by writing these few words about what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling. And I'll be able to hold myself accountable by coming back to this over time. If I keep having the same thought over and over again, I might need to do something about it, and if that thought is haunting me. To me, that's the benefit of journaling, is just getting it out and having a reckoning with it. I find that journaling is an effective way of being able to just connect. You’re pausing, you’re connecting with your spirit and saying this is where I am right now, and then that is therapeutic as well.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, I think it's really cool, especially if you are somebody who has journaled across time, to look at the different patterns that might come up in your life at like certain times of the year or maybe around your birthday. I just think it's interesting to kind of take a historical look at like where you've come, through journaling, because I think that just can be so telling.

Olivia: Absolutely. I keep my journals, now I'm kind of afraid to open them.

Dr. Joy: Because of what?

Olivia: Because if it's something that I had talked about doing or being... And sometimes I'm upset with myself because I often do new year's journaling and I journaled “this is what happened, this is what I want to become, this is what I want to do,” whatever. And then you come back to it a year later and it's the same things? It's like, girl, wait. What are you really doing? What are you really doing with your life? And so I've seen that, where I know for years I had patience at the top of my list for areas in which I wanted to be better. And then I had I wanted to lose 15 pounds, still never lost them. It was the same things that were there that showed up time and time again.

I gotta say, I think that there is something around journaling and commitment to accountability, too. Because you can journal all day long, but what's the objective of your journaling? The objective of your journaling, personally, might just be to write but it might not be to actually affect change in your life, and that's okay, too. I think that for every person, we have to make a decision around what the objective is of our journaling. It could just be to write and just to kind of have some me time.

Dr. Joy: Olivia, you bring up a really good point because I think I've heard from sisters that there's this hesitation around journaling for some of the same stuff that you said. Like if I write it down, it makes it really real. Or looking back through old journals and then feeling super judgmental about ourselves for like what we haven't done. Can you share some tips about how to approach this with grace so that you don't find yourself at the end of a year feeling super negative about all the things you haven't done?

Olivia: Absolutely. Oh my God, don't let the fact that what you say today is going to impact you tomorrow and don't let that stop you. Still write because the writing process is a part of your therapy to become a better you. I want us all to journal, that's number one. Number two, I would say this. I firmly believed that we all have a primary role in creating the lives that we lead. And, with effort, we can recreate those lives. So if you see something over and over in your journal, Dr. Joy, year after year, month after month, you're still upset about something that happened and you keep talking about it over and over again, you have the power in your light to resolve it. You don't have to keep talking about it without any resolution to it like a merry go round. I would say empower yourself to create the resolution that you need to have so that you're not having that same issue or those same feelings.

But that's why I'm telling you, if I write it down... Oh my, there are times in which I hide from writing in my journal, Dr. Joy, there are times when I'm like, oh, I'm so overwhelmed by it. I'm just carrying it like a weight in my heart, in my body, I'm carrying these emotions. And that's not good. That journal becomes a heavy load barrier, if you will. They help me carry this load and getting it off my plate. And then at a certain point, I will make a decision on if and how I'm going to do something to resolve it.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Olivia after the break.

[BREAK]

Dr. Joy: Like you said, the journaling could just be that you write it to get it down. There isn't anything that says you have to go back to the journal and do something with it. It could be that you just left it there.

Olivia: That's it. I'm all about being free, that's my whole objective, is for us to live freer lives. I don't like to tell people “this is what it is.” This is what journaling is, this is what you have to do. You know, you don't have to make journaling an exercise towards resolution. Even if you don't set out for it to be about resolution, I don't foresee (from my life experience journaling) that you're going to journal on an ongoing basis and not have some desire to make a change. It's gonna come naturally and organically, right Dr. Joy?

Dr. Joy: Right. Because that level of introspection and sharing your thoughts, like you said, naturally you're going to probably want to go back to it and figure out like, okay, what's going on here? I think it's really cool sometimes when clients will bring their journals into therapy. It can also be a great tool to like further or open up conversations with your therapist if you notice that there are things that you keep coming back to, and you want to bring journal pages to your session. That's completely welcome and can be a really great way to move therapy forward.

For people who are wanting to maybe get started with the practice, even though it doesn't have to look one way, what are some suggestions you would have for how we can maybe start developing a journaling practice?

