Sometimes, the best things we can do for ourselves are also the easiest. And, often, these things are also the cheapest and the ones that require the lowest level of technology possible.
Case in point: the habit of journaling.
Besides meditation, one of the new habits that had a big impact on my life this past year is keeping a journal. Every night, just before bed, I take out a notebook and write. I answer questions I’ve been pondering, note things I’ve learned, or, in some cases, just write whatever is on my mind.
Journaling isn’t hard, but it’s not a habit that’s easy to pick up either. Many of us are so glued to our devices that the idea of writing by hand may feel a bit weird, perhaps even archaic. But in my experience, journaling has a lot of pros—small but valuable benefits that accumulate over time. If you stick to it, the habit of keeping a journal results to some incredible things.
The biggest benefit I’ve observed is that I remember things that happened. I realize that sounds weird—but, let’s face it, most of us aren’t very good at remembering what happened. Our minds can only take so much, so as our brains make space for new information, we forget the past, including the small but incredible things that happened.
“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
– Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way
Keeping a journal isn’t just good for remembering; it’s also a good release system. I often have recurring thoughts in my mind—and they remain there until I write them down. There is a benefit to unleashing your thoughts in a journal: by making space in your mind, you can open yourself up to other ideas—perhaps bigger than the ones you just released.
The benefits of journaling are well scientifically documented as well. Here’s what the experts are saying about it.
Journaling removes mental blocks
If you want more brain power, you better get writing. According to Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist, keeping a journal is one way of accessing your brain’s analytical and rational side: its left hemisphere.
“While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best: create, intuit and feel,” Purcell told FastCompany. “In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brain power to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
It lets you learn about yourself
Over time, your journal can lead to “aha moments” about your true needs and wants. If you’re not quite sure what you really want to do with your life, the daily practice of reflection and writing your thoughts down can lead to insights that may not be readily accessible otherwise.
“Journal therapy is all about using personal material as a way of documenting an experience, and learning more about yourself in the process,” Kathleen Adams, LPC, an author and a psychotherapist told the Huffington Post. “It lets us say what’s on our minds and helps us get—and stay—healthy through listening to our inner desires and needs.”
It reduces stress level
Twenty minutes of journaling a day can help you overcome stress and accelerate healing. A 2013 study found that adults who journaled for 3 days after a scheduled medical biopsy recovered faster compared to a control group.
As lead researcher James W. Pennebaker noted, “Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves…writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”
It improves your overall health
Journaling isn’t just good for stress—it’s good for other aspects of your health and wellness.
Fitness guru Ben Greenfield says keeping a gratitude journal has improved his nervous system, saying, “As I engage in this daily gratitude practice, I not only feel an intense sense of well-being and positive emotions wash over my body, but I can—using the heart rate monitor and smartphone app—self-quantify a remarkable increase in the strength and resilience of my nervous system and the tone of my vagus nerve (the incredibly important nerve that travels throughout the entire human body to innervate nearly every organ).”
It unlocks creativity
Popularized by author Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, Morning Pages is one of the popular types of journaling today. The idea is to start your day by writing in your journal and not stopping until you’ve written 750 words. Cameron said this practice allowed her to get out of a creativity rut and get her artist mojo back.
So why is the practice of Morning Pages useful for creativity? According to Cameron, one reason is that it lets you clear your head first thing in the morning, which gives your mind the necessary space to go after creative pursuits for the rest of the day.
“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes,” she writes. “We are more honest with ourselves, more centered, and more spiritually at ease.”
Journaling: a low-tech, classic and effective life hack
If you’re looking to reduce stress, find more ways to get the creative juices going or unlock more insights about yourself, I encourage you to try journaling. It’s a low-cost, low-tech, low-barrier habit that’s available to all of us—and science and experts suggest it works.
Want some tips on how to make journaling a daily habit? In a future post, I’ll share some tips and tricks that worked for me. Stay tuned.