What Is Journaling? An Inside Look At a Technique That Will Improve Your Life

Updated August 31, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
journal

You’ve probably heard the word ‘journaling‘ because it’s a term that is being thrown around a lot lately. Everywhere you go online, someone else tells you to journal. But what is journaling, really? Is it all about the “dear diary” thing, or is it more than that? On the surface, it sounds like it’s nothing more than keeping track of the things happening in your life so that you can reference them later. And though journaling can indeed give you that, it’s not just that at all.

What Is Journaling?

Let’s first break down what journaling really is, understand how it can help you in your life, and then get on with some practical ways to begin journaling.

The reality of today’s world is that we are constantly bombarded with information. If you have a traditional nine-to-five job or run your own business, there’s a load of stuff that piles up inside your head every day. Or, perhaps, you’re a stay-at-home dad or mom, and you have all the child-related things in the back of your head at all times. If you have a family, all things related layer up inside your mind day after day.

All those things load you up with positive and negative emotions, and, in time, you become a pressure-cooker of feelings.

After a good night’s sleep, you might think you woke up fresh and clean like a blank canvas. And so, you are ready to let all new information rush right in. You open the floodgates of social media, your calendar, news channels, and all the other types of stimuli.

Soon enough, as you set about your day, you realize… Oh, I am not as fresh as I thought I was. It seemed like it, for a moment, but now, you feel overloaded. And the day has just begun.

Now, I am not talking about your brain’s capacity to receive or store new information. Your brain has enough RAM to take it all in. I’m talking about your ability to deal with the emotional hurricane all those pieces of information and thoughts create in you. And remember, it’s not just the new information; the latest data is just another layer that sits on top of the one from yesterday, last week, and last month. It’s the cumulative effect that all this information has on you that matters.

Depending on the type and quantity, the emotional impact builds, and, over time, it leads to stress, anxiety, or even depression. As a defense mechanism, you try to bring in even more new information, thinking it will distract your brain from the old, and with that action, the emotions and feelings will go away. But they don’t. Instead, they pile up.

Sounds familiar? I know that it was a reality for me for a long time. As a writer, I would find any stimuli that could take my mind away from thinking I had writer’s block. But that had the opposite effect. Instead of unlocking my creativity, it put additional locks on it. Dealing with the day-to-day reality of life put so much emphasis on everything else that my brain had to set creativity on the back burner. From an evolutionary perspective, creativity is unnecessary for my survival, so it took a back seat. As days, weeks, and months went by, that seat went farther and farther behind me.

So, in this mad scenario, journaling steps in.

“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.”Jen Williamson

morning routine journal

The Benefits of Journaling

Emotional Healing

There are physical, mental, and psychological traumas that we all have experienced at one point or another in our lives. They leave deep marks in our minds, and we carry them with us everywhere. The act of writing, not only concerning the events themselves but the way they made us feel, gives them a physical representation. The words on paper make those feelings tangible and real. They allow us to look at them, read them, and load them with substance, versus just being a mush inside our heads. By jotting down those feelings, we put ourselves on a path toward healing. I’m not saying that writing solely will heal all of those wounds, but it’s a great tool to have along the way, and it’s something that you can do by yourself.

Consistency & Discipline

It’s becoming harder and harder to establish consistent routines in today’s life because of the constant abundance of inputs from every direction. Our attention and focus are pulled away by different stimuli, and it’s challenging to get to that place of self-discipline. Journaling can help you to re-build and retrain that mental muscle and regain your sense of self. Because journaling is such a personal activity, you re-learn how to be with yourself and your own thoughts. Because it’s a deliberate activity best done every day, it builds consistency and allows you to learn how to create healthy habits and routines.

Goal Achievement

Writing your goals on paper, tracking them, and following your progress trend has been shown to lead to a faster accomplishment of those goals repeatedly. That’s because we tend to work toward and put effort into what we particularly focus on. First, you must create your goals, of course. Next, you must write them down. By writing your goals down and journaling your progress, you focus on those goals. Some people go above and beyond this idea. For example, Grant Cardone, author of the best-selling book The 10X Rule, writes his goals down twice every day-once in the morning and once in the evening before bed. In an Inc.com article, author Peter Economy asserts that “You are forty-two percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.

Improving Your Language Skills

This one is obvious but quite important. When we talk, the words come naturally, as our primary goal is to get our message out fast. Rarely when we chat with someone do we think about the types of adjectives or verbs to use. They just come to us. However, you take more time when you write because you don’t write as fast as you speak. Because of that, you give your brain the space it needs to think.

