Once harnessed as a sexist trope in teenage chick flicks, journaling is now a panacea for modern life. Forget Regina George’s "burn book" of girls to hate on, or Bridget Jones’ diary of struggles with weight, alcohol and men. When it comes to the real world, the act of penning down thoughts goes a long way in boosting mental health and career. These women of #HerWorldTribe share why and how they journal.
Charlotte Mei, host and nutritionist
STAYING SANE AND FOCUSED
It can be tough to remain grounded when you have a busy schedule. For television host and nutritionist Charlotte Mei, journaling is her way of constantly keeping in touch with herself. Alternating between two physical journals and one digital journal, Charlotte has been penning down her struggles, achievements and gratitude for the people around her for six years. “Journaling helps me ‘hear’ myself,” the 28-year-old quips. “Our daily lives are filled with so much noise from the people and things around us. It can be tough to find your own voice and make the right decisions amid all of this!”
When you’re fighting a lonely battle, journaling offers a listening ear with no judgement, reckons Charlotte. Her habit of recording and taking down bits of her life started when she was going through a tough period in university. Her mind had been clouded with many thoughts about school work and relationships. “Writing out my thoughts helped me find clarity and navigate these issues better. Sometimes, even if nothing came out from it, simply writing it down made it seem like I was talking to someone about it,” she reminisces.
Having multiple journals allows Charlotte to record her thoughts in several formats. One journal acts as a thought diary where she records her daily ramblings and sets her intentions. The other is a vision board where she applies a more structured method of notation and sets her goals by asking critical questions about her accomplishments.
As for her digital journal, she uses the Notes application on her phone to record her thoughts on the go. Some of these are transferred to physical journals when she gets home. She adds: “I journal at night on weekdays and in the early morning on weekends. I like the peace and quiet of those moments. When I write, I feel so much more self-compassion and empathy for myself and what life has to offer.”
"WHEN I WRITE, I FEEL SO MUCH MORE SELF - COMPASSION AND EMPATHY FOR MYSELF AND WHAT LIFE HAS TO OFFER"
Dr Teo Wan Lin, dermatologist and founder of Dr. TWL Dermaceuticals
FINDING BUSINESS INSPIRATION
As an accomplished dermatologist and entrepreneur, Dr Teo Wan Lin attributes her success to journaling – a habit she picked up as a teenager. To date, the medical practitioner has had a multitude of business and dermatology research ideas spring up from her journal entries.
“I used to keep a diary as a teen, then I started using a journal to capture important ideas and thoughts when I turned 21,” says the 36-year-old. She considers the act of penning her thoughts down on paper as an “intuitive game plan”. It stemmed from the time she was a competitive fencer during her university days. And she has carried that game plan forward – journaling has helped her in innovating the products and services of her skincare centre Dr. TWL Dermaceuticals.
Dr Teo shares that her journals tend to have blank pages or dots as she enjoys free-styling on her notes. Being unrestricted in her expression has helped her gain inspiration from various forms of note-taking: writing, marking and sketching.
“I am responsible for concept development at my company, and I believe ideas can take shape in any form,” she explains. “The π Custom Lip Lab that we launched last year? It’s an edible cosmeceutical lip serum. I got that inspiration from a visual in my journal.”
Other than coming up with business plans and concepts, journaling has helped her build emotional resilience when faced with setbacks. “I used keywords and phrases to remember specific experiences, both positive and negative. And I wrote solutions with every negative point,” the National University of Singapore Medicine alumna says. “My goal was to develop a never-saydie attitude. Coming up with solutions meant that I was able to give my very best at any moment, be it physically, mentally or emotionally.”
And she wishes to pass on that attitude of resilience to her clients. Dr Teo notes that being in the skincare business has allowed her to understand its importance in mental health.
“I created a beauty journal for my patients last year: It has tear-out colouring pages that are cathartic for people who suffer from acne excoriee. This condition results from the sufferer’s compulsive picking of their acne, which prevents skin from healing fully,” she says. “Documenting the state of their skin is useful as it lets them express their frustrations and reduce anxiety, and see a gradual record of their skin improving.”
