Can I ask you something?
Why do YOU keep a journal?
When I started thinking about it, I realized that my own reasons are complicated. I don’t have one single answer.
In retrospect, I can see that I got hooked on journaling when I was a kid because it was a safe space. My personal journals gave me a place where I could express thoughts and emotions that I couldn’t say out loud.
Beyond being a safe space, my writing journals also gave me a voice. I used to be quite shy and introverted. I can still have trouble articulating my thoughts in the moment. When I’m with a group of people, I often struggle to contribute. I don’t have the time I need to consider my thoughts and words before the conversation flows on in a different direction. I have so much to say. But I rarely have an audience that I’m in sync with.
Thankfully, I’ve always loved writing--or I’d never put any thoughts out into the world!
Since I've started journaling for SohoSpark, my love of journals and handwriting was rekindled. As I started journaling more often, I realized that there are even more reasons why I keep plugging away in my lined journals. It helps me focus on the joy in my stories. It’s a way to revisit memories. It sparks my creativity.
Recently, the team at SohoSpark had an impromptu poll that asked this same question: Why do YOU journal? Most of the replies were very similar to my own. One thing I found very interesting, though, is that not ONE person referenced bullet journals or planners. No one said that they journal because it helps them stay organized. Instead, these are the reasons why you guys are journaling:
Destressing by Exploring Your Emotions
One of the best things about a personal journal is that it’s for your eyes only. When we write for an audience, we tend to edit ourselves. If it’s your intent to leave a written record of memories that’s a whole other ballgame (see below). But if you’re truly writing for yourself, a journal is a safe space where you can explore your feelings without fear of judgment.
This is one of the main reasons why I journal. Carrying around my deepest secrets can be a burden! These aren’t necessarily bad secrets. They’re just things that I’m not comfortable discussing with other people. It might be money or health worries; it might be grief bubbling up; it might be loneliness and wondering if a life partner exists for me. It might be about a disagreement with a friend or disenchantment with my job.
Getting these thoughts out of my head and exploring the emotions attached to them clears my mind and helps me put my worries aside for a little while. It releases pent-up tension and helps me let go of negativity. When I reread what I've written later on, I can rationalize my thoughts and feelings better. As I writing in a journal is a lot like talking to a therapist.
Finding Mental Clarity Through Brain Dumps
In addition to all the emotions we’ve got swirling around in our brains, we’ve also stuff crammed in there. Stuff like: I really need to do some weeding; I have to go to the bank tomorrow; I need to buy some salad fixings for supper tonight; a friend’s birthday is coming up; can I afford to buy that concert ticket; and when was the last time I went to the doctor?
All that clutter can make our minds sluggish and make it difficult for us to prioritize stuff. A brain dump is just the ticket. As Shelby at Little Coffee Fox points out, a brain dump is like spilling the contents of a purse onto a table. Just grab a piece of paper and spend 10-15 minutes jotting down all the random thoughts in your head. This doesn’t have to be neat or organized or grammatically correct. It just needs to get done.
Sometimes, it’s the act of getting our thoughts down on paper that helps. But sometimes, it helps to take things one step further and create a to-do list. You do you, cool cats. Whatever floats your boat and makes you happy is the way to go.
Gratitude is key to a joyful life. But gratitude is also about being mindful and recognizing those small everyday moments that we should be grateful for. It’s easy to be grateful for the big stuff, like winning a contest or landing a sought-after job. And, when we stop and think about it, it’s easy to come up with the routine stuff that we know we should be grateful for, like a safe place to sleep, our families, and our health.
But it’s harder to recognize the small stuff because we’re so caught up in the busyness of our world (including those screens we tend to keep our eyes glued to). We miss things like being grateful for that honeybee we see on that flower, for pollenizing our food sources. And we miss things like that toddler in a passing grocery cart that smiles at us, prompting us to smile back.
Keeping track of our grateful moments in a writing journal is an excellent way to remind ourselves to be mindful every day. And writing about gratitude is also an excellent way to increase our joy.
Reframing Your Narrative
We all have stories. The words and perspective we choose to tell those stories affect their mood and impact. It doesn’t matter if we’re telling those stories to ourselves or others.
