On this rollercoaster we call life, keeping a journal can be a powerful form of self-expression, reflection, and exploration. Whether you’re feeling hopeful or sad, trying to find meaning and purpose in your life, or just wanting to capture memories – a journal will always be there to listen, and to give you a safe and non-judgmental space to share your thoughts.
The great thing about journaling is that there are no rules at all. You can write as little or as much as you like about any topic of your choice. Some people find it helpful to write in a journal daily, while others might occasionally turn to their journal when they are looking to unload an overwhelming emotion, or to work through some confusing thoughts.
To help you consider how journaling might work best for you, let’s take a closer look at what journalling is, what the benefits are and how you can incorporate a journal into your existing routine.
What is journaling?
Journaling or keeping a journal means to keep a written (or sometimes spoken) record of your thoughts, feelings, goals and/or reflections. Some people also use a journal to record memories or observations to revisit later, to practice their writing, or to explore ideas for stories, books, poems and blogs. The most popular type of journaling is that which requires a pen and a notebook, but more recently, people have also opted to keep audio or video journals, or to type their thoughts on a computer.
Keeping a journal is an effective way to track daily life. It can give you a chance to explore what makes you happy or sad, to hold onto experiences that you treasure, and to help you work towards your goals. Journaling can also help you to create a healthy, meaningful connection with yourself by allowing you to explore and better understand who you are, and what you want and need in life. One of the most beautiful things about keeping a journal is that it’s raw and unedited. You don’t have to watch what you say, worry about spelling mistakes or be anyone you don’t want to be.
What are the benefits of journaling?
Journaling is a simple exercise with huge benefits. Here are a few of the biggest ones:
Keeping a journal can help to improve your mental health
Research shows that keeping a daily journal can counteract many of the negative effects of stress, depression or anxiety. Putting pen to paper can help us to manage stressful or anxious thoughts by encouraging us to accept and make sense of certain events in our lives, so that we can continue moving forward. James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing at the University of Texas at Austin, says, “Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives… Writing helps us to focus and organise the experience.”
Keeping a journal can also help us to keep perspective, to regulate our emotions and to improve our sense of confidence and self-identity. All of these things can boost out emotional wellbeing and happiness.
A journal is a powerful tool for learning and development
If you have specific goals or ambitions that you’re trying to reach, then keeping a journal can help you to monitor your progress and work out what work still needs to be done. When you reach your goal, it can also be rewarding to look back on your journey and reflect on how much you’ve achieved. This can give you the courage and motivation to move towards your next goal.
Journaling can boost memory and comprehension
Journalling can help to keep your brain active and your mind sharp. When we write in a journal we are engaging with our surroundings and experiences in a deep and meaningful way, which can boost our brain capacity, cognitive processing ability, and working memory. Writing memories down can also ensure that they remain clear for years to come, and don’t become warped over time.
Research suggests that journaling is also good for your physical health
Amazingly, research has also shown that journaling can:
- Increase chances of fighting specific chronic diseases such as AIDS, asthma and cancer.
- Heal physical wounds faster. A 2013 study found that 76% of adults who wrote down their feelings for 20 minutes a day for three days in a row, two weeks before a medically necessary biopsy, were fully healed after 11 days – compared with 42% of the control group.
- Lower blood pressure and improve liver functionality.
6 tips to help you get started with journaling and make it a life habit
Making the decision to start journaling is often the easy bit – the trickier bit is getting started, and turning it into a regular habit. With this in mind, here are 6 tips that can help.
1. Decide what type of journaling appeals to you most
Your journal should be something that fits easily into your daily life, so when you’re deciding what type of journaling to do – it’s best to go for something that won’t feel like a chore. If you enjoy writing, then a pen and notebook or a computer are all you really need. If you decide to go for a pen and paper, then choose a notebook that inspires you. Whether you feel drawn to your notebook or not, can be a key factor in how often you feel motivated to write in it. It’s worth going to your nearest stationery shop and having a browse, so you can find one that’s the right size and shape. Many people prefer to have a smaller note that they can carry with them, so that they can write when the mood strikes them. Or if you’d prefer to shop online, then it’s also worth having a look on Amazon.
Or if you’re not too keen on writing, you might prefer to record your thoughts and feelings as audio or video recordings on your smartphone or tablet. If you’d like to keep a video diary, then it’s worth trying the free app; 1 second a day, which allows you to write a daily entry and film a one second video and then play them all together at the end of the month – like a movie of your life. For audio recordings, you can use the standard voice recording app that comes with the majority of iPhones or Android devices, or you can download an audio app, like Audio Memos or Voice Record Pro. Alternatively, you could use a video camera or a dictaphone.
