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5 Benefits of Journal Writing & How to Get Started

Are you looking for an effective way to manage stress? Have you ever wondered how you might be able to improve your quality of life? If your answer was, "Yes", then writing a journal could be a solution. But there could also be other benefits to journaling which you may not have anticipated.

Overview

Typically speaking, journalling involves writing out your thoughts or feelings. Put differently, it's a practice which enables you to explore life events and the surrounding emotions and thoughts relating to them.

Because of its nature, you may find you write about things you'd ordinarily take to counselling, for example. As a result, journal writing, can be both strategic and therapeutic, whilst simultaneously forming part of your personal learning journey.

The power of journalling

Journaling can be done in various ways, but will usually involve writing in a notebook, diary, or on an electronic device. Writing a journal, even periodically, can be a powerful tool for increasing self-awareness. That said, it can also be effective for other things including goal setting.

How journaling is done will differ from person to person. However, the focus of developing a healthy relationship with your mind remains the same. And it's here where journaling comes into its own, because writing facilitates clarity of thoughts and feelings, thereby helping you to gain insightful self-awareness.

Journal writing can also be effective for problem-solving. Quite often, the simple act of writing about a problem is enough to ease anxiety (Smyth, 2018). It can also help to highlight solutions. Additionally, knowing you're addressing a problem eases stress. Therefore, writing a journal can also be considered a helpful stress management practice.

So, in addition to stress management and problem solving, what are some of the other benefits of journaling? And, just as importantly, how can writing a journal be helpful for improving your quality of life?

To answer this, here are five proven benefits of writing a journal, followed by three writing practices which you could use to get started.

1. Journalling makes you more grateful

All too often we expend energy on perceived lack. For example, you might catch yourself talking about lacking time, money, or motivation. Through writing a gratitude journal, you'll focus more on what you have in life, rather than on what's missing. Consequently, just noting what you have to be grateful for can do wonders for your wellbeing.

Interestingly, one study found that journal entries focused on positive outcomes, resulted in reduced emotional distress. This supports the idea that giving attention to what you have, can prove effective in improving your wellbeing.

Recommended: 13 Most Popular Gratitude Exercise & Activities

2. Journal writing increases your intuition

The practice of journal writing will increase your sensitivity to the voice within. Simply taking moments to pause, notice and reflect on what's happening, will also develop your discernment and trust. For example, when making major decisions, you'll become more understanding of, and more responsive to, your needs.

3. Journal writing will develop your creativity

Along with becoming more sensitive to your voice, consistent journal writing can also help you to find it. In this sense, regularly writing begins the process of developing your creativity. More specifically, how you articulate and express your inner voice.

However, it's worth noting where this could be a potential obstacle if you struggle with perfectionism. So, when journal writing, try not to become overly concerned with any peripheral concerns or your prose. Instead, focus on accessing and expressing your thoughts and emotions.

4. Writing a journal increases your self-awareness

Regularly writing a journal can provide insights about yourself that might otherwise go unnoticed. Furthermore, by giving attention to your thoughts and feelings you're more likely to spot patterns, and learn about your presuppositions, motives and assumptions. Consequently, you can also identify where these and your experiences have shaped you.

Additionally, you'll be able to identify how past events have affected the way you think, feel and behave. And as a result, you can start to challenge and address them. This process of identification and modification, can be a powerful next step in making improvements to your quality of life.

Recommended: Reflecting for self-awareness

5. Journalling supports your healing process

As you journal, you'll start to recollect life events and consider the impact of your experiences. Though this may be painful, it can also prove to be cathartic. Because, as you reflect on life events, you'll have an opportunity to assess the meaning you've given to each.

This is important, as the meaning you give to your experiences will determine their overall effect. Simply put, if you attach unhealthy meanings to past events, your response to similar future events are more likely to be negative.

By contrast, by giving past events healthier meanings, you can start the process of healing painful memories. Furthermore, its for this reason journal writing can also be used to maximise your work with a counsellor.

