Enhance Life

Keeping a Journal to Enhance Your Life (& the World)

You don’t have to be a famous politician or an aspiring poet to keep a journal. Spending some time writing on a daily basis can boost your motivation, help with conditions such as depression or insomnia, and have vast, life-enhancing benefits. And if you ever become famous, you’ll have plenty of material to draw on for your biography …

Personal benefits of keeping a journal

Writing – get into the habit. If you’re keen on any form of writing – from short stories to blog posts – then keeping a journal can help establish the habit of writing on a regular basis. Knowing that no-one but you will read your words means you needn’t worry about making them perfect. Some people prefer to write in a journal first thing in the morning, whilst fresh; others record their thoughts about the day just before bed.

Insight – learn about yourself. We learn about the world outside us by reading, but we learn about the world inside by writing. If you keep a journal for any length of time, you’ll surprise yourself – especially if you look back over previous weeks and months. What topics obsess you? What patterns can’t you break? What resolutions do you constantly make on a Monday, only to have forgotten by Friday…? You could even use your journal to discover what your dream career is.

Catharsis – work through problems. When faced with hard decisions that have to be made, writing can help solve them, giving you fresh ideas and perspectives. The result might only be that you accept the difficult times … or it might be that you realize a whole new aspect to the situation. Like having a good cry, writing in a journal is cathartic, leaving you calmer and feeling more able to deal with things.

Achievements – look back on what you’ve done. Sometimes, we look back on the weeks and months and wonder what actually happened. Were we just living on auto-pilot? If time seems to slip away from you, write down what you’ve achieved, on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s being entrusted with a new project at work, passing an exam, taking a new class, starting a project like a blog, a novel, a painting… Whenever you feel that you’ve not had a very successful month or year, read back over your journal.

Public benefits of keeping a journal

Record – your life and times. You may never become famous, but if you do, your journal (or excerpts from it) could well be published. You could even become well-known because of your journal. Think of the most famous diarist, Samuel Pepys; a 17th century Member of Parliament in the UK whose writings are now a hugely valuable source for historians … and an entertaining read for anyone interested in British history.

Gift – for future generations. Perhaps your daily life seems humdrum and routine to you – but in fifty years’ time, it could be fascinating to your children and grandchildren. Just think how much life has changed since the 1950s … The clothes, entertainment, technology, food, politics and attitudes of today are all likely to be radically different in a few decades time. By investing a little effort in keeping a journal now, you could have something wonderful to pass on to descendents in the future.

Ways to keep a journal

Pen and paper. This method has served dedicated journalers down the centuries: the humble pen and paper. Buy yourself a gorgeous notebook with lined pages, and a proper fountain pen – you’ll invest more time and emotion in your writing if you have good materials. Scribbling in scratchy pen on a cheap pad just isn’t the same.

If you normally use a computer to write, do try writing by hand instead. You can take your journal anywhere (in the garden, in bed, in the bath), and having your words in a weighty, physical form makes them much more concrete than pixels on a screen.

Software. There are numerous software packages available designed for journal keeping. The advantage of digitalizing your journal is that you can tag entries, and easily search through it for phrases or words. And, if you ever do get that high-powered position in the public eye, publishing your memoirs will be all the easier…

However, typing can have a slightly distancing effect – and it’s too easy to delete. One of the best things about journaling is capturing all those odd, half-formed or not-quite-right thoughts that come out, so resist the temptation to go back and editing them away.

Don’t keep your journal as a blog. You’ll constantly be holding back, conscious of having an audience to impress or entertain, and you’ll lose most of the benefits of journaling. Keep your words for you alone, whilst writing them; if you choose to share them in future years, you can.

Your turn to write…

Try keeping a journal for a week, writing every day for at least ten minutes. Stick to it even when you think you have nothing to say, when you’re tired, when there are hundreds of distractions clamoring for your time. After a week, see what effect it’s had.

And if you already keep a journal, or if you’ve done so in the past, why not let us know us some of the benefits that it’s had for you?

 

This was a guest post by Ali Hale, a freelance writer and web creator who — amongst other things — runs The Office Diet, a blog on healthy living for busy people.

Image by Windy Angels.

  • Lorna

    Great article! Its sometimes hard to keep up a journal but with tips like these, it won’t be long before everyone is scribbling happily!

  • http://experimentsinliving.wordpress.com Kate Saltfleet

    I have kept journals at various times in my life, but not for several years now, since starting full time work. Maybe it’s time to have another go.

    • Laurie

      Jounals are great. I have used one to record the little things in life that I was grateful for. My next journal will be to write about all the ways I see God moving in my life.

      • http://www.aliventures.com Ali

        Hi Laurie,

        I think that’s a great use for a journal. I kept one during a bit of a “crisis of faith” time as a student, and found that writing about my doubts, fears, questionings and so on really helped me to work through them. I also find writing down prayers helps me to focus.

