What Is Journaling?
Michitsuna no Haha kept a journal during the Heian period in Japan, detailing her life and emotions as the estranged wife of an aristocrat. It’s a beautiful document that details her emotional struggles and gives a rare, first-hand glimpse into the customs of court life and the social norms of that time. One woman’s journal became an international treasure over a thousand years later.
Anne Frank, a thirteen-year old Jewish girl who spent two years with her family hiding in Amsterdam during the Nazi regime, wrote in a diary to pass the long, secluded days. Again, we cherish the intimate words of this young woman, who used pen and paper to make sense of her horrific reality and to process her experience.
It’s unlikely that either Michitsuna no Haha or Anne Frank practiced journaling with the intent to become famous long after their deaths – nor did they likely realize how important their recordings and observations would be for future generations. Instead, they found the daily journaling practice to be a grounding ritual, an opportunity for catharsis, and perhaps even a creative outlet.
From celebrities to world leaders, from children to adults, journaling is one of the most accessible practices that spans ages, cultures, socioeconomic classes, and time periods. Many others have benefited from journaling over the years. Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, the list goes on, all practiced journaling daily.
What’s the allure? Former President Barack Obama said, “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.” We could all benefit from that kind of mental clarity, self reflection, and personal growth. But where do you begin?
What Should You Journal?
When you imagine journaling, do you immediately think of a “Dear Diary” letter chronicling the events of the day – like middle school crushes and schoolyard worries? You’re not alone, but the practice of journaling can be so much more than that and customized to your specific needs and interests. Actress and activist, Emma Watson, believes so strongly in the importance of journaling, she keeps several journals simultaneously, each dedicated to separate topics: “I’ve always been interested in the idea of diaries. I must have 10 different personal diaries: I keep a dream diary, I keep a yoga diary, I keep diaries on people that I’ve met and things that they’ve said to me, advice that they’ve given me. I keep an acting journal. I keep collage books.” As you can see, there are many different approaches to journaling. We’ll walk through some of the most popular, but the key is to create a custom blend that works best for you!
Vision, Values, and Goal Setting: What are your goals for the day, week, month, year? What about in five years? What legacy do you wish to leave? Setting and clarifying your vision allows you to focus on what matters most in your life and gives you a lens for decision making. Once you’re able to see the big picture, you can work backwards into how to accomplish that vision.
Once you set your vision, dig deeper. Why does this matter to you? How does your vision inform your beliefs and values? What changes do you need to make now? How does your vision impact others? Where do you stand in your personal development? Reflect on this daily.
Dreams: Particularly if you choose to journal in the morning, recording your dreams from the night before can be an interesting practice. The subconscious often processes our underlying emotions, worries, fears, and stresses through dreams, so recording them can help us consciously identify and work through our emotions. You might also identify recurring dreams or patterns for occurrence, which give insight into things in your life that need to be adjusted or let go of for your mental health. Plus, recording your dreams is a powerful tool in learning how to think outside the box and in increasing your creativity.
Scheduling, Planning, and To Do List Creation: Jot out your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules for work, cleaning, school, chores. Make all kinds of lists – grocery, home improvement, birthday gifts, important dates. Plan out holidays, schedule annual doctor appointments for the whole family, Farm stand Florida figure out when you need to get those holiday cards mailed in time or that family vacation booked. And don’t forget to have fun with your lists! Dream up baby names, record lists of favorite restaurants, jot down ideas for your next business venture, create a log of things people say throughout the day that resonate with you. This is your opportunity not only to get organized, but to also let the ideas flow.
Gratitude and Positivity: Write out all of the things you have to be thankful for each and every day. Focus on all that’s good in your life, and you might see your overall happiness improve and outlook on life shift generally towards being more positive. Science has proven that this practice contributes to lower stress levels and a feeling of calm, which means more clarity around decision making, better health, and improved sleep. On especially tough days, going back and reading through all that you’ve had to be grateful for during the past few months can also provide that boost of encouragement and perspective you need. Short on time? Try a matchbox-sized notebook and jot down one word a day. Choose your favorite cover – a floral sketch, Americana inspired horses and workers, or blossoming pink flowers. With a journal this tiny, it can go with you anywhere. There’s no excuse not to get into the practice!
Wellness: If you’re on a journey towards a healthier lifestyle, you may benefit from a wellness journal. This includes tracking daily things like your meals and nutrition, your water intake, your steps, your workout, and your sleep. Not only can journaling about your choices and actions help you stay accountable, but they can also help you identify allergies and food sensitivities as well as any negative patterns or things that may be inhibiting you from accomplishing your goals.