When you reread a paragraph, and you hear it not sounding right, you edit it. That allows you to explore your own language and stretch your vocabulary. A research paper from the University of Victoria suggests a positive correlation between intelligence and writing. Besides this, writing will also improve your speaking skills. By increasing your vocabulary and learning the art of writing sentences, you will communicate better in your speech.

Unlocking Creativity

This one was of particular importance to me during my writing development, both in fiction and non-fiction. As a writer, I suffered from writer’s block, not necessarily in ideas but in the drive. I didn’t feel like writing, and therefore, I wasn’t writing. That’s when I stumbled upon a book called The Artist’s Way and, more specifically, on a technique called Morning Pages.

Julia Cameron created morning Pages. Born in the late 1940s in a suburb of Chicago, Julia would be director Martin Scorsese’s second wife, albeit for only one year, in 1976. Her life would take a slow downturn and descend into the abuse of alcohol and drugs. She was an aspiring writer, and she realized that the euphoria induced by drugs and alcohol stunted her creativity. Around 1978 she knew that she would completely lose her creative impetus and, perhaps, even her life if she were to continue on that path. Over the next ten or so years, she continued on a long healing journey, self-discovery, and self-creation.

In 1992, Julia self-published a book titled The Artist’s Way. It was initially a collection of tips on how to unleash the power of your creativity and be more creative in your everyday life. Without today’s technology, Julia had to make Xerox copies of her book and give them to people to read.

Eventually, her book, re-titled The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, sold millions of copies, was put into the Self-Publishing Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the list of the Top 100 Best Self-Help Books of All Time.

Needless to say, I highly recommend that you read this book. If you don’t, at least read the chapter on Morning Pages, which is one tool that Julia Cameron kindly gave to all of us.

writing journaling The idea behind Morning Pages is simple. Every morning after you wake up and before you do anything else, sit down and write three pages in longhand (meaning using your hand and a pen versus typing). You are not to ever read those pages, nor do they have to be about anything in particular. Instead, you sit down to write, and you don’t stop until you finish three pages. You are to write whatever lies on the fringes of your mind at that moment. If nothing comes to mind, write, “nothing comes to my mind right now” until you finish those three pages.

You’re probably thinking, well, that’s utterly stupid. And also impossible. Where am I going to find time to write three pages every day? Everyday? Hell, no.

Pause. Take a breath.

I felt the same way at first. But then I gave it a shot.

Here is the main idea behind Morning Pages and why it is a creative outlet. All those things I mentioned in the intro that load upon each other in your head—they are the accumulation of your life. Events, activities, and everything that happened with you or around you and all the emotional baggage they bring—they’re there, in your head. All the time.

Regardless of whether you see yourself as a #creative person, whether or not you act like one, there is #creativity inside of you. Click To Tweet

When you take a moment to write those thoughts down, something magical happens. As you force your brain to think and push your hand to move the pen on paper, you let those thoughts go. It’s like opening a valve and allowing the extra pressure to escape. At first, it won’t be a lot. Your brain has been over-stressed for decades. It will take more than just three pages. It will take days, perhaps weeks. But after a while, you will start to feel something.

Space.

Space inside your brain. Freedom. You will open up passages for your creativity to flourish again.

Understand that there is no right or wrong way to do Morning Pages. It’s a pure stream of consciousness. Whatever is in your mind in the morning, that’s what you write. And, by the way, as I mentioned, you are not supposed to read those pages, nor should you ever allow anyone else to look at them. Their point is not to document and be used as a reference. Their point is to release the information in your head so your brain can feel the freedom it needs to be creative.

I urge you to read some in-depth articles about Morning Pages and how they have helped people worldwide. I’ve listed some useful links at the end of the article.

Julia asserts that we are all creative, and I believe that to be true. Whether you see yourself as a creative person, whether or not you act like one, there is creativity inside of you. Journaling will help to unleash it.

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.”Tim Ferriss

time blocking apps

Methods of Journaling

So, what are the types of information that one could put in one’s journal?

Facts

This is pretty obvious. You can use your journal to document the events in your life. For example, you could write the names of the people you meet and the places you visit. Do you know how many times I’ve slapped myself for never keeping track of all the concerts I’ve seen in my life? I wish I’d been wise enough to write them down. Or how about the vacations I’ve taken? I’ve lost track of all of them.