Olivia: If you've never journaled and you don't know where to start, looking at a blank page it’s like as foreign as Greek, I would invite you to find a guided journal. That's number one. Number two, for those of you who either don't want a guided journal or who you have a relatively somewhat established practice, I invite you to make a commitment, a small commitment, to some journaling time. And I would start off in a very realistic conservative manner of once a week. And I would like us to make it into a journaling ritual, Dr. Joy, where it could be every Thursday night at 7pm, I'm going to write. And I'm going to have my bottle of wine, I'm going to have my candle lit, and I'm just going to write.

I would invite you if you need to, like many people who struggle with meditation, like myself, you set a timer that goes off. You put the phone in “do not disturb,” it's a sacred ritual when you began that way. And then over time, you will begin to really look forward to that introspection and to that pausing in your life, and then you may decide that you want to do it more frequently. But I think journaling ritual is something that can be quite beautiful and serves two purposes of you pausing, creating some self-care, self-love for yourself, as well as you getting some thoughts and emotions and feelings out on paper.

Dr. Joy: I love that. Do you have some prompts for people to get started with maybe this weekly journaling ritual that might be helpful?

Olivia: Dr. Joy, I do have a guided journal at Freedom At The Mat. I have one that breaks down three different areas and I'm happy to share some of those areas now. We've got soul, mind and body. And if you get to a blank page and you're like “where do I start,” some of the prompts that I have in the journal support connecting with your inner voice. One of them in particular is, what is something your inner voice continues to tell you to do? Is there a recurring thought that your inner voice is saying, Dr. Joy, you need to do this. Giving yourself that space to write and connect with your inner voice.

Other things I would talk about or I do talk about, are connecting with your thoughts. Is there a predominant thought that continues to come to you on a regular basis that you haven't done something with? I invite people to really connect with themselves. And I have a particular prompt where I say, name three words you would use to describe yourself. And from that, it would flow–who are you? Then, we talk about relationships. Is there someone in your life that you just absolutely, positively love? Name five people that bring you joy. Who are those five people? Why do they bring you joy? And furthermore, how can you fold them more into your life? It could be a best friend that lives somewhere else, can you go visit them more? Can you commit to being a part of their lives more? Is it someone that you can maybe make a phone call to? Because what I know, and you probably do as well, is that we're all spiritual beings having a human experience, that our lives are all really made better by being around people that we love. It's not the things that make life go around, it's the people that make life go around.

And so really connecting with, okay, you know what, I'm feeling some kind of way, I should call Lisa. So writing that in your journal, like really connecting with your soul, what your soul needs. And a lot of what I try to do when I'm writing is really connecting with my soul, Dr. Joy. Not connecting so much with things that I do for work but how I feel. Like this thing happened today and I'm so happy that this happened, this made me feel so good. Or this thing happened and I feel horrible that I did that to that person. I am going to go back and apologize to them. I try to spend a lot of time with my feelings, how I'm feeling today, and what it is I'm wanting in my life to be different and how I can be a better person.

And then the last one that I will share, which is in our guided journal but I’ll just offer it to everybody, is body. How is your body feeling? We go through life every day, you get up, get out of bed, go to work, blah, blah, but are we really paying attention to our bodies? How is the activity of our arms, our legs, our feet, our thighs, our hips, our abdomen, our backs, our neck? How are we feeling? And just doing body scans and checking in with how our overall health is and how we feel about our body. You know, our body and our physicality is what encounters with the world every single day–how do you feel about your body? Which is one of my prompts. How do you feel? On a scale of one to 10, how much do you love your body? Do you honor your body for what your body offers to the world in the sense of what it allows you to do? So those are just some of the prompts that I would offer.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for those, those are an excellent start. You mentioned a little earlier that you like to do some new year's journaling. And I think that that's typically how we wrap up the year here at Therapy for Black Girls too, is that I will typically offer some journal prompts for people to just reflect on the year. But I think that can feel very grand when you think about the previous 12 months, especially in a year like this year when there's been so much like chaos. What kind of suggestions do you have or where can we even get started in reflecting on the year that has been 2021?

Olivia: Well, Dr. Joy, will you allow me to take us through a little journal exercise?

Dr. Joy: Of course, I would love that.

Olivia: Okay. Everybody listening, hey! Go ahead, find a journal. If you don't have one in your hand, go get a journal, could be a notebook. And a pencil or a pen, and just find yourselves right now clearing your thoughts. Let's do some very simple inhaling and exhaling. Very simple inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Honoring 2021 because we have made it through yet another year. These last two years have been absolutely, positively insane and they have threatened to take many of us out and they've taken many of us out.

