Humans have written things down for thousands of years. We write down ideas, thoughts, dreams, and experiences. It's almost as if writing something down makes it more real and gives it an existence it didn't have up to then.
For most of my life, I've kept a journal, sometimes sporadically, sometimes diligently. But no matter how far or long I've strayed from my practice, I always return. I've discovered that my life's much improved when I'm journaling.
Some people might not journal in the "dear diary" way but still do daily writing that benefits them. My fellow Mind Tools coach Yolande Conradie has a friend who's a poet. He decided to write out the numbers from one to a million in words.
The last time Yolande asked about it he said he was at number "four hundred thousand and fifty-something." It isn't reflective. It isn't poetry, songs, or anything deep. But his daily practice of taking his pencil in his hand and finding new ways of writing mundane words has become a creativity exercise of note!
"Document your dreams. Sketch that shape you saw. Write those lyrics before they fade out."Michael Bassey Johnson
Why do I journal? I find it benefits me in many ways. First, it helps me find my focus. The pace of work and life can be crushing. Journaling resets me during challenging times. It's also useful for recording my progress. Whether keeping a daily, weekly or occasional journal, I find value in recording my victories, even the smallest ones.
My journal also helps me to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going. I try to make sure I at least document important days, travels, milestones, and memorable moments. Finally, a journal helps me to capture what's next. At various times I've kept an idea journal where I'll jot down some wild ideas. Sometimes these have led to very cool projects – all started in my journal!
Journaling is a highly personal experience. You may have completely different reasons and enjoy different benefits. My own journaling habit continues to evolve in sometimes unexpected, always wonderful ways.
As an avid journaler, here are my four tips to help you start (or restart) your journaling practice.
During Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed the benefits of journaling and other daily writing practices. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
Q1. Do you, or someone you know, have a daily writing or journaling practice? If so, tell us more.
@southbaysome My gratitude journal helps me remain grateful. Sometimes I journal in my mind on nature walks. Both work.
@ColfaxInsurance (Alyx) I had a daily journaling practice, and now I have a daily writing practice. I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day writing SOMETHING, even if it just a plan/outline/notes for later.
@Dwyka_Consult Writing focuses my concentration, while many other things want to divide my focus and attention.
Q2. What time of the day do you write/ journal, and why? Does it make a difference?
@Yolande_MT I also have a habit of writing if something upsets me. I journal about it as soon as I can – immediately, if possible. I do it in order to capture the emotions of the moment – it helps me better reflect later on.
@southbaysome Time of day doesn't matter to me but frame of mind does. I often write in coffee shops.
Q3. When did you first start journaling and who/what inspired you to do it?
@ThiamMeka2Gogue When I was 5 YO, my great-grandmother who passed away last year, offered me my ever first girlish, tiny planner to write down, each week every new sentence I learned from German lessons she used to teach me, and translate it into French, English and our native Bafoussam.
@Midgie_MT I remember journalling when I was a teenager and have kept journaling ever since. I can't remember who or what inspired me to start, yet I knew I felt better when I did.
Q4. How has your daily writing practice/journaling benefited you?
@ColfaxInsurance (Alyx) I personally feel as if my writing skills have improved tenfold since I started the daily practice. I can look back at what I wrote before and what I write now and there is significant improvement.
@MikeB_MT Daily writing helps me clarify, solve, find balance, and celebrate. Almost any aspect of my life is improved through writing. When I stray from the practice, life is not as vivid.
Q5. How has a regular writing practice helped you to process major life events?
@ZalaB_MT For those who use journaling in this way, it can be therapeutic. It might ease the burden and pain of what's happening inside you and help you make peace with some of it or simply acknowledge it. Let paper deal with the roller-coaster or emotions for a while.
@SarahH_MT When my maternal grandmother passed away I was overcome with grief and found it hard to process her sudden death. At that time I wrote about my feelings and even wrote 'letters' to her. It helped me come to terms with it.
Q6. If you haven't practiced daily writing, how might you begin?
@SoniaH_MT One way to practice daily writing is to set a goal of doing it once per week or 3 days per week. After you get accustomed to having this (now GOOD HABIT) as part of your day, you can experiment with increasing the frequency.
@ThiamMeka2Gogue Get a paper-pen planner/journal, and figure out why you personally want to write, but anyway, start with anything that pops into your head — and it’s important that you get it all out of your head without editing or censoring in any way.
Q7. What obstacles do you anticipate when it comes to regular writing or journaling and how might you overcome them?
@MikeB_MT Missed opportunities. That's why I try to always carry a small notebook. I'd be waiting on an appointment, a train, etc., and have the urge to write down thoughts, scraps, impressions, but not have a pen or paper. I now try to always be prepared to journal.
@ThiamMeka2Gogue Simply forgetting to journal. Until your journaling practice becomes a habit, you might find yourself simply forgetting to do it. Try keeping your journal next to your bed so you will see it on a daily basis.
Q8. How can journaling help you reach your goals and change your habits?
@SarahH_MT I know it is a great way to notice patterns of behavior and it may help me to see more clearly over time what is getting in my way of achieving my goals. (Spoiler Alert – ME!)
@Yolande_MT If you commit to journaling about a habit every day for 60 days, and you analyze your progress (or lack thereof), you're holding yourself accountable in a very visible, concrete manner.
Q9. What are ways you could apply daily writing or journaling to your work?
@ZalaB_MT "Practice makes perfect." It's a great way to practice new skills, to develop new habits and to get insights into what motivates you and helps you stay consistent. All great skills you can apply at any stage in your life/work.
@MikeB_MT I've tried to keep a corresponding journal at work. But it often becomes just project notes and to-do lists. However, I've been known to personal journal a bit on my lunch break.
Q10. Is it ever OK to read another person's journal? Why?
@SoniaH_MT Overall, no, it is never OK to read another person's journal unless they have specifically given you permission. The only time I'd lean toward reading someone's journal without permission is if their life were in danger. (But maybe not even then. It's a trust issue.)
@Midgie_MT NO, NEVER! I'm using that 'shouty' capitals because I have had someone read my journal and then tell 'friends' about its contents. A personal journal should be a safe place to let all the 'insecure' or 'doubtful' thoughts and fears come out.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Journaling is most often a reflective exercise and not only can we learn much about our thinking, motivation and behavior through it, but it can also help us change ourselves. Next time on #MTtalk, we're going to discuss how to be your own coach. In our Twitter poll this week we'd like to know when you think you'll be able to coach yourself successfully.
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