I started a new habit in the past four months. It was something I was aware of, but something I hadn’t unlocked for me. Something I hadn’t even considered as a possibility for my own wellbeing. It took a few months of encouragement and ultimately my partner buying me a nice book to get me going. But in late October last year I began to write my journal. I was experiencing a very uncertain and somewhat turbulent time in my life and it became the perfect time to get started. The entries began with a very singular focus and developed to encompass all areas of my life. And while I don’t journal as much now as I did in my early days, it’s a habit that will not ever be given up. Let me explain why. There have been so many benefits, far beyond simply writing a few words on a page at the end of a day. And now that I do it less regularly, but still unquestioningly, I find it has become one of the most powerful tools at my disposal in my quest for a balanced life.
While I do many things to keep my mind under my own control, journaling has been central to this. Simply letting my pen run on the page in my at times illegible scrawl allows me to release any thoughts that have been rolling around in my head all day. Thoughts that roll around in my head are usually a response to something that somebody else has said or done, and when they roll around too long, the mind begins to build a narrative around them. The stories we build in our minds are so often based on making predictions and guessing at what others are thinking or feeling. And they are most often not true. So getting these things out on paper often allows me to see when something seems reasonable or if it is just complete nonsense that my mind has fabricated to try to get me to do or say something stupid!
Writing things down as I see them and feel them allows me to develop clarity around my own feelings. Holding onto feelings is often unhealthy for our mental state and just allowing the words to flow onto paper creates a new opportunity to express them. Friends aren’t always available to hear your stories – sometimes you can even feel as though you have burdened friends enough with your long-running soap opera. So in lieu of having that friendly conversation to understand our thoughts better, getting them down in a journal is a perfect substitute. And certainly better than airing all our laundry on social media!
My two previous points are all about quietening the mind. And journaling is perfect for this. A quiet mind will also promote better sleep, improved concentration and an ability to live mindfully – be present in the moment wherever we are. As one of the range of tools I use to develop mindfulness, journaling has been invaluable. I find that, particularly once I have written, it’s much easier to catch myself thinking too long on something or developing one of those pesky narratives.
Science seems to have a fair bit to say about the health benefits of journaling, and while I’m sceptical that it can help relieve the symptoms of asthma or rheumatoid arthritis (as claimed on a well-known psychology website), I am certain that it does hold less specific rewards. In addition to clarifying your thoughts, it can reduce stress around situations that are difficult to handle. I believe it does this, because it helps you to know yourself better, think more clearly and thus solve problems in ways that are more effective for you. Ultimately the most difficult things to deal with in our lives are those involving change. So, rather than bottling up all your thoughts, doubts, feelings and confusions, journaling helps you to get them out of your head, where a new perspective can be developed and mountains start to resemble molehills again.
On to practicalities. Starting to journal isn’t always the easiest thing. Most of us have some difficulty injecting a new habit into our lives unless there is a clear and immediate benefit. I would suggest the following to you to get your journaling habit moving along:
Buy yourself a nice notebook. It doesn’t need to be super expensive – just a book that reflects your personality and is something you get some intrinsic pleasure from looking at. That said, mine is grey, so I’m not sure what that says about me!
Buy a nice pen – again it doesn’t have to cost the earth – writing with something that feels good in your hand and runs smoothly over the paper can increase the joy you get out of the whole process.
Find a place to keep your journal where it will jog your memory. Put it next to your bed and write before you go to sleep. Or leave it on your coffee table or at your desk. Somewhere that you regularly sit and have 10 minutes to spare.
Just start! Now is the best time to start!
Don’t make any judgements around what you’re writing. Some days you might write a short thesis and others you might struggle to get a few sentences out. It doesn’t matter what it is orhow it reads, as long as you do it!
Good luck! I hope you catch the journaling bug too!