When I was still in grade school, I read Anne Frank’s diary. After that, I started to write. I kept it up through childhood, boyfriends, university days, family changes, work life, and the general ups and downs of the past many years.
Photo © Jeanne Farrington
Journaling is great for (at least) these things: learning, reducing physical pain, improving health, reflection, inspiration, peace of mind, recording dreams, getting over a fight or a failed relationship, looking at multiple sides of an issue, making decisions, solving problems, and life planning.
In other words, journaling is almost as helpful as getting enough sleep, exercising, or eating right.
Here’s the best part of it for me: When I have a jumble of thoughts about something, writing them down makes them hold still. From there, it’s possible to build one thought upon another until I learn, decide, or plan something.
I often write for 10 to 20 minutes in the morning, before I start working. I notice that I’m more productive when I take this time.
I usually start by reading yesterday’s entry, and then write about whatever’s on my mind. I usually end by writing a list of five or more things that made me smile or for which I’m grateful.
How to Write
Want to try it? Here are the “rules”:
- Write for yourself. Don’t write for other people.
- Don’t worry about your writing. Don’t edit. Just write. (See #1.)
- Don’t write seriously embarrassing or hateful stuff (or you can, but then shred it).
- Don’t leave your journal where someone might read it.
- Choose your own timing. Every day, once a week… It’s up to you.
Some evidence suggests that writing by hand is better for you. However, if you cannot read your handwriting, or you hate to write by hand, then of course you can type your journal.
It’s okay to write prose, poetry, random thoughts, incomplete sentences. It’s also okay to draw, create mind maps, and add photos or other things.
Pick a time that works for you. When I used to commute to work every day, I wrote at night. Any time is fine. A regular time can help if you want to write consistently.
What to do with your journals? Put them on a shelf, in a box, or maybe in a vault.
- You can look back a year ago, 5 years, more, and see how you’ve changed or what was important to you then.
- What did you forget?
- What do you want to put back on your list of things to do that you haven’t thought about for a while?
- How much have you grown since then?
- At the end of a year you can review the highlights as part of getting ready for the year to come.
Paper. I like spiral-bound notebooks because they stay open. I like the 5 1/2- by 8 1/2-inch size because they fit next to my keyboard. I go back and forth about whether I want lines or not. Any paper that you like in whatever format is fine.
Warning: If you choose a leather-bound journal with gorgeous, thick, deckle-edged cotton paper, then you might get writer’s block and never write a word.
Pens. Use a pen you like. I use Pentel’s EnerGel pens. They make a nice, bold line, and they come in a variety of colors. My favorite is a pink one that I use in honor of a friend I lost to breast cancer. I keep them everywhere.
Electronic Options. If writing by hand doesn’t work for you, try Evernote or apps made just for journaling. A word-processing program works, too. You can add a password to an MS Word doc (on a Mac, that’s Word -> Preferences -> Personal Settings: Security -> Password to open), but if you do, be sure to remember it; there’s no place to write for a hint or reset.
If you’re already journaling—great! If not, give it a try. All you need is pen & paper, 10 minutes, and at least half an idea. You might be surprised how many more ideas you find and how many things go better when you write a little for yourself.
Article: The Health Benefits of Journaling
Article: Journal Writing and Self Help
Podcast: The 7 Benefits of Keeping a Journal
Pens: Pentel Pink EnerGel pens with black ink
(Purchase supports The Breast Cancer Research Foundation)