There are a number of reasons why people have kept journals throughout the ages. Many of the earliest ones in English were for the sake of reflecting on how the person could improve their life and be a better person. Interestingly, 2 of the earliest journals were written by women, Julian of Norwich, a nun, in the early 1370s, and Margery Kempe, a middle-class housewife in the 1430s.
Kempe met Julian of Norwich and was no doubt inspired by her. Both talk about their spiritual progress in their journals. Kempe also traveled widely to various famous pilgrimage sites, thus being credited as the author of both the first autobiography to ever have been published, as well as one of the first travelogues.
As the centuries passed, journals were also kept in order to record important historical events the journal-keepers lived through. One of the most famous diaries is that of Samuel Pepys, (pronounced PEEPS), who was a civil servant in the reign of Charles II of England. It is remarkable for 3 reasons:
- it’s very frank and often shocking details about his daily life;
- the way it captures life in late 17th century England;
- the fact that it was written in code and has taken centuries to decipher.
A less colorful, more stark example of a journal that has stood the test of time and will most likely be read forever is the diary of Anne Frank and her experiences hiding from the Nazis during World War II. While you may not think you are living in the midst of great historical times, there are other reasons for keeping a journal. So if you’ve been curious about how to go about it, and why it can be so beneficial, let’s first start with a definition of what journaling is.
What is Journaling?
Journaling is the process of recording the events of your day, your thoughts, ideas, inspiration, and anything else you wish to keep a record of. There are lots of reasons to keep a journal. It can be fun, a great keepsake for you and your family, or a sourcebook of ideas you could use as a writer, artist, musician, songwriter, and so on. A journal can also act as a confidante to whom you can admit your deepest secrets, or serve as a way of getting things off your chest and moving on.
Journaling can also be a way of setting goals and then tracking your progress towards them. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, keeping a weight loss journal can help you sort out what went well versus what could have gone better. Then you can do more of the successful activities until you finally reach the target weight you’ve set for yourself.
If you struggle with anger issues, you could start an anger management journal, or a relationship journal to try to improve your connections with others. Some people try to practice what is termed lucid dreaming, that is, harnessing the power of their mind when they are asleep. If you’ve ever ‘slept on’ a problem and come up with a solution the following morning, you will have an idea of how lucid dreaming works. Some people also write down their dreams because they think they have different meanings and they can interpret them.
Journaling and dream journals are used by some psychiatrists and psychologists as a tool to help people clear obstacles and issues that may be blocking them. It can be a great stress reliever and offer many benefits. Let’s look at this in the next chapter.
What are the benefits of journaling?
A large body of research indicates that there are many mental and emotional benefits gained from journaling regularly. Studies have shown that as few as 15 to 20 minutes of journaling for 5 sessions or less were enough to help those who participated in the study deal with difficult and stressful events. It has also been proven effective in relation to people with cancer and other health challenges, serving as ‘writing therapy.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or ‘talk therapy’ has been shown to be just as effective as medication when it comes to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Writing therapy can be even more effective because the person is writing for themselves only. There’s no need to censor what they say due to a fear of what the listener will think of them.
Journaling about stressful events has been shown to be most effective when you write about events in a narrative form and including your emotions, rather than just noting down emotions only. This form of storytelling helps you make sense of what happened and your role in it. Journaling also allows you to explore different scenarios. It isn’t just a diary of exactly what happened, but what you could have done differently, what you learned from the situation, and so on. Journaling can, therefore, be part of what is termed reflective practice.
With reflective practice, you reflect on your skills, abilities, choices and decisions in order to try to improve your skills. If you’re a teacher, for example, or want to take more of a leadership role at work, reflective practice in your journal, in which you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses, can do a great deal to move you forward in your career.
Journaling will also make you a better writer. Writing every day for 15 minutes is bound to make you better at it. It can also provide a creative outlet in which you jot down all of the ideas that come to you. Many writers keep a journal or use a book small enough to be able to take it with them anywhere so they can jot down their thoughts whenever they come to them.
Writing down new ideas, experiences, and situations can help you make sense of them, and unravel complicated issues. Journals can also help you get more organized due to the profound changes that writing and communication can have on the brain, even if you are writing the journal only for yourself.
