It’s about time to start your journaling habit because it’s really good for… well, everything!
A stronger immune system, wounds that heal faster, increases chances to fight cancer, better sleep, better resilience against stress and burnout, increases mindfulness, improves working memory, enhances communication skills, boosts self-confidence, increases productivity, heightens capacity for empathy and compassion towards oneself and others, it puts you in a better mood… the list is long and goes on and on.
Journaling is very well known as the “Swiss army knife” of improving the mental and physical health of those who follow the habit of capturing their thoughts on a regular basis. There’s also no need for anything fancy to do it: pen and paper, a notebook… There are even apps for your phone and, of course, the good old Word/Pages document.
In psychology, journals are used to support dealing with stress and trauma
Psychologists urge their clients to journal about their experiences.
It’s the best way to organize those fleeting pieces of an event that won’t stop circulating in your head. Those pieces find a home on a page or a screen. They become externalized — a story outside of our brains. That way we can make sense of what happened and our working memory can stop continuously processing the same experience and let it go.
Journals are used as tools to evolve by successful people
We know that most of the big inventors, politicians, and philosophers kept journals to capture their thoughts, ideas, what they worked on and how to overcome issues with what they were trying to solve. That helped them to move forward. Because if you write things down, it becomes easier to quantify them and get a more accurate understanding of a topic. You will also start to see recurring subjects and trends. Ultimately, your motivation to change something will get a little kick every time you write about the same issue.
Journals serve as a window to your past
Rereading an old journal can also be a great source of inspiration: “See how far I’ve come.” or just serve as a window into your past self. It can help you to recall past events when you want to tell stories to your friends, kids, or grandchildren. It’s a bit like writing an autobiography on the go.
You might also be surprised to find that most often the things we find extremely important today don’t matter as much or not at all anymore at a certain point in the future. A journal can very well help you to understand that feelings, experiences, and people change. And even if you tend to be on the nostalgic side, overall that’s a very liberating thought. It means the bad stuff will pass. But it also means that you should enjoy each and every sweet, beautiful, magical moment in your life.
So, why are we not doing it?
Now, we know about all the great stuff that journaling can do for us. So what is it that keeps us from starting?
Because when I look around, a very small number of people around me journal.
There’s the fear of the blank page, questioning the relevance of what one is writing, spelling and grammar mistakes, your future self cringing at what you wrote, general awkwardness, the risk that someone else could read it, or the gold old excuse of it being too much work…
We can admit it: journaling might not be the thing for everyone. But what I’ve heard as reasons as to why not to journal didn’t convince me much.
If you’re on the fence to begin or not, or if you’re just a bit unsure on how to start:
Here’s a list of watch-outs for the start of your journaling journey
- Write for yourself and not for others. That means social norms and expectations don’t matter. Grammar and spelling don’t matter. And it also doesn’t matter if it sounds smart or deep; or like anything at all.
- Even though, I just said, don’t worry about writing something particularly deep: this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about (traumatic) events that keep on coming back to your mind. As said, writing about those is also a technique implemented by therapists and can help you to let go.
- You can write your stream of thought or you can work with writing prompts (you’ll find a list of writing prompts to start off with further down the article).
- Beginning with your stream of thought can help you as a guide to the topic you should be writing about. (Sorry, if this sounds cryptic. It’s similar to free association. It’s likely that your brain comes up with something that it is currently occupied with.)
- Writing prompts can be helpful to think deeply about a certain topic and increase your self-understanding or dissolve blockages (convictions, values, self-beliefs, relationships, and similar).
- The feeling of awkwardness will vanish with practice.
- Don’t feel pressured to write every day, try to make it a habit though.
It might be that writing once or twice a week is best for you. Try to integrate a 5–15min journaling block into your morning routine. It might turn out it’s best for you to write before sleeping or during your lunch break. Experiment to figure out what works for you.
- If you feel that writing every day leads to you ruminating about an issue, rather spend 3–4 days to write for 15–20mins about the topic and then let it go.
- If reading old journal entries stirs up too much emotion, don’t do it.
- Burning pages of journals or the whole journal can be quite cathartic (also helps to dissolve the fear of any nosy person reading your entries or the just mentioned emotional rollercoasters.)
- If you don’t benefit from journaling, you can stop anytime.
Now, off you go! And let me know how it went at carolin @ freedomxx.com
A little extra: Writing prompts
Today and now
- What did I do today?
- How do I feel right now?
- What am I thankful for?
- What went well today?
- What could I’ve been handled better and how?
- What is in my control to change? What is not?
- What thoughts were accompanying me today?
- What are my plans for tomorrow?
- Who do I want to be in 5 years?
- What kind of person will I be?
- What will be my values and principles?
- Where do I see gaps between myself today and the self I want to be in the future? What can I do to work towards closing the gaps?
More writing prompts from the internet
- What do I wish other people knew about me?
- What inspires me?
- What words do I need to hear right now to be at peace?
- What are the doubts that I have about myself that pop up every once in a while?
- What do I wish others would say about me?
- How do I want others to feel around me?
- When and how have I treated someone in a way that I regret?
- What are the things that trigger me and make me angry?
- When I think about the future what am I most afraid of?
- Who do I want to become?
- Do I feel deserving of love? Why? Why not?
- When was the last time I acted irrationally? Why?
- How good am I at asking for help?
- Have I settled for less? If so, why?
- What does happiness mean to me?
- What makes me feel happy?
- How good am I at seeing things as they really are?
- While reflecting on my childhood what memories make me angry or sad to this day?
- What are happy memories from my childhood?
- How good am I at handling feelings in a healthy way?
- Which aspects about myself am I projecting onto others?
- What do I consider to be challenging to me?
- Have I forgiven myself?
- Have I forgiven people who hurt me?
- What would I tell myself if I was a friend of mine?
- What would I tell someone who has hurt me in the past?
- Which one of my weaknesses could be turned into something of potential?
- How worthy do I believe I am? Why?
- What would I say to my younger self?
- How good am I at trusting other people?
- Which experience has shaped my personality and why?
- What trait of others do I wish I had?
- What characteristics of myself do I not like?
- What aspect of myself would I like to improve?
- What am I most afraid of?
- When do I feel most safe?
- When do I feel most calm?
- What comforts me when I am sad?
- What is my biggest wish? And why?
- What does unconditional love look like to me?
- What unhealthy attachments do I need to let go of?
- Which situations make me feel like a child again?
- In which situations do I want to be more assertive?
- In which situations should I be more patient?
- What has changed my life for the better and how?
- What drains my energy?
- How good am I at sitting in silence with my thoughts?
- What am I afraid to say out loud?
- What do I need more of in my life?
- What do I need less of in my life?
- When was the last time I was kind to someone?
- How good am I at living in the present moment?