Journaling for a Better You in 2018

A friend just gave me a Ten-Year Journal. Initially I found the thought of writing every single day for ten years completely daunting, until it occurred to me that I already do it every day. In the shower. Well, I don’t exactly write in the shower – the journal is not waterproof and I do not have a waterproof pen – but I do compose my thoughts in the shower. Some people sing. I sing in the car.

The journal is set up in such a way that every January 18th is on the same page. Over time, if I keep up the good work, I’ll be able to look over my life at a glance and recognize how far I’ve come on any particular day (my birthday, Bach’s birthday, Bastille Day…). Historically, I’ve used Google calendar to record things like the first Crocus of spring or the return of the Evening Grosbeak, but these notes are rather short. The Ten-Year Journal allows four lines for each day. It’s an easy commitment – just a sentence or two – but it is enough to paint a picture of what’s happening in your life.

I journaled as a little kid and all through high school and college. Back then I think it was called keeping a diary. But it’s a new day and journaling has more journalistic heft than does “Dear Diary.” Also journaling has some good scientific research to back up its new-ish health benefit claims. I recommend it. Here are a few mental health benefits of regular journaling:

Clarity
The tactile action of writing by hand activates the brain in ways typing does not. If you are feeling uncertain about something, pick up a pen and write it down. Use a free writing or stream-of-consciousness style and just write whatever comes to mind. Get out of your own way and write without thought of content or direction. Your subconscious mind wants to help you figure it out. Let it. You just might find greater clarity.

Stress Reduction
Journaling by hand forces you to unplug. Time spent in the physical activity of writing creates emotional release and a respite from technology, which ultimately can lead to relaxation and calm. “It’s one of the best ways to clear your mind and get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. It forces you to focus on internal awareness of the present and process thoughts and emotions in the here-and-now. By gaining this focus, one might be better able to obtain clarity around what is most important to them and reduce their stress.” (http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/journaling_to_reduce_stress)

Acceptance
Journaling is an excellent opportunity for positive self-talk. When we write positive things about ourselves, we become easier to accept – we find ourselves more acceptable, so too do our friends.  Write something good about yourself. The symbolic act of writing something down – literally getting it off one’s chest – has the power to dispel negative thoughts. Gratitude is another great way to find acceptance. Gratitude journaling is scientifically proven to make you happier. They say that happiness is wanting what you have. Taking time to journal can create the space and present moment awareness to facilitate acceptance.

Problem Solving
Write it down! Creative journaling gives you the opportunity to explore complex problems from different angles. Ask yourself questions such as “Where do I want to be in 2018?” and “What do I need to do to get there?” Free write about how your favorite mentor might solve the problem. How would Eleanor Roosevelt approach it? What about da Vinci? By writing – especially creatively, even playfully – about complex problems, you will gain the perspective necessary to make objective decisions.

It makes sense that journaling can influence one’s mental health, but there is increasing evidence suggesting that it also impacts physical well-being: “University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.” (https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/)

So grab a pen and a notebook and get to it! In a very short amount of time, you will find your spirits lift. Your body just might feel better, too. (You don’t need a Ten-Year Journal, but man they are cool: http://www.journal10.com/)