Over the last few years - and especially since the emergence of covid – I have seen numerous articles on the benefits of journaling with detailed scientific studies proving that it does work[i]! Journaling can help people shift from a negative mindset to a positive one [ii], boost mood, enhance well-being, reduce symptoms of depression before an important event and improve your working memory[iii]. If you are trying to meet a goal, it is also important as it can help promote action[iv].
Journaling has been highlighted recently because of the fundamental benefits to our wellbeing, expressive writing provides an opportunity for our creative sides to flourish. During the journaling process we use the analytical rational left side of the brain. While we do this, the right side (the creative side), is given the freedom to ‘wander'[v] and thus we can fully explore our emotions, release tension and fully integrate experiences into our mind[iv].
Since I was a child, I have loved buying a beautiful new diary, a weighty meaningful pen and then spending time thoughtfully writing my first entry. Together with the scientifically proven benefits, it is no surprise that the concept of writing a diary has always been attractive to me. In fact, I have started this exercise on so many occasions…but on each one my long-term commitment has been somewhat lacking! Surely following in the footsteps of Einstein, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill should be motivation enough to complete the task. Listening to Rufus Hound’s ‘My Teenage Diary’ on Radio 4 also provides examples of celebrities who have successfully written a diary over a prolonged period. In fact, Rufus has been able to create 9 series – 52 celebrities no less! – So how should this habit be formed?
How to form a journaling habit? Once you’ve chosen the medium for your journal – either pen and paper or electronically - stick with it, making changes can disrupt the thought process[vi]. Experts then suggest that writing at the same time every day in the same place without distraction and for a minimum of 5 minutes will help. You don’t need to find the perfect words as it is a private document just for you. The most important part is not to skip the writing process as the key to habit formation is practice and consistency. As for what to write, the Centre for Journal therapy[vii] recommends using the acronym ‘WRITE’:
What Topic? Write about thoughts, feelings, goals and things that you are avoiding.
Review or reflect on it. Be calm and focus by using ‘I’ statements – I feel, I want, I think.
Investigate your thoughts, feelings. Ensure you are focused and take a moment to refocus if your mind starts to wonder.
Time write for at least 5 minutes.
Exit read and reflect on what you have written and write down actions.
How to get the MOST benefit – Write about Feelings
Many articles suggest that it doesn’t matter what you write about. But I found a study on coping with job loss especially interesting[viii]. The study included 63 recently unemployed professionals and found that those assigned to write about their feelings and emotions surrounding their job loss were re-employed more quickly than those who wrote about non traumatic topics or who did not write at all. The study concluded that the expressive writing exercise helped individuals work through their anger and therefore made a better impression in interviews.
Given all the information I read, I believe that it is worth preserving to create a long-term journaling habit. I wish you luck with your journal journey!
[i] Specifically, 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress - Courtney Ackerman MA [ii] Robinson 2017 [iii] Baikie and Wilhelm 2005 [iv] Scott 2018 [v] Grothaus 2015 [vi] Leon Ho, Https://www.lifehack.org/858664/writing-journal [vii] https://journaltherapy.com/ [viii] Expressive Writing and Journaling for Loss Spera, Buhrfeind and Pennebaker
Thank you to Jess Bailey for allowing me to use her photograph from Pexels.com