The prompts I have for us are, number one, can you name one experience that truly brought you joy this year? What is something that happened? And I want you to think about it. And if you don't think about it now and you want to come back to it, that's fine, too. But when you look back through January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and now December, what is an experience that brought you joy? Why did it bring you joy? How did it make you feel inside?

Next, I want you to name an experience that might have brought you some sadness, something that you had to confront or face. It could have been a loss of some kind that you had to go through. Because life is about the joy and the pain, so acknowledging both of those. And then I should think about the joy and the pain of your 2021. Acknowledging, perhaps with your eyes closed, perhaps with them open, that there is treasure that lies in both. The joy and the pain. I invite you to look at your life as it stands right now, the day in which you're listening to this particular podcast, and ask yourself–are you happy with the life that you are leading? There's no judgement on that answer. Don't judge yourself but just ask yourself. If you want to rank yourself and do a one to 10, fine, but are you happy?

And then if you are less than a 10, ask yourself, are there old barriers that exist to you pursuing or creating the life that you really want? Knowing that each of us, we are creative beings, we were created out of creation. So if there is something that you want to become, something you want to be, in this light, trusting that each of us was created on purpose and with a purpose. That if there's a gap between where you are right now and your total happiness, that you can create your happiness. That does not mean that it's gonna to be without work. You might have to make some bold moves, you have to move fear out of the way, but thinking about what stands between your happiness and your best life.

And as we close this particular exercise, I invite us to inhale and exhale as we close, inhaling what is and exhaling what can be. I always do my four two four breathing. Just inhaling one, two, three four for what is, holding for two. Exhaling four, three, two, one for what could be. That is my end of year journaling exercise and I invite you all to really take the lives that we have been given by our creator seriously–what is it that you need to do to live the life that you were created to live?

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for that, Olivia. What a beautiful exercise. I think it can be a great way to close out what has been 2021, thank you for sharing that. More from my conversation with Olivia after the break.

[BREAK]

Dr. Joy: Another thing that you talk a lot about on your channel is the use of affirmations, and I think that is also something that more people are using as a part of their self-care routines and like really taking care of themselves. Can you say a little bit more about what affirmations are and when we need to use them?

Olivia: Absolutely. If you look at the etymology of the word aff (to from Latin) and firm, firm. To firm. It's when you need to acknowledge something in your life. And I find that we need to speak affirmations over our lives, Dr. Joy. We need to define who we are and what we want. Because we have an entire world that is happy to tell us who to be, how to be, where to go, how to dress, what dress size we should have, what man we should have, what kind of house, what kind of car. But affirmations for us can cement–this is what we're doing today. I will be strong today. I will not have fear. I will live my best life. I will honor my body.

I love just being like, okay, all this craziness is happening around me, but let me tell you what I will and will not do. And it allows me to stand as a woman of character, a woman of integrity. We've all heard that saying that people who stand for nothing will fall for nothing and I think there's nothing better to stand for than standing for who I am and what I want in my life. And what I will and will not do and what I will and will not allow in my life.

Dr. Joy: Olivia, how do we take care not to dip into toxic positivity with affirmations, because I feel like there's like a fine line? When I think about toxic positivity, I'm thinking about these sayings that we tell people like everything will be fine or like there's a reason for this storm. Things that kind of separate you from like actually feeling the pain, maybe, of an experience which is necessary. We’ve already talked about like the joy and the pain that exist because we're human. And sometimes I feel like you have to be careful with affirmations because sometimes they go too far in pushing you from experiencing the reality of a situation.

Olivia: It's so interesting because I actually purchased a set of affirmation cards and a few of them I'm like, this is crazy, I'm not saying this. It's like I'm absolutely not saying this. I think that your affirmations need to come from your spirit. It's something that is resolute and divine, if you ask me, based on your life experience. It's got to be rooted in truth, your truth. So as you're looking for affirmations, I actually invite us to look within. I invite us for everything to not do so much of looking without, but more within. What are things you need to affirm for yourself? That's where all of my affirmations come from. They come from my life experience and knowing what it felt like to have experienced a certain thing that likely was negative. And saying I will not allow myself to be used. I will not enter into a relationship in which I am not honored and cherished. You know what I mean? It's like what I will and will not do, based on my life experience. To me, that's where I believe they should come from, it’s from your spirit.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and to your point, I think a lot of people sometimes get turned off by words of affirmation and using affirmations because it does feel kind of cheesy. But I think a lot of times that cheesiness comes because we're trying to borrow other people's words as opposed to what we really feel like we need affirm for ourselves, that really only we can give us.

