By Jackee Holder, Leadership Coach
Restorative journaling is a powerful tool that helps racially diverse leaders process difficult experiences. When we translate difficult events – especially ones we find hard to talk about – into written language, we can reinvigorate and transform how we deal with the everyday challenges we face at work.
For the last thirty years, I have been both a student and a teacher of restorative journaling and can vouch for its many benefits, both in my career and personal life.
Restorative journaling provides a means for me to be honest about my lived experiences in a way that I would not otherwise be comfortable with. My journal has always been the place where my ideas have come to fruition, and where I work through challenges and setbacks, and it has been instrumental in helping me define my leadership approach.
In this ‘Restorative Journaling’ series, I will share with you why and how this practice is so important for those who experience racism and discrimination in the workplace. I’ll also provide you with some journaling prompts to help you work through the many challenges we face as racially diverse leaders, to help you reflect and re-frame difficult experiences.
What is restorative journaling?
Restorative journaling is the practice of writing down thoughts and emotions after a painful or confusing event. This practice helps leaders connect with their own thinking and increase their self-awareness. When we engage with restorative journaling, we not only make time to process our emotions and feelings, but we also create opportunities to explore our values, goals, hopes and dreams.
At The Diversity Practice, it is one of the key tools we share with people who join our leadership programmes.
What are the benefits of restorative journaling?
Research has shown that expressive writing reduces stress levels, improves memory, promotes a stronger immune system, and provides greater clarity of thinking and focus. It also effectively lowers blood pressure and heart rate, helping you deal more effectively with stress.
In the workplace, restorative journaling provides leaders with an outlet to skilfully and intentionally self-reflect. It’s where we can not only make space to process difficult interactions, but also create space to nurture hopes, dreams and aspirations.
Why is restorative journaling important for racially diverse leaders?
Racially diverse leaders typically work in environments where racism and microaggressions are part of the everyday experience.
Dr Arline T. Geronimus observes that this creates a process called ‘Weathering’, which stems from “repeated or sustained activation of the physiological stress response over years and eventually decades”. This means that a person’s health and life expectancy depends more on their experiences, their interactions with others, and the physical environment they live in than on their DNA.
Our mental and emotional resilience requires great care at this time. Three years have passed since the death of George Floyd, and there has been little systematic action since then, despite the best efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement. This reality takes its toll on Black lives, both inside and outside the workplace.
Resilience, different perspectives, and a strong cultural legacy are some of the many strengths that Black and racially diverse leaders bring to the workplace in terms of experience, knowledge and skills. But we need to make time to tend to our mental and emotional states to ensure they are in great shape.
The practice of restorative journaling is one way racially diverse leaders can offload some of the cumulative stress caused by race and microaggressions in an offline environment. And it all starts with one simple thing – a notebook.
How can you start using restorative journaling?
While there’s no fixed rules when it comes to restorative journaling, many of the leaders that we speak to find it useful to have a little bit of direction, especially when they haven’t done it before.
So to help you, here’s two useful prompts that you can use if you want to try it for yourself.
One restorative journaling prompt you can start using straight away is freewriting. It is not too dissimilar from brainstorming, and allows you to write continuously within a structured time frame of 15-20 minutes, without worrying about style or format.
Sit down with your notebook, and try to reflect on a negative incident you’ve experienced at work when you have been the victim of racism or discrimination. Give yourself space and time to think, feel, and write down whatever comes into your head.
Write as much detail as you can about the incident or experience, and don’t worry about grammar or punctuation. Go with the flow, and if you happen to go off topic, it’s absolutely fine. Aim to get as much out of your head and onto the page.
It’s also helpful to take some time to pause and reflect when your time is up. Take a few moments to let your emotions and feelings surface as you process your past.
Writing in the third person
Imagine you are an observer of a microaggression or an incident of racism you have experienced, and write down any thoughts or feelings that come to mind in your notebook.
Often we want to forget about the incident, or thinking about it brings up painful memories we would rather not focus on. Yet there is real mileage in giving time and space to challenging situations.
When you feel ready, writing about the situation in the third person can give the you creative space needed to explore the situation. Try writing in the third person (she/he/they). How do you see yourself from this third position? What are you noticing?
By observing a situation as a third party, we may find that we see things differently to how we experienced them first hand. Use this time to express what you notice as an observer, and write it all down. Use this prompt to help decide on what action you will take: ‘My next action step will be…’ This exercise should provide a powerful cathartic release.
The key takeaways
As a racially diverse leader, learning how to express your feelings and emotions through restorative journaling will not only help you process and come to terms with all kinds of difficult situations, but it will also give you clarity and purpose on your goals and aspirations moving forward.
These journaling prompts provide an easy and simple way to ensure you are prioritising your emotional and physical wellbeing for today and beyond.
This is the first in our new blog series on restorative journaling for racially diverse leaders. Be sure to look out for the next article, where I will share two more writing prompts!
If you’d like to find out more about how The Diversity Practice can empower racially diverse leaders, reach out to us today.