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How to Create Clarity with a Bullet Journal

My 2020 planner ended in March, leaving the pages, once filled with appointment dates and errands, blank due to the onset of the pandemic. Every day began to blur together, and I couldn’t remember if what I did happened that current week or the previous week. To add some stability to my life, I turned to social media for ideas, quickly discovering the trend of bullet journals. As part of my New Year’s resolution, I decided to join this creative community and write in my own bullet journal. And although popular on social media, I wondered if the activity offered any benefit to handling the stress of the pandemic. After speaking with a Penn Medicine expert, I learned that bullet journaling could have qualities connected to mindfulness.

#BulletJournal – Trending on Social Media

Bullet journaling has taken over social media by storm with more than seven million posts featuring #bulletjournal on Instagram. While scrolling through the hashtag, there are endless photos of journal pages, each uniquely designed and carefully crafted to reflect someone’s personal style. Some people have added elaborate to-do lists on their pages, writing each task in calligraphy, while others have colorful monthly charts to record their emotions, keeping track of how they’ve been feeling each day. In summary, its purpose is to offer an outlet to manage thoughts and ideas, which can be particularly helpful for dealing with uncertain and difficult situations.

“What we know is that since the beginning of the pandemic people have experienced much more difficulty and distress. People are less happy and comfortable, and they are lonelier,” said Michael Baime, MD, director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness.

According to a survey conducted by the CDC, symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased in the United States in April through June 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

“The practice of mindfulness helps you to find calm and helps you to settle when situations are turbulent,” Baime said. “You’re finding a part within yourself that is stable and not turning with everything around you.”

bullet journal

Power of Bullet Journaling

Through engaging in mindfulness practices, one can enhance productivity and prioritize goals, which is similar to the purpose of using a bullet journal. You’re able to clarify experiences and create structures that help you to think about what you’ve experienced, which can be done in the form of taking notes and developing lists.

Creative activities, like bullet journaling, can have a powerful effect for personal growth, change, and understanding the context of your life, Baime said. “We’re all overloaded with information and have too much in our heads and too much to do. Bullet journaling organizes all of that information and lets you put it aside so that you can access it when you want to.”

However, Baime suggests that individuals using bullet journals should take time to understand what matters most to them before breaking out the art supplies and filling the pages with any idea that quickly comes to their minds. “Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It helps you focus on and choose what requires your attention right now, teasing out what is most important in the middle of all the extraneous and distracting information we face each day.”

Importance of Personalizing Your Bullet Journal

It may seem challenging to start bullet journaling, figuring out how to set aside time to reflect on your day and share those thoughts on paper. It may also be intimidating looking at examples of bullet journals on social media. There are Instagram accounts dedicated to crafting bullet journals and making them look picture-perfect for followers, leading people to think that they must have artistic skills to engage in this activity, but that is not the case.

It’s all about the personalization of the journal and how it can reflect the important aspects of your own life, and it doesn’t matter if those aspects are elaborately or simply displayed. Besides drafting the typical to-do list, some people find value in jotting down meaningful quotes to remember, sketching floor plans for home renovations, or keeping track of books read each month.

“One of the things that mindfulness does is that it helps you explore yourself,” said Baime. “Bullet journaling can help one to express and clarify their beliefs and emotions.”

Actively engaging in mindfulness activities can ultimately change the way your mind works and change the structures of your brain, Baime explained. Keeping up with mindfulness-oriented activities, like bullet journaling each day, can adjust how you’re feeling and help learn how to handle bad days and make them good ones. “With mindfulness practice, you change the way your system works so that it can stay with that kind of openness and those feelings of steadiness and calmness.”

While bullet journaling may be helpful for some people, other activities may be more effective to channel mindfulness for others. “It may not be for everyone. Someone may prefer writing narratives or using photography as an outlet,” Baime said. “It’s really what works best for you.”


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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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