Getting started with writing your journal

We've considered just five of the many benefits of writing a journal. These included:

  1. Being able to increase your level of gratitude by intentionally focusing on what you have.
  2. Developing your intuition, discernment and ability to address your emotional needs.
  3. Becoming more creative in how you communicate your thoughts, feelings and ideas.
  4. Growing in confidence to understand your behaviour and where you may need to change.
  5. Feeling more empowered to question how past events shape and influence your life.

Of course, there are several other benefits to journaling that I've not mentioned, some of which are:

  • Getting clarity about your future goals,
  • Keeping a record of your  ideas and lessons learnt, and
  • Capturing and collating your most significant memories.

As you'll see, there are many benefits to writing a journal. However, even if you've written one before, you may have questions about when and how to go about journal writing. Life is busy, so how are you going to fit it into your schedule?

Invest time now and thank yourself later

Well, firstly, if you're asking questions about time, think of journal writing as a gift to your future self. You'll need to make decisions in the future, so a record of your thoughts and feelings could prove invaluable. Similarly, you'll also have an account of any progress you've made in your thinking on various issues or subjects.

If concerned about time, focus on starting small. It may sound ridiculous, but aiming for just three lines, three minutes, or three sentences is enough to help you form your new habit of journal writing. Author and thought leader, Tim Ferriss, describes how five minutes of journaling at the start of the day is an integral part of his daily routine.

And, secondly, if your question is about how to get started on writing a journal, it's not that hard. The obvious starting point is to invest in some simple tools. For example, a notebook and pen. There are also various journal apps you could try (which I won't go into now). Alternatively, you could use a Word document or Notes app.

So, once you've decided your preferred means of recording your journal entries, it's time to get started. And, here are three ways you might want to consider.

1. Track something

One way to get going is to track progress. For example, you could keep a record of the food you eat, the books you read, your workouts, the hours you've slept, or your mood. What you track isn't what's most important here, it's having something to start writing in your journal.

Knowing what to write can often be an obstacle for people just starting out. So the idea of tracking something - anything - will help you start developing a habitual practice.

Recommended: What I Learnt by Journaling for 30 Days by Matt D'Avella

2. List what you're grateful for

As mentioned earlier, focusing on what you have, rather than on what you lack, is good for your wellbeing. And it's for this reason that some people keep a gratitude journal. To do this you could set aside time each day to list three to five aspects of your day for which you are grateful. This could be a meal, a conversation, or some news you've received.

The added benefit of a gratitude journal is having a long list of 'goodies' to refer to when you're not feeling so great. Just doing this can not only change your perspective on life, but lift your mood.

Recommended: How to Start a Gratitude Journal by Stefan James

3. Write out your favourite quotes

There'll be times when reading, in conversation, or watching a movie or drama that something will stand out. It may be a phrase, adage, or anecdote which stirs, humours, provokes or challenges your perspective. In turn, you could write out or type these into your journal for later reference and consideration.

It's not a new idea. In fact, the practice of keeping a Commonplace Book or 'commonplacing', as it's otherwise known, is a longstanding tradition held by many influential leaders and thinkers across the centuries. You too could have your own version through a written journal.

Summary

As you've seen, the benefits of writing a journal are plenty. Furthermore, writing a journal can do more than positively affect your wellbeing and improve your quality of life. Indeed, through the regular practice of journaling, you can get greater clarity of thought, develop your ideas and live with an increased sense of purpose.

Equally, getting started needn't be too difficult. As a matter of fact, the only real investment you need to make is your time. And as I've already highlighted, this would be an investment your future self will one day thank you for. So, by starting small and allocating just a few minutes a day, you could develop a valuable new habit.

It also helps to remember you don't need to be an literary genius or bestselling author to start journaling. In fact, when journaling, you can feel free from any fears of critique or judgement, as your journal is yours alone. Ultimately, your journal pages are a space for you to be your authentic and vulnerable self. So go ahead, give it a try.

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References

Smyth J.M. et al. (2018) 'Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients with Elevated Anxiety Syndrome: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial', JMIR Mental Health 5(4). doi:10.2196/11290

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