Journaling to change your thoughts

In case you’ve read some of my prior blog posts, you probably know that I am a huge fan of journaling. (If you want to learn more about it, check out the top five reasons to journal and types of journaling.) You may not know that I have a master’s degree in literature and language. Read on and you’ll know why I’m saying this here by way of explanation for what’s to come. I really do think about language a lot.

As a rule, in journaling you want to let your thoughts flow freely when you journal and not edit. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done and it most certainly takes some practice. For those of you who are comfortable journaling, however, there is one exception to this rule that you may want to try to push yourself gently toward a more positive mindset, and that’s watching out for certain words.

What do I mean by that? There are certain words we tend to use that may keep us stuck in a negative space, and words we can learn to add that may move us in a more positive direction. The following are some examples from my experience:


How often do you add a sentence starting with but when you’ve just written down an accomplishment or something nice about yourself? I am definitely guilt of that. Statements along the line of “This went pretty well, but of course it’s only a tiny little piece of what I have to do …” are not uncommon all throughout my journal. What I am trying to do now is put a full stop behind any positive statement. Let it stand by itself. If I still feel the need to continue with a but, so be it. But maybe not! 

I should …

Should-ing is an utterly frustrating state of mind. The moment I write—or think—that I should be doing this or that, I immediately get a sense of “not good enough” (replace good by hard-working, reliable, or whatever your inner critic tends to throw at you) and that sucks. So when I catch myself writing should a lot, I ask myself: Why do I feel that’s necessary? It is really? Is it my own expectation or someone else’s? If it’s my own, I try to rephrase and write something like, I want to make time to … That feels much better! If it’s someone else’s, I’ll journal some more about it to see if I can let it go.

Of course 

I catch myself using strong terms such as of course a lot. Popular alternatives with me are clearly and definitely, and there are a gazillion other words or phrases you may prefer. Statements that include such strong modifiers are worth a second look because they might indicate a limiting belief, such as “Of course nobody responded to the article I published,” or “Of course it had to rain when I wanted to go hiking.” If you find sentences like that in your journal, you may want to ask yourself why you feel that you don’t deserve the attention, the good time, or whatever it is that of course didn’t happen for you.

I think vs. I feel

This is exactly what it sounds like: We write I think when we’re in our analytical minds, and I feel when we’re in tune with our emotions. In our lives, we need both of these approaches, but with journaling you’ll want to try and stay with your emotions as much as you can. Because this is your safe space to express whatever is going on with you, and only you. Personally, I tend to write I think when I haven’t made it to the root of an issue yet. So I understand it as an invitation to dig a little deeper and identify the feeling to go with it.


Last but not least, my favorite positive word in this context! Yet is a wonderful modifier to transform those strong and often negative statements into hopeful ones. Let me give you another example from my life: When I moved to the U.S., a predominant sentiment was “I can’t coach here. People communicate too differently than where I am from—much less directly, that is—so it wouldn’t work.” That’s a pretty frustrating thought, considering that I had gone through coaching training and was eager to practice also in my new home country. 

Now add yet to this sentence: “I can’t coach here YET.” That’s a totally different story, right? It means to take some time, settle in, get to know people and their style of communication, and then, when feeling comfortable about all that, getting started again. And that’s exactly what I did. Try adding yet to one of your I can’t statements and see how it feels!

I hope you’ll find these language tips helpful—not only for journaling but for any kind of communication, especially also for the ongoing self-monolog our monkey mind usually spits out. Just by watching out for these patterns, the blah blah won’t go away, but you can give it a positive spin—and that can make a huge difference for our everyday lives when your actions follow your changed thought patterns.