It doesn’t have to be the “dear diary” antics of your tormented, hormonally charged teen years, but it should be a pen and paper and twenty minutes of your time each morning.
There tends to be a wide range of reactions from people when you mention journaling, whether you freeze in awkward trepidation at the thought of having to put a pen to paper – what does my handwriting even look like these days? – and aside from jotting down your own signature a few hundred times (let’s be honest, it isn’t even legible for most people) you haven’t written anything by hand since that one time you filled out an emergency contact form for a ski trip in college.
Or maybe you’ve lost track of the number of notebooks you’ve filled up over the years, you have a favorite kind of pen and keep at least a dozen of them stashed in various corners of your life so you never have to go without (and to which you may also have an unhealthy attachment) and you nearly fainted the first time you saw a Moleskine store IRL. Oh, that last one was just me? Cool.
I happen to be incredibly partial to the fine point Pilot Acroball, in case you were wondering. There are only so many pens that lefties can use without smudging everything and developing an ink stain on the side of our hand that we wear with both pride and exasperation, so when we find a blessed pen that doesn’t smudge, we hold on to it for dear life.
In any case, journaling has been shown to have a number of positive effects on the lives of those who make it a habit. Here are a few of the best things that it will do for you:
When you build time for journaling into your morning routine, you are setting yourself up for a more productive and successful day. Right off the bat, you are bringing yourself into a more mindful and conscious state of being. You begin to actively engage with your thoughts and analyze how you are feeling in the present moment, opening the door to maintain mindfulness and stay focused throughout the day.
It also gets your creative juices flowing. Journaling doesn’t have to be a polished, thoughtful activity. Writing in stream of consciousness – aka writing whatever comes to mind, without editing or censoring yourself – allows the wheels to start turning freely, with no fear of judgment. This sets up your mind to brainstorm intuitively and think more creatively as the day goes on.
2. It expands your vocabulary and improves your language skills
The more you write, the more your mind will search for new ways to express yourself so you’re not constantly repeating the same sentences over and over. Your brain works to come up with more descriptive words and more creative ways of articulating what you want to say. The more you flex your mental writing muscle, the stronger it becomes! These skills also translate over into your social interactions, improving your communication skills and helping you find the words to say exactly what you mean.
3. It helps you keep track of and make progress toward your goals
Research studies like this one have shown that when you write something down, your brain is triggered into handling the information differently than if it is typed or otherwise created. The study states that “the act of writing by hand makes a significant difference to brain activation patterns.” So when you write down a goal, you’re telling your brain that it is important and your brain starts to work harder, both consciously and subconsciously, to achieve it.
Writing about your goals also helps you keep better track of them overall – have you accomplished the tasks you wanted to this month? This year? Are you on schedule to finish that project by the target date you set? Journaling about your goals helps you hold yourself accountable, keeps you organized, and often pushes you to achieve more than you can if you keep all your thoughts in your head. You have a lot going on in that brain of yours – its not hard to accidentally abandon good intentions. Write them down!
4. It encourages conflict resolution
Journaling about an emotionally charged issue often allows access to a level of objectivity that mental recall does not. Writing down the details of an event takes you out of your own experience, even temporarily, to put you in the other person’s shoes. It also allows you to revisit your own actions in a different state of mind, opening the door to view the issue from a new perspective. In this way, journaling increases the potential for resolving conflict though empathy, rather than focusing on blame and accusations.
Have you ever been SO BLINDINGLY MAD during an argument that it dissolved into screaming, useless name-calling and irrelevant but nasty insults? And then once you’ve calmed down and think about what happened, you realize that 1) a lot of what you said was unnecessary and mean and 2) the other person did have a point, even if you don’t want to admit it? Journaling about arguments and other conflicts helps you come to these realizations, explore ways to resolve them and prevent similar things from happening again.
5. It helps you hack your own brain
Our left brain is the analytical, rational side of us, while our right brain is the creative, intuitive side. When we’re problem solving, most of the time we’re tapping into the tools our left brain has to offer. The act of writing also happens to rely on resources from the left. So when you combine the two, you’re engaging in a self-hack of sorts.
The act of writing is like sleight of hand, keeping the attention of your left brain and giving your right brain permission to peek behind the curtain. Psychotherapist Maud Purcell explains that “while your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.”
6. It helps you process difficult thoughts and emotions
Another well-researched aspect of journaling is its effect on emotional processing. Expressive writing, a form of therapeutic journaling that requires the participant to explore the thoughts and emotions related to traumatic events of his or her past, has been shown to produce amazing results over time.
The famous pioneering study on the subject and others that followed discovered that “writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health.” This type of journaling has been shown to decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep patterns, and even strengthen the immune system.
Not to mention that when you write something down and hash it out both mentally and emotionally, you bring about a stronger sense of self-understanding and closure that keeping it bottled up and prolonged rumination cannot achieve.
7. It exposes negative thought and behavior patterns
As you develop your journaling habit over time, certain patterns will begin to emerge. You will notice that some people, places and activities have a positive effect on you – boosting your mood and self-esteem, and bringing brightness to your day. You will also find that other things have the opposite effect – draining you emotionally, lowering your confidence levels, producing a sense of heaviness and having an overall negative impact.
Journaling helps you identify the toxic patterns that you may not have previously realized were bringing you down. Your newfound awareness will help you eliminate these negatives from your life and focus all of your energy on the positive patterns that bring love and light!
If you feel like you don’t have time to add journaling to your morning routine, then add it wherever you can. Some people find that they enjoy journaling before bed because it gives them a sense of closure for the day, and settles their mind before sleep. Or maybe you keep a notebook with you in your purse/backpack/briefcase or on your desk at work, so you can jot down your thoughts when you have time throughout the day.
Just keep in mind that self-discipline is strongest in the morning and tends to wane as the day goes on – maintaining the motivation to sit down and write at the end of each day can be difficult in the long run! Research also shows that you are more likely to achieve success in building new habits when you attach them to already established activities. Your morning routine is a great example of this, but if you have other concrete daily practices, any of them should work.
Journaling is a personal, judgment-free activity. Do it whatever way suits your life best!
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