If you are a human person, doesn’t matter whether you write professionally or not, you should be journaling.
(That’s a big thing to say, isn’t it!)
It’s like this: some things in life are subjective, and some things in life are backed by research and fact. Journaling lands in the later camp. Writing regularly in a journal, even for short periods of time, leads to a whole host of positive outcomes, five big ones in particular:
- Mental clarity
- Spiritual and emotional wellness
- Enhanced creativity
- Insight into your true self
1) Daily journaling keeps you honest and your mind clear
Decompressing into a notebook or computer every day is freeing. Most of us are not able to truly speak our minds- even to our nearest and dearest. We know others attach judgment to our expressions of vulnerability, or fear they do, and as a result, censor ourselves. Those endorphins that get released from you being able to speak your mind (because when do you truly get to speak your mind?) lead to decreased stress, which leads to a longer, more satisfied life.
Plus, being able to put into words what you fear and desire, test out outrageous ideas, or say the unspeakable acknowledges that we have those thoughts and feelings, honours them as part of our human experience, and puts a voice and shape to them in a safe, non-judgmental space. This shows us that we value our humanity, and gets the feelings and thoughts out, which prevents the cork from shooting across the room and you exploding all over the family during Thanksgiving.
If you are confronting feelings or thoughts that call up fear or anger or other emotions you may not yet know how to cope with, a study from the University of Iowa has even found that it can be easier to write about difficult events through an objective perspective (using third-person pronouns rather than the “I”), which is an excellent use of the journal.
Coping with life- especially when you’re confronting big issues like loss, illness, pain, loneliness, and grief- can be difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis. A journal is where those feelings can be given a shape, and where they, and you, find safety and solace from writing them down.
Most writers who begin a journaling practice say that no matter where they are in their lives and regardless what challenges they face, they come to depend on it to keep them feeling more in control of their lives and grounded: two vitally important states if you were to ask pretty much … anyone.
2) Journaling is emotional and spiritual self-care
Giving yourself that brief time to unpack your thoughts and feelings and road test new ideas is also an unconscious high-five to yourself that you care enough about your own mental and emotional well-being to give yourself that time. Your journaling teaches your brain that your thoughts, and the life you’re having thoughts about, have value.
Consider this: if you have a trusted friend or loved one with whom you share your thoughts, it means you trust and value them, and they in turn feel trusted and valued. Telling yourself such things would indicate to your own mind that you feel the same. Such a bolstered self-esteem again leaves you far more fit and ready to face the world.
3) Journaling teaches us discipline
This is yet another way of reiterating to the self that you respect yourself enough to show up- every day- and do something that is of huge benefit. Taking the time, every day, to write in a journal, teaches your unconscious mind that you are serious about your mental and emotional health, and that your ideas are meritorious enough to write down. When you establish a daily journaling practice, your mind acknowledges this respect and helps you more easily do those things in your life that are in your best interests: treating yourself and others with kindness, taking time for fresh air, exercise, and good food, getting enough sleep instead of binge watching something you will wish you hadn’t, and overall that you are valuable to yourself and your community.
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4) Journaling maintains and boosts creativity
If you are a writer, when you’re working on a story, poem, essay, or chapter, you’re in service to that work, and the work lets you know what it wants and needs. However, a creative journal serves as a breeding ground or sandbox where ideas can be born and tossed around—either as potential story ideas, useful bits that can be put into a piece, or as a way to keep a creative tether on the self and the world. Drawings, musings, lines, or titles all find a home here where they might not otherwise.
Creativity begets more creativity just like exercise begets more energy. Journaling keeps your mind connected to its creative impulses by encouraging ideas to come on in and stick around a while.
Plus, like with strength training or learning a new language through repetition, the more you train yourself to think creatively and recall details from the past and present, the more you can train your brain to access those details while you’re working.
“… writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things–childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves–that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers.”
― Salman Rushdie
5) Journaling helps you get to know yourself
Many writers journal in order to extricate salient ideas from the swirling morass of thought roiling around inside. Assigning them words in a system of sentences makes them real, which then positions them to be poised to become something else.
“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
― E.M. Forster
An avid journal writer, Virginia Woolf said, “I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art.”
If you use a journal to express your true self, you may very well read what you wrote and see some things you didn’t know you knew/were bothering you/were something you cared about more clearly. If you’re a fiction writer, think about how you learn so much from your characters the more you inhabit them and write from their perspectives and hearts. The same is true for you.
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.”
― Virginia Woolf
By honestly and vulnerably accessing your interior in the private space of a journal, you are increasing your emotional awareness and intelligence, making you more easily able to enter into others’ experience and empathize with them (which for a writer, is an invaluable skill for creating characters), and which for all people is an invaluable skill generally.
Ultimately, you don’t have to be a writer to journal; all you have to be is a person.
Establishing the practice teaches you discipline and honours your human experience. The increased self-confidence derived from the clarity and insights you explore improves your mood and performance. You’ll be more creative and a better communicator. Plus, detoxing negative or distracting thoughts from your body, out onto the page, leaves room for more productive thinking.
When we thrive in our work and we reach our goals, our emotional and spiritual wellness shoots up. And it all starts with just writing things down. After all, you can’t build a house without a blueprint.
Contributing author: Pascale Potvin