  • http://www.varsityblah.com/about Eugene (Editor, Varsity Blah)

    I’ve been writing in my journal almost everyday since I was 15 (which was over 8 years ago). I recently read through every entry I ever wrote and was really quite amazed to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned. Socrates was right: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

  • http://shanelyang.com/blogs/articles/ Shanel Yang

    Hey Ali – Another great post! I love keeping and diary and have done so off and on — mostly on — since at least junior high school. I wish I kept them, though. I purged them one after the other while I was growing up for fear of others (mostly my family) reading them. It would be so great to have them now to reread my own history from so many different developmental stages.

    I also wrote about the benefits of diarying and some surprising celebrities who kept/keep them at:

    http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/16/10-reasons-to-keep-a-diary/

    and about some specific questions to ask yourself in your diary at:

    http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/17/20-questions-for-your-diary/

  • http://onebagnation.wordpress.com/ Ann at One Bag Nation

    I’ve never developed the habit of keeping a journal for any length of time. I find it tedious to write and unbearable to read again later!

    My blog is a journal of sorts; I hoped that writing it would help me reach my goal of achieving order, serenity and peace of mind in my life. But it’s not as personal as a private journal would be.

  • http://www.improvedlives.com Stu | Improved Lives

    There have actually been scientific studies done on the practice of keeping a journal (specifically on journaling about positive thing that happened during the day and things you feel gratitude for) and it does have many psychological benefits, which I’ve written about here: http://www.improvedlives.com/2008/05/15/increase-your-happiness-2-quick-and-easy-exercises/

    I really like some of your reasons for keeping a proper journal though Ali. I never really thought about it from a future historical perspective, but 20 years from now it might be nice to look up a journal entry from this point in time, kind of like a mini time capsule.

  • http://jaydipmehta.blogspot.com Jaydip Mehta

    Very good post. I have started writing my thoughts in journals 6 months back. I am not so regular, but I am planning to do that on everyday basis. By journling I was able to be more aware of my thought patterns. When I read back my journal, I become aware to fact that, ‘Most of my thoughts are within circle of concern’.

  • http://www.onsimplicity.net Sara

    I do haiku journaling and get a lot of benefits. It’s fast, easy and fun. And like you mentioned, Ali, it does offer amazing insight. When I read them back months later, some of the stupidest, silliest entries have more meaning for me than I realize.

    • http://www.theofficediet.com Ali from The Office Diet

      That’s a really interesting idea! I’ve seen haiku blogs but never thought of a haiku journal…

  • life story lady

    Thanks for the great article on journaling. I’m an off and on again journaler, also, but like reading back through them, seeing how I’ve changed, my life has changed, etc.

    I really appreciate the section on using a journal as a Gift for Future Generations. As a Personal Historian and writer, I’m a strong believer in everyone writing their life story – no matter what your age or situation. Yes, most people do think their lives are boring, but Ali made an excellent point: the way we live now will be so strange 50 or 100 years from now. And, our descendants will be interested in how we lived and what we did. I helped my grandmother write her life story, and the finished book is my greatest treasure. The next generations will feel the same way about our stories.

    If it sounds interesting to you, check out my blog at http://www.lifestorylady.typepad.com. I’ve just started it, but will be giving a weekly exercise relating to an important life event, that you can write on.

    And as you journal, you’ll be recording all those important events that you can use in your memoirs when you’re ready! Happy writing!

  • http://thebigmanwalking.blogspot.com BigManWalking

    Some of us are becoming more comfortable writing on the web. I guess my Big Man Walking blog is a journal of my walking to improve my health. I’ve shared some things personal and some not so much. I found this site because of this search on Mixx -
    http://www.mixx.com/business

    and I have more to say because I’ve been blogging here:
    http://THEBigManWalking.blogspot.com

  • http://freeflowlife.net Simon Hill

    Thanks Ali for a great article. I have a journal but have not been writing in it daily. I’ve experienced some of the benefits you’ve described though so am going to give your challenge of journaling for a week a go.

    Cheers

    Simon

    • http://www.aliventures.com Ali

      Really pleased I’ve inspired you to give it a try, Simon! Hoping you’ll come back in a week to let us know how it goes…

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  • http://thevoiceswith.in rampantheart

    Well, I have a journal that I update often but not everyday. I personally feel keeping a handwritten journal helps me more than a digitalised version. I have a personal digitalised version as well but mostly record my emotions in the web journal and my productivity level in the handwritten one. That way, I am able to lead a balanced life. From this New year on, I will try to maintain a journal that records day-day events. Who knows? I might be famous one day! :D

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  • Suki

    I’ve been keeping a journal since the ninth grade, and I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been. It’s practically become my addiction. Without it, I know for sure that I would succumb to the overwhelming stress in my life. And it also keeps my pen-and-paper skills up to scratch. :) Great article.

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