“People who keep journals have life twice.” – Jessamyn West
All I could see was the blank page.
I found myself staring at the journal that lay open on my lap. It was the third time in a week I’d made an attempt to start writing in my new journal and I was determined to begin with something other than ‘Dear Diary.’
Several minutes, one headache, and three aspirin later I closed the journal and decided I’d try again tomorrow when I was fresh. Preferably in the morning when I feel the most clever.
The morning rolls around and I sit staring at that wretched blank page which just stares right back at me as if to say, “How many times are we going to go through this?”
Finally I caved and I wrote, ‘Dear Diary,’ in black pen.
Suddenly, the words that wouldn’t come flowed easily. I wrote for an hour. Who knew I had so much to say? I was fascinated.
I’ve been writing in a journal every day for the past 45 days, and it has changed my life.
Why Bother With Journaling?
Just like any habit, it takes a work to maintain a journal. For people like me, it’s difficult to start a journal. For others, it’s the ‘keeping’ part of journaling that feels impossible to maintain.
Regardless of where you get stuck, it’s likely that you’ve tried journaling before only to use the pages for your latest paper mâché project.
Journaling, if you can keep it up, offers a plethora of physical and emotional benefits. Some benefits are obvious while others may surprise you. All of them make taking the time to develop the journaling habit worth the effort.
Understand Your Feelings
“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” – Christina Baldwin
Most of us are too busy to stop and reflect on our feelings in the middle of the day. Many of us also feel really uncomfortable talking about our feelings to others and often don’t want to burden others with our ‘issues.’
Enter your journal.
Your journal wants to know everything you’re feeling and why. I once wrote an entire 4 page entry on why I thought the feeling of stress was responsible for the seemingly unrelated pain in my right shoulder. I didn’t get a single complaint from my journal!
When I’m feeling a shameful emotion or an emotion that I’ve avoided expressing, getting it down on paper always feels like a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
Some people rip those pages out and burn them, since it’s the act of writing that matters, not the result.
There are other times where I’m not sure what I’m feeling or why I’m feeling a particular way, so I use my journal to figure it out. See an example from earlier this year below. By the end of the journal entry I was able to pinpoint my feelings and their cause.
Lower Stress and Increase Emotional and Physical Health
“The looking over & filling up my journal to my mind always gives me pleasure. I seem to live my life over again. If I have been unhappy, it rejoices me to have escaped it; if happy, it does me good to remember it. ” – Anne Lister
Writing about traumatic, stressful, and/or emotionally charged events in life has been shown to improve physical and psychological health.
When you write without reserve and expressively about stressful or traumatic topics, you will have less stress-related visits to the doctor, a stronger immune system, a greater feeling of psychological well-being, improved lung and live function, reduced blood presser, a higher grade point average, improved working memory, and more!
Let’s not forget about the wonders journaling can do for your self-esteem!
Did someone say something nice to you today? Tell your journal. There’s no judgment there. You don’t have to worry about sounding conceited or full of yourself.
List all of the ways in which you are amazing. I often write in length about how awesome I am.
Record Events and Lessons Learned
I mean no disrespect
But you are more sublime
Than any Sacred Text
Sometimes just a list
Of my events
Is holier than the Bill of Rights
And more intense”
– Leonard Cohen
Every day you learn something new.
How many of these new things do you think you actually retain?
Probably not as many as you’d like.
What would happen if you wrote down every lesson learned, every great piece of advice you’ve heard, close calls and near misses, every success and the actions behind it, and all that has or hasn’t worked?
Imagine what a compilation of knowledge you’d have!
You would be able to flip through your journal occasionally and re-learn long forgotten lessons whenever you choose.
Safe Emotional Dumping Ground
“Everyone should have a form of a diary, it’s a great release.” – Stanley Victor Paskavich
There are times when you just need to vent. Your journal doesn’t mind how often you vent and how many times you repeat the same tired problem.
This is especially useful when you feel like making false statements about the thing or person that made you angry. When you talk to a friend you’ll have to clarify you understand you’re generalizing and you understand that, logically, none of that is really true. Your journal already knows.
Clarify Your Thinking
“In the journal I am at ease.” – Anais Nin
It’s easy to get all caught up in the daily activities of life and never settle down to reflect on whether the actions you’re taking today are still bringing you toward the larger goals you identified for yourself. When you journal often you can see if you’re off track or right on target.
Additionally, you get to reflect on insights about yourself if you read back through the journal. You can see thought patterns, behaviors, and common themes.
The best part for me is using my journal to make decisions. I can flesh out the entire problem from every single angle and look back over it. Usually the answer will come to me during the process of writing the pros and cons.
The Ultimate Creation
“I always say, keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.” – Mae West
If historical figures never kept journals, think about all of the history that would have been lost. I often wish that my grandparents kept journals so I could see firsthand what life was like for them so long ago.
Imagine 100 years from now when you’re dead and gone. If you journal every day for the rest of your life you’ll have dozens of journals for your grandkids to read and hundreds of experiences to offer them that they would have never be able to know.
Where to Keep Your Journal
I prefer physical journals since I can write in them anywhere, they’re not limited by the location of power outlets, and they limit distractions. I will concede that I’m a really fast writer and I’m not all that concerned with penmanship.
There are people who write so slowly I experience true physical pain just watching them drag their pen across the page. If you’re one of these people, there’s no shame in using a computer to journal. There are journaling programs you can use, or just use a text file or word processor.
How to Stick With It
This is the big question, isn’t it? It takes a special kind of discipline to journal everyday for five weeks, not to mention five decades.
Here are a few tips to keep you on track.
Free Yourself From Rigid Expectations
So many people get hung up on what to write about, how long to write, and how many words they should log.
Write about anything. You don’t have to catch your journal up on the first few decades of your life. Start with today. Start with this very instant. You don’t need journal prompts to get you started, as they often discourage you when you find you have nothing to write about concerning that particular topic.
As a matter of fact, ‘Today was a good day,’ is a perfectly acceptable journal entry when you’re feeling less inspired.
If having zero expectations make you uncomfortable, then you could do what I do, and commit yourself to writing three things you’re grateful for that day and three things you’re proud of achieving. Here’s an example from my very own journal:
The first thing I was grateful for was my dog Peanut’s face. In the entry before this one I expressed extreme gratitude for my nose. It’s ok to be grateful for the simple things in life. Don’t worry if every journal entry doesn’t reveal something profound about humanity. Whatever you write in your journal is what was supposed to be written. Nothing more and nothing less.
Don’t Ask Too Much From Yourself
You don’t have to force yourself to write for 15 minutes to consider yourself a legitimate journal keeper. Require three sentences, or, using the example from above, one thing you’re grateful for and one thing you’re proud of.
Even just writing, ‘Too tired to journal. I’m grateful for my pillow,’ is more than enough. Just stick with your commitment. The content will come when it’s ready.
Set a Time and Leave Your Journal in a Place You Can’t Forget About It
I journal every evening right before bed. I never take my journal out of my bedroom since I’m bound to forget it somewhere and be too lazy to get it when I lay down for bed.
So there it stays with a pen inside of it (that also never leaves) and ready to be written in. It’s nearly impossible for me to forget to write because seeing my journal is a visual cue.
This is the best way to create a routine that will get you journaling every day. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you pick or where you journal as long as your remain consistent.
Photo by JoelMontes