Do you journal? I do. In fact, it’s my most effective tool for dealing with a busy mind, particularly in the middle of the night! So much I wanted to share the benefits of journaling. Last week I realised I was self-sabotaging myself on one of my goals. Once I’d realised it played on my mind until I woke up at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I crept downstairs, grabbed my journal and started writing.
For this kind of journaling, where the purpose is to get the thoughts out of my head, I have no rules. I start writing and see where it takes me. I don’t correct my spelling, grammar or penmanship. Please note, I do use paper and pen/pencil. I find it more effective than typing it into my phone – although I do this if I don’t have a pen/paper handy. I have also been known to talk into a recording app to talk it out. Predominantly though, I write.
It doesn’t have to be perfect
My journal isn’t pristine, it’s rather battered. Occasionally I add stickers and washi tape after I have finished writing. This isn’t meant to be an instaworthy work of art or an accurate historical representation of my life. It is a tool I use for clearing my mind of mental clutter. I use it like Dumbledore’s Pensieve – to extract my thoughts when I know there’s a pattern but I can’t see it yet.
It can feel hard to get started. It can feel like you need a new set of pens, pencils and a gorgeous new diary. Well, it did for me at least. And I did buy all that but actually what I found was that I didn’t need it all. What was important wasn’t the type of paper (dots, lined, plain?) it was the act of writing it all down. One of the biggest benefits of journaling I get is the insights. They are huge for me. So many times the thing I am worried about or that is holding me back is not the thing I think it is.
Why does journaling work?
Journaling works in two main ways, helping us manage both our feelings and our thoughts. We can share our emotions in a safe way, rather than suppressing them. When anxiety, guilt, shame or pain is swirling in our minds, writing them down allows them to exist outside of our thoughts. We can look at them in black and white. Often, this is enough to decrease our mental anxiety/stress.
Then, on a thinking level, journaling allows us to organise our experiences into a pattern, giving us the chance to examine what’s going on and form a story. Through this process we gain distance from our experiences and understand them in new ways. This is where we stumble upon insights about ourselves and the world.
The benefits of journaling
Journaling helps connect you to your goals and values
When you journal about what’s important to you (your values and beliefs), how you feel and what your goals are, you start to understand these things better. That’s because you must sort through the mental clutter and observe and acknowledge what you do and why you feel what you feel.
If, for example, you’re not enjoying your job, you could just ignore it and keep on going. You might be feeling that you should be lucky to have a job right now anyway right? As you journal you might realise that you are unhappy because you see that your values no longer fit with the company and you don’t see it changing. Once you understand what’s going on and you’ve been honest with yourself you can make a plan to change. P.S. No matter the job climate, if you’re unhappy, make a plan to develop your career in an area you will enjoy.
Journals improve focus
As I have already said, journaling can reduce your mental clutter. How? When you write in your journal you transfer it from your head to paper, emptying the mind and allowing you to think about problem-solving instead of thinking about the problem itself.
Your mental to-do list might be never-ending. It can feel hard to prioritise and so as you write it down, the order in which you need to do things might become clear. You might also consider your boundaries and decide to delegate some tasks to someone else! (One of the secret benefits of journaling)
Journaling can provide insight and understanding
A positive side effect of improving your mental clarity means you may be open to more insights than you were before. This is because you’re essentially having a conversation (coaching session) with yourself. It’s almost like there are two people working together to better understand each other. These insights come when you take the time and effort to connect with yourself through your writing.
As you write, do you notice any themes? Do you self-sabotage your goals (like I do sometimes)? Are you pushing away any support so that you can ‘do it yourself’? Are you buying into your limiting beliefs? All of these questions can be answered through your self-reflection if you have connected with yourself in your journal.
5 easy ways to get started with journaling
Perhaps I’ve inspired you to start journaling and reap the physical, mental and emotional benefits? But how to get started?
- Despite what I have said in this blog post, you don’t have to have a paper journal. If you prefer to go digital, then go for it. If you want a beautiful notebook, do it. Don’t want to write? Sketch instead. I am always in awe of people who use bullet journals. This is your journey, do it your way.
- If you find yourself stuck looking at a blank page, ditch the guilt of being inconsistent or not being perfect. Start where you are. Write a single line about how grateful you feel or even write how weird it feels to be doing this. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just write and don’t censor yourself. This is for you.
- Choose how often you’re going to journal. Want to do it daily? Choose a time where you won’t be disturbed. I like to journal first thing if I can when everyone else is asleep but lunchtime or before bed might be better for you. You don’t have to do it daily either; you could choose to do it regularly or only when you need to download your thoughts. Alternatively, you might choose to make it really special with a cup of your favourite tea or some candles.
- Journal for you. This is your journey, your private space for your thoughts. No one has to see your journal and you don’t have to share it. Whatever comes out is what should be there – there is no right or wrong thing to say. Let it happen.
- Take time to review your journal. If you’re particularly stressed, anxious and/or if your mental health is suffering right now then writing about your feelings when the problems are at their peak and reading over it later when you’re feeling better can help you reflect on your feelings, identify your triggers and enable you to become more resilient in the future.