“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation”
-Graham Greene, Ways of Escape.
Journaling has been harnessed as a life tool by people throughout history and much has been writing about its transformative power. Many famous writers, artists, scientists, politicians and others have cited journaling as a powerful aid that has helped them succeed in their careers.
Journaling allows us to clarify our thoughts, to focus on goals we want to accomplish, to achieve perspective and catharsis after difficult life events and to defuse emotionally, psychologically and spiritually when facing in to or after a tough day.
Journaling can take many forms. Usually it involves keeping a notebook or diary of some sort, but how that is used can be very different depending on the individual. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends using ‘morning pages’. Keeping morning pages involves completing three unfiltered and unedited pages of free writing each morning after waking. The purpose of the exercise is to unburden the mind of any mental clutter at the beginning of the day, so that the day’s work can proceed unimpeded. This is only one of many ways in which a journal can be used.
Others rather the practice of sitting down in the evening and reflecting on the day in their journal in order to gather their thoughts and gain perspective and clarity on the day’s events. Still others use a journal as a means of focusing on goals and tasks to be achieved and as a way of planning how to go about this. In some cases, a journal is a means of creative expression where words, drawings, cut outs and photographs are used in tandem. Gratitude journaling is another approach where one writes down what they are grateful for in each day. This can help to accentuate the positive and focus attention on what in life is going well. Journaling can also be a way of putting together your life story to help you to process pivotal events and make sense of difficult experiences.
According to neurologist Judy Willis MD, “The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information… it promotes the brain’s attentive focus … boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.” Scientific studies have shown that journaling can help people cope with traumatic life events, it can help to relieve stress, it can even improve brain function in those with degenerative brain diseases.
The discipline and daily practice of keeping a journal can greatly enhance your life and provide an easily accessible resource to add to your repertoire of life skills. Why not buy a notepad today and experiment with writing. See what time of the day is best for you to write, and play around with the type of writing that works best for you. Are free written 'morning pages' of benefit or do you rather evening reflection? If you are more artistically minded, do you like adding pictures and drawings to your journal? Maybe goal setting and making lists is more your style. Five minutes of writing per day might be as much as you can manage or perhaps you would rather dedicate an hour in the evening. The main thing is to see what works best for you.
For more information on journaling and how to get started, check out the links below:
Cameron, Julia (2016) The Artist's Way. Now York: Penguin.
Oopong, T. (2017) The Life-Changing Habit of Journaling (Why Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Many More Great Minds Recommend it) Online at https://journal.thriveglobal.com/start-journaling-54ea2edb104
Wong, K. (2017) A Total Beginner’s Guide to Keeping a Journal, Online at http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/08/a-beginners-guide-to-keeping-a-journal.html