Olivia: Dr. Joy, ta-da. Period. Right here. That's it. That's what I created myself and if you want to say them or use your own words, which I invite people to do on my channel, like this is what I'm saying but say it in your own way.

Dr. Joy: Got it. You've already offered us a beautiful journal exercise for how to close out 2021. Are there additional journal prompts that you would offer for how to usher in 2022?

Olivia: I would invite us to ask ourselves... and it’s similar to one of the things I said. But what are you doing here on Earth? And that's broad but I believe a lot of us get disconnected with our purpose, living in this life. There are things that happen between us being a hopeful five-year-old little girl and a 25, 35, 45, 55-year-old person. And I invite us to ask ourselves, what are we really doing with our time, what are we doing with our resources and is there something different that we want to be doing? Because for me, it continues to come back to (I know this is being redundant, this part of it) living our best most free lives ever.

I think, in that, I would invite us to do an inventory of our relationships, the company, we keep, Dr. Joy. Are there some new people that we want to invite in our lives? I would definitely write that down. For me, I remember about three years ago, writing down that I wanted to expand my circle, that I wanted to connect with more entrepreneurial women, and I just wrote it down as something that I wanted. And after writing it down, it heightened my awareness that there was something that I really wanted to attract in my life. And then when various people began to show up and engage me, who were entrepreneurial women, I was like this is what I was writing about several years ago.

I just invite us to lean into writing things that are on our spirit about things we want to attract in our lives. In every area–career, relationship. Even if you're married, you can always have a better relationship. Career, relationships, being parents. If you are a business woman, if you are a church leader, if you're a civic leader, there are always areas in which we can improve ourselves.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for that. The other space that many of us are in right now is, okay, what do we give to the people we love in our lives? And so I feel like you’ve given us this beautiful gift to talk about, like journaling and affirmation. But for people in our lives who maybe are into this or we think this will be a great practice for them to adopt, do you have favorite journals or brands that you really love, that you think we should have our eye on?

Olivia: Michaels has in their arts and crafts section, they’ve got sketch books and they’ve got some journals. I got some freeform sketch pads that are bound, that I use for my journals, from Michaels. I get a lot of gifts that are just journals and I know they get from Marshalls and HomeGoods and all that stuff there, and I think those work just fine. This is not golf or even Pilates or yoga where this has to be an expensive venture. We can go to Marshalls and HomeGoods, anywhere you go, and just get your... And let me tell you something. There have been times when I have been traveling (and very, very rarely, though) when I don’t have a journal with me, where I will just have to get a notepad from the hotel or just a regular three ring binder. The whole writing process, I don’t want there to be any barriers to it, Dr. Joy. Whatever you can get your hands on to write and get it out, do it.

Dr. Joy: Olivia, tell us where we can stay connected with you. If you would like to share your website as well as any social media handles that you’d like to share.

Olivia: Absolutely. FreedomAtTheMat.com is going to be the point of entry for where our videos from YouTube are housed. We do have a YouTube channel. I invite everybody please to subscribe, it’s free, and we offer affirmations, meditations, mindfulness exercises and yoga. The whole premise with Freedom At The Mat is to make, one, it’s accessible to everyone globally. But also, most importantly, we know that it is hard for us to prioritize me time, so our contents we promise are between two minutes and thirty minutes. FreedomAtTheMat.com is where I would love for you all to spend some time and then subscribe to our channel on YouTube. Of course, we’re on Instagram and Facebook, but the core is really the YouTube content. That’s really where the core is. We are also on Instagram, @FreedomAtTheMat, as well as Facebook–FreedomAtTheMat.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. We will be sure to include all of that in our show notes. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Olivia, your beautiful conversation as well as the journal exercise.

Olivia: Thank you so much and, again, I’m so grateful to you for what you’ve created. And I honor every single woman in the world and I hope that together we support each other in becoming the best, most free women possible. Mentally free, emotionally free, socially free, so that we can really live life in the way it was intended for us to live.

Dr. Joy: Indeed, thank you for that. I’m so glad Olivia was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her work or to check out her YouTube page with other great exercises, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session239. And don’t forget to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode as well.

If you’re looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.

And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It’s our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.