What is Journaling?
Journaling is the act of writing down our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Through ‘journaling daily’ we get to capture numerous random episodes of our life from our point of view.
Writing is a means of expression but every kind of writing (whether it’s a novel or an email) is bounded by a set of rules. Can you express fully if you are already limited by a set of rules? No, of course not.
Well, guess what? Journaling is the only exception. It doesn’t limit you in any way. You can write whatever you want in a journal.
Through journaling daily, you drop off the heavy burdens of your mind by writing it out and just get on with your day.
If we want to be physically fit we exercise. In the same way, your mind needs to work out every day to stay healthy and journaling daily is the most convenient way.
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank
When you are writing down your innermost thoughts, feelings, and emotions you are no longer running from them. You are facing them head-on. So, you are consciously aware of your feelings and emotions and the thoughts that induce them. When we are self-aware, accountability comes easier. Staying mentally accountable is one of the fundamentals of mental health.
If you are doubting the power of journaling, don’t. There is scientific evidence behind it. In 2001, research by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicated that,
“expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory. These improvements, researchers believe, may in turn free up our cognitive resources for other mental activities, including our ability to cope more effectively with stress.”
In short, journaling benefits is the one-stop solution to several issues.
“Writing in a journal each day allows you to direct your focus to what you accomplished, what you’re grateful for, and what you’re committed to doing better tomorrow. Thus, you more deeply enjoy your journey each day.” — Hal Elrod
How to start journaling?
The most frequent excuse for journaling is ‘Journaling! How to start though? I don’t know’. Let’s put a stop to this excuse right now.
By the journaling definition, it has two simple necessities – a medium of writing and an open mind. You can start journaling daily at any point of your, sooner the better.
The medium of writing could be pen and paper or you can also do journaling online. There’s a pretty good range of journaling apps to choose from if you go for the second option. Nowadays, journaling online is made even easier with the use of journaling templates which includes inbuilt journaling prompts.
In my opinion, nothing beats pen and paper. If you want journaling prompts, you can either search online ( like, google journal prompts) or you can also use a journaling guide instead of a plain journal.
Our life is already crowded by so many gadgets, so we should take a break from them whenever possible. Humans are creative beings and creativity requires an organic flow. The Single tap communication style of apps is very effective and a necessity in a lot of situations but it might be restrictive where creativity is concerned.
For Journaling daily, if you can, it’s best to get back to the basics. Journaling is nothing but communication with yourself and what can be better than creating a tangible proof of it.
An open mind might be a slightly hard necessity. You might be reading this and thinking, ‘No, not for me, I have an open mind and I mostly accept who I am’.
When you start your first writing sessions you might be surprised by your sudden loss of words. At least, I was. We lead a very fast-paced life, so having unresolved issues is as common as having high blood pressure.
In the beginning, having an ‘open mind’ actually implies being open to pushing yourself. Journaling daily is a habit and like every new habit, it will be hard for the first few.
Some of the greatest journaling examples are by Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Anne Frank & so on.
You might be scared to face yourself at first, so instead of making excuses, you have to push yourself harder. If it’s too difficult, start with writing five sentences about your day regularly. After a few days, you will get familiar with the process and it will come to you naturally and I can promise it will be an amazing experience.
Why should you start journaling daily in 2020?
2020 is now and now is the best time to start. This year came topped with an abundance of difficulties. We are unprepared for each one of them and couldn’t save ourselves from getting smashed in the face. ‘ We are only humans’ as cliche as it sounds, this truth is undeniable. A constant coping mode is tiring and needs an outlet to flush away the toxins and replenish. Journal gives you that outlet.
If you aren’t convinced yet, your top 10 reasons to start journaling daily in 2020 are the following:
Is there a day where you haven’t seen yourself in a mirror? Probably no.
Mirror only gives the reflection of our outer self. Most people are aware of every curve and mole of their body.
It’s important to know the curves and alleys of our minds in the same way. A lot of us aren’t really aware of our inner selves. Journaling is the process through which you express your inner self freely. When you can express your inner self you can self reflect.
Self-reflection is the process of understanding who your inner self is and it’s intricate working. In simple terms, why do you act the way you act.
When we are angry, it’s very difficult to think but later on, when we analyze later, it’s really easy to understand why we were angry. Journaling works the same way in a larger sense. It helps you keep an account of your difficult emotions and analyzing them becomes easier.
A journaling daily is an amazing tool for your regular introspection. Analyzing our responses allows us to see what we need to work on and what are our strengths.
