Why everyone's getting into journaling

19 March 2018 - Mindful Practices

Journaling, which simply means regularly writing down things of a personal nature (such as your thoughts, reflections or goals), has been practised since ancient times. Many of the most prominent figures—from Marie Curie to Barack Obama—have also been known to journal.

With the rise of “bullet journaling”, journaling has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. [Here’s our favourite bullet journal video explaining the how-to.]

If you’re on the fence, here are 5 proven benefits that may change your mind.

1. It helps us learn better.

The next time you need to process huge chunks of information to figure out what’s important to you, journal! According to neurologist Judy Willis, writing “enhances the brain’s intake, processing, retaining and retrieving of information; promotes the brain’s attentive focus; and boosts long-term memory”.

2. It enhances creativity.

“Writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain,” says psychotherapist Maud Purcell. “While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best: create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world.”

3. It encourages self-reflection.

Documenting an experience can help you identify patterns of behaviour in yourself (and others) as well as your needs and values. You don’t need to have the answers—even jotting down questions help. As we learn more about ourselves, we develop greater emotional intelligence.

Journaling also helps you chart your personal growth. In an essay dedicated to the benefits of journaling, the American author Joan Didion writes, “…keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. [We] forget who we were.”

Tip: Ever stop to wonder how you got where you are? Use a 5-year one-line-a-day journal. It takes just a few minutes, and  it's fun and useful to look back at what you were feeling and doing on that very day a year (or five) ago.

4. It increases your emotional resilience.

Being able to process your emotions is key to developing emotional resilience. Research done by Professor James Pennebaker of the University of Texas showed that those who vented their emotions via journaling developed useful insight, using phrases such as “I now realise” and “I have learned”.

This signalled that they had created a healthy distance between themselves and their pain, allowing them to gain new perspectives and move forward.

Tip: Use these questions to guide you while you journal your thoughts and feelings.

5. It helps you manage difficult emotions.

Research at UCLA also shows that when we label our emotions (for example, by writing “I’m feeling angry right now”), there is a decreased response in the amygdala, a region of the brain that triggers our emotional responses.

You don’t have to be good at writing to journal! Here are Pennebaker’s journaling tips as summarised by author Susan Davis:

“Set a timer for 20 minutes. Open up your notebook (or begin a document on your computer). When the timer starts, begin writing about your emotional experiences from the past week, month and year. Don’t worry about punctuation, sloppiness or coherence. Simply go wherever your mind takes you, curiously and without judgment. Write just for yourself, and not for some eventual reader. Do this for a few days. Then, close the document without saving it, or throw the paper away. Or stick it in a bottle and cast it out to sea. Or if you’re ready, start a blog or find a literary agent.

It doesn’t matter. The point is that those thoughts are now out of you and on the page. You have begun the process of ‘stepping out’ from your experience to gain perspective on it.”

Why do you enjoy journaling? Let us know at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team