How the Ritual of Journaling Can Create Clarity


I was struggling in the moment. It felt like my emotional walls were caving in, pressured between what I knew in my gut was right, but fearing the judgment and guilt that may come with it. I’d been here before. So, I broke open my journal and went back to revisit that point in time. When I looked back at that moment and what I’d written, it felt surreal. In that moment, my past self was guiding and coaching me forward—in this one.

The Reality: We all struggle, stumble, and have our asses handed to us at one point or another (sometimes over and over again). Life is hard. Sometimes it can feel damn-near impossible to navigate as we become overwhelmed with responsibilities, challenges, and changes. We’d all like to think (or hope) that our rational mind would assume command in anxious moments of turbulence, but our emotions can hijack us. Instead of guiding us forward, our emotional responses can exacerbate the chaos and create confusion. Brené Brown addressed the reality of this when she said that we’re not thinking beings that occasionally feel… but “emotional beings that occasionally think.”

The Obstacle: Everyone benefits from being able to dump, process, and synthesize emotions. It shouldn’t be a matter of gender, that women are more adept, equipped, and willing to embrace their emotions and what they mean. Generationally, men were taught to resist dealing with emotions because we fear judgment, ridicule, and being banished from the tribe. It takes courage to break from that camp of thought. This is especially true if you grew up in a culture of “walk it off,” “suck it up,” or, my favorite, “rub some dirt in it.” We feel the emotions, but instead of facing and processing them, we bottle them up. Then they may come out later in stress-ridden, toxic patterns that can affect our health or relationships. Processing emotions without the benefit of writing them out can feel like trying to do brain surgery on yourself, frustratingly trying to remove, examine, and understand why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling.

The Solution: Journaling is one of the best self-care and wellness practices I’ve ever discovered to maintain clarity and resilience. Journaling allows us to get thoughts out of our head and onto paper, creating a reflective and more objective perspective on what we’re going through emotionally. It allows us to untie our hangups, get a clearer perspective, accentuate the positive, and provide mental breathing room to process difficult challenges. There is no formula for doing this, so don’t get in your own way. Just write what you’re feeling, get it out of your head, and onto paper. And yes, I recommend writing it because there is a magical connection of pen, paper, and a hand in motion that doing it on the computer just doesn’t fulfill.

The Benefits: Journaling is a recurring practice that lets you capture the emotional tumult and spill it onto paper so you can explore and understand it. It allows us to question and fact-check the stories we’re telling ourselves about what we’re going through, call out our own bullshit, show compassion in our struggles, and become a better friend and coach to ourselves. It allows us to create precious decision space between what we think and feel—and how we act on it. In my journaling practice of many years, I can see the direct impact on the days I journal vs. the ones I don’t. When I journal, I’m calmer, more patient, empathetic, solution-oriented, compassionate toward myself and others, more resilient, and feel the stability of an inner peace. I’ve unloaded the emotional baggage. In essence, I’m happier. When I don’t journal for a few days, things feel off.

I’m an enrolled member of the Ottawa Tribe and I’ve served groups like Intel Corporation, NASA, Mayo Clinic, Disney, the US Army, and over 500 tribal nations in the last 25 years, showing them how to practically apply our warrior principles to stay strong, resilient, lead with courage, and serve at our best.

Traditionally, our warriors had to “vent” to be able to release the pain of trauma, loss, and struggle so it didn’t haunt them or weigh them down on the journey ahead. That came from the emotional cleansing process during ceremonies and enabled them to stay strong in their role as warriors. We can create that for ourselves, when we add that sacred time of journaling in our own lives. My tribe has two ways of learning: Kendoswin is “head learning” or logic, important in the world but not complete. Bokadwin is the learning that comes to us during silence, reflection, and solitude. It is profound, creates life-changing clarity, and can come to us when we journal. It’s a gift we give ourselves. We can’t provide that when we’re constantly in hyper-stimulation mode, drowning in distraction and running around with our hair on fire. We must carve the time out or it doesn’t happen. Journaling is a discipline, a practice, and a ritual.

Here are a few guidelines to create yours.

What you’ll need: Nothing fancy here, just a pen or pencil and a notebook.

When to do it: Start with five minutes a few times a week, writing even a few sentences is great. Once you get into a rhythm, make more time, and you’ll train your thoughts to come easier. Build up to at least 3-5 times a week for 10-20 minutes. Anytime during the day can work, but I feel mornings are best because there’s clarity and quiet before the chaos of the day begins. At the end of the day can be powerful, too.

Where to do it: Anywhere you can get some quiet space. It could be in your home, at the park, or coffee shop.

How to do it: Just write. Write how you feel, what you’re thinking, and feel free to unleash any emotion you want. Be outrageous and vulnerable. There are no rules and no boundaries. And no judgment. This is by you and for you! The most important thing is that the more honest in your sharing, the more powerful this will be as a practice. The last person we should want to lie to is ourselves. Some days you’ll write a half-page, some days you’ll do a few. What matters is that you do it.

Why: Read the article again!

D.J. Vanas is an enrolled member of the Ottawa Tribe and a former U.S. Air Force officer. He’s a thought leader, speaker, producer and author of three books, his newest is The Warrior Within (Penguin Random House). D.J. shows groups like Intel, NASA, Subaru, Disney, the U.S. military, Mayo Clinic and over 500 tribal nations, how to use traditional warrior principles to stay strong, resilient, lead with courage and serve at our best regardless of circumstances. He was also the host of the PBS special Discovering Your Warrior Spirit. To contact D.J. or for speaking inquiries, please visit

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