Journaling. Why is it good for you?

Karolina Fotyga

Everything and more has already been written about journaling, so why this text? I thought I’d share some insights from a psychological – or better yet – psychotherapeutic perspective:) It is a vital part of mental health care after all, plus I myself have been journaling since I was a teenager – so how about that for a start:)

What is journaling? In today’s world, it’s becoming the new fad – but obviously, it’s not a last year’s invention. People have been journaling since they learned how to write. They recorded their days to remember what happened, they were creating poems, short stories and doodles as a form of a recollection of their emotional state. Journaling is what you want it to be, it can be anything from a 2 sentence sum-up of your day, a 5-page elaborate psychological analysis or a dynamic rant if you please. Raise your hand if you hadn’t written a diary when you were a teenager. Remember how it helped put things into perspective? Why not do it now?  We live in a world that’s overwhelming at times, so much is happening, people feel and react often in ways they don’t fully grasp in the moment. Keeping a journal lets you reflect deeper which can bring understanding and ease the tension. Journaling has always been about putting pen to paper and enabling what was happening in your head to transfer smoothly to the pages. Why?

Why journaling? 

Taking care of our mental health is not an easy 3 step job. But one thing that is absolutely fundamental when you want to start is a good enough self-awareness. And it’s all about staying in the moment – it’s not quantum physics – you can make it as simple as you want – and the way to go about it may be journaling. All in all – it simply is the easiest, the cheapest technique, one that you can do at home or wherever you are. You can do it by yourself or use it as ‘little helper’ if you actually are in therapy. Above all, journaling simply allows you to better understand your emotions and your behavior, and so it eventually has the potential to lower the anxiety level and reduce stress. Of course – as with all great advice – this may be not for everyone. Try it for some time and only do it if you see the benefits. Don’t force yourself to keep writing because somebody said it helped them. It may simply not be your thing. Having said that – I literally don’t know anyone who’d done it and said it was pointless. I know people who don’t know how to continue, but we’ll get to that later. A lot of what’s happening in our heads is unconscious, so if you let yourself pour the words out of your head to your notebook/or iPad or whatever medium you use – you may be surprised with what you will find. It’s like a treasure you never knew you’ve had. The connections between your behavior and the way you feel towards someone or something, the repetitive patterns you otherwise wouldn’t notice and so on and so forth. Plus there’s that feeling of accomplishment when you browse through your old entries. Seeing how you’ve grown and what you’ve accomplished. It really is pretty rewarding.  If you’re thinking of bringing more mindfulness in your life – this is a pretty good way to do it. Journaling is a great way to simply stop and pause for a moment. It is and should be purely between you and you if you want to be completely honest. And you want to be completely honest for the whole process to actually make sense. So when you choose the medium make sure to be able to take care of your own privacy. (More about that in the analogue or digital part).

What else can you gain?

Everything I mentioned above – self-awareness and a great start to a more mindful living, but also:

  • The added value of journaling is the occasional feeling of great insight. When you’re able to see the deeper meaning or understand what’s been vague before.
  • You preserve your memories. When you’re consistent you eventually get a pretty thorough overview of your life.
  • You actually improve your writing. It’s an obvious fact that the more often you do something the more fluent you are at this thing. Writing is a skill and as such, it can be improved and polished.

Who can do it?

Well, everyone:) No matter if you’re 12 or 63 you can still find value in taking time to get to know yourself. No matter what stage of life you’re in, what your occupation is – you can try and use journaling as a great tool to navigating your own life.

How do you do it?

