How To Use Journaling To Improve Your Relationship With Your Body

Jan 31, 2021 | In words

When the young women of Women Unbounded, a volunteer-led Singapore-based non-profit organization with global membership approached me to lead a segment on journaling for their first event of 2021 titled “New Year, New-tral me”, I was pleasantly surprised. Their dynamism and optimism made it difficult for me to refuse their request. 

The topic of body neutrality is of interest to all regardless of age. From teenagers to senior citizens, each one of us has grappled with accepting and loving our body for what it does and not just how it looks. For some it has been a chronic struggle. For others, there has been a period in life when they had to reframe the way they looked at their physical self.

For all of us, the challenge of working with our body’s strengths and accepting its limitations is an unavoidable part of life’s journey. 

I had recently written an article about learning to accept my grey hair for the Women Unbounded blog. By writing about it, I had made peace with my aging. The process of writing about it had been cathartic and insightful. By leading the journaling segment, I hoped to introduce a tool that could be of help to others. Given the limited time allotted to my segment which came after a panel discussion and tips from experts on various aspects of body image, eating disorders and psychological factors that drive them, I knew my message had to be succinct and convincing.  

When in doubt, ask the experts

Almost two decades ago when I lived and worked in the US, my favorite distraction while driving was listening to NPR, National Public Radio. They always had the most interesting interviews and quirky discussions interspersed with news updates that kept me up to date and provided food for thought. From book recommendations to tiny commentaries on life, I enjoyed their programming which always seemed relevant to my life. 

Despite having moved away – first to India and now in Singapore, I was pleased to discover that the content offered by NPR is equally valuable to me at this stage of my life.

In an episode of the Life Kit series, James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology spoke about the benefits of expressive writing. The simple action of writing down whatever you’re pondering about improves not just physical and mental health but also immune function.

Given our current obsession with Covid and infections, I didn’t need convincing that inculcating a regular habit of journaling was a good idea. But I had to find a way to transform the theoretical benefits into a practical tool that could be easily implemented.

Demolish objections with creative solutions

The best way to avoid doing something is to raise objections. I decided to tackle the most of common excuses head on:

  • I am not a writer
  • I don’t have anything to write on
  • I don’t know how to begin
  • I am too busy to add one more thing to my life
  • I am not good at grammar or spelling 

My suggestions:

  • You don’t have to be a writer, just write
  • Use a book, paper, ipad, phone, laptop – whatever is accessible, it doesn’t matter
  • Begin with a word, preferably a feeling, and write freely
  • Spend five minutes, at any time of the day – at breaks, on your commute, before bed
  • You are writing for yourself, perfection is not the goal

The important thing is to translate your experience into words.

Begin here:

  • Today I felt ______________ about my body.
  • My body is ______________
  • When I look at my body I feel _______________

If you still need help, look at a feelings wheel. Pick one feeling. Let it be your guide and help you can learn things about yourself that you are not consciously aware of.

The best way to form a habit is to start small

BJ Fogg, Stanford researcher and author of Tiny Habits, The Small Changes that Change Everything, suggests an easy way to get started. I modified Fogg’s method to fit my audience who may or may not consider writing as something to look forward to. 

1. Scale it way back – Can you write 

  • A paragraph
  • A sentence? 
  • A word (today I felt……..about my body)

2. Find a way to fit it into your routine

  • On the bus or train – a tiny notebook? Notes app?
  • Voice note on your phone? or on paper when your phone is charging? Before bed?

3. Help wire your brain by calling up a positive emotion

  • Fist bump, clap, pat on your shoulder, hum a happy song, jump

Even if you write only a few sentences each day, soon you will have enough words in there to guide you.

Use your writing to initiate the desired change

Once you have inculcated a habit of writing, look at it with curious eyes, not critical ones.

  • Reflect on your words. Don’t look for them to provide you with a quick fix 
    • Learn more about yourself
    • When was the last time I was happy with my body? What was I doing then?
    • If I was not thinking about my body, what would I be doing?
    • Are my beliefs derived from someone else?
    • If my body was defined by health or fitness, how would your perception of your body change?
  • Repeating motifs – look for patterns that have become self-defeating habits
    • where and how you internalize negative feeling
    • what triggers you and your response to them
    • any specific incident/memory that was not obvious when you first began 

Writing has the potential to help you discover yourself, your beliefs and your internal self-talk.

Awareness is the first step to healing.

Many things suddenly become visible and possible when seen through the lens of the subconscious. Try some of these 

  • Become aware of negative self-talk regarding your body
    • You are more than your body – what do you like about yourself?
    • What are your strengths?
    • What are the accomplishments you are proud of?
  • Intercept/switch the thought
    • Use affirmations – pick from a list or make custom ones for yourself
  • Weed out your immediate circle
    • Are there people/events that are toxic to your wellbeing?

There was much to unpack but I knew I could only provide a small beginning in the allotted time. I decided to end the session with a short video reminding everyone that as children we had loved and accepted our bodies. Any change we desired was not for cosmetic purposes but for greater good.

Have you tried journaling as a way to clear your mind? Or understand yourself better? Do share your experiences.

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