A lot of people are familiar with keeping a journal or a diary, but what’s more familiar is buying a notebook with the goal of recounting your thoughts and daily mundanities and then forgetting all about it a week later.
This isn’t a bad thing, as it takes dedication to keep a journal and whilst trying to juggle university and social life, and it can be difficult to remain continuously motivated to journal; but keeping a personal account of your experiences can be extremely rewarding.
In this article, we will explore the benefits of keeping a journal with some tips and starter prompts, for anyone who wants to resume journalling or start journaling for the first time as it is never too late.
A journal can be anything from paragraphs to bullet-points
Journalling is a written record of your thoughts, observations and feelings and there is no right way to journal. Many people ask themselves where to start, as it can feel daunting when there is an empty page in front of you.
A good way to start is to treat your journal as a written stream of consciousness, jotting down whatever emotions or thoughts you’ve had that day regardless of chronology, form or quality. A journal can be anything from paragraphs to bullet-points and you should write in whichever way is most comfortable for you.
The benefits of journaling are that it can aid you in processing and unpacking your thoughts, your reactions to events that have happened throughout the day and your ideas and there is a wealth of evidence that this can have long term benefits on your mental health.
Journaling can however be a way of relieving stress
A 2005 study found that expressive writing led to emotional and physical health benefits. Expressive writing is writing that allows you to explore your feelings through a story-like narrative. Think of yourself as literally being the main character in your story, because you are.
Assessments and exams can take a toll on both mental and physical health and if you are struggling it is best to contact wellbeing services. Journaling can however be a way of relieving stress and there is evidence that writing regularly can improve your mental and physical health.
One study found that those who wrote down their worries regularly were rewarded with reduced anxiety and another study found that those who wrote about a breakup coped with the heartache better than those who did not.
Build a habit out of journaling by starting with the absolute minimum
But journalling does not have to be entirely emotive, it can also simply be a recollection of events that have happened to you; preservation of memories that you can look back on with fondness however mundane they may seem in the moment.
And it doesn’t have to be a lot of work either, Stanford Professor BJ Fogg devised a technique called ‘minimum viable effort’, this technique enables you to build a habit out of journaling by starting with the absolute minimum, such as jotting down one sentence each day and increasing the amount slowly to strengthen the habit.
Now onto how to actually start a journal. Here are a few tips if you are thinking of starting or resuming your own journal.
You can schedule a time to journal weekly or bi-weekly
Firstly decide if you want your journal to be physical or digital – papier.com sell a wide variety of cool, novelty notebooks, and you have the choice to customise them too. And if you’d prefer to keep your notebook online there are a plethora of apps to choose from alongside penzu.com a private customisable online journal or simply your notes app.
Schedule a time – if you want to get into the habit of daily journaling you should choose a time where you know you will be free to write down as much as you need to, this could be right before you go to bed or as soon as you wake up. But you don’t have to journal daily, you can schedule a time to journal weekly or bi-weekly.
Choose some prompts – If writing out a stream of unfiltered consciousness seems daunting you can find guidance in the abundance of prompts available online, here are some examples to get you started:
- Did something (or someone) empower you today?
- What was the most peaceful moment you had today?
- Did you stop yourself from doing something you enjoy today?
- Reflect on how your body feels. Where are you storing your stress?
- Describe something that you learned today that you didn’t know before?
- What goals did you accomplish today? What goals would you like to accomplish in the future?
- What are you grateful for today?
Journal prompts such as these may be described as a form of shadow work, a form of journaling that helps you analyse the shadow side of your personality, an idea that was popularised by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung Jennifer Sweeton, a licensed clinical psychologist states that ‘it is the idea that we all have different parts to ourselves and the parts that have been exiled tend to become the shadow parts’, whether you agree or not,
Shadow work journalling is said to aid in giving one a more holistic and forgiving view of yourself and can aid in your interactions with yourself and others. Look back on your journal – Journals can be a recollection of daily events, thoughts and feelings and it’s always interesting to see how things may have changed looking back. Looking back at your journal every few weeks can also motivate you to continue the habit long term.
All in all, journaling should be fun regardless of how intimate your journal gets, it doesn’t have to be perfectly edited or refined and you should give yourself permission to write freely as this is the ultimate way to reap the benefits of keeping a personal journal.
A, Baikie (2018) Emotional and Physical health benefits of expressive Writing
K, Wong (2017) A Beginner’s Guide to Keeping a Journal