There are lots of things research is showing are useful to our mental well-being, such as, journaling, gratitude, meditation, exercise, etc. But many of us think I don’t have time for one more thing! Or, perhaps we just don’t know how to integrate these practices into our daily lives. This week I’d like to spend some time on one of these important skills, journaling, and explain why it is important. In addition, I’ll provide some tips for integrating it into your life, including how I made it work in my own life.
I hear the collective groan. Some of you are thinking “Journaling? What am I a 13 year old girl?” And some of you are thinking, “I’ve tried it, but I never stick with it! I give up.” But wait! First, journaling is different than a diary. We aren’t just documenting our life. In a journal we may investigate reactions or emotions to happenings, but it’s also a place for inspiration and creativity; a place to keep track of your good ideas, or whatever you want to write about, dreams, goals, etc. Many of the reasons research shows journaling is good for us, explains why it’s popular among teenage girls and it also explains why this practice is good for everyone! Here are just a few of the reasons journaling is a positive habit.
- Writing helps us evaluate our reactions and thoughts and emotions. This is good because it helps us determine where our habits lie – perhaps habits we’d rather not keep. It helps us separate truth from fiction in our mind and our world. We will also often write things that are surprising to us, it helps to sift out our real feelings.
- Writing apparently uses a different part of the brain than just thinking, which is why different thoughts will come out.
- Journaling diminishes symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other health conditions. It also strengthens the immune system
There are many ways to journal. I’ve listed a few here, but no matter how you do it, this is not writing for the public. Don’t worry about grammar, just write.
- You can just open up the journal and write, kind of spit out what you’ve been thinking about and see what else comes out. It can actually be really good to set a timer for 6-10 minutes and just keep writing. You’ll be surprised at what comes out.
- Reflect on events, books, or inspirations that have deeply impacted you and why.
- Reflect on your goals, what you hope to achieve, long term goals.
- Reflect on moments of joy, memorable meals or meetings, places you’ve visited.
- Perhaps you choose to keep a journal about some specific activity, for example, many people journal after they meditate.
Another reason you should journal is it can help you knock out the need to practice gratitude at the same time. Woohoo – 2 for 1! Taking the time to regularly write down the things we are grateful for has been shown to have many benefits, including “Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy, optimism, and happiness; acting with more generosity and compassion; and feeling less lonely and isolated.” As reported by the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude. Who doesn’t want those benefits? And really, you can get them by just writing down three things you are grateful for every day!
I’m going to admit. Personally I’ve struggled with journaling. For so many years I knew it was important, and would start and make it a week then 2 months later I’d try again with the same results. But finally I found a system that works for me. It may not work for everyone, but here is what works for me. I found that I had 4-5 little notebooks around at all times. One for journaling; another for notes from a class; another for notes for work; you get my drift. This just kept going as I gave each area of my life its own notebook. Well one day I was on a plane flying back from Boston and I got to chatting with the guy next to me. That flight from Boston to Denver flew by as we talked the whole time! And you won’t believe it, but eventually we got around to journaling – perhaps he saw that I kept taking out a different notebook to write down notes as we talked. Anyway, he introduced me to the Bullet Journal. I love it. This one book is my journal, daily and monthly to-do list, the place for all notes from all meetings, all research, all reading, etc. I just use my own notebooks, I don’t order any special books. If you have a system that works for you – keep using it! But if you are looking for a system, check out this link. The video demonstrates how to get started. Why has this allowed me to journal more? I don’t know, but something about having one place to write everything has been beneficial. I always have that one notebook with me.
If you’ve been able to maintain a regular journal, please post on what has worked for you.
Here are two other links that talk about the practice of journaling: