What do Matthew McConaughey, Ann Frank, Marcus Aurelius, Albert Einstein, Fredrick Douglass, Mark Twain, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Ryan Holiday have in common?
They all are famous (at least in part) for keeping a Journal. McConaughey recently published a memoir called Greenlights, sourcing material from his personal journals. Ann Frank’s diaries provided insight into the Nazi occupation during World War II. And Ryan Holiday’s modern stoic pondering lead him to report journaling as the most important activity you can do each day.
Journaling is linked to decreasing stress, improved cognitive function, and increased immune response1. It is a method of revealing thoughts and feelings that might otherwise be bottled and not fully understood2. Betterhelp.com reports that journaling can make you smarter.
The practice helps develop a better degree of self-awareness and insight.
Journaling will make you better.
There are many journaling methods. Too many to list in entirety. The following are a few key examples..
Reflective Journaling is what most would consider when they hear the term journaling. This method is described as writing to reflect back on, analyzing growth. Students who journal regularly see improved writing, creativity, and thinking skills.9 Keeping a reflective journal requires frequent entries tracking relevant experiences.
In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, the idea of ‘daily pages’ is introduced. In this journaling method, you simply free associate writing whatever comes to mind for three pages. Cameron employs this stream-of-consciousness writing style to cut through inhibitions revealing what is beneath. The idea is that once you dump everything top of mind, you’ll get to the good stuff, working out thoughts, fears, and dreams in the meantime3. Writing by hand connects you to the words, allowing understanding and learning4.
The journal prompt technique is simply taking a prompt and writing from the direction provided from that Idea. Some examples are:
- What do you want people to know about you?
- Write the words you need to hear?
- I feel happiest in my skin when?
- Write about the things that have changed your life.
Simply answer the prompts.
Having your journal and writing instrument of choice at the ready, each day when you wake, record your dreams. It is important that writing happens immediately when you wake. Capture as many details, emotions, and pictures (even draw if you need to) as possible.
Most mental health researchers support The Continuity Theory that essentially, dreams continue our conscious experience into sleep5.
Maria Aiello, a social scientist, says, “..dreams tell us not only about what we have done today but also about who we are.” Dreams seem to function in processing emotions and structuring memories for them6. Dreams are most likely remembered when waking up directly from REM sleep.
Simply writing key ideas and points from a podcast, book or video can be an effective way to absorb the information. Take notes from your day. Major lessons, events, or successes are useful to record.
Each day, write a set number of things for which you are thankful7. For maximum effect, set out to reach a certain amount each day. Make sure that each day you’ve got different things listed. After a while, you’ll have to dig for the less than obvious things for which you’re grateful.
Letter Writing Journaling
Write a letter to a real or imaginary person. Author Judy Blume posits this method is helpful to formulate your thoughts for a specific audience. Your writing will come across as more of a dialogue8.
More (More!) Benefits
Journaling improves working memory, reduces intrusion and avoidance symptoms after trauma, and enhances mood and well-being9. Additionally, journaling can help identify and accept emotions, manage stress, and reduce the impact of mental illness10. Journaling before sleep reduces cognitive stimulus and rumination. This allows for falling asleep quicker13. Besides other benefits, journaling also helps enhance critical thinking skills, heightens academic performance, improves liver function, and athletic performance in self-report studies.14
Get a journal that is easy to use. There are many available, depending on your desired method. Consider the size, whether it’s lined, durability, and how it is bound (IE perfect vs. ringed).
In the journey towards gaining self-awareness, insight, and improvement, journaling is a given. Some of the most thoughtful persons are known for their journaling.
If you have not yet acquired a journaling practice, take this opportunity to do so now.