Let's get straight to the point: the evidence for journaling is vast.
Reasons to Journal:
Reflective journaling builds connections with past and current thoughts and emotions. These new connections build new neural pathways and strengthen existing ones, a process called neuroplasticity.
Experiential journaling of events consolidates short-term memory into long-term memory, helping to improve memory retention and overall cognitive function.
Journaling about feelings in a structured way helps to regulate and process them effectively. This can lead to increased emotional regulation, which is particularly helpful for managing anger, sadness, and anxiety.
Journaling increases self-awareness through a deeper understanding of emotional triggers and response patterns. By gaining insight into your thought processes, you can improve your problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities.
Journaling can reduce stress and anxiety (and increase well-being) by providing an outlet for thoughts and feelings and by helping you identify stressors and coping strategies.
In my last post, (Re)Learning to Thrive, I mentioned how journaling can be creative once the active part of the brain has been calmed.
From a health perspective, journaling can be an effective tool for setting, tracking, and achieving personal and professional goals leading to personal growth.
There are many reasons to journal; however, like all good tools, we only ever need one "but I'm too... (insert reason to not journal)" to not do something.
Working through 'buts'
There are a number of processes I use to give myself the best chance of journaling. Do they always work? Hell no, but 60% of the time they work all the time... Jokes aside, starting imperfectly is far better than never trying. If I miss one week a month, that's okay; I'm still moving forward.
Below I offer both suggestions to start journalling and my current process. Note I am not you, and copying exactly what I do may not work for you. There is no replacement for a little trial and error.
How to Start
Commit to just one minute, then build.Don't overthink it or aim for perfection.
Just start writing whatever comes to mind to express how you genuinely feel.Focus on the events, interactions, priorities, and emotions that shape your days.
Write to gain insight, not to judge yourself.
Experiment with different times to find when you feel most inspired to write. Early morning, lunch break, or before bed are good options.
The benefits of journaling accumulate over time through regular practice. Determine a realistic schedule and aim to stick to it.
Remind yourself of why you want to develop in X, Y or Z.
My Current Routine
My current routine, which I have used many times but keep coming back to, is a five-part process carried out once a week. I also combine it with planning.
Relax. I read my book and drink coffee to get into a place where I am comfortable and focused on being present.
Reflect. I look back at what I said I would do last week and reflect on whether I achieved my goals. In the past, I have tracked this, but I no longer do so because I found I was using it as a procrastination tool instead of useful data.
Renew. Based on reflections and my big-picture goals, I create my actions for the following week. These tend to fall into the buckets of exercise, relationships, recovery, and nutrition but will vary based on which area needs more attention. For each, I set specific actions required for continued progress, such as fasting times, gym sessions, and blocks of time to recover and see people.
Rocks (Schedule). Now I know what I want to do, I schedule, blocking out time in my diary to ensure the pebbles (time suckers such as replying to emails at any time of day) don't fill up my jar (limited number of hours in a week). This is a fluid process; I don't recall ever having a week where the diary didn't change, but once rocks are in the diary, it's easier to move them around.
Write. By now, I'm focused and relaxed, knowing I have a good start on the week. This part of journaling is most enjoyable, where I allow myself to write freely. I never know where this will go, as I do my best not to filter what I'm saying.
One Paragraph on Journaling Journaling is a skill, and any skill can be learned. Journaling, when carried out in a non-judgmental manner, provides self-reflection that can reduce stress, anxiety, and anger while developing well-being. Potentially this is known 'but'... however the reasons we give for not journaling can often be solved by journaling. To start, pick up a pen and paper and allow yourself to write anything for one minute. After this, you are now someone who journals.
Until next time, go get that pencil sharpened.