The Benefits of Journaling
By Sara Novak
In the world of self improvement journaling is a biggy. It’s a great tool for assessing your successes and documenting those places where you fell short. It’s good for boosting brain health and helping you to remember what you did with your day years ago. Looking back to a huge trip and how you felt in that place and that time is a breeze if you’ve written it all down. We know about the lives of famous people and the world hundreds of years ago because of the journals left behind. Instead of spending your time scrolling through social media and documenting yourself in cyberspace, why not consider journaling, a real world tool for improving the real life you’re living.
Tips For Journaling
Your journal isn’t supposed to be a literary work. So don’t stress. Just try and make a commitment to writing a little something everyday. These tips can help:
- Start with a few sentences. It shouldn’t take hours to write in your journal and if it does you’re less likely to do it everyday. Instead, start off with a few sentences that reflect and describe your day.
- Make it positive. Of course your whole day isn’t peaches and cream but writing the parts of your day that you’re thankful or have gratitude for can help you see your glass as half full rather than half empty. Take the time to write at least five things that are going well or that you have gratitude for each and everyday.
- Consider writing stream of consciousness. It’s sort of freeing, like a brain dump but it’s writing your stream of consciousness. As Tiny Buddha puts it, this is a great way to avoid censoring your thoughts.
- Take your journal with you. Obviously you’ll need to be careful not to leave it behind, especially if it’s really personal. But taking your journal with you means you can jut down a few sentences between meetings or on your lunch break. Kid playing at the park? It’s a great time to note the day.
- Schedule journaling. You’ve found time for working out and for meditation but journaling still hasn’t made the cut. Schedule it into your day just like you do everything else. It doesn’t matter whether you do it first thing in the morning or the last thing before bedtime. What matters is that you make it a part of your routine.
- Keep going. If you’ve got writer’s block, remember this isn’t your debut novel. Write something, anything. Write what you did that day. Write what you had for dinner. Write how many sit ups you did. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the process.
- Write down routine. Your journal is a great tool for honing your routine. That means write how long you meditated. Write the yoga poses you did. Write how much you bench pressed. This can help you make improvements from one day to the next and it’s good for accountability.
- Write somewhere new. Sometimes switching up your environment can make all the difference in the world. Step outside. Hit the beach. Take your journal with you on a hike. If you wanna think in a different way then you need to do different things.
- Make it messy. Life is messy and so your journal should be too. While you don’t want to always be going glass is half empty, sometimes all your juggling balls fall to the ground and that’s OK.
Read More: The Benefits of Meditation
Famous People Who Journaled
I lot of what we know about history comes from the fact that many important people in history journaled. We know about their successes and their failures from their journal. We know what their inventions and their schedules looked like from their journals. We know about their love interests and their foibles from their journals. You get the point. Here are some of the most famous people in history to keep regular journals.
- Leonardo da Vinci. We know about his inventions and his set backs from da Vinci’s journal. By some estimates, 7,000 pages of his journaling survive today. The world would have known a lot less than we do today if not for this ever important window into the mind of a genius.
- Marie Curie. Marie Curie is known to have discovered radium and polonium. She also won the Nobel Peace Prize twice. And she kept a good journal of her thoughts and her discoveries along the way. Sadly, Marie Curie died from exposure to the very poisons she discovered and we might never have known as much as we do about the “Mother of Modern Physics” if not for her journal.
- Lewis and Clark. We know so much about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s famous Lewis and Clark expedition because of the journals they kept. They documented their encounters with Native Americans, the flora and fauna, and their hardships along the way. If they hadn’t brought a pen and paper West, we might never have known what we do about their famous expedition.
- Charles Darwin. The famous naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin taught us about the theory of evolution in many of his notes documented on his travels all over the world.
- Mark Twain. He’s one of the most famous American writers and he is well known for his journal. He kept a pocket journal so he could jut down notes whenever he felt like it.
