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How to Do a Brain Dump in Your Journal

If you’re anything like me— I rack my brain sometimes for days trying to figure out problems in my head. Then the second I write about it or start talking to a friend about it, I magically solve the mystery!

For a creative person and visual folks especially, our brains can often feel very cluttered and disorganized. Sometimes doing a “brain dump” gives me a concrete way to organize of all of the thoughts pestering me. 

beautiful journal spread with free form writing to brain dump the author's ideas onto the page

What is a Brain Dump?

A brain dump is a super simple and rule-free way of getting your thoughts out of your head and out into the world.

The term brain dump really just refers to dumping out your head of random thoughts, ideas, and worries, so you can sort through them or simply free yourself of them. By getting these things on paper, you can free up the mental processing you’d been giving them back when they were stuck in your brain, leaving a brain dump session with a more clear focus, increased productivity levels, and reduced symptoms of stress associated with keeping it all inside.

There is something so therapeutic and refreshing about being able to make my thoughts tangible. Journaling – and brain dumping specifically – does this for me, and I think it can work wonders for anyone.

How To Add Brain Dumping yo Your Bullet Journal or Planner Practice

A creative journal spread showing writing, washi tape, and other embellishments

Often it can be tough to even know where to start when it comes to journaling and organizing your thoughts.

There are tons of different ways to brain dump, and the best part is— there is no right or wrong way to do it. Pick whatever method feels the most cathartic and refreshing to you!

One of the most important things to remember when brain dumping is that your thoughts, feelings, triggers, and ideas should flow freely without intrusion. It is important to get yourself in the right state to let these things flow freely from your brain and onto your journal page.

Some simple things I like to do before starting a brain-dump journaling session are:

  1. Take a few deep breaths— the kind you can feel in your whole body. 
  2. Relax my shoulders
  3. Relax my jaw
  4. Move my head from side to side
  5. Give myself permission to be completely honest with myself 

If you like listening to music when you journal, I always find it relaxing and helpful to put on some mellow music (like lo-fi) to get me in the zone. 

These little preparations are not mandatory. Sometimes it’s necessary to flip your journal open and just start writing. 

Here are some of my favorite ways to brain dump:

Free Form Writing

creative journal spread showing freeform writing as a form of brain dumping

The most straightforward version of brain dumping is free form writing. It also happens to be one of my personal most used types of brain dumping. 

Often, when I am really needing a good brain dump there is something that is bugging me, or feels unresolved. I use my journal as a safe space to get all of my thoughts out without fear of judgment, repercussions, or hurting anyone.

Some great questions to ask yourself while you’re brain dumping are:

  • What is happening in my life that brings me joy or grief?
  • Is there a pressing situation or decision I am being faced with?
  • How am I really feeling about it?
  • What would need to happen for this situation to feel resolved?
  • What are some actions I can take to remedy this situation or bring me joy?
  • What have I learned from this situation? 
  • What do I still need to learn from this situation?
  • What could I do differently in the future?

These are just a few suggestions to get you on your journey of brain dumping. Follow these suggestions, or ignore them entirely. The important thing is that you are getting your random thoughts and feelings out of your head.

It is a highly cathartic and liberating feeling to be able to get your thoughts out and gain some clairty and real understanding.  

Making a Brain Web / Mind Map

Making a brain web (also called a mind map) is a somewhat more structured way of sorting through thoughts.

Tons of business professionals use this method of journaling to brainstorm ideas about ways to grow and be more creative in their approaches. 

The main premise is that you start with 1-5 ideas and brainstorm other ideas, emotions, tasks and other questions that you may have about these main ideas. There are no limits as to how far this brain web can span.

You may find that some main ideas have more or less webs coming off of them with new ideas, and that is totally okay. 

Make a List

beautiful journal spread with floral embellishments

I am a devout list maker. I make micro-lists of daily plans and to do lists, giant lists of yearly goals, and everything in between. 

Sometimes ideas don’t even feel like they exist for me until I get them out on paper. Making lists is a great way of mapping out daily tasks, goals and plans to keep me on track and reduce stress. There are so many different kinds of lists you can make to help sort through your thoughts and feelings too, or overcome feeling overwhelmed.