2. Keep it as relaxed and pressure free as possible
If you’ve decided that you’d like to give journaling a go, then it’s best to start small to make sure that it becomes a sustainable habit – not one that becomes tiresome after a few days or weeks. When we make the choice to try something new, we often get carried away and put pressure on ourselves to do as much of it as possible. But doing too much too soon can lead to us feeling burnt out, and make us more likely to give up.
When you’ve bought your shiny new journal, downloaded your app of choice, or set up your video camera or dictaphone; start by recording the date, and then writing or speaking just a couple of lines a day. If you feel that you naturally want to write more, then you can, but avoid putting pressure on yourself to write loads if you’re really not feeling it. You should also give yourself as much freedom as possible when you’re choosing a topic to write or speak about.
Each entry can be on absolutely anything at all – for example:
- Something you’re grateful for that day (it doesn’t matter if these things are small).
- Your feelings about the day ahead, or the day that has just passed.
- Thoughts and feelings about someone else.
- A list of things you want to achieve that day.
- A poem or short story.
- The weather, or anything else that you observe in your surroundings in the present moment.
- Goals or wishes.
- Your health.
- A hobby or interest, such as art, travel or food.
- Dreams – some people find it helpful to write about their dreams as soon as they wake up, before they forget them.
Usually, the hardest part of keeping a journal is creating those first few entries. We lead such busy lives that stopping to take stock of how we feel and to check in with ourselves can feel a little strange and unnatural. But the more you do it, and the more you realise that there is no right or wrong way to journal, the easier and more enjoyable it can become. Some days you might only feel like writing down a single word or a doodle – with journaling, anything goes.
3. Let go of perfectionism
When you turn to that first page of your notebook, or turn on your camera or dictaphone, it can be tempting to try and get everything perfect. You might feel afraid of making a mistake and having to cross things out, of sounding silly or of things not making sense. But journaling is your chance to let go of perfectionism and producing something raw, real and unedited.
A tip that someone gave me many years ago was don’t think too long, just write. When something comes into your head then write it down; no matter what it is. Doing this for a few minutes each day will help you to loosen up, explore your creativity and express yourself. Try not to focus on the final outcome of your journal entry, but rather have fun and enjoy what comes in the moment. It can be incredibly liberating to have something to turn to that’s free from restrictions, expectations and judgement – and if you can let go of perfectionism, then a journal can be just that.
4. Work out how to slot journaling into your existing routine
If you want journaling to become a habit, then it can help to try and attach it to part of your existing routine, rather than making it something that you have to make time for. For example, jot down a couple of lines while you drink your morning coffee, while you’re on the train – or even while you’re in the bath. Or, some people keep their journal on their bedside table, so that they can write something down as soon as they wake up, or last thing before they go to sleep. Often, we are more creative at either the start or the end of the day – so this can be when some of our most creative thoughts come through.
It can also help to carry your journal with you wherever you go, so that if you feel inspired you can write something down while you’re in the mood. You might have moments where you feel compelled to record something, but if your journal isn’t with you when it does, then the moment may pass and you might not feel like writing or speaking about it later.
5. Try using journal prompts
If you’re really stuck for things to journal about, or you just want to have some fun – then you could start off with some fun journaling prompts. These can include anything from ‘What does your perfect day look like?’ to ‘Write a letter to someone you need to forgive’ through to ‘I couldn’t imagine living without’. Take a look at these 50 journaling prompts for self-discovery for more inspiration.
6. Don’t be afraid to write about topics that feel uncomfortable
If you’re someone who has become used to bottling difficult emotions up and avoiding them wherever possible, then a journal can be a great place to be honest and open with yourself about how you feel. Emotions like grief can be prolonged if you don’t stop to acknowledge them, and allow yourself time to process and work through them. Sometimes we can adopt unhealthy habits like comfort eating, smoking or drinking in an attempt to deal with unresolved emotions, but keeping a journal is a much healthier habit that can promote growth and help you to form a more positive relationship with yourself. Often it can be the toughest topics that are the most worthwhile writing about.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this is Anne Frank’s diary. Anne started writing in her journal during the summer of 1942, at the age of 13. Everything she wrote was in letter format and addressed to a fictional character named Kitty. Anne’s diary stayed with her as she went into hiding in a warehouse in Nazi occupied Holland, and offered her a safe place to explore her hopes and fears. It gave her life purpose and meaning during an utterly terrifying time – in a world that had become alien to her. Anne famously said, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
In today’s increasingly fast-paced, technological world, journaling can offer us a real sense of grounding. Sometimes we put our thoughts, desires and feelings on that back burner while we give everything we have to our jobs or the people around us, but it’s important to come back to you every now and then to see how things are going – almost in the same way that you would visit a good friend. A journal can become very precious in no time at all. It only takes a few memories, experiences and very personal thoughts to make it utterly irreplaceable, and to help you start enjoying life’s journey more deeply every day.