If you think back in time, to all the really cool people we read about – or even back to say … your grandparent’s generation – you’ll notice that everyone back then kept memoirs – or a journal. We can look back on what life was like back then, and experience the things that these people experienced – and while I am sure that was part of their intention, I don’t think that is the whole reason they kept a journal.

They kept journals because it did something for them. It made them feel better, it made their emotions more balanced. Now, you know I am a huge fan of meditation – and to me, journaling can be just as good for the ol personality issues as meditation.

I’ll tell you why.

Sometimes, we feel like nobody is listening. Sometimes we think, or say great things, and since they never get written down or recorded, they go away. We actually forget a good percentage of what we say, and the really cool ideas we have.

Journaling solves all these problems. For one, it causes us to think about what was important during the day. What rises to the top – good or bad. Some days this is obvious, other days, not so much. Part of being mentally healthy, in my opinion – is processing all the things that happened to you that day and how you felt about them. In fact, they say this is partially what happens during sleep that is so beneficial.

And it actually feels really good – you wouldn’t think so – but it feels good to know that at least you are listening, when you write down how you felt about things.

You’ll have great ideas while you’re writing – more often than at any other time during the day – and guess what – you’re already writing, so you can go ahead and record them.

You’ll start to have a better sense for who you are and how you feel about things, and you may be surprised (usually pleasantly) about some of these discoveries you’ll make about yourself along the way.

You’ll get more productive, because there is something magical about writing something down that you  want to do – especially if you happen to come back and read about it later. It really increases the odds that you’ll actually do it. Also – remember those great ideas? You’ll actually come back to them.

You’ll improve yourself as a person. You’ll probably work through some issues unexpectedly, if you stay curious in your writing style.

Here are some tips for real journaling success:

Read what you wrote. 

It’s best if you dedicate time to going back and reading, as well as writing. I like to number my journals (book 1, book 2, etc) and each page if they aren’t already numbered. Then if I have to reference something I already wrote about, I just do that. “Book 3, Page 158”. It’s easier than writing down a whole idea again. If it’s in the same journal, I just use the page number, and omit the book number.

When you go back and read, you solidify the ideas in your mind that you wrote about. If they’re emotional, you tend to come a little closer to terms with them. You remember things you wanted to do and think about. To me, writing is only half the job. Reading is the other half.

Also, reading what you wrote is a great way to get ideas for what to write today.

Don’t just be a journalist

So I’m telling you to keep a journal, but don’t be a journalist. What I mean by that is, don’t just spew out what happened that day. You can say what happened, but try to focus on how you felt about those things, and try to be curious. If someone made you mad that day, explore why. If you really want the true growth from this practice, this is key.

You don’t need every detail, either. Don’t think about someone reading it in 50 years and needing to know who everyone is, or why they are in a certain situation. Those people 50 years later – they can have fun figuring that stuff out. Write for you. You already know who “Jan” is  – so if you write about Jan, you don’t have to specify that she’s a person you work with. Chances are, future readers can figure it out with the context. If they can’t – it probably isn’t important for them to know.

Don’t hold back – or fear what ppl will think.

This is another reason to write for you and not the people who may find your journal a long time from now. If you are writing for you, you will be honest, and curious. If you write for others, you’ll be more journalistic, and just reiterate facts. Also, you’ll tend to be less honest. Again, if you want the benefits of this practice in full, be honest, and don’t hold back – and don’t document your life’s happenings as much as your feelings about them.

Blogs aren’t as good 

I know what you’re thinking – if you blog – that’s as good, right? Maybe – but probably not. If you’re blogging, you’re probably not going to feel as comfortable being honest and exploring as deeply. Which brings me to the next point …

Write in book, with a pen, if you can.

There is something about writing with a pen in a blank book that will put you in a different frame of mind. It will keep you from being as wordy, and make you make important decisions about what to include, and what to leave out. Also, it’ll open you up in a new way. Try it.

Plus, you can go out and get cool pens and journals. Go ahead, accessorize. Have fun with it.

We spend enough time with computers, and devices, so take some time out to be more organic. It’ll get your mind out of work mode, and into … well, mind mode, or whatever mode you need to be in to get some real gritty thoughts out. This is healing, folks.

Date everything.

This one is a little bit obvious, but important. Years later it will help you make sense of things.

Start with questions, and always ask questions. 

This is pretty darned important. Always ask questions. Be curious. Notice patterns in yourself (maybe ones you already know about, maybe ones that reviewing your journal will bring up) and ask why you exhibit that pattern. Make lists of questions for later, on some day when nothing really big happened and you need something to write about.

Then, in a new entry, restate the question, then brainstorm (on the page) the answers to the question. If you don’t know the answers, just write what you do know about that topic. You may not know why you do that certain thing, but how do you feel when you are doing it? Does the answer to that lead you to more answers?

Gratitude

Write about what you’re thankful for. This is a pretty important practice. Gratitude has been shown to improve physical health, as well as psychological health. It improves how you feel about everything. At least a couple times a week (if not daily), jot down a few things you are grateful for. Even if they are small and kind of a given, like the fact that you woke up this morning. Over time, this will start to change your thinking to be more positive. That’s why it’s ok if you need to actually look for something to be thankful for that day. Maybe you had a bad day and it’s not an easy task to come up with something you’re thankful for. But the process of doing that – on that day – will cheer you up and will, over time, teach you how to think more positively as a habit.

What you’ll notice if you try journaling

You’ll notice a slow opening up – of you. You’ll notice a certain stability of mind, and peace.

You’ll notice that things just start to make sense – and if you dig deep enough during your writing sessions, you may just solve some pretty big issues you might have. I noticed self confidence is directly tied to self knowledge – so the more I got to know myself, the more confident I became in myself. And journaling was a huge part in getting to know myself.

You’ll notice your mental strength will increase, and your memory will increase as well. Your communication skills will improve, and you’ll become a bit more social.

The biggest part of journaling, however, is the self knowledge and general sense of calm and stability it brings.

In fact, I think journaling goes perfectly hand in hand with meditation, so also check out my article on meditation to get the best of both practices.

Happy journaling!