The act of writing about our emotions and experiences on paper seems to give a bad impression these days. Journaling or writing a diary almost seems to equate with being a soft and emotional person with issues, yet, it's been scientifically proven that journaling or writing a diary can improve your organization, boost your mood, reduce PTSD, reduce symptoms of depression, strengthen memory, and help process complex events. On top of that, many strong-willed and important historical figures kept journals, such as Rockefeller, Reagan, Davinci, Marie Curie, and Patton.
Journaling was favored by the intellectual, the artistic, and the machismo, and shouldn’t be a sign of sensitivity but a sign of strength and inner power, which is why I decided to get into the habit of doing so.
My Experience With Journaling
Getting into journaling was dicey. The few times I tried starting a journal, I had no words to write down other than the month and day. Part of this was because I wasn’t honest enough with what I wanted to say, and I unconsciously wanted to write something that looks normal if someone read it. Also, I wasn’t certain how I was supposed to “talk” to the pages or express my feelings.
It took a really stressful day for me to feel compelled to write something down. And during that anxious night, I pulled out a notebook, jotted a date, and started with “Dear…”. And with that, I began writing about my thoughts, emotions, and experiences. I wrote almost 3-4 pages of incomprehensible scrawl that even I had difficulty making out myself. But I came out feeling a sense of euphoric calm and understanding within myself that I never knew I needed.
It was that bad day that sparked my habit of journaling nightly before bed. Sometimes I wrote a lot, sometimes I wrote little, but I always felt compelled to write at least 2 or 3 paragraphs. Journaling became an important part of my day to self-reflect, and solve problems that bottled up in my head.
Why It's Beneficial
The reason why journaling is so beneficial is because of its ability to work through thoughts and problems. We tend to keep surface-level thoughts in our heads, meaning that problems with work, school, or relationships exist in our heads as negative emotions. And instead of fixing that problem, we tend to mull over it negatively because we don’t have the time, or we’re too distracted to dive into our minds. And sometimes, these problems don’t go away, and we can be forced to carry that nagging problem in our heads the next day and the day after that.
Journaling forces us to confront these issues. You’re not watching TV or doing work while thinking about your problems. You’re actively writing out how you feel, why that is, and how to solve it. And best yet, it's on paper, and can be analyzed or reread for better understanding.
However, there were still times when I skipped journaling. Journaling can take a long time, especially if you spend most of the time reflecting on your thoughts. This makes it hard to journal when you stay up late. However, I modified my journaling to include a bullet point of events that transpired. That way I have the option to finish early.
Even then, it's okay to not write much sometimes, but remember that you always have time to write. Ronald Reagan wrote an entry almost every day for his 2 terms. One of his most famous entries was written after getting shot by his would-be assassin: “Getting shot hurts”. Even when being hospitalized from a near fatal gunshot, Reagan still found the time to write an entry, even if it was only 3 words.
Guidelines To Journaling
There are no rules to journaling; you can write about anything you want. However, there are a few guidelines that you can follow that will make your experience better. One of them is keeping your journal private. It might seem obvious, but in the experience of writing about our thoughts, we can feel compelled to share our emotions with other people by leaving it lying around. While you should share your thoughts with loved ones, you should treat your journal as your mind and your mouth as a gateway. We can often write strong emotions and raw opinions in our journals, which is perfectly human and is part of what makes it an effective way to sort our emotions. But we should still seek to express ourselves while keeping other people in mind. We shouldn’t seek to use a journal as a covert way to express our true feelings, but as a way to sort out how we should express them to others.
This brings me to the next rule, which is being honest. If you want to write about how much you hate something, you should. If you want to write about a tv show, movie, or NBA game you watched, you should. Treat your journal as a friend that is you. Use your journal as a way to talk to someone about things you didn’t have the chance to talk about. It will make it more fun and easier to write. If you have a hard time doing this, try writing your entry as a letter to someone. It might feel a bit weird, but it works. If you have problems overcoming that weirdness, try treating the person you’re writing to as an extension of you. It’ll get rid of that sensation of talking to a stranger. After all, it's not a real person you’re writing to, but an honest letter to your mind.
Finally, the most important rule is to monitor what you write and always solve the problems you write about. Again, what makes journaling an effective problem-solver in our personal lives is in its ability to physically work through issues we couldn’t in our daily lives. Hating or sulking on our circumstances and other people is no different than what we do everyday, and can even be worse. Unlike our transient thoughts, these words are on paper. If what we think is what we become, imagine what havoc we can cause on paper.
Try to always observe the cause of your issue, your reaction to the issue, and your solution to it. When reflecting on a deadline for a project, write about what you’re going to do to finish it and write about how it's not so bad. Always be honest, but always be optimistic. And when reflecting on mistakes, be kind to yourself and write about how you will do better next time. That way you’ll wake up the next morning more resolved. It's okay to be emotional, but solve your problems, don't make them.
Journaling should be something that you prioritize as much as diet, exercise, or meditation. There is a reason why many leaders and thinkers keep journals: it's a tool for our mind and problems. It's a way to make something productive from our inner anxieties. If what we think is what we become, then what we write can shape us into the people we want to be. Taking up journaling can help us shape ourselves into optimistic, intelligent, and strong human beings.