6 Ways Keeping A Journal Can Make You A Better Person (Plus 4 Ways Get The Scribbling Habit Started)

Despite being celebrated by professionals in various fields — from psychology to business — as basically the best thing in the world, journaling has maintained a bad rap over the years. Keeping a daily journal can change your life! Yet, people are afraid to dig in and really hit the pages, maybe thanks to TV shows that insist on plot lines in which someone reads someone else's diary and the world, like, falls apart. At the end of the day — whether you’re watching Harriet the Spy or Girls — the media’s message is the same: she — whomever she is, and she might be you — would have been better off if she hadn’t written down all her secrets and stories to begin with.

I call BS.

Journaling has a wide range of benefits, both personal and professional. It can help anyone — of any age, gender, field, or origin — achieve their goals, no matter what those goals may be. Seriously, keeping a journal is sorcery. It's magic for your life!

So don't let the muggles grind you down. Start writing for yourself today, and one day — whether it's next month or next year — it will all pay off. And since it's mostly harmless, you won't have any regrets about taking up the habit. In my opinion, journaling is essential to your health and personal development. And are six ways keeping a journal can make you a better person, with a few suggestions to get you started.

So, Here's Why You Should Start Writing Stuff 

Journaling Helps You Put Things into Perspective

When you’re living in the moment, it can be difficult to step back enough to get some perspective. You’re too close to everything that is happening to you, both positive and negative, so you can’t really get an accurate picture of your trajectory at any given time. When you’re relying exclusively on your memories to identify patterns in your life, you’re at the mercy of you sieve-like mind.

Keeping a journal eliminates this problem by giving you a great macro-view of your life. The good thing about this is that the more information you put into your journal, the more you’ll take away. For instance: Including notes about what you ate and how you felt can give you a sense of your dietary triggers. Keeping track of what you wore to each job interview can provide you with helpful hints the next time you’re looking for work. The minutiae of your life contains valuable information your mind can’t be trusted to remember.

Journaling Helps You Find Inspiration

For creative types, the benefits of keeping a journal are obvious. Whenever you start on a new project, you have your journal — a permanent record of your thoughts, ideas, and experiences — from which you can draw. Additionally, visual artists can sketch and doodle on their pages, while writers can jot down short snippets of poetry, dialogue, or character description.

But for the professionals in less creative fields — I’m speaking here to the journalists, programmers, and clerks — consider this: haven’t you always wanted to be the woman who wows her boss and gets launched to stardom with an innovative new idea? By keeping a journal, you can tap into the same benefits creative journalers have been experiencing for decades. The next deadline or company meeting won’t worry you; it’ll excite you, because you’ll be confident in your ability to propose a new project or direction that’s valuable not only to your company, but also to yourself.

Journaling Helps You Plan What You Can

I don’t know about you, but I love to plan. Dream weddings, future houses, spacious kitchens, or adorable nurseries — what else is Pinterest for?

But sometimes planning can go awry. It can even take over your life, because the compulsion to plan out every aspect of your life can make it impossible for you to enjoy anything that happens to you. Little joys escape your notice (because you have to plan), and major events are major stressors (because you have to plan). Spontaneity goes out the window, and you’re left with nothing but anxiety.

Keeping a journal offers you a way out of this toxic cycle. When you have a journal nearby, it’s easy to sketch out a new floorplan, jot down a new baby name, or write up a wedding song list when you feel the need. And although this seems like it would be enabling your planning compulsion, it actually helps you get over it and enjoy life more.

When you include planning for the future in your journal-writing, you can easily flip back through your old ideas to see how much they have changed over the weeks, months, and years. As you start getting your ideas collected in one place in a cohesive manner, you’ll also start feeling your mind clearing up. And as it things get clearer, you’ll have a better grasp on your life: both the present and the future.

Journaling Helps You Let Go of the Past

Notice how I didn’t mention the past up there? That’s because, when you’re keeping a journal, you already have the past taken care of. How is that possible?

Because you’re living in the past every day, every moment of your life. There’s a miniscule delay between when things actually happen and when you experience them: a fraction of a fraction of a second. Then, when you write something down in your journal, you relive the event again. So, by keeping a journal, you’re actually living events — both the good and the bad — three times: when they happen, when you experience them, and when you write them down. We think living the bad moments of your life, the ones that would otherwise keep you down and hold you back, three times is enough to live, learn, and get over them.

