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Did you know one of the most powerful self-improvement activities is right at your fingertips?
No, it’s not working out or having good sleep hygiene (although these are great habits). It’s something even simpler — learning how to start journaling.
Although it’s been around for thousands of years, journaling is currently having a moment in the limelight. From self-help blogs to famous authors like Deepak Chopra, everyone is talking about the life-changing benefits of learning how to journal.
Let’s explore the importance of keeping a journal and how to incorporate this powerful habit into your daily life.
All about journaling
Before integrating journaling into your daily routine, it’s important to understand what it really means and why it’s beneficial.
What is journaling?
Journaling is a written account of your thoughts and feelings as you navigate everyday life.
The beauty of journaling is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s a deeply personal experience that can take many forms.
One day, journaling could look like a diary entry, similar to the ones you may have written when you were a teenager. The next day it can be a list of things that bring you joy or a list of goals you want to achieve.
For these reasons, journaling is one of the best self-improvement tools.
Having said that, it’ll come as no surprise that some of the most successful people in the world, including Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, and Arianna Huffington have kept journals throughout their lives.
Benefits of journaling
While the act of writing things down seems simple enough, the results are powerful. Here are just some of the benefits of keeping a journal.
1. Improves mental well-being
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented stress and uncertainty into our lives.
During this time, 4 in 10 adults in the US have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
One way to deal with intense emotions and uncertainty during difficult times is to find a healthy outlet for them in the form of a journal. Journaling is proven to have a positive effect on mental health and reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.
2. Strengthens the immune system and recovery time
You’ve likely heard the expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, it turns out journaling can have the same effect.
In a 2018 Cambridge study, participants were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the most stressful or upsetting events in their lives.
Four months later, those who wrote about their experiences for 15 minutes a day reported fewer visits to the doctor and fewer sick days.
Not only is journaling linked to long-term decreases in health problems, but it also helps you heal faster. Another study found that expressive writing helped speed up wound healing in older adults.
3. Gives you a place to express gratitude
One of the best ways to express gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down things you’re thankful for. Gratitude is proven to activate areas of the brain that are connected to positive emotions.
Feeling grateful also overpowers negative emotions, boosts optimism, and makes you more compassionate.
4. Helps you work through challenges
Journaling is proven to help people heal past wounds and challenging experiences.
A recent Duke University study asked participants who experienced a recent traumatic event to undergo a six-week writing ‘intervention.’ This consisted of various writing prompts, including expressive, poetic, transactional, and mindful journaling.
The study found that writing increased participants’ resilience and decreased stress.
5. Helps you set and accomplish goals
One of the most effective ways to achieve your goals is to write them down.
Putting your goals on paper helps you visualize them more clearly. Visualization is a powerful technique used by elite athletes and CEOs. It involves imagining that what you want to achieve is already yours.
In 2020, Dr. Gail Matthews from the Dominican University of California found that people who write down their goals have a higher chance of accomplishing them when compared to those that don’t.
The importance of journaling
The only way to reap all the rewards that come with journaling is to be consistent. This means making journal entries a daily habit rather than an occasional hobby.
Learning how to write a journal is also a great mindfulness practice because it helps you focus on the present moment. Being present without worrying about the past or future is a very calming and peaceful feeling that relaxes the mind and body.
The calming effects of daily journaling can also help treat emotional exhaustion. For example, incorporating 20 minutes of journaling into your nighttime routine can help you unload heavy feelings of stress before bed.
We could spend all day talking about the many benefits of keeping a journal. But how do you start one?
The process is simple, yet looking at that first blank page of your notebook can feel daunting.
How to start journaling (and make it a habit)
Starting a journal can seem intimidating at first. Like any other habit, it takes a while before it becomes a repetitive part of your lifestyle.
Here are some journaling tips to help you start and keep a journal.
1. Find the journaling techniques that work for you
Many people prefer keeping a paper journal because it helps them develop and express ideas more clearly. But putting pen to paper isn’t the only way to journal.
When you first begin writing, it’s important to find the method that works best for you.
You may find that the ease of using a laptop makes journaling more enjoyable for you. You also don’t have to limit yourself to one method.
Say you prefer handwriting, but you get a burst of inspiration during your morning commute on the subway. In that case, you can use the notes app on your phone to jot down your thoughts before you forget them.
2. Let go of judgments (write for your eyes only)
Don’t worry about things like grammar or spelling. You’re writing for your eyes only, not for an audience.
When you’re self-critical or afraid someone will read your journal, you tend to censor yourself and be less authentic and honest.
3. Keep expectations realistic
When you first begin journaling, don’t expect to write pages upon pages filled with insightful thoughts.
Having unrealistic expectations can actually discourage you from continuing your journaling practice because you don’t immediately see progress.
Like any other habit, you need to set realistic goals and take baby steps in order to see results.
4. Create a writing routine
It’s easy to write on days when you’re feeling inspired and motivated. But what about when you’re not?
Creating a writing routine and scheduling journaling time can help you stay on track, even on days when you’re feeling uninspired.
For example, you can set time aside every morning after breakfast or every evening before bed, even if it’s just for five to ten minutes. This time blocking method allows you to prioritize journaling and incorporate it into your schedule.
5. Journal about anything that comes to mind
When it comes to what you want to write about, the possibilities are limitless. You can write about your day, your thoughts and emotions, or something that inspired you.
You can also use it as an outlet to release heavy emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness. Putting these feelings down on paper can free you from having them lingering in your mind.
In her book “The Artist’s Way,” author Julia Cameron talks about one method that can help you journal if you’re not sure where to start. It’s called the ‘Morning Pages.’
Each day after you wake up, open your journal and start writing three pages filled with any thoughts that come to your mind.
This stream-of-consciousness writing has been therapeutic for those who have tried it. It's helped them process emotions, gain clarity, and unlock their creative side.
6. Use journal prompts
There will be days when you’re staring at your journal and have no idea what to write about.
Don’t fret — there are countless journaling prompts online that can help you overcome your writer’s block. Here’s a list of things to journal about on the days you feel blocked:
- A list of things and people you're grateful for
- A recent situation that challenged you
- An (unsent) letter to someone in your life
- Small things that bring you joy throughout the day
- The best decision you’ve ever made
- Daily positive affirmations
7. Get creative
Don’t be afraid to express yourself and be creative. Journal writing isn’t just prose. It can be poetry, sketching, art, lyrics, or anything else that allows you to express yourself.
How to keep the habit
Learning how to start journaling is the easy part. It’s making it a daily habit that takes self-discipline.
But nobody said building good habits happens overnight.
If you stick to it, you’ll start to see the positive outcomes of journaling manifest in your personal and professional life. Use it as a tool for personal growth, self-discovery, relaxation, or visualization. There’s no right or wrong way to journal. Make it your own.
Ready to make a commitment to yourself? BetterUp offers personalized coaching to help you live a happier, more fulfilling life.
Sr. Insights Manager