The Benefits of Journal Writing
So you may be asking yourself, (why) should I start a journal? Will keeping a journal actually be good for me? A growing body of research and evidence says yes, there are specific benefits of journal writing. Here are some ways in which journal writing can enhance your life.
The practical benefits of journal writing
Journal writing helps you achieve your goals.
A common focus of journal writing is to keep a record of personal goals. Writing your goals down on paper helps you to clarify and reinforce them. The act of writing itself is known to engage our brain in a way that links spatial processing (making the letters) with verbal processing (finding the words to write). As you strengthen this link, your brain filters important information like your goals, and more easily stores that information in memory. A study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University, showed that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down.
Journal writing helps you to stay organized.
Especially when you’re on the go, journal writing can help you keep track of your life. Pocket journals or notebooks are convenient to carry to jot down your to-do list, spontaneous thoughts, things you see and hear, questions that come up. Keeping track of your things in one place helps to remind you of your experiences, and often prompts you to write more about them later. Mark Twain is known for carrying pocket notebooks, which include his observations of people, some of his witty sayings, ideas for inventions, and even sections for dirty jokes!
Journal writing helps you to build self-discipline.
Whether you set aside time each day to sit down and write, or carry a journal with you, journal writing requires time and intention. As you build it into your routine, it becomes a healthy habit that can increase your effectiveness in other areas such as time management, productivity, and persistence.
Journal writing records your life.
The benefits of journal writing can come not only from the process, but from the product as well. If you think about it, you are filling up the pages of your journal with your life story. That in itself is an accomplishment. Your story and perspective can serve as a valuable source of inspiration for your future self, if you choose to keep your journal private, or for others if you choose to share it.
The health benefits of journal writing
Journal writing helps you to stay healthy.
Research shows that spending a little time journaling can help you manage the negative physical effects of stress, illness, or trauma. Social psychologist James Pennebaker, examining the long-term benefits of expressive writing, found that people who wrote about a stressful event or illness for 15-20 minutes over the course of 3 to 5 sessions reported fewer sick visits to the doctor, lower blood pressure, and improved immune function six months later. Over time, journal writing can be a powerful tool for you to maintain a healthy and positive physical outlook.
The psychological and emotional benefits of journal writing
Journal writing helps you to sort out your thoughts and feelings.
The beauty of journal writing is that it gives you a platform to express yourself freely and honestly. Your journal can be a safe space for your dreams, your relationships, your fears, your complaints. As in the example of Anne Frank, writing without judgement or editing may help you to work out emotional conflicts, and to recognize emotional triumphs as well.
Journal writing promotes mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a popular term these days. It refers to achieving a state of internal awareness, in which you are wholly focused on being present in the moment. According to one school of thought, called self-discrepancy theory, striving towards mindfulness reveals the dissonance between your “actual” self and your “ideal” self, which can cause you to feel sad or unfulfilled. Mindfulness training techniques, including journal writing, yoga, and meditation, open you up to resolving the discrepancies between the person you are and the person you would like to be. In the practice of journal writing, you become more self-aware, self-confident, and just plain happier!
Journal writing improves your ability to problem-solve.
Back to neuroscience … When you problem-solve, you generally exercise the analytical functions of your left brain. When you physically write down a problem, though, you unleash the creative and sensory functions of your right brain. Committing to writing in your journal, you are more likely to arrive at innovative ways to approach and resolve any challenges you are grappling with.
Journal writing develops your emotional intelligence.
Daniel Goleman, a science journalist who literally wrote the book on “Emotional Intelligence,” identifies five components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. Related to the benefits above, journal writing nurtures and integrates all of these components. It leads you naturally on the path to a more sophisticated and developed understanding of yourself and others.
Journal writing increases your sense of gratitude.
“It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us happiness.”
It’s true. When you feel and express gratitude, you reap health benefits such as better sleep, lower blood pressure, and more energy. Keeping a gratitude journal, even for 5 minutes a day, helps you to access those benefits over time. Advocates of gratitude journaling, like Oprah Winfrey, describe how writing down the things you are grateful for helps you to appreciate what you have, rather than get bogged down in what you want or feel that you’re missing. Gratitude journaling shifts your focus to generate positive energy. You feel better, and the people around you feel better about you too.
Now that you’ve digested some of the benefits of journal writing, you may be wondering how to get started. There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. Before diving in, it will help you to ask yourself: How do I want to fit journal writing into my schedule? What would be meaningful for me to create and in my journal? What benefits of journal writing are important to me? Give yourself time and space and find what works for you!