Journaling can works wonders in improving your life, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
Modern life can be pretty fast-paced; trying to juggle a million different commitments often means that people rarely have the time to sit down and reflect on their day, week or month. However, the opportunity to introspect by analysing your actions and relationships can allow you to gain a deeper understanding of who you are and what direction you want your life to take.
There are plenty of practices that allow people to be more cognisant of their thoughts and behaviour like meditation or prayer, but one activity that has become more popular in recent years is journaling.
What is journaling?
Journaling is the craft or practice or jotting down explorative ideas or feelings surrounding events in your life. Much like owning a diary, journaling allows you put your thoughts on paper in whatever writing style you prefer. You don’t have to be a professional author or word wizard to partake in this activity; it can be as messy or as neat as you want it to be as it’s for your eyes only. All that matters is that you articulate what you’re feeling in written form.
Writing in a diary isn’t a new concept – the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote his seminal work Meditations in this form in the second century. Throughout history, monumental and influential figures have owned diaries or written systematic personal notes to help them understand themselves and the world.
What are the different types of journaling?
There isn’t one specific way to journal; some journals might look very neat with immaculate handwriting whereas others might contain cryptic scrawl and doodles. Generally, however, all journals have one common objective: to help you stop, think and reflect. In this way, a journal can be understood as a tool that can help you deal with stress or decision-making. However, for every type of goal, there’s a journal style for it. Some of the most common ones are:
Bullet Journal: This is for someone who enjoys writing lists. Instead of writing reams of notes with abstract, vague or unclear ideas, writing bullets gets straight to the point. You can list out your grocery list or goals you want to achieve this year.
Prayer Journal: For those who are religiously inclined, jotting down prayers can help you to deepen your relationship with God. Not only will you remember your spiritual conversations but the experience can be cathartic when looking back on what you’ve written after a year. Perhaps what you were praying for was answered or maybe upon reflection, your desires were aimed in the wrong place.
Gratitude Journal: Sometimes it’s easy to forget all of the good that happens in your life, so writing what you’re grateful is a helpful habit to get into. When everything seems to be going, paying gratitude to your friends, family and possessions can change your entire outlook.
Pregnancy Journal: There are a number of reasons to write down your pregnancy experience. It’s handy to jot down any of your symptoms on a given day for your doctor; it will allow you to deal with any worries or anxiety in a healthy way; and it’ll make for a nostalgic read in future years.
What are the benefits of journaling?
Journaling might sound like a new age, pseudo-solution to dealing with the stresses of life, but the ability to scribble down ideas consistently has been scientifically shown to help manage trauma and angst. It’s easy to disregard it as a childish activity but journaling has long been recommended by psychologists and life coaches. It’s a sophisticated form of introspection and therapy. It improves:
- Cognitive functioning
- Immune system
One study even showed that writing about stressful life experiences improved the health of those suffering from asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. It’s clear that writing down personal experiences and struggles or personal events can help you process them more fully than merely just ruminating on them from time to time – or worse, by ignoring them altogether.
Indeed, according to the independent mental health social network Psych Central: “Scientific evidence supports that journaling provides other unexpected benefits. The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. 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.”
How to get started
You don’t need to be a genius to start journaling. All you need is a pen and a notebook. You can of course pick up a journal designed specifically for the content you’re writing, but these tend to be more expensive. A plain notebook with a bit of creativity can be made to fit any purpose.
Write down whatever you like, even if it does make sense to you.”
Once you have your book, it’s time for content. You can choose an idea from the list above or make up a journal specific to you. Maybe you want to log all of your dreams or perhaps your journey of giving up cigarettes. Whatever you choose, stick with that theme.
The most important step is to start writing. It might be intimidating to look at a blank page in front of you but perfectionism isn’t a requirement of journaling. Write down whatever you like, even if it does make sense to you. If you’re not in the mood for writing, you could draw a picture. While it might feel silly at first, remember this is just for you – trust in the process.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to always stick to this; journaling shouldn’t feel like a chore.”
While you can still benefit from jotting thoughts down sporadically, it’s better to consistently write every day or a number of times during the week. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to always stick to this; journaling shouldn’t feel like a chore. Make yourself comfortable, have a cup of tea, and spend just five minutes writing off the top of your head. If you’re worried that you don’t have the time to do it, set an alarm to keep you on track.
Journaling is a fun and creative way to explore your emotions – and there’s no better time of the year to give it a shot than in January. Don’t overcomplicate it, just dive in. The benefits might just surprise you.