Yes, with today’s technology, there are automated ways you can use to keep reminding yourself of places and people. Still, the idea of sitting down for just a few minutes and jotting down what you’ve done for the day will help you to find a better place for those memories inside your mind. Simultaneously, writing allows you to re-live those moments and prolong their joy or let go of their anguish, depending on the situation. This can be done simply by using a Bullet Journal, which is precisely what it sounds like—a bulleted list of facts.

Feelings

This one is far more important than the pure listing of facts and events. The way places, activities, and people make you feel is a crucial part of your life. Connecting your feelings with them and acknowledging them is a powerful tool. We are way too used to stifling the emotions in our lives. By writing not only what has happened, but how it made you feel, you acknowledge yourself. You become in tune with those emotions, and you begin to understand them.

In everyone’s life, there are negative and positive emotions. The act of journaling allows people to let go of some negative emotions through writing. However, know that journaling negative emotions exclusively might have an opposite depressing effect over time. It would be best if you balanced both. Remember that your brain can focus on only a few things at a time, so if you keep feeding it negativity, it will respond accordingly.

One way to create that balance is through gratitude journaling. By ending your journaling session with a list of items you are grateful for, you refocus your mind on the positive aspects of your life. Putting the negative stuff on paper is essential, but it’s also equally important to pull the positive things to the surface. Done consistently, it will help you to focus on the things you do appreciate in your life.

Plans

Journaling also offers an excellent opportunity for planning. By writing goals and visions about your future, you give them permanence. By referring back to your writing, you can track your goals and observe your plan’s trends. A goal-tracking journal, along with your calendar, is the best tool when you want to use journaling for planning.

Ideas

Lastly, your journal is a blank canvas for all your ideas and thoughts. This is where Morning Pages will naturally fit. Basically, you can use your journal to let go of all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions inside your head. Much as Julia Cameron found, this practice will help bring about a shift in your life in time. Soon, those ideas and thoughts will materialize into something beyond mere words on paper.

“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.”Julia Cameron

hand writing notepad grass

Creating a journaling routine

The most challenging part of journaling is, well… doing it. Starting. I must’ve attempted journaling thirty different times in the past, and it never stuck until I stumbled upon Morning Pages. The reality is that it’s difficult to start a journaling routine and stick to it. It’s damn hard, but here are some tips that could help.

1) Start small

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear recommends starting really small. He even created his own journal, where you begin by writing a single line of text per day. That should take a few seconds. If you find it hard to stick to a journaling routine, start with this method and expand over time.

2) Start with Facts

Facts are a lot easier to write about than feelings. If you find it hard to pour your heart out, begin with the facts. Make bullet points of the things that happened during the day. This will help you to establish the routine of putting words on paper. In time, you will begin to expand the facts and add emotions.

2) Use your Morning

I’ve written before about the power of a good morning routine. Because an early morning is a perfect time slot for some “me time,” it is one of the best moments to focus on your journaling. By combining this tip with the idea of starting small, using your morning will give you the necessary space to begin journaling.

3) Plan Time

I am a planner myself, and I don’t abide by only doing things when I feel like it because I’ve seen that method take me to a bad place many times. I think being deliberate with journaling implies planning time for it, which means planning my time, period. Plan your journaling sessions in your calendar, and keep yourself accountable.

4) Use Writing Prompts

Even with the tools above, when you sit down at the table facing that blank paper, your brain might feel the same way—blank. Since you are trying to start journaling, Morning Pages might be too advanced. So, then, what do you write about? There’s pressure about journaling to be meaningful, so it’s not unusual for you to feel that anything you write about will not be significant enough.

The truth is, anything that you write is important because it’s important to you. But I understand how you feel. I’ve been there. One shortcut to kindling your writing is to use journaling prompts. These are short hints that tell you what to write about in that session. You can search for journal prompts online, check the resources I put at the bottom, or look for journal prompt cards. The latter are physical cards that you can carry with you and use as inspiration.

I hope this article gave you some ideas about what journaling is and how it can help you. With that, I wish you good luck if you go down this path.

“Journaling is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time.”Mina Murray

Journaling Resources

On Morning Pages

Journaling Prompts

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. Do you journal, and, if yes, when and why did you start?
  2. What benefits did journaling have for you?
  3. What are the biggest challenges you have with journaling?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!

iulian-ionescu


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journaling, writing tips


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