Art: Not one for words? Grab an unlined journal and get into the habit of recording a daily doodle, a painting, or a quick sketch. Express your emotions, download your worries, work through your thoughts, develop your ideas, explore your creativity, all through your medium of choice. Farm stand Florida Just make it part of your daily morning or evening routine!
Letter Writing: There’s a reason so many pre-teens default to writing “Dear Diary.” Expressing oneself through a letter and addressing a “listener” feels easy, natural, and approachable. Instead of writing to the personified diary, try writing letters that you never actually send to real people, to world leaders, to loved ones that have passed away. Composing a daily letter gives you practice in finding your voice, in putting words to your emotions, in conquering fears of being misunderstood or unsupported, and in learning how to express yourself.
As an alternative, keep a journal of letters to your future spouse or partner, or keep a journal of letters to your child, and gift it for a milestone or special event.
Travel: Over time, our memory fades, and some of the details from even our favorite trips get lost. Prevent that from happening by keeping a daily record of your excursions, whether they’re near to home or in a far flung locale. Include notes about your accommodations, what you eat, the activities you partake in. Jot down any memorable phrases or quotes, write out anecdotes about conversations had or of unique experiences. Try to chronicle the tastes, the smells, the sounds, as well as the sites. Record the things you learn along the way about the local cuisine, music, religion, history, or culture. Include tips for future travelers to help them strategically plan a trip or avoid hiccups – chances are, you’re going to get asked down the line for recommendations, Farm stand Florida and you’ll be grateful to have this resource to draw upon. Plus, it serves as the ideal accompaniment to all of the travel photos you’re capturing and a way to preserve and treasure the memories of the experience for years – and generations – to come.
Hobbies or Interests: If you have a special interest, consider dedicating your journal to it! For example, an avid reader may keep a daily chronicle of the books they’re reading, their thoughts, insights, questions, critiques, and stand out quotes. A gardener can record when and what they plant. A gardener might also log watering and weeding patterns, include information about the weather and frost, and note when flowers bloom or veggies are ready to harvest. Document your successes, learn from your mistakes, and fully enjoy and experience whatever it is that interests you!
Popular Methods: Beyond these themed approaches, there are a few popular methods for journaling. “Morning Pages” instructs you to put pen to paper for three whole pages every single morning, writing out your stream of consciousness. The idea originated to help artists and writers break through creative blocks. Another is the “Bullet Journal,” which the New Yorker referred to as a “mindfulness-meets-productivity” journaling technique involving a series of shorthand, symbols, and lists.
5 Benefits of Adding Journaling to Your Morning Routine
The practice of daily journaling spans generations and cultures for good reason. Here are a few science-backed benefits of adding journaling to your morning routine:
- Improve Your Health: A 1999 study showed that people with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis experienced reduced symptoms when they practiced journaling. Then, researchers in New Zealand proved that journaling strengthens the immune system. And over the years, James W. Pennebaker, PhD has performed a number of studies on the physical benefits of journaling among different people groups. Each has proven that those with chronic illnesses who write expressively experience an improvement in their symptoms.
- Problem Solving: The act of writing allows you to incorporate both analytical and intuitive responses to problems at hand, which can open up options that may have been overlooked had you not worked them out through writing. Additionally, if in a disagreement, writing can be a format to help clarify your own point of view and to understand the opposing viewpoint.
- Know Yourself: This practice forces you to be introspective and to drown out noise and distractions. That’s why we always encourage journaling with a notebook and pen or pencil versus something digital, like an app or document on your laptop. Reading past entries can help you learn about yourself and your journey, and using prompts can help you uncover motivations, beliefs, and values you didn’t necessarily know you held.
- Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Journaling has been proven to help lower stress and release negative thoughts. It also helps people gain a sense of control by showing them what triggers anxiety, panic, or stress in their lives. Numerous essays and publications, such as this 2018 study, show significantly lower levels of anxiety in those who practice journaling.
- Be Present: Journaling certainly counts as a mindfulness practice – being aware, paying attention, being present. It clears your mind and forces you to focus on what’s literally at hand. When you journal, you take a step back and have the space to evaluate things non-judgmentally.
Journaling in the Morning vs. Evening
Now that you’ve decided to add journaling into your daily routine, you have another decision to make: Are you a morning journaler? Or an evening one? Although it ultimately comes down to personal preference, here are a few of the specific advantages for each.
