The power of journaling as a life habit

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.”

Final thoughts…

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.

“Documenting little details of your everyday life becomes a celebration of who you are.”

Carolyn V. Hamilton

Do you keep a journal? Or are you thinking about starting one? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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25 thoughts on “The power of journaling as a life habit

  1. Avatar
    Chris on Reply

    Well I’m inspired!
    I am 71 but dont feel it… always busy, too busy I’ve argued to keep a journal so far but its time now in the journey I think to help me process life and events Thank you

  2. Avatar
    Catherine on Reply

    What a coincidence!!
    I decided to jot down my thoughts on my smartphone this morning. I have had seven days that tested my patience and played havoc with my emotions and so wanted to keep a record of that. I had barely started writing when your email on starting a journal popped up.
    I have just finished reading it and it confirmed my need to keep a journal.
    My only dilemma now is the where to keep it.- note book, computer or smart phone. I will have to decide very soon but in the meantime I have done three entries and it is delightful to look back and still find those thoughts and feelings and experiences intact.

    Thank you very much for your post this morning.

  3. Avatar
    Judith Wardell on Reply

    I started my daily journal in lockdown and love it. I bought a Being Me Diary from Lorraine at Open Narrative – it prompts me every day with great questions. Sometimes the questions are really searching and other days they are fun. It has really eased me into the practice of writing and reflecting.

  4. Avatar
    Mrs Glenys Burrows on Reply

    Thank you for this feature on keeping a journal, I know this is so helpful. Years ago as a young wife and mother we were living in a very quiet village and I suppose out of loneliness I started a journal and soon found that if there was nothing interesting in my day, I soon made it interesting. Years later I kept a record of our holidays and still do, this is guaranteed to stop any arguments about which day we went where and what the weather was like! More recently I wrote about our anxieties of what is going on in the world, and also of friendships and their trustworthiness. It helps to read back and realise that many fears are unfounded, and paranoia can settle in with isolation. Whatever the purpose of a journal, I say keep it relaxed, pick it up at will and any old exercise book will do – above all, make it fun.

  5. Avatar
    Anon on Reply

    I kept a journal since I was 15. It was massively helpful as my husband slid into alcoholism, a baby died, my husband died, and all the other painful things that happen in life. I burnt them all when I remarried as I didn’t want my children seeing the horrible thoughts I had had but have begun again on remarriage. It is very cathartic, it’s writing to God all the things you can’t express to a person. And it’s evidence with dates and times should you need it in court! I had a day to a page diary but now just a notebook and rattle on as long or as short as I feel

  6. Avatar
    Stuart on Reply

    I would be cautious because it’s like keeping a private diary that could be found and rad by others. One could be careless, have to be admitted to hospital etc. That puts me off.

  7. Avatar
    Val. Glover on Reply

    I am going through white a difficult time at the moment and I have always found it very difficult to express my feelings. This morning I saw this on Facebook so I am going to give it a go! I hope it will help me. Thanks.

  8. Avatar
    Allen Ashworth on Reply

    I started to Journal 10 years ago. It is like a diary and is a collection of daily facts and activities to thoughts and dreams. I make plans in it. I talk to myself in it. I complain. I look back on my life. I look to my future. I make lists, holiday plans, financial forecasts, body weight and BMI details.
    Some days I pour my soul out to it or put the whole world right. I write short stories and travel articles that sometimes go on for many pages.

    In truth at the end of the day when I sit up in bed writing my notes it helps to clear my mind for sleep so instead of lying there mulling things over in my mind and not being able to sleep. I put all those thoughts down on paper and leave them there, while I drift off to a comfortable undisturbed sleep.

  9. Avatar
    Peter French on Reply

    I have kept a journal for many years, but in 2007, I took it a stage further and started a blog, in which I recorded my opinions, feelings, my thoughts about politics, art, green issues, gardening, and so on. It has evolved over the years and now I still have a blog, but it is no longer public and really just do it entirely for my own sake and not writing for anyone else. As it is in blog form, it means I can easily add photographs, links to my other sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and I also have a page that I call a scrapbook which consists of things which in the past I would have stuck in a scrapbook, but which now, I scan or photograph and add it digitally to my journal. I try and write in it every day, including the trivia of my life, as well as the more important things, but as it is entirely private now, I can feel free to do so as I don’t feel I need to please outside readers. It is nice to look back sometimes and it keeps me sane.

