At nine years old, I put gel pen to Hello Kitty notebook paper and created my first journal entry. I wish I still owned that little notebook to see what issues weighed heavily on my young mind, but I distinctly remember the feelings of freedom and secrecy this simple act unlocked.
I kept a journal quite regularly for many years, only coming to a screeching halt when my parents read the one I’d kept from ages 14—15. I promptly trashed that journal, never wanting to re-read the same thoughts my parents had picked apart.
Fast forward to my freshman year of college, when the pull to have a private space where I could record my thoughts crept up on me in English class. The professor declared it an important practice to keep a journal and part of our homework was to keep a reflection notebook during the class.
Now, as an aspiring writer, logging my thoughts is one of the most important aspects of my writing routine. Every morning I write three pages with stream of consciousness thought — a practice called “morning pages” I learned from the book “Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. Getting my often jumbled thoughts down first thing in the morning leaves me clear-headed for the rest of the day.
Still not convinced? Here are some benefits of journaling that might make you want to pick up your pen:
—Increased creativity. Sitting down to write regularly will help free your mind from any pesky thoughts that could be blocking creative inspiration. Journaling also lets us view life in a more precise way, because we’re slowing down to internally process our thoughts. Sitting down to mindfully write for a few moments allows the brain to empty onto the page, reset and be recharged for the rest of the day.
—Lessened anxiety. Many therapists recommend journaling to ease anxious thoughts. Writing down my worries helps me work through them as they materialize on paper.
If something has been weighing heavily on your mind, write about it, read it over and see if your perception has changed. If you can, take a negative thought you’ve been struggling with and counteract it with (small) steps you can take to fix the problem. Problems often seem overwhelmingly large in our thoughts, but when we write it down it’s easier to accept and find a solution.
—Memories. Just as we love looking back at old photos (throwback Thursday, anyone?), reading entries you wrote several years ago is nostalgic and a way to see how far you’ve grown. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read what was important to you five, or even 10 years ago?
—Improved Writing Skills. Journaling on a regular basis will help you discover your writing voice. If you get to the point where you’ve filled up several notebooks over the years, looking back on old notebooks will show you how far you’ve come in your writing style. Nobody will read and critique your journal unless you give them permission, so there’s no need to worry about having perfect punctuation or proper grammar. However, if you gain a better understanding of those rules during the course of journaling it’s an added bonus!
—Accomplishment. Over time, you can look back and see growth. At the very least, you’ll have a notebook completely filled with your own original thoughts. If you keep with it, you might have a bookshelf filled with musings and the goings-on of your life.
Now that you know the benefits, here are some ideas on how to get started:
—Pick out your supplies. This is my favorite part! Did I mention I tend to hoard pens and notebooks? Find a notebook you like enough to use it every day. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; there are countless inexpensive options online, at a local bookshop or in the office aisle of a retail store.
—Make time to write. Personally, I like to journal in the morning. If I’m anxious about something later that day, it helps me to process and plan for the event. If I don’t have anything planned that particular day, I might write down a few goals to accomplish so I start the day on a productive note. Some people prefer to write before bed, to wind down at the end of the day. Find the right time for yourself and it will be much easier to keep the habit going.
—Get creative. If the blank page is too intimidating, try writing a list. Maybe it’s a list of goals you want to accomplish by the end of the day, or the top things on your mind at the moment. Or, you could write down all the things you’re grateful for right now — gratitude journals are particularly uplifting.
However you choose to approach journaling, know that you are, at the very least, taking time out of your day for self care. Once you get into a routine of treating your thoughts with the importance they deserve, you’ll become a more authentic and open version of yourself.