Journaling is ideal for setting goals and accomplishing them. You can’t track your progress if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place. A journal can help you track your achievement so they don’t get overlooked in the busy-ness of the day. You can also journal about mistakes you’ve made and use them as teaching moments.
Journaling can also be a good way to focus on an area in your life that you struggle with and feel is holding you back from being your best self. For example, you might struggle with procrastination. Keeping a to-do list and crossing the items off one by one as you accomplish them can help you overcome that bad habit and put better habits in its place. If you’re always busy but aren’t sure where the time is going, a work diary or log of what you are doing, organizing in 15-minute increments, can show you where your time is being wasted. Then you can take steps to use those chunks of time more productively, including penciling in times to work out.
An exercise diary can also keep you on track. The suggested activity levels for all adults in the US is 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity, that is, an activity which boosts your heart rate, and strength training every other day for about 15 minutes a day. This can include light weights, resistance bands, or yoga. The only way to be sure you are meeting your daily requirements is to keep a progress journal.
If you struggle with excessive spending, a spending journal could get you back on track. Sometimes couples keep a journal together, of times, spent with each other, special events, something important they are working on together as a team, and so on. The only limit in terms of the benefits of a journal is your imagination in terms of what you wish to write about and how you want to use it. Now that you know what a valuable tool a journal can be, it’s time to look at the best ways to start journaling.
How to start journaling
There are many ways of journaling in the modern world, so it’s really a question of what is easy, likely to help you stick with it, and will make it fun and interesting enough that you will be motivated to keep on doing it.
Paper and pen
The traditional way is of course paper and pen. They are portable if you choose a small notebook, and studies have shown that writing things down tends to help the mind process better. It is also less likely to get hacked, though it is more likely to be read by others if you leave it sitting around. It can get lost if you are careless with it on your travels and there will be no digital backups.
The Bullet Journal
The BulletJournal.com method is a way to become more productive. It’s not really a place for in-depth emotional analysis or recording of events, but rather, a planner to keep you organized so you can plow through your to-do list like a pro. There’s a handy video to show you how to set one up and put all tasks in there, then record them as done, or move them on to the next month.
The Sorta Journal, and similar journals
The Sorta Journal offers a range of different papers and allows you to take pages out and replace them as needed. The video is interesting because it gives you an idea of types of paper that can be used. But you can also get sheets of various kinds and glue them into your regular journal, or use a looseleaf with a hole punch. You could also get a paper notebook with pockets for storing your special items. A similar product that might be worth considering is the Blueline MiracleBind Notebook, which comes in a range of colors with a variety of papers.
The Panda Planner
The Panda Planner is a paper notebook that sets you up with a motivational quote, and a range of papers to help you become more productive. It also comes with 7 e-books on various topics that encourage you to be your best self and work on a particular project, such as becoming more productive, with the help of the Panda Planner.
There is a wide range of themed journals that can tap into your interests and make journaling more enjoyable. Angels, teddy bears, you name it, there’s a journal for that. Many have inspirational quotes, writing prompts, and images designed to stimulate your senses. Some journals are plain on the outside, while others are gorgeous. Journaling should feel like a pleasure, not a chore, so shop around to find a journal that suits your taste and personality, and ‘feels right’ when you use it.
Digital Pens and Paper
This could be the best of both worlds. Digital pens like Livescribe work in one of several ways. They are a pen with real ink. They are also digital pens that record your work on special paper so that your information can then be uploaded to your computer. The latest generation also has a microphone built in.
They are ideal for students or busy executives who want to make sure the notes they are taking synch up with what has been said. These pens and pads, therefore, give you the option of recording your thoughts anywhere, at any time, either in writing or orally, then downloading them via your USB port. The disadvantage is that once something is digital, it can get hacked, but the plus side is it can really keep you organized and on track with all that is important to you.
Journaling and Diary Apps
We all live with our cell phones by our sides 24/7/365 these days, so journaling and diary apps might be a logical way to keep a journal if pen and paper seem just too clunky. There are several that will also work with laptops as well. The main problem is privacy online, and how much memory they take up on your device.
Penzu promises you can write from any device and that it has military-grade security so that everything you upload will be safe. It offers different formats, is customizable in terms of appearance, and is fully searchable by text and tags.
