Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.
What is Journaling?
Many of us have started writing a diary or journal at some points in our lives. And many of us have also stopped writing in them not that much later. That is a shame. Many famous artists, writers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and thinkers keep or have kept journals. For many, it is a creative necessity and outlet. For others, it is a place for exploration, and yet for others, it is an art form in itself.
Journaling can be enriching and fulfilling on many levels. It can lead to insights, personal growth, and setting and be achieving goals. Journals record our thoughts, feelings, and reflections. In doing so, they create a through-line in our life, a place of refuge and reflection, that we can visit and revisit.
What are the benefits of journaling? What different forms can we use if we want to journal ourselves? And how do we go about starting and sustaining a journaling habit?
Documenting little details of your everyday life becomes a celebration of who you are.
What are the benefits of journaling?
In different studies
, journaling has been identified as a keystone habit: a habit that is defining and catalysing more habits in your life. As Charles Duhig writes in The Power of Habit, these keystones are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives."
The benefits of journaling
are emotional, cognitive, creative and possibly even spiritual. Journaling helps us to:
- Know ourselves better, by clarifying our thoughts and feelings.
- Release thoughts and emotions, by recognising and tracking them.
- Increase focus; deepen our learning and problem solving, in ‘decluttering’ our minds.
- Greater stability, detach and let go of the past; similar as in meditation practices, by developing our awareness of our thoughts and letting go of our clinging to them.
- Resolve disagreements with others, by detaching ourselves from the conflict and reflecting on it.
Especially when we keep a gratitude journal
, there are some added benefits. People that keep a gratitude journal are happier, healthier, more balanced, generally more optimistic, less self-centered, and less susceptible to feelings of envy, more relaxed, better in decision-making, and more strengthened in their emotions and developed in their personality.
A good journal entry- like a good song, or sketch, or photograph- ought to break up the habitual and life away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.
Different forms of journaling
- There are various forms of journaling. We can choose a traditional way, with pen and paper, or write in an electronic journal, use various media, or add art practices to our journaling (like drawings or collages, or even specialised forms like enso drawing
Ten minute routine
- An easy way to start journaling is practising the Ten Minute routine
. Before going to bed, ask yourself so-called “requests”: what are the things that you are trying to accomplish, and write these down. Then in the morning, write down your answers and thoughts on these questions. This way of journaling is especially efficient to review and sharpen your to-do-list and life vision, as they become forged in your subconscious mind.
Stream of consciousness
- Another tried way to journal is journaling every day in a stream of consciousness
. Write down any thought, memory, to-do-list, feeling, drawing, or whatever else pops up. Just let it flow as you write, without trying to censor or edit yourself.
- A different method is writing Morning Memories.
Schedule your journaling session each morning, before you start your day’s activities. Use the same journal every day, sit in the same spot, and when you’re done writing, take time to reflect on what you have written and accomplished in that session.
- Probably the most researched journaling method is keeping a gratitude journal
. For maximum benefit, take 15 minutes per day, three to four times a week, to journal what you are grateful for on that day. Be specific, choose depth of gratitude instead of breadth, try to get personal (being thankful to people is more efficient than to things), see good things as a gift, saver surprises and unexpected events, and revise if you repeat, by writing new or different things if you are expressing gratitude to the same person or situation.
- A comprehensive method of journaling is using the Intensive Journal process
. This copyrighted process, which can be learned in specialised workshops, enables the person journaling to get to know themselves on profound levels. The Intensive Journal Workbook is a large notebook filled with paper and divided into four dimensions of human experience: Life/Time, Dialogue, Depth and Meaning. Each of these aspects is divided into several subsections, to work through in the path that the method prescribes. Some of these paragraphs are used to write about our memory of the events of our lives as well as dreams and images. Others are more geared towards stimulating insights and creative activity.
Successful journals break the deadlock of introspective obsession.
How to start and sustain a journaling habit
There are as many ways to initiate and maintain
your journaling, as there are different forms of journaling.
- A straightforward way to start journaling is by starting every day with writing down tasks and goals that you have for that day.
- Only write a few items, to make it easy to start and make progress.
- It is useful to mix personal and professional things.
- By keeping each journal entry short in the beginning, it is easy to succeed.
- At the end of each day, look back at what you have accomplished, what you have learned, what you want to explore further, and what you want to pursue the next day.
Once you have developed a basic journaling practice, you can dig deeper
and further expand your practice. Some commonly held beliefs and ‘best practices’ include:
- Start writing about where you are in your life at this moment, and build on that in subsequent journal entries.
- Start a dialogue with your inner child by writing in your non-dominant hand, and switching back to your dominant hand.
- For sustaining your gratitude practice, maintain a daily list of things you appreciate, including uplifting quotes.
- Start a journal of self-portraits; draw, write, or collage who you are today, and learn to appreciate and develop yourself.
- Keep a nature diary to connect with the natural world: record what you experience in looking at the sky experiences the weather or walks in nature.
- Maintain a log of successes, starting with big ones that you remember, and then add them as they occur.
- Keep a log or playlist of your favourite songs. Especially, write about the moods and memories they trigger.
- If there’s something you are struggling with or an event that’s disturbing you, write about it in the third person, to create distance and perspective.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.
Travels to our interior
As we have seen in the above, journaling is a powerful habit that enables us to get a more in-depth and clearer understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and issues we are working through. Whether we use journaling to accompany our meditation, forgiveness, or gratitude practices, or to work through emotional trauma or creative stumble blocks, a daily practice enables us to focus and develop further.
Personally, I seriously started journaling some years ago, as part of the Morning Papers
practice of The Artist’s Way
. I have written notebooks full of journal entries related to personal growth, gratitude, creative development, project ideas, personal insecurities, blocked traumas, to-do-lists, goals, dreams, and wishes, and much more. I have journaled for weeks or months at a time, and have also not journaled for weeks in between entries. Every time I do come back to the practice and sustain it on a regular basis, I feel I can go deeper, explore things more explicit, and in the process, experience a wonderful journey to my interior.
I wish you the same journey as you explore your journaling practice!
Photos by Cathryn Laver, Ben White, Haley Powers, Estée Janssens on Unsplash
Arlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.