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The Power of a Daily Journal Habit

Posted by Kedron Walsh on 12/5/2016


Pictures may be better than 1,000 words but words can do a lot of good as well.


They can help share thoughts, lay out proposals or arguments, or create a mood or feeling. In pre-Internet and email days, exchanging letters with a pen-pal was a good way to learn about life in other states or countries.


Today, email, social media and Twitter are still based on words, even though many forms have become abridged.


And that’s just one person reaching out to others. Another form is writing to or for oneself, which can have tremendous value.



Generally called journaling, the process involves writing down anything you want. Journaling can help organize your thoughts or simply take advantage of unlimited space to write as many or as few words as needed. Since no one else needs to read your thoughts, enjoy breaking any grammar and syntax rules, spelling words incorrectly, ignoring commas, and generally celebrating the freedom that no one but your future self needs to read them.



Mental health experts say journaling can yield positive results, especially if you do it when stress levels are high. One recommend approach is to make a habit of writing daily, especially if it helps you gain insight into your life, more than crafting another to-do list.



Try these examples of how to get value out of your journaling.


Describe your day. If you can’t think of anything particularly insightful or have too many thoughts to narrow down a starting place, at least summarize what you’ve been up to for the last 24 hours. Along with narrating your activities and actions, you can tell what emotions you felt at certain times. Reading these ‘slice of life’ moments can help your memory in the future, especially when you can’t remember as many details.


Write an imaginary letter. Some people may be scared of the reaction if they actually told someone what they really thought of them, for better or worse. But you can still get things off your chest by writing a make-believe letter, with no intention of ever sending it or letting anyone see it. The exercise can be therapeutic and let you lay out the honest reasons how this person makes you feel and what you’d like to do about it. It could be a bully, a family member, or even someone deceased.


The emotional part of the brain may feel like you’ve actually done so, and provide closure. Coming up with the correct words may even give you the courage to consider sending it or using it as a script for a future conversation.


Write the pros and cons of tough decisions. Whether you make a simple two-column list of advantages and disadvantages of a particular choice, or turn them into paragraphs, you’re still evaluating the merits of something as objectively as possible.


Some experts suggest this approach when trying to figure out a decision that seems to have equal value. In some instances, your subconscious may already know which way you’re leaning, but you may not know this direction until you see all the information and one side weighed more heavily than the other. You may still end up with a split decision but at least you’ll know you went through a fair process to evaluate the matter thoroughly.


Write whatever you want. This general guideline can work well, except when you’re sitting there drawing a blank. But allowing you to focus less on “a topic” and more on “anything in your head” can unleash your creativity or bring forth stuck memories.


Follow a theme. The opposite of Step 4 is to take a closer look at certain themes in your life. Once you start narrowing down your focus to a certain topic, other memories may start popping up begging to be written about. Perhaps “birthdays” could help recall memories of the good and bad moments from past annual gatherings. What’s your earliest birthday party? What did you do to celebrate your 21st birthday? Any guests? Any gifts?



Part of the appeal of journaling is that there are no real rules other than to keep at it. Whether you’re writing for historical/archiving purposes or therapeutic reasons, there are great benefits.