Let’s say you bought an ice cream cone and then bumped into someone and dropped your cold treat. You could frame that story with disappointment over a lost treat and embarrassment about a clumsy encounter with a stranger. Or, you could laugh it off and take the attitude of, “I didn’t need those calories today anyway!”
The way you tell your stories affects your attitude and your joy. A journal is a great place to explore other, more positive ways to tell your stories. Check out my past blog if you're curious about how to reframe your narrative.
This is the practice of training the mind or inducing a mode of consciousness, to realize either a benefit or a feeling of contentment. Many people visualize sitting with your eyes closed in complete silence but this need not be the case. Writing your thoughts down can help you to focus your mind and reach a level of contentment in your own life.
Exploring the mind through writing is known as proprioceptive writing and can be a very powerful tool. It can focus awareness, unburden the mind and allow you to connect more deeply with your spiritual self. Some writers use this method to unlock their closed mind, when faced with writer’s block.
Supporting Your Mental Health
All of the above reasons to keep a journal are also things that can positively affect your mental health:
- Destressing while exploring your emotions.
- Finding mental clarity through brain dumps.
- Recognizing gratitude.
- Reframing your narrative.
If your mental health could use a little boost (and whose couldn’t?), try journaling in any of these directions.
Boost Your Memory
Writing a diary has been proven to improve your memory, due to the presence of a special relationship between the hand and brain. Writing down your thoughts gives them a more tangible presence, which in turn strengthens past-thoughts and encourages a better memory.
The physical process of having to write down what you think, makes your brain work harder, thus exercising it. Doing this regularly provides an excellent cognitive workout, which in turn leads to a greater memory.
Fostering Creativity and Improving Writing Skills
In a terrific piece at Lifehacker, Alan Henry points out that writers can see extra benefits from keeping a journal. As he says:
Whether you write for income or just the joy of writing, improving your skills is always a good thing. Amirite?
Achieving Your Goals
Writing down your goals is the best way to make sure you achieve them. You can max out your goals by using your journal to:
- Visualize your goals, as a way to help manifest them.
- Create benchmarks to make daunting goals more manageable.
- Map out a plan that will measure your success. At what stage is your goal half achieved? When will it be fully realized?
- Keep yourself accountable.
Manifesting Your Dreams with the Law of Attraction
If the key to manifesting your dreams is to visualize them, the perfect place to do that is in a journal. As Fiona MacKay Young points out over at her My Inspiration Journals blog, it’s important to visualize your dreams fully:
See them already accomplished. Feel how you will feel when the[y] have come into you[r] reality. Write with emotion and passion about them. Always write in the positive. Instead of saying what you don’t want or won’t be doing, write about what you do want and will be doing.
And, as your dreams shift and change, it’s easy to revisit your journal and add new details.
As well, seeing your hopes and dreams in writing makes them seem more real, meaning you can then work towards achieving them. You can use your writing journal to aid in the planning of this, even setting ideal deadlines and jotting down milestones that you hit along the way. This structured approach to life will provide more focus and give you a great sense of achievement when you reach those goals.
Writing in your journal, rereading past entries, and setting goals can all help manifest your goals with the Law of Attraction.
Recording your Memories
My journals are for me. I frequently flip through them to revisit my memories. It’s nice to have a record of the details of an event or moment so that I can relive that memory more fully. And because my journals are for my own eyes only, I’m more free about writing down my thoughts and feelings too.
Some people choose to use their personal diaries as a way to preserve their memories for their children or grandchildren. If that floats your boat, there’s no reason why you can’t do it.
Life story diaries can be absolutely fascinating and the diary of Samuel Pepys is one that illustrates British life in the 1600s so well. He was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, with his extraordinary diary being celebrated as one of the best of all time. Historians have used his dairy as a valuable source of information about London life at that time, including important events such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. It also gives a great insight into the minds of men at that time.
Having Fun with Stationery
Sometimes, there’s no real deep or meaningful reason to write in a lined journal. Sometimes, we just like to try out new pens or paste in new *ahem* washi tape. And that’s okay too. A journal can be a terrific creative outlet--whether for writing or for dipping into our craftier sides.
What about you? Why do you journal? Drop me a note below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
With thanks to Michael Wilkes, who wrote sections of this blog piece.