Benefits of Journaling
Lots of people keep journals and with good reason, it’s a great habit. Journaling has so many benefits that make it worth adding to your daily routine. Here are a few of them:
1. Assess Successes
If you’re trying to hone your routine and make the most out of your day, knowing what works and what doesn’t is half the battle. Each day, write down your wins and your losses. The recipes that worked and those that didn’t. Whether you got in your workout or wrote the number of words that you’d hoped. It’s all about accountability.
2. Increases Efficiency
Journaling can also be a to-do list. I don’t know how I would get through my day without my trusty to-do list and once I write them down, I vow to stop thinking about the things that I have to get done. The list is there. I check things off as I do them and that’s all. Moving through your to-do list is another tool for assessing success. You can also document the times of the day when you’re the most efficient whether that’s in the morning or late in the evening. I like to make a short to-do list of the items I need to get done that day and a weekly to-do list of the things that I need or want to accomplish in the days and weeks ahead. Your journal is also a great tool for writing down longer term goals. The way you want your life to look versus the way it currently looks and the steps it will take to get there. It can be your vision board or you can make yourself the main character in your own aspirational novel.
3. Helps Model The Life You Want
Again, your journal can be aspirational. So you hate your job but don’t just spend your journaling time complaining about the life you’re living, lay out the life you’d like to live. What is your dream career? What does it take to get there? Who are the people that are currently succeeding in the job you want? Write it down and then start moving in that direction.
4. Reduces Stress
Journaling has also been shown to reduce stress naturally. Especially gratitude journaling, or more specifically writing the things that you love about your life each and everyday. A study published in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Learning found that “expressive writing” may also have numerous emotional and physical well-being benefits. The authors write about “the demonstrated benefits [of expressive writing]” which potentially results in a combination of immediate cognitive and/or emotional changes and longer-term cognitive and/or emotional changes.
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5. Helps You Remember
All of those places you’ve been, how could you remember them if you don’t write them down? We’re likely to remember those moments in time that influence our lives, but we’re less likely to remember the meals we ate on vacation or the restaurants we visited. What about the sites we’ve seen. On these vacations to remember, wouldn’t it be fun to look back and truly relive or dive back into that special vacation that meant so much. Maybe you went through a life transition and you want to remember it. Years later, the chances are if you didn’t write it down you won’t remember it.
6. Thought Dump
We carry a lot of anxious thoughts with us and sometimes writing them down is a good way to detox the mind of those thoughts that don’t serve us. As mentioned above, it can be a stream of consciousness thought dump, but writing it down is a way of moving through a thought without repressing it. If you notice a thought coming up again and again, writing it down could be a means of freeing yourself of it.
7. Inspires Creativity
You don’t have to be published to be a writer. Journaling is a method of inspiring creativity or whatever that means to you. Got a poem in your head? Write it down. A doodle coming to mind? Write it down. It’s your journal which means you don’t have to write between the lines. Make it your own and get creative.
8. Improves Your Writing
I often do my best writing when I’m working out. How is that possible? Because I’m always thinking about writing in the strangest of places. The minute an idea, a lead, an interviewee, or a book idea pops into my head I write it down. Sometimes thoughts or ideas are there for a moment and then they’re gone. If I wait until I’m back at my computer to write them down I could easily forget them. That’s why it’s always best to be like Mark Twain and carry your pocket journal with you. Your journal can also be a tool for improving your writing because the more you write the better you’ll become at it.
9. Increases Positivity
I mentioned the gratitude journal a few times because it’s such an effective tool. The more you acknowledge the things that are going well in your life, the better you’ll be able to see them day to day. Human nature, unfortunately, is to look at the negative or the threats. It’s how us cavemen survived. So we basically have to train ourselves to look at the positive aspects of our lives and writing them down is one of the most effective tools to do this. A study published in the Journal of Management Education found that when students were asked to keep a daily gratitude journal it showed a heightened level of meaning and engagement in the class. The findings illustrated the importance of teaching stress management techniques like gratitude journaling.