Benefits of Daily Journals: Here’s How to Start Journaling Today
Do you ever jot down your thoughts, experiences, or habits as a way of recording your life, working through obstacles, or setting goals? If not, you’re missing out. The practice of personal writing—through journaling, keeping a diary, or blogging—has become more popular in recent years, and for good reason. It’s a great way to reduce stress, understand ourselves better, and improve our health.
Even if you’ve never kept a journal, now is a great time to start. Here are some helpful tips and motivation to get you started—plus a few fun facts and stats that may surprise even experienced journal keepers.
The Benefits of Journaling
Journaling has been shown in numerous studies to have a range of positive effects on mental health, including among those who experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One scientific review of 20 studies, published in 2022, examined the impact of a journaling intervention on these mental health conditions. Overall, researchers found that 68% of the interventions were effective, supporting the association between journaling and improving mental health symptoms. It was also praised as a low-risk, low-cost, low-side effect, low-resource option, and ideal for using in combination with other therapies.
Even those without mental health struggles find that a journal can act as a trusted friend—a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear, so to speak. And for people who have previously relied on harmful substances, like food or alcohol, to self-soothe, journaling can be a lifesaver. A journal gives you accountability, increases your self-awareness, boosts your well-being and peace of mind, and provides a place for all of your thoughts and emotions—with zero judgment. Consider it a safe haven that’ll make you healthier in the short and long term. And it can be an especially helpful practice for men, who traditionally have been discouraged from openly sharing their emotions.
The benefits of journaling also continue after writing. For example, some people enjoy reviewing old entries at a later date so they can see their personal growth in black and white. Or you might see patterns that repeat themselves over and over again, which calls your attention to areas for improvement. As the saying goes, “We are what we repeatedly do.” By writing about your life, thought patterns, and habits, you can more easily see the kind of person you really are, rather than who you wish to be or imagine you are.
Types of Journaling
Though there is no “wrong” way to journal, scientific researchers and writers alike have explored various journaling practices over the years. Which one of these sounds like it might be most helpful to you?
Expressive writing is a category that includes journals, diaries, and personal essays—records your experiences in life. It can be a great way to release your anger, mull over a problem, or see problematic patterns of behavior over time. Of course, this kind of writing doesn’t have to be negative in focus, but many people find expressive writing helpful for processing stressful events, emotions, or concerns.
Positive affect journaling, on the other hand, is focused on what’s going well in your life. At its simplest, this may involve writing a daily gratitude list and logging the things you’re grateful for. More complex journals may involve reflecting in-depth on all of the ways life hands you blessings, lucky breaks, and good fortune. This can create positive impacts around the clock: When you regularly record happy events and gratitudes, you are more likely to notice them in your day-to-day life.
Health journaling is one of my favorite tools because it encourages success when we’re looking to hit health goals. Studies have shown that people who are trying to lose weight are more successful—both in weight loss and in meeting other health objectives—when they keep a journal. Though it’s helpful to write down your meals and activities each day, you can also use your health journal to plan ahead for the next day’s meals, exercise, and other habits. Then use some journal space to reflect on hitting your goals (or not). If something goes awry, you can question why, start to see patterns and tweak your approach for next time. Bad days don’t have to be failures—they can turn into great data, helping to improve habits over the long term.
Here’s How to Start Journaling…Today!
A lot of people might hesitate to start journaling because they think they’re “not a writer” or “not creative,” because they don’t have time, or a load of other excuses. Usually, these are based in fear or some other resistance, even laziness. But you don’t need to be Shakespeare to start writing, and you don’t need a ton of time. You just need a plan, a pen, and paper.
Some people may prefer to use a tablet, computer, or smartphone to take notes, but I’d recommend journaling the old-fashioned way. In one study performed among Japanese university students, writing notes on physical paper versus a computer was found to generate more brain activity, which led to them remembering the information better. They also showed a 25% faster speed when handwriting notes.
Researchers say that the unique, complex, spatial, and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper is likely what leads to improved memory,” Neuroscience News reported on the findings.
Next, you can set up a journaling schedule that works for you. Some people swear by doing a stream-of-consciousness “brain dump” onto paper first thing in the morning, clearing their minds before tackling the day ahead. Others like to utilize journaling as an end-of-day wind-down before bed, which is a great alternative to electronic screens and a natural time to reflect on how the day went. Either one works—and keep in mind that you can do both.
If you’re not sure what to write about, don’t worry. There are endless journal prompts out there to help you get started. Here are some that might stimulate your writing:
- What were the highlights of your day?
- What would you like to achieve today/tomorrow?
- What areas for improvement did you notice today that you can work on in the future?
- What are five things you’re grateful for?
- What is most concerning to you right now? How might you look at the problem from different perspectives?
- What are some ways you succeeded today?
One final recommendation: Don’t be afraid to start small. You don’t need to write for hours or fill endless pages to obtain benefits from journaling. Some people start by simply listing gratitudes. Others write a single sentence or paragraph daily, just to get something down every day. If you’re a beginner, set a 5-minute timer so that you don’t feel overwhelmed—and if you get into a flow, keep going. Over time, you can work up to 10, 20, 30, or more minutes of writing. You’ll probably find pretty quickly that the practice eases your mind, relieves stress, and enhances your overall well-being. It also can leave a fun, meaningful, or interesting record of your life that you can return to again and again, or even share with loved ones when you’re older.
Journaling Boosts Well-Being
I love using my journals to process emotions, stick to my health goals, gain confidence, and strengthen my brain. Finding time in your day for journaling should take priority, just as any other well-being booster would, like exercise or meditation. If you’re a beginner, you can even journal about how you feel over time with this new practice. Are you feeling less burdened? Lighter? More emotionally even-keeled?
Congratulations—you’re on your way to experiencing just a few of journaling’s many benefits!
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