  10. Avatar
    Nancy B on Reply

    I have often started and then stopped journals. Sometimes I come across something I had written years ago and feel surprised by my past self … especially when I had completely forgotten a patch or phase effecting me at that time.
    I think this article is very nice for people, to encourage and help them express their thoughts and record their existence in their own way.

  11. Avatar
    Ethan King on Reply

    Lovely and really helpful article: thank you. I have journalled a great deal but I’ve got out of the habit recently. Planning to get back in!

    (Also, I suspect your spellchecker has let you down: most of the shops I have ever visited are stationAry, LOL!)
    : )

  12. Avatar
    Dora the old Explorer on Reply

    Started a picture journal in February as I embarked on a months cruise. Time on my hands, had been longing for time to “scribble” and newly retired this was my perfect moment. Little did I know 23 days post return the dreaded Covid lockdown would hit. This has become my As and When ritual and I have noted passing seasons, closed cafes and Of course the paint from redecorating! Whilst I’m not an artist – far from it – this has given me the greatest pleasure and of course now acts as 2020 set in pictures. And my artwork has improved along with my pencil collection!

  13. Avatar
    Violetta on Reply

    I am going to start a journal just as soon as I get a good notebook..I’m sure Amazon will have one.It will help me plan better and be better at whatever I want to be better in! -Not good English there I’m sure.It will help me gather my thoughts for I’m a bit…mm no more than a bit scatter brained. I will try and do a secret kindness to someone everyday besides my husband…I’m very kind to him every day!

  14. Avatar
    Liz on Reply

    I have kept a journal for years. Eight years ago my husband died from cancer. I write of all my hopes and fears during his treatment and poured out my terrible grief after his death. I could record my darkest feelings in my journal, things I would never say to family and friends as it would upset them too much. Now, I can reread those entries and I can see how far I have come and how my entries now are more upbeat. I hope people don’t read this as sad,or depressing. It’s not meant to be. Putting your feelings into words on paper has a way of putting things in order in your head.

  15. Avatar
    Phil Bateman on Reply

    I am 65 years old and have written a journal for many of them. I was diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas and it is only recently that I have realised how much it has helped me over the years to understand myself. It has also, I think, enabled me to articulate my thoughts and feelings more effectively to others. Although, in spite of years of practice I still don’t feel I am very good at journaling; there are some gems but I waste too many words just recording what I did. I want to be more creative in my writing so this article really helps, thanks. I had a really nice moment just after my diagnosis when, suffering from severe nostalgia, I reread an entry about a friends wedding who we happened to be having dinner with that evening. At an appropriate break in the meal I read my entry and it made them cry which goes to show that journaling is not just about indulgent introspectiveness.

  16. Avatar
    Ged on Reply

    Leather bound, fountain pen, peace.
    Shopping list, reflections, plans.
    To do. Did. What did I do?
    Where am I going?
    Itinerary. Trains. Connections.
    Books I haven’t read, films I haven’t seen. Life yet to live.

  17. Avatar
    Steph on Reply

    Thank you for this article. I used to write a diary every day in my teens which now, 50 years later, makes interesting reading but life then marriage then children brought my diaries to an end. I have journaled through a few major holidays recently which has helped my memory of what, where and when whilst turning those holiday memories into scrap books. But after reading this article I am now inspired to start a daily journal which, if nothing else, may prove interesting reading to my Grandchildren who hopefully will not remember Covid 19 when I am no longer on this earth.

  18. Avatar
    Mandy barson on Reply

    I started a journal at the beginning of lockdown, it has been a huge help and support helping me understand and process my emotions
    I will carry on doing it as long as I feel the benefit from it

  19. Avatar
    Mandy on Reply

    Loved reading all the comments. I too have kept a journal for 40 odd years. It’s like having a friend i talk to and has helped with many difficult times over the years. I noted someone’s concern over it being read, which I understand but was always taught it was a cardinal sin to read someone’s diary!! Where would we be without all the wonderful journals kept by people over the years…

  20. Avatar
    Sandra on Reply

    I have many empty blank writing books now I am going fill them or at least jot something down or doodle now and again… when I have stopped and slowed down

  21. Avatar
    Ray on Reply

    I have kept a diary since 1982, also a useful place to store notes and thoughts, plan for future, and then as a reminder when I can’t remember what I did and when!
    It covers everything from where I went, what I thought, who I saw, to which seeds to buy next year

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