Journaling has been around basically forever and the benefits of journaling are both numerous and enormous.
In a world that is obsessed with movement and busyness, the art of journaling and reflection seem to have lost their charm – at least in the western world.
However, grabbing a pen and paper and writing your thoughts down, whether they be your ideas, your worries, your plans for the future, is a hugely beneficial practice. I don’t believe it to be as effective journaling on your phone or computer. Take the time to actually write this stuff down – you will thank yourself later!
This post is Part 1 of 2 of a mini-series on journaling. Here will you find just 9 of the many benefits of journaling explored and explained which will hopefully inspire you to pick up a pen for yourself and make it a daily habit. The next part will cover the three main ways to journal in more detail: Journaling for gratitude, Journaling for emotional release and Journaling for planning and productivity.
Journaling can help you get to sleep quicker and deeper due to the very simple fact that it is the process of dumping your thoughts on to paper, no matter how weird, powerful or seemingly irrelevant they are. If the first time you stop all day (watching TV isn’t included in ‘stopping’) is when you lie down to go to sleep, is it any surprise that all of the thoughts from the day and the week swirl around your head and you can’t sleep? All of the unsolved problems, the successes of the day, the to-dos for tomorrow…
Think of your brain as a train rolling into a station – as trains tend to do. The train is your racing mind that has been steaming along the tracks all day. The station is sleep. If you apply the brakes 5 metres from the station, guess what? You aren’t going to stop at the platform. You are going to slow down gradually and end up stopping way after you were supposed to.
The act of journaling, particularly before bed, is like applying the brakes on your train way in advance. It is dumping all of your thoughts and feelings on to paper so that when it is time to hit the pillow, there is nothing left to think or worry about. Your mind is at peace because it has calmed the storm inside already, allowing you to sleep quicker and easier.
Quite closely linked to the better sleep point is the fact that journaling helps to bring about better mental clarity. When we go over things in our heads, ideas fly around and bounce off one wall to another. Amazingly enough, when we write our thoughts down they become tangible. Once you grab a pen and paper and write down what you are thinking or worried about, the thoughts are almost physically being taken from your brain and being laid out in front of you. At this point, you can look at what you have written, what you were thinking and receive some mental clarity.
It’s quite a weird phenomenon but also a useful one. It is crazy that it often takes you actually staring down at your thoughts manifested in the physical form to realise what a dumb idea something is. Or that the process of something isn’t as complicated as you were making it out to be in your head.
Next time you are confused or overthinking something, write it down. You will be amazed at how much your perspective shifts when you are looking at your thoughts rather than letting them roam formlessly in your mind.
One of the biggest reasons that people take up journaling is to reduce stress. Journaling can take many forms but most forms involve some sort of stress reduction.
Journaling for some degree of emotional release and mental clarity, as we just saw previously, is a way of getting all of your worries down on to paper and out of your head. Whether you then keep those worries to reflect on and work on for later or you simply get your stressed thoughts down on a page and then shred or burn them, that’s up to you. Either way, the act of physically writing out what you are going through and processing in your life is a big way (and one of my favourites) to de-stress.
Another journaling form is journaling for gratitude. Maybe the things that are stressing you out aren’t easily solved and you are already quite clear on what they are. In this instance, it might be time to look at what is going really well in your life, rather than what is going wrong. Maybe you had a poor night sleep again because you live by a road and the morning traffic was louder than usual. Hey, at least you had a comfy bed to sleep in? A roof over your head? A coffee at your disposal as soon as you woke up? A loved one to greet you with a smile? Practising gratitude in your head is powerful, but I think writing all of these seemingly trivial things down only magnifies its power. As a result, you are far less stressed too.
The other form of journaling that hasn’t yet been mentioned is journaling for planning and productivity. This can take a variety of forms that will be covered in the follow-up post to this one. Essentially, when you are writing down things like your main tasks, how you are going to delegate your time, what you wasted time on today etc. it becomes a lot more clear where your attention and effort is wavering and where it is excelling. With this information, you can double down on your strengths or try to make up ground on your weaknesses – the choice is yours. Either way, you will become more productive in not just your work but your whole life.
This is an often overlooked aspect of journaling but one that I have found to be a particularly potent part of the process. Writing down your goals for the future, the systems that you plan on using to get there and the potential obstacles that you might face is an extremely motivating aspect of journaling. Obviously, your plan and perception aren’t always going to be accurate, but that is kind of the point. You are motivated to start levelling up in the Game of Life and if you hit an obstacle you didn’t expect or that was tougher than you thought? BOOM. Back to the journal. New route mapped out and new motivation found.
When you see your plan (or lack thereof) laid out in front of you, it can be extremely motivating. Either to get cracking on the action part or getting cracking on the planning part. Heck, even writing down what a bad-ass you are and all of the obstacles that you have overcome in the past can be very motivating too.
Many people, including myself, have found that making some form of journaling a habit every day or at least every other day sets the tone for building some other positive habits too.
For example, I tend to journal just before bed, right after doing some stretching and right before tackling my main book for a little while. Journaling has become sandwiched in between two other key parts of my evenings: stretching and reading. Now, it would feel weird to stretch and not journal straight after or to start reading my book without having journaled beforehand. For me, journaling has become the glue that keeps other positive habits together. No matter how you choose to do it, I am sure that journaling can act as a habit-building foundation for you too.
Another often overlooked benefit of journaling is that it sparks your creativity that can carry over and be massively beneficial in other areas of your life that require some degree of creativity too – whether that be in your job or planning a surprise birthday party (mine needs a bit of work still). Because you are journaling for yourself, usually with the intention of only you ever reading it, you can allow yourself to get completely honest, vulnerable and weird with it. With the shackles off, especially when it comes to dreams, desires or ideas, you will be surprised just how creative you can get with your own mind.
This is especially effective when combined with the very simple act of writing an idea down as soon as you get it. As a post by Jacob Gibb on Medium points out:
Often my best ideas come when I’m not able to act on them. There have been countless moments when I have sat down to write something and wasted most of my time trying to remember the idea I had in the shower that morning. Writing down inspiration when it strikes is the fastest way to build a library of your best ideas.
From there you can either discard the idea or sit down with it properly and get even more in-depth and creative with it during a longer journaling session.
Brings You Back To The Present
Another benefit of journaling is one that certainly links very heavily with mental clarity and reduced stress – and that is bringing you back to the present. Anyone who has sat with their own thoughts for just 30 seconds will know that the majority of them are dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. We all know that life is lived in the present but it is SO difficult to do most of the time.
Whether it’s before bed, when you wake up, or whenever you just feel overwhelmed with the past or future, use journaling as an ally to escape all of those distractions and return to the present moment. Get down all of your thoughts on paper, write down all of the things that you are looking forward to in the day and then start living out each one of them as they come.
As you might have guessed by now, I have separate journals for separate purposes and the benefit of information consolidation ties in with productivity and planning.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, when it comes to books, I like to write down all of the interesting and thought-provoking things as I am reading rather than afterwards. This helps me to not only go back and reference everything that I have read fairly easily but also writing it out after reading helps it to become more ingrained in my brain. For this method, I tend to use Evernote rather than a physical journal, especially due to its incredible built-in search function.
Even if you don’t use this method when you are reading, journaling can help you consolidate information in many other areas of your life. Maybe writing about some ideas that you heard given at a talk, maybe writing out a few quotes from your favourite writer or even just writing out some great ideas that you came up with in the shower (much like the creativity benefit). Whatever method you choose, you can make sure that the information you need or just want to remember sticks like superglue.