Gather your group after a ‘significant’ experience or event.
Distribute pen and paper to every person.
Ask each person to find a space to themselves for 5 to 10 minutes.
During this time, ask everyone to write down their thoughts in response to a particular topic you pose, eg how did you feel during the experience?
Once everyone has returned to the group, you may choose to invite one or more people to share what they wrote.
How To Play Narrative
As group leaders, we often lose sight of the value of allowing individual group members to be alone with their thoughts from time to time. We get so caught up in doing stuff in groups, we sometimes lose sight of the individual.
The guts of this processing strategy is to invite individual group members to spend some time on their own and write one or more personal thoughts in a journal, or other writing pad. Hey, these days, it might be entering data on a portable device, eg smart phone or tablet.
But, before you send your group off, consider these three important points:
You’ll want to wait for a moment in your program – whether it is planned, or not – when something of substance or significance has occurred, eg celebration, conflict, challenge, etc. In the absence of substance, it can often be difficult for people to be motivated to write.
Provide a framework to guide your group’s thoughts, lest they waste this valuable opportunity. For example, you may ask them to write down their thoughts in regards the manner in which the group resolved a recent conflict.
In advance, consider if you plan to ask people to share what they wrote in their journals when they return to the group, or not. It’s not necessary to ask people to share at all – indeed, some therapists would argue that the process of simply expressing thoughts in writing is beneficial enough. However, if you do plan to share what is written, communicate this in advance, and perhaps invite volunteers only, thereby comforting those people who would prefer not to share. Or, employ the non-threatening Paired Shares technique.
Naturally, you will need to distribute notebooks and pens – or some other writing instruments – and then ask each person to find a space where they can sit by themselves.
Allocate 5, 10, or 30 minutes for the journalling, or whatever time is commensurate with the significance of the experience and the abilities of your group.
Practical Leadership Tips
Take a look at Useful Debriefing Tips to learn about the benefits of processing your group’s experience, and how to run a successful debrief.
This simple processing technique leverages the value of solitude, if for no other reason than to provide a space for people to think. In a world seemingly ruled by extroverts, solitude matters.
Importantly, the process of ‘journalling’ invites people to get their thoughts out of their heads and put them down in writing, to gain insights they may not otherwise see.
With young people, you may wish to distinguish the difference between writing about what happened (unless this is your goal,) and how they felt about it.
Beware, that for some people ‘sitting by themselves’ does not necessarily mean far enough away so as to not distract others. Manage this if necessary.
This technique is really just an extension of ‘solo’ time whereby people go off on their own for an extended period of time to reflect, seek clarity, and possibly solve tricky problems.
Outward Bound has leveraged the value of journalling during the compulsory three day ‘solo’ time which forms part of their standard 26-day expeditions. The only things that would accompany an OB participant, other than their tent, food and water, was their journal.
You could integrate Journalling as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviour in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of purposefully reflecting and becoming aware of one’s thoughts and actions.
That said, you could certainly frame this self-reflection exercise as an opportunity to leverage awareness of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and accountability skills. For example, being left with one’s own thoughts for an extended period can be a powerful way to become profoundly related to one’s feelings, values and thoughts. This process can also be a calming exercise in and of itself. The key to helping your group make these connections would be your intention to invite each person (soon after) to share what they discovered through the process of pouring their thoughts out into words on paper. After an extended solo time, strong elements of self-efficacy can then be enjoyed as a result of this purposeful sharing.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Journalling could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Free-Form: Allow the writing to be free-form, that is, the journal will express whatever comes to people’s minds. Risky for some people who will treat this as free time, but wonderfully powerful for others who sense an opportunity to be open, creative and insightful.
Creative Writing: Ask people to write a short poem, haiku (short form of Japanese poetry,) or a limerick.
Imagery: Invite people to draw or illustrate their thoughts or feelings.
No Props Jornalling: Take a look at Solo Time whereby people are alone with their thoughts, without a journal.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Adapting this reflection technique to a virtual context is reasonably simple, but it’s more than just asking your group to switch off their webcams and microphones for an extended period. To provide a sufficient distraction-free zone, it may be necessary to ask people to deliberately switch off all of their devices and retreat to an appropriate spot to think and record their thoughts. This is really no different to the context of an in-person program – you must still trust that all group members will ‘disconnect’ from various distractions and be alone with just their thoughts.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It may sound like:
“WE’VE JUST EXPERIENCED A RATHER SIGNIFICANT TIME IN THE LIFE OF THIS GROUP. SO, I WOULD LIKE EACH OF YOU TO TAKE A NOTEBOOK AND PEN AND FIND A SPACE NOT TOO FAR AWAY FROM HERE – BUT FAR ENOUGH AWAY FROM OTHERS SO THAT YOU CANNOT DISTRACT ONE ANOTHER – TO WRITE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS DURING THIS TIME…”
“WOW – SO MUCH HAS TRANSPIRED SINCE WE LAST CAME TOGETHER. PLEASE TAKE A NOTEBOOK AND PEN FROM THIS PILE, AND FIND A SPACE TO YOURSELF FOR THE NEXT TEN MINUTES AND WRITE ABOUT THREE VIVID MEMORIES YOU HAVE OF THIS EXPERIENCE, IN PARTICULAR, HOW YOU FELT DURING THIS TIME AND WHAT YOU THINK IT ALL MEANS …”
The inspiration for Journalling, and many more powerful reflection tools, was sourced from my training days with Outward Bound staff who described the power of this simple debriefing technique.