I've discovered in my 10 years of writing and working with people around issues of self-nurturing—comfort, self-care, whatever you wish to call it—that this is a vast topic that sends tendrils into almost every area of our lives, including relationships, health, wealth, and spirituality. Yet we manage to ignore it too much of the time—until we get sick or life becomes so monochromatic, we need a forklift to get out of bed in the morning. We also dismiss self-nurturing as a fluffy extra, an occasional treat after a bad day, when in fact self-nurturing is an attitude with which to approach each day, the foundation to a satisfying life.
Journaling is a fantastic way to nurture yourself. Creating a comfort journal increases the natural nurturing power of journaling by focusing your journaling intention on self-care in all its dimensions. Keeping a comfort journal can help you:
- Create a sourcebook of comforting things to do. When you most need comfort, you often can't think of anything besides TV reruns and left-over pie to sustain you.
- Dissolve blockages to self-care, especially the boogieman of "guilt." Most of us equate self-nurturing with being selfish when in fact, letting ourselves burn out, get sick or squander our unique selves is true selfishness.
- Organize your life from the inside out. Time management is a part of self-care yet too often, we buy or learn tools that act only as Band-Aid bandages because they don't address what we really want or need. Comfort journaling is a powerful way to shift this.
What Does a Comfort Journal Look Like?
Here are some examples of how women have used comfort journaling in my workshops and on my Web site: Martha created a comfort journal she dubbed her ego book. Included in its pages are snapshots of a beloved family trip, magazine spreads of exotic locales, and a glowing letter from her Senator for her volunteer work. Zahra weaves self-nurturing writing practices into her existing, general journal. Nancy fills up a journal about every six weeks and she enjoyed spending a period of time focusing on comfort and self-care, and then moving on to courage and other themes. Joy uses our Inner Organizer feature online at www.comfortqueen.com. After she makes four or five entries, she prints them out, pastes them to her comfort journal, and journals her reactions to these entries, using the questions, "What do I observe about these journal entries? What do I know? What don't I know?"
The point is, there is no one way to keep a comfort journal—if it comforts and inspires you, it's perfect.
Comfort journaling is especially effective for unique times and challenges in your life. Pregnancy (using the love you feel for your unborn child as a journaling prompt to learn to love yourself), relocating (comforting yourself during the change and chronicling the place you are leaving), illness, children moving out of the home, retirement—all the transitions of life can be eased and made more conscious when you have a comfort journal to be in conversation with.
Read over these playful journaling prompts in a spirit of lightness and possibility. Then leap into whatever feels nourishing to you!
Create a Sourcebook of Comforting
Create a comfort cluster
Write the word "comfort" in the middle of a journal page. Circle it and write down the first association about comfort that pops into your head. Circle this word. Connect it with a line to "comfort." What associations spring up around this new word? Write them down, circle them, and connect them back to the word or phrase that gave birth to those associations. When something new strikes you, begin again at "comfort" and create a new string of associations. Create a mind map of all the ideas that the word "comfort" brings to mind. Don't stop until you fill the page up with a web of associations.
Without pausing, turn to a new sheet of paper. Write the word "self-nurturing" in the middle of this page. Circle it. Now fill the pages with clusters of associations for self-nurturing. Keep your hand moving and try not to think—flow with it.
When you are finished, read both pages. What patterns can you see? What are the differences between "comfort" and "self-nurturing" for you? Is one more active than the other? Does one involve people and the other involve being alone? Does one reflect things that aren't so healthy, like shopping or trainloads of chocolate? Forget judging what you find and simply view what you find as new, useful information. Try clustering with these pairs of words, too: Deserving and deserve, asking and receiving, soul and spirit, discipline and compassion, surrender and obey.
Identify what you enjoy
Explore the following sentence stems to learn what renews you. Write something for each sentence without stopping, without putting your pen down. If you can't think of something to write, write all the reasons you can't take care of yourself.
I have always wanted to...
I never get time to __________________ anymore.
A nurturing place near my home...
A nurturing place near my work...
A nurturing place in my imagination...
A nurturing place I've always wanted to visit...
A nurturing thing I enjoy doing that doesn't cost money...
My favorite thing to do in bad weather...
My favorite thing to do in good weather...
My favorite thing to do that takes five minutes...
Five risks I'd be willing to take to nurture myself...
Something I've put off that would nurture me...
Identify Comforting Resources
Across the top of a journal page, write three to six of your most common moods. You may need to observe yourself for a few days to be able to name your moods. Underneath each mood, record a mood shifter, something you can do, read, listen to, watch, or someone you can reach out to that helps you shift or expand your mood in a positive, healthy way. For example:
Sniff lavender essential oil Take off my shoes and walk in the grass
Make a list of what is making me anxious Ask someone for one specific act of help Dance to music by Cesarea Evora Do three yoga sun salutations
Dissolve Blockages to Self-Care
Give Your Inner Critic the Page
Set a timer for five minutes. Invite your critic, your inner drill sergeant, your Gremlin—whatever you call that part of yourself that likes to point out your faults in glaring detail—to tell you why, in exhaustive detail, self-care, comfort, and all the rest of this journaling business is a waste of your valuable time.
When your critic is finished whining, take three slow, deep breaths and then, using your non-dominant hand, respond to your critic's objections in your inner nurturing voice. If you aren't familiar with that voice, imagine responding as you would to your child, best friend, or anyone you love when they are being hard on themselves. For more information on using your non-dominant hand, see Lucia Capacchione's book The Power of Your Other Hand (Career Press).
A Comfort Network
One of the most basic acts of self-care (yet also one of the most challenging) is to ask for and willingly receive help. A comfort journal can help you make clear requests from others, and soften loneliness and the "I have to do it alone" syndrome. Tip: not everyone you name has to be someone you know; it doesn't even need to be someone who's currently alive. One of my students, Linda, finds inspiration in volunteering at Eleanor Roosevelt's home, reading about her courage and how she crafted an amazing life for herself in spite of immense challenges.
Use these prompts to create a comfort network:
Someone I turn to when I need perspective...
Someone who is a role model for me...
Someone I can turn to when I need comforting...
Someone I get in touch with when I am blue...
Someone who energizes and inspires me...
Someone I like to play with...
Someone I contact in a crisis...
Someone who is a spiritual mentor to me...
Where do I need support in my life? What areas of my life do I feel alone? Lonely?
Do a Spiritual Check-In
Spirituality and self-care share the same essence. Begin a spiritual check-in by breathing in slowly while counting to five and then breathing out slowly for five counts. Repeat five times. Play a piece of inspiring music while writing your responses to these questions:
What am I yearning for in my relationship to the divine (connection, peace, faith)?
What is missing in this relationship (contact, conversation)?
What is present and good (that I know I am not alone, that I am asking these questions)?
What limits do I put on my relationship with the divine?
What am I not willing to accept or be open to when exploring my spiritual path?
What does being spiritual mean? What does having a spiritual practice mean?
Complete the sentence: I believe... (that I am loved, that there is good in the world)
Consider the following statement, "To become spiritual is to choose to do only those things that contribute meaning and healing to one's life."
What does this mean to you? Fill three pages with your reactions and musings. End by reading aloud a poem that speaks to your spirit. Then turn off the music and say thank you aloud.
Keeping a comfort journal is an opportunity to increase your compassion for yourself. I invite you into the world of lowered shoulders, sensuous ease, and boundless self-respect. Welcome!
This article originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of Personal Journaling.