The Why: Advantages and purposes of journaling
Journaling is a way to improve your understanding of yourself. It provides a platform on which you can stand so that you can observe yourself. Self-knowledge, including discovering your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes is essential for making life decisions and for self-fulfilment. It can help you build up a more positive relationship with your own self as well as others. Below are a few ways Journaling is helpful to you:
- Journaling can be an effective form of self-help therapy which costs no money. For example there is plentiful research that journaling of one’s eating behaviour can be very useful in successful weight control. The same beneficial effect of monitoring one’s behaviour by journaling can be use to help with other undesired or addictive behaviours such as gambling or sex addiction. A journal of your financial transactions can be an important way of budgeting and can suggest ways to improve your spending patterns.
- Journaling helps you make decisions. The act of writing helps you concentrate, recognize, and organize your thoughts and feelings so that decision making becomes easier, more considered, and reasonable.
- In a similar way journaling can help you problem solve and prioritize your values and plans/goals for the future.
- Journaling can help discern dysfunctional patterns in your relationships with others and hence suggest ways to change your behaviour to improve the relationship.
- Journaling can be used as a tool to help you recover from childhood abuse or neglect or trauma.
- Journaling help you recover memories from your past and improve your understanding of why you behave the way you do and hence how to change to more positive behaviours.
- Journaling can be used as a way to summarize and make sense of your accumulated knowledge of the world and hence to understand the world you live in better and make you better able to fulfill your needs and wants.
- Journaling can be an important tool in one's spiritual journey.
How to Journal
Journaling can be a most personal and meaningful activity. To be such, however, each of us must find and develop a way of journaling suitable for our unique personality. Therefore I hope you will find at least some of the following suggestions useful in developing your unique journaling style. Select from the following suggestions whatever suits your personality and situation:
- How to get started. Have a realistic plan. For example it is best to start with a plan that you know you will be successful e.g. plan to start journaling each day for a short period of time e.g. 10 minutes. It helps to make preparations in advance e.g. arrange a place and time for undisturbed writing.
- Time. For many people the early morning is best time for journaling. For others it is late evening just before going to bed. I prefer to do my journaling after my morning exercise when my mind is clearer, positive, and more full of ideas.
- Method of recording. You can either write by hand using pen and paper or type using a computer with a word processor. The latter is useful because it is easy to set up a confidential password so that others do not have access. It is essential for you to know that your journal is confidential, if you are going to feel free to write whatever is in your heart and mind in an uncensored manner. There are also many other advantages to having your journal stored on a computer. For example you may want to review how frequently you use certain words and can use the word processor search function for this task. Or you may want to search for topics e.g. financial matters.
- The ergonomics of journaling. Invest in a good desk chair, comfortable, on swivel and casters with adjustable height, and back support. If using a computer, adjust the monitor so your neck is not strained. You might need special glasses to allow easy focus on the screen. It is nice to have a window to look out at a distant scene to relax the eyes.
- What do you write? This depends on why you started to journal: if you are journaling for a spiritual purpose see Baldwin, 1991; if journaling to heal from childhood stress see Pennebaker, 2004. Below is a general outline for journaling which you can modify to suit your own needs.
Date and time:
Plans/schedule for today
How do I feel?
What do I need/want?
Free associate. Just let your mind wander aimlessly without forcing it in any direction. Try not to censor anything. Write about whatever comes to mind. For some people this is the easiest way to journal but for others it is difficult.Write on a specific topic. For example, you may have a particular problem, or decision to make such as where to go on your vacation or whether to make a career change. You will be pleasantly surprised how helpful writing about the topic can be. But it may take more than one session of writing for clarity to come.
Helpful books on journaling
Baldwin, C. (1991). One to One: Self-Understanding through Journal Writing. Rowman & Littlefield. Maryland, U.S.A.
Baldwin, C. (1991). Life’s Companion: Journal writing as a spiritual quest. Bantam Books, N.Y.
Journal to the Self. Kathleen Adams1990. Warner Books, N.Y.
The Way of the Journal. Kathleen Adams, 1998. The Sidran Institute Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
Writing to Heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma and emotional upheaval. James W. Pennebaker. 2004, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland CA
I highly recommend Baldwin’s book “One to One” . It is beautifully written and full of helpful suggestions from a pioneer in journaling with decades of experience.