First thing to remember is – you’re doing it for yourself. Hence – you don’t need to pay attention to any grammar, any rules. You know yourself best, you know how your days go so find the best time that works for you. Make sure you can sit for 10 -15 minutes and simply write uninterrupted. For some, it will be right after you wake up, before even taking your phone;) For some – last thing before you go to bed. Some prefer to carry the notebook or phone/tablet everywhere with them and write whenever they feel like it. You can choose whatever time – as long as you make it work for you. You don’t have to stick to the time every single day, but the regularity and structure seem to work for a lot of people. The goal is to just do it – so choose a way that helps you stick to that:) There are a couple of methods of journaling, you can do it however you like. The most important thing is (like with so many things in life) to do it regularly. Again – there’s no ONE proper way to journal. The beauty of the process is you can do it however you want – it’s supposed to be between you and you – so get rid of that need for perfectionism and start filling out those pages. You have probably noticed I’m not one to tell you to adhere to strict rules, but having said that – it’s actually better if you give yourself some time to try it. Journaling is not a miracle maker, the change and insight might and might not happen overnight. Though if you give yourself some time, honesty and consistency – you might experience those “AHA!” moments sooner than you think. I’ll list some of the things you may think of to start exploring:

  • free writing – this one is one of my favs. As you keep writing whatever comes to your mind – be it about the day that passed or about something you’re trying to wrap your head around – your mind will surprise you. It will start grabbing some thoughts and reflections from your unconsciousness. And this is gold. When you write without judgement and without expecting anything – going back to this entry and reading it through may bring you more insight you could get just thinking about it repetitively.
  • gratitude entries – because too often we don’t pay attention to what we have. Journaling is a great way to focus on that a little bit more.
  • brain dump – a theme word eg. “conflict” “relationship” “parenting” etc. – you simply put the word in the top, in the middle wherever you please and write down whatever comes to mind when you think about it. It may be words or short statements. You’ll be surprised what you can find;)
  • a letter to a younger self – this one’ huge. It is also about gratitude and appreciation, about embracing the way you were, the way you tried to get where you are now.
  • joy – where do I find it? Again one of my favorites. To often we don’t pay enough attention to the things that bring us joy. Why not make it a thing? Try to focus and write down all the things you love that make you feel better, that bring joy – may it be a walk in the park, your children’s laughter, THAT song or a freshly squeezed glass of juice. When you gather a list of MANY such things – you’ll know where to look if you’re in need of that little spark.

Analogue or digital?

There are some orthodox who will want to convince you only handwritten journals are worth keeping. And of course – there is something magical about putting pen to paper, about pouring your words to blank pages that later are the carrier of your words. But let’s not generalize. It’s your journal – you choose how you do it. For me – even though I love handwriting – the digital version is the one I choose now. Being a minimalist and traveling I cannot keep gathering things. When you keep your journal digital you can always do it wherever you are, with no need to remember to actually take it with you. And you can fulfil your need for beautiful things by getting a planner and by keeping your logistics and planning with the use of pen and paper. Last but not least – in order for your journaling process to work smoothly – you need to feel safe using it. Material notebooks are hard to secure – maybe you can throw one under the bed or to that safe behind the painting, but do you really have room for 15 volumes when your collection grows?;) with a digital one you just create a password for it. That’s of course if you feel you’d rather have one.

How do you KEEP doing it?

Not only are we – people – creatures of habit, but also we do things that bring us value. So one – practical thing – is to set yourself a reminder to remember to write or keep it on your bedside table if you want to do it before going to bed or right after you wake up. Another – to establish whether it brings you that value you’re searching for. If you’re doing it “right” – meaning if you sit down and write regularly if you’re honest with yourself, if you let yourself keep exploring the unknown and painful parts of your experience/history you will see the result of your scribbles and free associations, and you will keep doing it. As simple as that. I’ve noticed I’m much more inclined to keep writing when I go through an intense period of time. It is a conversation with yourself after all. And you are an expert in your own life.  One rule though – be totally honest with yourself. When you write about your emotions and you try to go to the bottom of the situations – do not pretend, do not make yourself look better – simply reach for your honest insight now that you have processed it through. Then and only then will it make sense.

I hope you’ll find my take on journaling useful. Don’t forget to sign up here if you want to get a list of 50 inspirational prompts to use in your daily journaling practice.

And if you’d like to share – do you journal? How long have you been journaling? Do tell in the comments:)

journaling Karolina Fotyga