To be clear before we begin, when I say “to journal,” I mean the act of daily (or almost daily) writing in a notebook with a pen or pencil.
This post is not about why you should journal because you’re a writer. Or a student. Or a parent, child, ambitious dreamer, what have you.
From a fellow human to another, I want to share why you, as a human, should journal (if you’re not already).
1. It’s good for you
Journaling is therapeutic
What you write can also help relieve stress, and vent about things to yourself. Writing out strong emotions (whether positive or negative) helps you manage their expression better in real life and develops self-control.
Besides, journals are typically private affairs. Being able to write and think in a place without judgement allows you to freely share whatever you’re really thinking. After getting your deep-seated thoughts and feelings out, you can go back and decide which ones are worth keeping, and which ones you’d rather replace.
And if you’re judging yourself for what you’re writing, you can journal your way to self-acceptance and keep working on becoming a better person.
Journaling increases your health
The placebo effect wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a strong connection between your mental health and your physical health. The therapeutic effects of journaling (aka improving your mental health) can lead to an increased immune system, more energy, and the ability to recover more quickly from illness.
Journaling helps you be more creative
Journaling limits distractions. If you’re brainstorming in your journal, you’re more focused on the task at hand. You’re also able to brainstorm less linearly and more freely, increasing your creativity.
It allows you to solve problems. Whether you’re thinking through an essay prompt or contemplating your family life, writing it out (with the ability to come up with more/better ideas) allows you to come up with solutions.
Journaling doesn’t have to be just writing. You can doodle in the margins; you can draw a comic of your day; you can connect things in different ways on paper than you do on your computer or in your head.
2. It’s really good for you
Journaling increases discipline
I mean, if you’re actually going to write (almost) every day, you’ll automatically be working on the discipline of writing every day. Once you’ve taught yourself one discipline, it becomes easier to master other disciplines.
Besides, you can use your journal to record your progress on the new disciplines you’re picking up. Which reminds me…
Journaling helps you achieve your goals
You can use your journal to pick goals, come up with ways to achieve them, and ultimately keep track of how your goals are coming along.
Writing helps you increase your clarity and focus. Journaling allows you to choose goals that you want to achieve. It shows you which things you care about, and helps you focus in on doing what you really want.
If you hiccup along the way to achieving your goal, you can journal about it and find out what went wrong, and what you can do about it.
Heck, while you’re pumped, go ahead and start writing notes of encouragement to your future self. Give yourself motivational speeches in the pages of your journal. Then when you’re lacking, you can remind yourself what you’re achieving.
Journaling makes you better at writing/thinking
Writing every day demands (inherently allows) you to become better at writing. The more you write, the more you think. As you write, and re-read your writing, you are able to think about what you’re writing and thinking about.
As you write in a journal (aka a place where you don’t have to worry about people judging your writing or thoughts), you are able to write more freely. Free writing is the first step to great writing, as it’s unadulterated by an agenda (an agenda like getting a good grade, impressing your boss, or convincing the girl of your dreams that you actually love her). You can always come back and impose an agenda (edit) later.
Basically, there’s no way for you to lose at this one. Journaling can help you gain inner clarity, and help you find ways to communicate that clarity more clearly with other humans. You win.
3. But actually… it’s good for you
Journaling is cheap and tangible
You can buy a pen and notebook for under $2. Once you’ve written through the notebook, you always have it.
There’s no risk of your files getting corrupted (unless you spill water on your notebook), randomly deleted (unless your roommate throws it away), or lost in a sea of data.
… okay, so there’s something about having written in a notebook that’s more authentic than using Google Docs. Not that you can’t use Google Docs to journal.
Journaling teaches silence and authenticity
In our world of technology, having a notebook, and a time to write in it gives us something that technology can’t replace.
It’s an experience: the movement of the pen as you write, the smell of the ink on the paper, the sound of the pages as you turn them…
Journaling is most useful when you’re being genuine with yourself. The distractions of the Internet make it difficult to hear your desires and longings, your pains and your joys. Writing it out in the comparative silence of a notebook allows you to be authentic.
Journaling leaves a record
Whether it’s personal or (eventually) historical, the words/drawings/collages/doodles/etc. that you leave in your journal remind you who you’ve been, who you’re becoming, and who you want to be. They show the journey you’re on, and remind you what you have to look forward to.
They don’t ever need to be read by anyone other than you, but (forgive me) you have a terrible memory. You might appreciate the reminders later on.
“Good it may be. It’s not for me.”
Journaling is like exercise. Everyone needs it, and some people only enjoy particular versions of it.
So if you’ve “tried” journaling and fear that you just can’t do it… maybe try something different. Here’s a list of ways to journal that you might enjoy more.
- Keep a record of your day. It can be a short list of what you did, or a brief narrative of who you saw and how you felt.
- Brainstorm. Get messy and scribble out ideas. Make connections that have never been made before. Go back to old ideas and create a whole new brainstorm.
- Reflect. Write out your contemplations. Ask hard questions about yourself, your life, your loved ones, the world we all live in.
- Write letters. You can write them to yourself, to God, to your family, or the different people in your life as their actions merit them.
- Collect quotes/ideas. If you ever need inspiration, go back and read what you have gathered.
- Be grateful. Spend some time every day writing out things you appreciate about your life/world.
- Write a poem. Get better at writing and do a fun little mental exercise as you write about whatever catches your fancy.
- Achieve goals. Much like keeping a record of your day, keep a record of your goals and how you achieve them.
- Dream. I am talking about the ones you have in your sleep. ONce you wake up from a dream, quickly write it down. If you ever need a story idea, just come back to your dream journal.
Go ahead and do all of the above in your journal. Experiment. Explore. Have fun.
And make time to let your journey craft you into a better person.
One final, shameless plug: over on my Twitter account I post journal prompts every morning at 8AM Central time, if you need some inspiration about what to put in your journal…
What do you like to journal about? How long have you been journaling (or wanted to)? What benefits have you seen (do you want to see) in your life thanks to journaling?