James Pennebaker, a professor at the University at Texas, has spent 40 years researching the link between writing and processing emotions. In studies, he has divided people into two groups, asking some to jot down emotionally charged experiences, and others to write about whatever daily occurrence popped into their mind. Both groups were tasked with writing for about 20 minutes, three days in a row.

Pennebaker found that the people who wrote about their emotionally charged episodes experienced the most improvement in their physical well-being. They had lower blood pressure, better immunity, and visited the doctor less frequently. They were also less depressed, generally happier, and less anxious.

Unexpressed emotions do not go away. They eventually rear their heads in uglier ways. Journaling is a good way to delve into your feelings and gain a new perspective on your emotions. Knowing your own emotional triggers is key to constructively controlling your emotions. If someone does or says something that rubs you the wrong way, how will you avoid reacting in a way that prevents you from achieving your goal?

When you learn to recognize your emotions and triggers, you can craft a plan to respond to the task at hand more deliberately. Rather than getting caught up in your emotions or bottling them up, you’ll be able to act in a way that better serves you and your team.

Here are three proven steps to help you express and understand your emotions:

First, write your thoughts in a journal. Writing is more visceral and tied to your emotions than typing, so this is one time you want to go old school and write down your thoughts. Be consistent, so a daily habit is daily is best. Start small with just a few minutes each morning while you still control your time.

Second, write whatever comes to mind. Do not filter your thoughts or emotions. Consider a trigger question if it helps stimulate your thinking like: How am I feeling about my coaching? What deserves my best attention right now? What is the most interesting initiative I’ve heard about this week that is outside of my industry? What energized me the most this week? or What drained me the most?

Third, keep it to yourself. You might choose to act on the insights you gain from your journaling, but your raw, written thoughts and emotions are for you only. Your emotions become clearer on the journey between your mind and your pen.

Flannery O’Connor, American essayist, said, “I write because I don’t know what I think (or feel) until I read what I say.”


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