A 4-Step Guided Framework for Journaling and Gaining Clarity

Writing things down helps me understand things better.

Not that long ago, as an eight-month pregnant lady living on stitched-together patches of sleep, planning for new motherhood, and wrapping up my many projects in startup land, finding time to write (and write coherently) became an increasing struggle.

Sometimes I wrote at 3 AM in the morning if the baby kicked me awake (or gave me one of those yelp-inducing punches to the bladder). Other times, I wrote late at night to get myself to go to sleep. And, more often than not, it came out in scribbled notes in my iPhone with autocorrect changing half of what I was trying to say.

Pregnancy: I wanted to understand it. I wanted to catalog it. I wanted to explain it, tell the stories of pregnancy.

So I decided to use Think Clearly’s Clarity Cards to inspire wisdom and peace at the end of my pregnancy. I wrote this out when I was eight months pregnant, and it helped tremendously. Here’s the four-step process I used to chart out thoughtful ideas, insights, and clear perspectives on being pregnant.

A guided framework for journaling and gaining clarity: four steps

The deck of cards was surprisingly easy to use.

It walks you through four steps.

For each step, you take 2–3 minutes to write down as much as you can. You can go longer if you’d like, or keep it short and simple. The first step is the simplest, and by getting your pen onto paper quickly, it makes the process easier. Much like Julia Cameron writes about in The Artist’s Way, just getting pen on paper and making a list can be an extraordinary way to dive into your mind.

Here’s how I did it:

Prep: Grab some pages to write on.

I have a Moleskine I love using, and so I cleared fresh sheets and got out a teal blue pen to write with, because that sounded like fun. Make sure you’re not distracted (I prefer a Moleskine or loose paper on a desk without any other items on it — no computer, phone, or other distractions. Yes, take off your watch!). Have a timer ready.

Next: Choose a topic or area of focus.

Choose a topic or a subject. I suppose you could just let something tumble out, or try to define a problem. For my sake, and as the example in this essay, I chose “Pregnancy” as the topic, because I was struggling to understand it, and these prompts helped me unpack it.

I then stacked the four sets of cards out face-down in front of me in four piles, and started a timer.

Step 1: The Facts

The first set of prompts is related to “the facts.” I pulled my first card, and it simply said, “What are the facts?”

I began by making a list.

  • I am pregnant.
  • I have swollen and sore feet.
  • I am doing Mathias’ Clarity Cards.
  • I’m in the 9th month.
  • I weigh … and more, but I won’t tell you all the details right now).

I pulled another card and continued listing. The prompts said things like “What is going on?” and “What is happening?”

My observations: It was easy to begin with a simple list of what the facts are. Even just the act of writing “I am pregnant” somehow makes it seem more real. I know, of course, that I’ve got a watermelon belly and I’m waddling around the city peeing at every coffee shop I can find, but still — it helps to list out all of the pieces of this puzzle, no matter how obvious.

The act of list-making can be profoundly useful as an instrument for getting inside of your own mind and beginning the process of journaling.

Never underestimate the power of making lists.

Step 2: Feelings

The second set of prompts asks you to write down how you feel about the situation. Prompts included questions like “What gives you energy?” and “What are you sad about?” and other guided questions to help you understand how you feel about the situation.

Again, I spent a quick 2–3 minutes on the next clean page in my Moleskine journal to jot down as much as I could. I spent about a minute per card and wrote whatever came to mind first.

Observations: It was wonderful to parse out facts versus feelings. It’s one thing to be pregnant (fact), and it’s a completely separate thing to have a set of feelings about it (excited! happy! scared! kind of in shock!). My list included things like “I feel like a beached whale,” and “My stomach is really tender in the center,” and “I feel much more vulnerable and in need of protection than my normal, ambitious, athletic self.” It went from physical feelings to deeper emotional layers, like “I feel like my identity is transforming,” and “there are parts of me that are changing so quickly, it’s hard to get used to.”

It can be difficult to separate out feelings and facts, and this was an easy way to do it. In addition, the act of taking time to focus just on feelings let a lot of them tumble out. If you’re not used to talking about your feelings, having a guided set of cards prompt you through it can help you find awareness.

Step 3: Insights

The third set of questions asks you to probe a bit further. What are you learning, deducing, and understanding? How are you interpreting these facts and feelings? What insights have you gained? This step takes you from observation to analysis.

I stumbled a bit here, because the first question was “What insights have you gained?” and I felt myself think dismissively, “Um, none.”

So I began this third step the way the whole process began, which was: simply.

My first insight? “Drinking a lot of water helps the headaches go away.”

From there, it became easier to write out insights, and because I was writing quickly, it was almost startling how fast I dug into deeper insights. Once I started, it was like they were ready to come tumbling out of me. “Rest yourself as often as you recharge your iPhone, if not more,” and “It’s your own learning process and your own journey, unique to you,” and “Take time to reconcile external readings and advice with your own internal wisdom,” all made it onto my list of insights about the experience of pregnancy.

Yes, this.

Gosh I felt smarter just writing it down. Nodding my head. It was like the wisdom was there all along, but I hadn’t had a clear way of seeing it.

Intuitively, I know that each of these things are true, but the act of writing them down made them stronger, more powerful. They reminded me how important they are. They clarified, for me, what insights I have at my fingertips, if I’m willing to sit for a few minutes and record, reflect, and listen.

Step 4: Actions

The fourth and final section is about creating a set of actions that you’re going to take. What can you do with what you’ve observed, noticed, and felt? What steps can you take next?

At first, I was confounded. What “actions” do I take with “pregnancy”? There was a list I could draw up quickly, like “pack your hospital bag, set up an email auto-reply, stock your freezer with food,” but those seemed like just another list of tasks and errands. I could make a to-do list in my sleep; how could I apply this more broadly to a reflective session focused on the holistic concept of “pregnancy” and everything that it entailed?

Then the ideas that came forward seemed both obvious and silly. I wrote them down:

Decisions to be made:
— It’s okay for the baby to come.
— We are ready.
— This will be great.
— We can handle this.

What am I going to do?
— Give birth.
— Become a mom.
— Work hard during labor and delivery!
— Rest fully and recover well.

What is the next step?
— Rest. Allow. Enjoy. Be.

And Exhale.

The power of putting words to paper continues to astound me. Twelve minutes of writing and journaling later, and there’s a renewed sense of calm about the transition that’s coming up ahead of us.

Recognizing that then, at the end of my pregnancy, I was getting ready to meet my little boy and bring him into the world — this makes me tear up. And it’s okay. The next things to do are to be here, in the moment. And to decide: decide that it’s okay, that we’re ready, and that it’s time. And to rest, allowing the process to unfold.


If you'd like to get my blog posts by email, click here.

Also published on Medium.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.