“If kids reflect on their days, they will become better problem-solvers of life.” – Trevor Carss
We cannot write about our feelings, thoughts, and emotions without writing about the activities in our daily life. When we are journaling daily we are bound to keep track of the amount of productive work we are doing every day.
Numerous times we have the delusion that we are giving our best to be productive while we are not. Keeping a record, helps us understand whether we are being productive.
Journaling may also help us identify specific behavior and distractions which could be the cause of our inefficient work. Once we identify them, we can always try to better ourselves.
2020 has been a terrifying year so far. A pandemic, topped with earthquakes, cyclones, and floods. Deaths of thousands of people have been represented as mere statistics every day. A human life felt so trivial in the grand scheme of things. We have been caged, paranoid, and coerced to cope with a state of helplessness for the last few months.
Yes, we have taken it all but taking it in and coping with it are two distinct concepts. Tough times never last so, by nature all of these will pass but what about the long-lasting impact it will leave behind on us?
When we are constantly living in a state of terror and helplessness, it’s very easy to enter into a state of a learned Helplessness.
Learned helplessness is the state where a person believes that they are unable to control or change a situation even when the opportunity is available because they have been constantly exposed to stressful situations in the past.
Journaling could play a key role in terror management and dealing with helplessness. When we analyze a feeling, we are no longer feeling it. So, when we are journaling daily about our scared, panicky day, we are no longer panic-stricken or scared at that point but we are understanding what induced the panic.
When we understand the reason behind terror dealing with it becomes a lot easier. Terror is an extreme form of fear. There is no existence of fear in reality. Journaling daily helps you bridge this gap.
But if you expect two write five sentences and be freed of all the fear and helplessness, you are in for disappointment. Journaling ideas is a medium for helping you but you have to do the real work.
When we are writing down our deepest fear and moments of helplessness, they stop being a vague concept accessing us from afar. That’s the power of journaling daily because when we write down everything we realize how transient each of our feelings and emotions are and they are very much up for debate.
Mental health and Well-being:
Journaling and mental well-being are intricately bound. This simple act of writing has shown huge improvements in people suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression. The power of journaling daily has several scientific evidence.
According to Grothaus (2015) while writing we are using our rational and analytical left side of the brain and also, the intuitive and imaginative right side of our brain gets to be playful and wonder. Through journaling daily we are using both the hemispheres of our brain and incorporating it in our daily life will contribute to mental health.
Through expressive writing, individuals engage in deep and meaningful writing about a traumatic or troubling event (Pennebaker and Beall, 1986)
We experience stress when we are faced with challenges, that we feel we are unprepared for. Journaling daily can reduce stress in various ways. It can be the emotional release and help you clear your mind or it could serve as the planner for the future event & so on.
Worry Journal constitutes a major aspect of journaling for anxiety. You can use the following steps to keep your worrying habits in check:
- Make a list of your worries in your journal (for a week)
- Find out the most frequent worries
- Question them or challenge them with logic
- Worrying is a habit that is not based on logical information, so chances are you will get a logical answer to most of your worries.
The phrase ‘don’t worry’ doesn’t work because it’s a generic answer. When you have a specific, logical, and objective answer to fight your worry, you might just defeat it.
Writing therapy or journaling ideas is unique because it’s you who is going through the process to arrive at the conclusion. The impact of the process makes the conclusion powerful.
Journaling daily can also help us deal with the negative self which is one of the major reasons for mental disorders.
You can jot down your negative thoughts throughout the day and then write down affirmative statements opposing them. If you keep doing this easily, opposing your negative thoughts will come naturally to you after some time.
People suffering from mental illness usually have a lot of unexpressed feelings and emotions. Journaling gives a safe space for expressing those.
Journaling for mental health cannot substitute therapy but it is an amazing medium that can be used alongside therapy or as a standalone tool.
Cognitive journaling is a new concept of journaling based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (CBT)
According to APA,
“ CBT is based on several core principles, including:
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol, and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness. Numerous research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life.”
Cognitive Journaling is developed by Richard Ragnarson ( MD, Psychiatrist). He wrote a detailed article in medium about it.
According to Richard Ragarson Cognitive Journaling aims to:
“Describe mental and external events as they appear in your consciousness, using an objective, experiential, falsifiable method.
Observe and highlight the empiric links between circumstances, thoughts/beliefs, and emotions.
Challenge your own thinking and open it up to more functional thoughts, thus feeling and behaving better.”
Cognitive Journaling is based on the ABC model of cognition. The ABC model could act like your journaling prompt.
We are journaling daily about our opinion on our feelings and therefore, it is mostly biased. Cognitive journaling intends to create an unbiased environment.
