Do you keep a journal? Did you know you could use journaling to increase your self-awareness? I know what you’re thinking. Surely you already know yourself inside out, right? After all, who else has spent every single second of your life with you? But the thing is, you change. Plus, life gets in the way. Your job, family, relationships, and all your to-do lists keep you busy. And believe it or not, it’s very easy to lose track of who you are and ‘how you work’.
Journaling certainly played a big role in my teenage years. I’d often write letters to friends, my parents, or just to myself. More often than not, these letters would end up in the bin though, rather than given to the person they were meant for. But the fact I was writing was my way of making sense of my feelings and experiences. Of getting clarity on my thoughts. It helped make sense of who I was. Even now, I’m one of those people who don’t know what they think until they’ve written it down.
But as I got older life took over and journaling became the last thing on my mind. It’s a shame, really, because I could have done with a little more introspection and reflection in my twenties! (Not just me, right?) Since breaking my leg though, journaling has made a very welcome return to my life. Although I don’t journal regularly or religiously, I do when I start noticing my thoughts and feelings swirling around, or when I’m struggling to make a decision. And writing things down has been instrumental in helping me shine the light on aspects of myself and my personality I wasn’t consciously aware of. So what are some of the benefits of journaling? And what should you do to get started?
The benefits of journaling
Journaling is probably one of the best, easier (and totally free) self-awareness tools out there. By getting into the habit of recording your feelings, thoughts, and emotions, you can start to see patterns. These, in turn, help you with your self-management, which is the ability to manage your own behaviours and control your responses to situations.
At times, when you’re feeling a little confused and your mind is a bit blurry, you can immediately start to see things more logically if you write them down. There’s something about taking the time to convert your thoughts, feelings, and emotions into words that helps you see the wood for the trees, so to speak. You become better equipped at articulating what you think and how you feel, which could make the process of talking to someone about it all a lot easier for you, for example.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a heated argument with your partner where you end up saying something and then regretting it straight away because it just ‘came out wrong’? You know you didn’t mean what you said, but you couldn’t have said it any other way at that point in time. Because you hadn’t had the chance to articulate it properly – you didn’t have the right words for it. When you do write things down, you end up with better words to express the way you feel. You should try it – it really works!
Journaling helps you to get ‘stuff’ off your chest. If something is festering inside, sometimes just getting it out there on paper means you’re feeling a lot better afterwards. Don’t underestimate how powerful a tool journaling can be to clear ‘emotional blockages’. You may even find that the time it takes for you to write something down helps you see how you were unnecessarily overthinking something or even ‘catastrophising’ a situation in your mind that is in fact not as bad as you thought it was. This act of emotional release can even help you reduce your stress or anxiety levels. And it can give you better sleep too!
Becoming more mindful
The act of writing down what you think and how you feel can help you to really focus on the present moment. As you write, you can only capture what you’re feeling or thinking right now. And as you do, you let go of everything else.
Tracking progress and setting goals
Another benefit of journaling is the ability to see and track your progress and achievements. It’s way too easy to focus on what we don’t have, for example, and forget to celebrate our wins. When we start paying attention through regular journaling, we can see the progress we’re making very clearly. Also, if you use a journal to write about your goals, dreams, and aspirations, you signal to your brain that these things are important to you. You bring something you want into your consciousness, and this can really help you to take inspired action and move forward.
Holding on to memories
As much as we like to think we remember everything about our childhood, our teenage years or even the time when our children were little, the reality is that we forget. Journaling regularly can be a precious way to take yourself back to a phase of your life you would have otherwise forgotten all about. I know I’d pay good money to be able to read those letters I used to write during my teenage years! Our perceptions of the events we experience change over time. In fact, even a few days can skew your memory of a particular event in our life. But if you’ve recorded your thoughts, emotions, and feelings through journaling, you’ll always be able to go back to those. Your journal almost becomes your catalogue of personal achievements – something you can enjoy revisiting at any time. Imagine receiving useful nuggets of wisdom and advice from a younger version of yourself!
When should you journal?
It doesn’t really matter when you decide to put pen to paper, if you decide to give it a go at all. In the book The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron talks about writing morning pages. She recommends you write three pages of long-hand writing every morning. This is ‘stream of consciousness’ writing – effectively you’re meant to write about anything and everything that’s on your mind at that point in time. She sees it as a clearing exercise which helps you unlock creativity. The idea behind it is that if you ‘offload’ anything that’s on your mind first thing in the morning, you can then focus on your conscious thoughts. Even if you start with a nice rant about how tired you’re feeling, you’re better able to move on from that state after writing all that down. Your mind has been cleared, and you’re free to carry on with the rest of your day. I haven’t tried morning pages personally, but I know a lot of people absolutely swear by them! Of course, if morning doesn’t work for you, you could always try journaling before bed as a way to process what happened to you during the day.
What should you write about?
If you haven’t tried it before, or if you’re not too sure about the idea of journaling, getting started can feel a bit intimidating. Remember, after all, there are no real rules here. We can share some tips, but this is YOUR tool, and you can use it however you want to.
So if you feel this could help, you can try to use journaling prompts. There are quite a few diaries out there that offer journaling prompts. Here’s one I used in the past – Self Discovery Journal: 100 Days Of Self Exploration.
In the meantime, you could start with some of these prompts:
- What did you do today? Or (if in the morning), what do you have on today?
- What is going on in your life?
- How are you feeling, generally?
- What’s your biggest fear right now?
- What is your biggest challenge right now?
- Is there anything worrying you at the moment?
- Are there any big decisions you need to be making in the near future?
These are just some example questions to get you started if you feel you may need them. Once you get in the flow, you may find that a lot of other topics open up for you. But equally, if journaling doesn’t do the trick for you (right now or at all), leave it. Try to give it a go another day at another time. And if it really isn’t your thing, just try something else altogether.
Types of journaling
With bullet journals being all the rage over the last few years, you may be aware there are different types of journals out there. Without getting too bogged down in the details (at the risk of not getting started because you can’t pick one), here’s a short list of some of the types of journals you could go for.
- The personal diary (‘Dear Diary’ style – starting, for example, with what you did today).
- The stream of consciousness journal – morning pages, as explained above, are an example of this.
- Focussed journal – journaling here is based on prompts, writing exercises and questions, which allow you to focus on a particular aspect of your life (see the example I mentioned above).
- Bullet journal – a type of journaling that spans across different areas of your life and helps you stay organised and keep track of your to-do lists.
- Scrapbook journal – a type of journaling that includes photos, images, magazine cut out’s etc.
Although I never tried these myself, I know that some people also keep dream journals, where they record their dreams in as many details as possible every morning. But you could also decide to keep a project-specific journal or a ‘business journal‘ that you use specifically for your business. If you like reading, you could even keep a reading journal. Other options include a personal development journal or a travel journal – the list is pretty much endless.
So if you want to give journaling a go, my advice would be to try whatever you feel drawn to!
Do you keep a journal? If so, what type? And if not, did this inspire you to give journaling a go? Let us know in the comments below or come and get involved in the conversation over on Instagram.