Some great brain dump list ideas you can utilize are:

  • List of tasks or assignments you need to complete, or general to do list
  • People you would like to catch up with
  • Errands you need to run
  • Work tasks that need attention
  • Things you need to buy
  • Things you’d likely forget if you don’t write them down
  • Ways you can save or earn more money
  • Goals you would like to accomplish
  • Concerts you would like to go to, or movies you want to see, or books you want to read
  • Places you are dying to see, or a seasonal bucket list
  • Healthy meals you can make throughout the week, which you can then implement this week and next week!

The possibilities are endless! Creating lists is a great first step to feeling more accomplished and organized. Get all of these ideas out of your head and onto paper and you’ll surely feel satisfied and more prepared to take on these problems first hand. 

Make a Doodle Page

journal page of flower doodles on one side, and cut-out lunar and solar images on the other

Yes, you heard me, a doodle page. Just because you aren’t putting words or tasks on paper does not mean you aren’t brain dumping. Studies have shown that when you’re doodling your brain is being flexed in different ways than if you were just laying in bed, or watching a show. Doodling as a brain dump just recognizes the different ways people like to process their thoughts and ideas!

Creating something visual sparks different connections in your brain and has actually been shown to provide stress relief, help solve problems, and create more positive feelings. 

The best part about doodling is just how easy it is to get started. I like to play some lo-fi music, grab my favorite pencils or markers and draw anything and everything!

If you aren’t sure what to draw or are picky about wanting your journal to look a certain way, look up inspiration on pinterest. 

There are a ton of drawing step-by-step instructions out there to help you get started— plus you’ll be learning a new skill!

If you’re not keen on doodling on a regular basis, you can also practice your penmanship or hand-lettering. You’re still flexing your brain in different ways, plus the repetition of practicing letters is very calming and therapeutic. 

Make Room For Gratefulness 

Venting is a totally healthy way to de-stress and sort out your thoughts, feelings and stressors. It can be so easy to let negative thoughts stew and fester until you feel like you could explode. It’s okay to not be positive every second of the day. 

Write out a list of things that are bugging you and bringing you down. Pull out all the stops and let it out as a braindump in your journal. Know that this page is for your eyes only – no need for a pretty layout if you don’t feel like it – and give yourself permission to shake it all off. 

Feel better now?

Once you get it all out, focus on the things that you are grateful for. You can be grateful for people, experiences, places you have been, your pets, your kids, your friends and family, etc. 

There are so many great ways to write a gratitude journal, and it’s a fantastic way to shift your thoughts toward the positive things happening around you. 

How Often Should You Do Brain Dumps?

journal spread showing different brain dump lists on one side, including a grocery list and to dos, with a more freeform writing brain dump on the opposite page

Brain dumping is a form of problem-solving, and it is a great idea to make some version of brain dumping a part of your regular journaling practice. This may mean a daily or monthly brain dump page – just pick something that works for you. It’s also totally possible that you already were doing this without realizing!

Although there are no rules to journaling— it’s a good idea to set aside time weekly to brain dump. Sometimes when life feels hectic, I find myself even brain-dumping daily. 

This all depends on where you are at right now in your life and how you’re feeling.

Do Brain Dumps Work?

Setting aside time to journal is an investment in your health and happiness. I believe that journaling everyday keeps the doctor away. It is a virtually free way of unloading your worries, improving your mood and mental health.

The best part about using a journal is the capacity to express  endless creativity. The act of creating a beautiful page is cathartic and relaxing— even if you aren’t even sure what the page will be filled with quite yet.  

I sometimes like to sit down at my desk with my sticker books, markers, washi tape and stamps, take a big breath, and just start creating something I think is beautiful with pen, a blank page, and embellishments. Let your creativity flow in your journaling and you’ll surely feel its therapeutic effects fast. 

So no matter what method of brain dumping speaks the loudest to you— just get started. Free yourself from that jumbled mess of thoughts in your head! You will be so grateful you did!

Lindsay Aman on InstagramLindsay Aman on Wordpress
Lindsay Aman
Lindsay Aman
Lindsay is a photographer and adventurer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is finishing up her 95 GMC conversion van build and then traveling the country with her Australian Shepard mix, Rooney. Lindsay graduated from the University of Utah in 2016 with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. She is passionate about storytelling, journaling, and living life to the fullest.

Lindsay loves documenting her travels and adventures through photography, videography and bullet journaling.

She is an avid traveler and has been to 13 different countries- with many more to come! You can follow her adventures on her tiktok (@lindsayamanphotography), youtube (coming soon), instagram (@lindsayamanphotography ), and her website.