In this process, you will have to follow some journaling prompts, write down the consequence, and the activating event. After this, you derive the belief by questioning ‘what the activating event meant to you’. When you find out the belief, you challenge it by asking what proof it has, and then you also ask whether the belief is useful or not.
The last step is to find a replacement belief. You can have several replacement beliefs but you have to ensure that each of them is flexible, objective, and congruent with reality.
Example situation: ‘My mom is sick, I feel so anxious’
Consequence: I feel “anxious”
Activating event: The situation was “my mom is sick”
Belief: At that moment I thought that “what if she gets more sick”
What’s the proof that she will get sicker?
The doctors are examining her health right now so there’s no proof of it yet.
Is this belief useful? NO, it just makes me more anxious.
Replacement belief: I should just wait until the doctor finishes his check and then I will take whatever action necessary.
Is this belief, flexible, objective, and congruent with reality? Yes.
This is a very simple example to portray the process of congruent journaling. The main benefit of cognitive journaling is it helps us come out of bias loops which play an important role in distorting our thoughts.
I feel the word “Lockdown” and the feeling of isolation would always be attached to 2020. This reason is very close to my heart because I started journaling daily at the beginning of lockdown and everything I experienced in the process led up to this article.
Lockdown or not, most of us have been in a state of emotional isolation at least once in life. Emotional Isolation is a state where one feels separated from others despite having platonic and intimate relationships.
Social isolation from our friends, colleagues, or anyone else except our immediate family might have triggered a sense of emotional Isolation.
While the pandemic and the lockdown will recede with time, we will have to make an active effort to get out of this state.
Journaling to the rescue again. The state of emotional Isolation makes us feel detached and we are unable to communicate. Journaling daily helps us to communicate with ourselves.
Emotional Isolation might feel like a sense of detachment from others but it’s actually our detachment from ourselves. Hence, effective communication with ourselves could help us get out of it.
We just discussed how journaling ideas helps us in communicating with ourselves. When we effectively communicate with ourselves, we understand intention and expectations. This in turn helps us in having effective communication with others.
The habit of journaling is based on the expression. If you are expressing your intricate feelings, thoughts, emotions, and desires regularly, it’s a no brainer that you will be better in expressing yourself in everyday conversation.
So, journaling daily does not only improve our communication with ourselves it only strengthens our communication capacity as a whole.
You capture memories:
Well, you may say ‘I have my camera to capture memories’. They only your apparent memories though, they don’t capture your inner feelings and emotions.
In recent times, the ‘apparent’ memories might be heading towards superficial because of all these poses and the pressure of social media to look a particular way. (just my opinion though!)
Our mindset changes as we go through life. Some experiences have a long-lasting impact and eternally change us.
We often say ‘ wish we could just go back to those days’. Journaling daily gives you the next best thing. Even though you can’t go back to those days, you could go back to your journal of those days to see how it felt during those times. If you are into journaling art or journaling doodle you might also get some beautiful visual interpretation of your feelings.
Humans tend to see both their past and future in rose-tinted glass, especially when we reach middle age. Journaling helps us capture realistic memories and also makes us realize that our so-called “cherished days” had difficulties of their own, much like we have today. This process might eliminate the rose-tinted and help our thoughts to be more congruent with reality.
This might seem random in this long list of reasons. Well, it’s not. Can you surely say that you have never been confused while making a decision? No, right?
Decisions have consequences and we want to avoid a bad consequence at all costs. So, we two consider as many scenarios as possible before making a decision. When you are journaling daily, you have a written record of your past self’s experience and mistake patterns.
You can study your mistake pattern of the past while making a decision and that might help you with similar situations in the present.
The only catch here is, you have to be careful of the bias. Since you are evaluating your own behavior, there’s always a chance of bias. Then again, there are very few in this world without bias. Overall, your past self could be a great help to your present decision making.
Freedom of expression:
I have used the word expression probably a hundred times already. Freedom of expression deserves it’s own point because it is special. The freedom a journal gives you is not only more than any other writing form but also more than the freedom in any relationship throughout life.
You can express yourself without any limits and this freedom plays a key role in relaxation. Relaxation comes with a sense of control. When everything in life feels like spiraling out of control, journaling gratitude could be your sanctuary.
“Paper is more patient than man”- Anne Frank
Friendship is probably the most beautiful relationship but many friends do we stay connected with throughout our life? Not many. For sure, a number we can count with our fingers.
A journal could be your most sustainable friend. A friend that expects nothing yet listens to you patiently. In a world crowded with trust, what wouldn’t we give to get a trustable companion?
So, what are you waiting for? Pick up your journal today!