More than that, keeping a journal offers you a safe space where you can rehash the day’s events and digress until you say what you really feel. And confronting your feelings, getting them outside of yourself and off your back, is always a good thing.

Journaling Helps You Understand What You Thought You Couldn't

We all have things in our past we don’t understand, whether it’s a friend who suddenly hated us, a lover who disappeared on us, or a relative who inexplicably never liked us. Most of us will never get answers as to why people did things to us, but keeping a journal can help us find closure, and in a lot of different ways.

Sometimes you might find a pattern in your own behavior that corresponds with others’ reactions. (I'll say more on that in a sec, but sometimes, you can contribute to the difficulties in your relationships with other people.) But maybe it isn’t that. Maybe, when you see your own emotions poured out on the page, you realize you see something of yourself in a person you never before understood. Suddenly, that person’s struggle seems a little less foreign to you. Just remember: when you have a breakthrough in your understanding of others: write about it! It will increase your understanding and empathy for others, and you’ll be a better person for it.

Journaling Helps You Learn Who You Are

I already touched on five ways keeping a journal can make you a better person. Self-improvement is great, but self-awareness and -understanding are even better. Hell yes!

Keeping a journal presents you with plenty of opportunities to reflect and learn from yourself, because you can be honest about what happened and how you feel about it. You don’t have to hide anything, or make yourself — or anyone else — out to be someone you aren’t. It’s like free therapy. All you have to do is be honest and listen to yourself. If there’s something in particular that’s bothering you, then write about it! Your feelings will come out. Don’t worry if you’re rambling. This isn’t for anyone’s eyes but yours.

It’s worth the warning that all of us may not like everything we discover about ourselves. Keeping a journal is a lot like Atreju going to the Southern Oracle in The Neverending Story: you’re going to find out exactly who you are, and there are bound to be some surprises. But a lot of 'em are really awesome, and this writing-stuff-down thing is totally worth it. Trust me.

So, You Want To Start Writing

Journaling Comes in a Shape and Size for Everyone

Once you’ve made up your mind to start keeping a journal, the next step is to decide on how to go about it. For those of us who have tried — and failed — to keep a traditional “Dear Diary” journal, you may feel a little ehhhhh that you can actually do it. But, seriously, there is a method of journaling that is right for everyone; you just have to find out what yours is.

Traditional

The most obvious option is to keep a traditional, pen-and-paper journal. Hell, you might even still have one of these relics of your youth lying around the house.

Pros: can be picked up anywhere; you have your pick of sizes, materials, styles, and prices; easy to carry and use anywhere

Cons: may be easily spotted and read by someone else; you’ll eventually need a new one; easy to lose

Slam

These are the punk rock sisters of traditional journals. You can pick up a prefab one — like Wreck This Journal — or make your own out of any notebook or diary. The object of the game is to get creative and messy.

Pros: connect with other slambookers on social media; can be more cathartic than traditional journals; great for both creative types and people who want more spontaneity in their lives

Cons: may not have as much space for reflection as other journals; may be difficult to use in public

Digital

Please note that we’re differentiating digital journals — Word documents, Evernote memos, etc. — from online blogging.

Pros: can be taken with you anywhere your devices go; greener than paper journals; can be password-protected

Cons: depend on battery life; relatively susceptible to intrusion; may be less cost-effective than paper journals; may not enough creative capacity for some people

Online

This is different from a blog, but on the same platform. Bloggers don’t overshare, and that’s pretty much what keeping a journal is all about. But if you’re interested in keeping a journal that you can share with a limited — or widespread — audience, this might be the option for you.

Pros: may be shared publicly or kept private; may be monetized; fun .gifs can be used to add punch to your emotional writings

Cons: depend on Internet connection and battery life; you may not feel like updating; there is a risk of oversharing

Remember: the decision to begin keeping a journal is more important than the way in which you go about it. It make take a while to find a journaling platform you really like, but the path you take to find it is no less important than what you do afterward, because you’re still writing down your thoughts. And that’s the most important thing.

Images: Denise Chan/Flickr; Bookish, erikaellis//creative, journaling junkie, Hauntingly Beautiful/Tumblr; Giphy (5)

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