DIGITAL WAYS TO JOURNAL
1 Record audio journal entries on your phone.
2 Create a visual moodboard in your smartphone. Snap pictures and store them in a slideshow format, using mobile applications like Keynote and Google Slides. Then, add short captions on what the pictures mean to you. (For example, write about how you felt, what you did and why you took the picture.)
3 Use journaling mobile apps like Perspective and The Bullet Journal Companion to record your thoughts on the go.
4 If you’re more of a desktop or laptop user, try Penzu, a free online journal that offers encryption.
Shireena Shroff Manchharam, image consultant
It’s safe to say that image consultant Shireena Shroff Manchharam’s confident and go-getting demeanour is a direct result of her journaling habits. Over the years, she has collected more than 10 journals that consist of past memories and feelings. The one thing that the 37-year-old revisits the most is a phrase she wrote during her teenage years: “I am good enough.”
“As a teenager, I bottled up my feelings. It got so chaotic that I decided to turn to notebooks to jot down my inner struggles,” she says. “I used to be very passive in my writing, where I’d only document sad and painful thoughts.”
Now, the entrepreneur no longer records just the negative. Instead, she’s shifted her attention to the things that make her happy, and it’s given her a sense of control over life.
“We wish for many things that others have. And we often lament the things we lack,” the Japan-born entrepreneur shares. “But these things are out of our control. We can only change ourselves.”
She has also experienced bouts of ‘“deep writing”’. In those moments, Shireena goes digital and records her thoughts on hidden files in her laptop. “From there, I get inspiration for poems, which I absolutely enjoy writing,” she says. “Journaling has made me a more creative and positive person as I’m able to focus my energy.”
While it helps to vent your frustrations through journaling, Shireena points out that it’s vital to write down the things that we have autonomy over. “Things like what you had for your meal, what you did with your child, and even what you did at work – they’re all important,” the mother-of-two explains. “When we train our brain to see the good, the negative things become more insignificant and wonderful things will become even more wonderful.”
"JOURNALING HAS MADE ME A MORE CREATIVE AND POSITIVE PERSON AS I’M ABLE TO FOCUS MY ENERGY.
Jaime Lee, founder of The Paper Bunny
It’s no wonder that Jaime Lee, who’s the founder of local stationery and lifestyle brand, The Paper Bunny, journals. But what would an entrepreneur who built her brand by meeting the design needs of stationery aficionados journal about? “It’s a time capsule for me,” says the 34-year-old, who also leads the creative design process at The Paper Bunny. “From time to time, I look back at earlier entries to remind myself of how far I’ve come!” While she laments that she rarely has time to journal when big projects get in the way, Jaime tries her best to journal every other day, early in the morning. “It lets me start my day with a clear head,” she says. “And when I go back to my journal, which I do all the time, I won’t get confused by my own thoughts.”
Journaling has proven to be essential when it comes to business success for Jaime. She believes that having a “blank canvas” to work on enhances her critical thinking and prevents her from bottling up issues that may interfere with work.
“I am a no-lines kind of person and I use the blank notebooks from The Paper Bunny (of course, haha!),” she enthuses. “It allows me to section my thoughts in whatever way I like. If I’m in the midst of jotting down a schedule, and a thought pops into my head, I’d simply mark out a section on the same page to put it down. It’s very fuss-free.”
Finding a sustainable cycle of self-encouragement through progress documentation is cathartic for the entrepreneur. Moments of success and evidence of failure act as her lifeline during tough times.
“I wrote this line down long ago: ‘One step at a time – the only way through is through’. And that’s something I still live by today,” she reveals. “Nothing is insurmountable. I may have felt despair at one point, but I have survived and thrived through it.”
NEW TO THIS?
BUILD A PRODUCTIVE AND SUSTAINABLE JOURNALING ROUTINE WITH THESE TRIED-ANDTESTED STEPS.
1 Choose a topic and think about what you hope to get out of it.
2 Decide on a platform to journal.
3 Stick to a routine of daily, weekly or fortnightly entries.
4 Choose a good time and day for your journaling.
TEXT HAYLEY TAI PHOTOGRAPHY PHYLLICIA WANG