Morning: If you’re a morning bird, then incorporating journaling into your morning routine is a no-brainer! Brainstorming ideas and setting long term visions and goals works well when you’re fresh and full of energy, and especially before you’re bombarded throughout the day with information and “inspiration” (we’re looking at you, Instagram and Pinterest). It’s often the time of day when you’ll think most clearly and originally, having given your brain time to sort through and categorize information from the day before. You’re essentially beginning with a clean slate Farm stand Florida.
One of our favorite practices when journaling in the morning is to set an intention for the rest of the day as well as outline our goals. Yes, the goals can be practical and to-do list oriented, but we also try to incorporate a character or health-based goal each day, as well. For example, a daily goal might be to drink more water or to practice patience throughout our actions. Sometimes it’s to smile more, to pick up any litter we encounter and properly discard or recycle it, or to catch ourselves whenever we begin negative self talk. By journaling in the morning, we can begin our day with intentionality and remind ourselves of our values.
Evening: There are two types of people who benefit from journaling at the end of the day. First – the night owl, the person who gets their surge of ideas and creative energy as the sun begins to set. If you find yourself in this category, there’s no need to force yourself to wake up early and adopt a lengthy morning routine because it’s the “thing to do.” Instead, play to your strengths and create an evening routine!
Second, even if you’re not your most energized in the evening, journaling before bed might still be beneficial to you. For those who struggle with falling asleep, particularly due to racing thoughts, “turning their mind off,” or worries, this might become a life-changing practice. First, begin by doing a brain dump. Set your timer for five minutes and write out everything and anything that’s on your mind. By putting your jumble of thoughts onto paper, your brain is able to begin sorting, organizing, and tucking them away. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what tomorrow or the rest of the week holds, writing out your to do list can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and peace that you’ve developed a plan of attack.
If you often are up with worries and anxiety, journaling about the things that weigh heavy on your heart can help you work through exactly what’s upsetting you and why that is. Not only does this practice clear up mental clutter, but it also allows you to brainstorm solutions to the problem and actions you can take. If you’re a spiritual person, you might write out a prayer or intention regarding the anxiety, and for those worries that are out of your control, writing them down can be a symbolic act of letting them go.
Another opportunity for journaling at night presents itself in accountability. How did the day go? How could it have been better? Did you accomplish your goals? Did you live up to your values? This is your time for reflection – and then for setting intentions for the following day.
How to Journal in the Morning
If you decided to write in the morning, now’s the time to create your ideal morning routine. To spark inspiration, here’s our current routine:
First, we make our favorite beverage – we like a cup of water with lemon and apple cider vinegar or a golden milk latte, but fan favorites are a piping hot cup of coffee or tea. Next, we spend a few minutes clearing our mind and finding presence through meditation. The Mindfulness App, Headspace, and Calm are all extremely helpful for beginner meditation practitioners. Following meditation, we light our favorite incense (you can get our current favorite here), then read something – sometimes that’s a quote, other times it’s a chapter of an inspirational book. And then our 10-minute practice: We journal. Afterwards, we finish things off with a good workout and a nourishing breakfast.
To make this ritual more enjoyable, be sure to choose a notebook and pen or pencil that, in the words of Marie Kondo, spark joy. Do you like something small that you can throw in your purse and take with you? We love the slim profile of the classic Rollbahn ‘Note’, available in coral or blue. Do you enjoy the smooth glide and contrast of a pen on paper? Ideal for those who appreciate a nod to the long history, the Ostrich Feather Pen by Maison Margiela harkens back to a quill. For the organizational guru who appreciates a good color-coded key, a four color ballpoint pen will do the trick.
If you want to start journaling for the first time, you might find a guided journal helpful. Designed to help you focus on the positive, The Five Minute Journal is a great choice for someone who wants to experience the benefits of journaling but doesn’t have a ton of time to dedicate to the practice. For those who believe in challenging themselves every single day, a Do One Thing Every Day Journal will be the perfect fit. For those seeking to create a more mindful, positive relationship with food, The Well Journal by Rasa will guide the way. Each day includes spaces for tracking meals, sleep, gratitude, and exercise. For the evening writer who wants to achieve their goals, the Habit Journal is a quick, simple, and scientifically-backed guide to do so. Seeking a new vantage point? Let the heavens be your guide with Moon Lists, a journal intended to help you lean into nature’s flow, find order and systems outside of yourself, observe your life, and challenge your way of thinking. Finally, if you’re looking for a loose guide, the Rituals & Wellness Journal by Wilde House Paper beautifully creates space to record your daily mood, mindful rituals, wellness intentions, and free thoughts.
Now that you have the tools, all that’s left is to sit down and get started. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to remember how you got through the day without your journal.
Cover image from: unsplash.com