The DayOne Journal app is for iOS only but offers a range of suggestions and templates for how to use it to organize your life and work on the goals you set. It is location-aware, so you can add photos and more.
The RedNotebook app is free and will remind you of a wiki. It has a calendar, photos and more. It can be used on any device, Window, iOS and Linux.
OneNote or Evernote
You can use these handy tools and just encrypt the files so they don’t get hacked. Store them in the cloud at a place like Dropbox so you can edit them anytime you wish.
Blogging is very similar to journaling if you are writing about things from your own point of view, and want to share your thoughts with a wider audience. This would not, of course, be the place to write down the most intimate details about your life, in case they get hacked, but a lot of people learn by writing, and the research they do that goes into each blog post.
WordPress is the most popular blogging software in the world and is free. If you get your own URL through a company like namecheap.com and have it hosted at a company like Hostgator, which works with Namecheap, you can upload WordPress with just a few clicks and start blogging. Blog entries, or posts, can be public, private, or passworded, so not everything you write needs to be visible. Blogging can help you stay organized, as you put your most important content online all in one place. WordPress also has the advantage of offering thousands of plugins, that is, small mini-programs, which can help you stay organized.
Editorial Calendar, for example, will help you keep track of all your postings. When combined with the blog scheduling feature, you can write something every day and publish it at a future date, if you wish, so your blog will always be fresh, up to date and interesting. Blogs can also make you money. Place ads on your blog, such as through the Google AdSense program, and/or become an affiliate marketer, such as at Amazon, and earn commission for every item sold through your specially coded links. Blogging is fun, addictive, and will always make you a better writer.
Journaling if you don’t like writing
You don’t have to be the world’s best writer in order to journal. The beauty of a journal is that you get to decide what goes in it, and anything goes. It doesn’t all have to be writing. You can use many other forms of expression.
Different Media for your Journal
Photos, sketches, diagrams, and so on can all be a part of journaling. You can gather quotes and items that inspire you, create photo essays of important events in your life, brainstorm and more. Your journal can be as unique as you are.
If you start a blog, WordPress offers themes for those who want to keep a plog, that is, a photo log, or vlog, that is, a video log. If you draw, use different media, such as pen, pencil, crayon, pastels and more.
If you are trying to figure out complicated things, try charts, diagrams or a mind map. Write down things you really need to remember at the back of your journal or in a special section so you always have it to hand. This might be as simple as your user names and coded passwords for the sites you use most often.
Create a Collage
Get some magazines or newspapers and cut out words, phrases, paragraphs or even articles that relate to your situation or emotions at that particular point. Add in pictures that you find that could demonstrate how you are feeling or want to feel.
You can annotate it to make it truly personal. Leave a blank page so that you can revisit and review at a later time and add in additional journaling if you wish. Scrapbooking is also a popular pastime for self-expression without a lot of writing. These days adult coloring books are as well. Many of them are based on themes or art forms such as Celtic art or Buddhist Mandalas (representations of the universe). Draw your own or color them in and write about your feelings.
Use a handy free tool like Dictation.io online to record your thoughts. It doesn’t need to be trained for hours like other forms of software. Just make sure no one is within hearing distance of you if you are recording anything private. Remember to use the on and off button, and copy and paste your work into a file to save it if you wish to edit it.
Sometimes we can get intimidated by a new page in our journal. Using a simple prompt such as a word or question can help break the ‘blank page syndrome’ and inspire you to unburden yourself onto the empty page in front of you.
It’s important that you don’t feel that you have to write a lot or even in full sentences. The journal and act of journaling has to relate to your needs at that moment in time and this will vary day to day. A gratitude journal can help you get started. I am grateful for….. is an easy prompt that can transform your entire mood.
Journaling is fun, interesting, and can be an invaluable tool no matter how you wish to use it and what you want to accomplish. Write in it every day, one a week, whenever it suits you and don’t stress over it if your work isn’t a masterpiece.
Your journal is a personal document designed to help you learn, grow, remember, improve, achieve goals and more. It’s a living document, so there is no right or wrong way to create or use it as long as you find it of value in moving forward to become your best self and live your best life.