In these strange times, I think it’s worth taking a fresh look at the benefits of keeping a journal. Pouring our thoughts into a journal can be cathartic, comforting and give us something to look back at in the future.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” – Oscar Wilde
Whilst your journal might not be a racy read, it’s an endeavour that can serve you in many ways. When we take time to note and reflect, we can:
1. Note our thoughts
When we confide in our journal, all kinds of thoughts can show up. Concerns about the future, musings over the past, things we may not readily share with anyone else. Rather than letting them nag us, when we write our thoughts down, we are better able to make sense of them and notice patterns in our thinking – some of which may be helpful, or not.
2. Get in touch with our feelings
I’ve written before about broadening our vocabulary when it comes to emotions. When we write about our thoughts in a journal, we get in touch with the feelings associated with those thoughts.
3. Reflect on our behaviour
Our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all connected; sometimes in ways that can support our wellbeing, sometimes sending us in a downward spiral. Again, writing this stuff down helps us process our inner workings. Grammar tip: make sure you’re using verbs to pinpoint behaviours; here’s a helpful list.
4. Spot patterns that may hinder our wellbeing
We can sleep-walk into patterns of thinking / feeling / behaving that can have an adverse impact on our wellbeing. For example, we may seethe with resentment towards others, be our own worst critic after a tough day or vent our frustration at our loved ones. Reflecting on our cocktail of thoughts, emotions and behaviours reveals patterns that we can change to improve our relationships, with others and ourselves. Verywell mind offers tips to use your journal for coping with anxiety.
5. See what enhances our wellbeing
By contrast, when we’re feeling great, performing well and the sun just seems to shine on us, those moments are worthy of an entry in the journal. What’s your ‘recipe’ for a good day? Sound sleep? A challenge? Laughter? Being or working with a particular person or people? How can you get more of those ‘ingredients’ more of the time?
6. Set goals
Whether it’s at the turn of a new year, month, week or day, writing in a journal is a simple way to get those thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto paper, the better to clarify what you want to achieve and how you’ll do it.
7. Generate ideas and possibilities
When we write in a journal, ideas can seem to pop up out of nowhere – capture them. Equally, if possibilities present themselves at seemingly random moments (queueing for coffee, having a shower, chopping vegetables, etc.), be sure to note them in your journal. If it worked for Leonardo Da Vinci, Darwin and Maya Angelou (to name a few, according to Thrive Global), see what it can do for you.
8. Learn from everyday experience
If we don’t take a moment to reflect, we risk losing out on valuable insights, ‘aha’ moments and tips for improving our performance at work. If we wander through life without pausing to think about our experiences, we risk making the same mistakes over and over. Keeping a journal helps us learn life lessons from our everyday experience.
9. Chart progress
Once we get the habit of keeping a journal, we can revisit our goals and see how we’re progressing towards reaching them. If we’re on course, we can pat ourselves on the back – in our journal and elsewhere. If we’re stalling and stuck, we can look back at the path taken and give ourselves encouragement to get back on course.
Journals are great for creating visuals as well as words. Speech bubbles can make sayings and quotes memorable, diagrams can help set out a situation and options for next steps and cartoons can take on a life of their own. Or you can just doodle for the simple mind-emptying pleasure of doing it at the end of a packed day. Don’t think you can draw? Graham Shaw’s TEDx video shows you how to get started (trust me, his techniques work).
A question that always comes up on this topic: is it better to type or write? For me, holding a pen is essential (and not just any old pen, it has to have liquid ink – don’t get me started). Kristin Wong’s take on pen/typing for Lifehacker makes the obvious-when-you-think-about-it point that typing, for most of us, is associated with work. Whilst there’s a place for a weekly / monthly review with team-mates and/or your manager, I think keeping a journal is intensely personal.
Although I can type pretty quickly, when writing with pen and paper I seem to unearth thoughts and feelings I was unaware of, thus gaining more useful insights. Handwriting, for me, is more free-form, fluent and less effortful. And of course, I can doodle the people and things around me 😉
You may find this post useful: ‘Reflection exercises: writing from the future’
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Journal & flowers-Depositphotos