Most mornings my alarm clock goes off. I hit snooze just once. I grab a cup of coffee that brewed automatically from being set up the night before. I sit on a couch with my feet tucked under a blanket and for 10 minutes I write about my thoughts.
True confessions sometimes I play wordle before I journal.
Another confession, I don’t always journal on the weekends.
Still it’s almost always an early part of my day. It’s something that I find very helpful.
It actually took me a long time to fall in love with journaling. Over the years occasionally I would do it for a while usually after it was suggested by somebody I was paying to help me with something. Now. I love it so much that if I take a break during a vacation or another event I miss it dearly.
Why and how journaling can be helpful
Perhaps you have heard or read people suggesting to journal as a tool in your self-development or self-improvement journey.
Maybe you know all about journaling but maybe you don’t.
One of the things that I admit that drives me bonkers is when somebody says that they will help me and then they explain things to me that I don’t yet understand.
I created this document to introduce the concept of journaling to somebody who may not actually be sure of what journaling is, how to go about it or why it would work.
What is journaling?
Journaling is simply writing things down.
A journal can be a book of blank pages that you might use to write down thoughts or feelings.
You can also “journal” on other surfaces and in other ways. You can write on loose paper or on the back of a pharmacy receipt or on a napkin on an airplane.
Some definitions of journaling define it as keeping a record and that is one thing a journal can do but there are other benefits and sometimes you may not actually want to keep what you write.
Journaling is something that has a lot of different ways to go about doing it. In fact, you don’t always even have to write in a journal – you might doodle or draw a graphic.
Why would you want to journal?
If you feel overwhelmed or like life is chaotic or messy, journaling may help.
If you have a sense of confusion on your part in a situation that’s happening in your life, journaling may be a powerful tool to help.
If you have a sense that thoughts or conversations or situations are rolling around on repeat over and over in your head journaling may help.
If you want to share something with somebody to get it out of your head or off your chest and there isn’t anybody around that is a great person to share with journaling might be helpful.
If you feel like you are looking for clarity or direction on a topic journaling might help.
If you are trying to make a decision but you don’t really want any more information or suggestions from outsiders journaling can be a good tool.
If you have conflict in a relationship and you want to work through the conversation or conflict without creating more conflict this is a place where journaling can be a powerful tool.
One of the ways that journaling helps is that it gives you a way to have a deeper discussion on a topic without involving another person. The word sometimes used for this is processing. Journaling is a tool that we can use to process situations and interactions that can be highly effective.
How does journaling actually work to help?
I’ve made a lot of big claims about how journaling can help and you might be wondering how can that be.
It’s a fair question. After all – it’s just writing things down.
Thoughts move very rapidly through our brain. I’m not a neuroscientist but I’ve read that the estimates are that we may have 60,000 thoughts a day.
I know … wow!
We write much slower than we think. Even if we are fast writers or typers that’s 150 words a minute and that’s much slower than our thoughts.
In order to write things down you are literally organizing the thoughts. The writing process slows us down. When we create sentences we cannot also listen.
This is a powerful tip so I’ll say it again. I did not believe this the first time I heard it and I encourage you to test it for yourself. If you are thinking about what to write and writing that sentence either with paper or pen or typing you cannot at the same time listen to what’s happening around you. You may “hear it” but you won’t process it.
This means two things.
First this really might mean that a lot of that note taking I did in school may have been pretty much nonsense and second writing forces us to focus on one thing at a time. This focus possibly helps us feel in control because it is an intentional action.
When we put pen to paper and write things down we are also literally moving that idea from our head to another space. This action is thought to actually change where and how that information may be stored in our memory.
If we have an active mind or our thoughts are racing around journaling can help slow that down.
If we feel that we have too many ideas or thoughts to track journaling helps us to organize these ideas.
Looking at the ideas on paper (or screen) allows us to visually organize the ideas and thoughts. We organize it a bit in order to write it and then again if we review what we have written that’s another place we can add organization. Think about it sometimes when you are planning a project and it feels like a lot. Then when you begin to write it out or make a written plan sometimes you might realize that you already have some things you need. Other times you may realize just how massively big the project is.
Writing about our actual thoughts is interesting. When we do this it can help us be specific in thinking about these ideas and thoughts. If you’re curious there is a name for this which is meta cognition.
Accountability is a big thing in coaching and personal development. Maintaining a journal is a way that we can work on self-accountability. When we write things down they can feel more real. This action can help us connect with thoughts and actions and help us to make change if we want to.
Another reason journaling can be a powerful tool is because it’s focusing and refining our thoughts without adding other opinions.
If you’ve ever gone to discuss an idea with friends and at the end of that conversation you had more questions than you started with you may see the value of this. Sometimes we need more information and other opinions but sometimes it’s more powerful to spend time focusing on connecting with our own individual thoughts.
Tracking and accountability. Sometimes journals are used specifically to log daily progress or track behavior and look for patterns and changes. Journals are great for this because often our memory is not as reliable as we wish it was.
On this topic I kept a running logbook or journal for years. I manually wrote down each of my runs and I would sometimes go back and look to see when I ran and how much. Later that was replaced with an electronic logbook but I think I truly might miss the old fashioned one.
Those are some of the ways that journaling can be helpful and how it can work.
When most people think of journaling they think of a diary. They may envision a scene with a desk and a book with a lock and at the top starting with, “Dear diary.”
That is one way to do it but there are others and you may be journaling in some parts of your life and not even know it.
- To do List Journal
- Free or proprioceptive writing
- Thought download or idea dump
- Guided, directed or focused journaling
- Gratitude journaling
- Habit, behavior or mood tracking
- Bullet journaling
- Fitness or nutrition journaling or logging.
- Time tracking
- Money Tracking
- Daily business agenda tracking
You may have never considered some of these as journaling but I think that many of them count.
The type of journaling I mostly do is a thought dump theme and I teach journaling with prompts which is a form of guided or directed journaling.
How to start journaling
The short answer to this is to just begin.
Grab a piece of paper and a writing tool and then write down what you are thinking about.
Maybe you find that overwhelming. That’s normal for a lot of people.
Writing is something that a lot of people have anxiety about. Writing is something that most of us have been scored on while in school. The idea of writing can seem unappealing or even frightening.
I can remember that as a kid I had an English teacher that started class with I think 10 minutes of free writing. I don’t remember loving that, actually. I much preferred 10 minutes of free reading.
Luckily, there are all kinds of tools that you can use to get started.
There are bazillions of journals available for sale to help you along the way and you can find them all over from Target to Amazon and all the places.
There are also all kinds of challenges and programs out there to teach you to journal.
I offer a self-guided workbook that steps you into journaling specific to your family and relationships and you can find that here.