10 Ways Journaling Will Transform Your Life
Last Updated: Feb 03, 2016
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hand writes with a pen in a notebook
If you want to connect with your higher purpose, spark creativity or organize your life, a journal can help you do it all. A journal can play the role of a therapist or a good friend by creating a space for you to simply be you and express yourself. There’s something very liberating about a blank sheet of paper. Whether you doodle and sketch cartoons, scribble daily reminders or pour your heart out onto the pages is up to you. To get started, purchase a new journal (or dig out that unused one that’s been in your desk drawer forever). Conner Habib, a Los Angeles-based author and writing coach, recommends getting a pen and journal specifically for the purpose. Now get started! The rules are: There are no rules, only tips and techniques (like in the following slides) to help you get started on your journaling journey. Read on to discover how journaling can help you shape the life you want along with guidance to get started.
blank notebook with pencil on wooden table - still life
IGNITE YOUR VISION
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Life is not about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” Perhaps you’re seeking a new profession or have personal or fitness goals, but you’re not sure how to get started. A blank journal page is an ideal canvas to explore and reflect. HOW TO GET STARTED: Douglas Polster, a sports neuropsychologist and performance consultant, recommends getting started by listing everything you’d like to do, even if it’s outside the box of what you’re currently doing. From there you can explore each one in more depth, noticing how it feels, what the pros and cons are, what it would require to get started and if you’re willing to go on that journey. “It’s like throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks,” he says. Another tactic is to connect to your heart to dive deeper into what you’re truly searching for at the core. Oftentimes, when we desire something, the reason is more deeply rooted than we may think. Be still and breathe for three to five minutes to connect to your heart. Ask your heart, “What do I want?” Record the response on each line. Then reflect on what you wrote. This exercise can help you move forward with your vision as your actions are intrinsically tied to a deeper, more heartfelt reason.
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IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
One of the first studies on expressive writing was performed in 1986. College students wrote about the most traumatic or upsetting experiences of their lives for 15 minutes on four consecutive days, while those in the control group wrote about superficial topics (such as an object). Researchers James Pennebaker and Sandra Beall from Southern Methodist University discovered that those who wrote about their deepest feelings reported improved mental and physical health. Some of the long-term physical health benefits researchers noted were improved immune system functioning, fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, improved blood pressure and improved liver and lung function. Positive psychological outcomes include fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms, improved mood and a greater sense of psychological well-being. HOW TO GET STARTED: Typical writing instructions used in the study are as follows: For four consecutive days for 15 minutes, write your deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experiences of your entire life or an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.
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EMBARK ON SELF-DISCOVERY
In today’s modern world full of gadgets that track our every step, we may think that we’re gaining a better understanding of ourselves, but that’s only on the physical level. What about the inner workings of the mind? “We live in a culture that is hyper-concerned with tracking every move. What did I do from 6:30 to 6:45 a.m. today? What did I eat? How did I feel? What exercises did I do? What was the duration of each rep? I don’t think this tracking is all that healthy,” says writing coach Conner Habib. “It can lead us away from thinking and into mere obsessive recording of every external event. Journaling is at its most useful when it moves us away from obsessive tracking and instead gives space to externalize inner life. Journaling should move us away from detailing what happens in the outside world of things and habits and toward the inner aspect of our lives -- the events that happen in our thinking. That’s where it starts to become really powerful.” HOW TO GET STARTED: To discover more about yourself and get in touch with the inner workings of your mind, sports neuropsychologist Douglas Polster recommends starting with bullet points, words or phrases you enjoy, and then seeing where they take you. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Put pen to paper and let it flow.
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RETAIN MORE INFORMATION
Have you ever read a book and tried to summarize the information for a friend, but you just couldn’t seem to pull out the key points? You make an attempt and then end the conversation with, “Well, you just have to read it!” Journaling while you read can help you retain the information and actually make use of it. “Journaling while I read slows me down,” says writing coach Conner Habib. “A profound book (and sometimes even a bad book) can send my mind in a million directions. Journaling helps me follow as many of those directions as I’d like. It lets me really encounter the thoughts that come up while I’m reading and to pursue them. Without a journal at hand, I often skip past the things I’d normally want to think about.” HOW TO GET STARTED: According to a study in Intech, “The movements involved when handwriting leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps the person recognize letters and establish a connection between reading and writing.” In another 2014 study, a group of UCLA college students listened to the same lecture and were tested on the information. Researchers found that those who took notes longhand did significantly better.
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Experience is the best teacher, but new research shows that doing can be more effective if it’s accompanied with reflection. Setting aside 15 minutes to reflect and write at the end of your workday can improve performance. In one study, participants wrote what went well that day and what didn’t. The employees that recorded their thoughts reported 23 percent higher performance. HOW TO GET STARTED: At the end of the workday or before going to sleep, record what went well that day and where there’s room for improvement. Perhaps record a few action steps you’d like to implement the next day and see if you get different results.
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GET YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER
Between work, workouts, social obligations and family matters, life can feel extremely overwhelming at times. According to Psychology Today, “Too much information freezes our brain’s dynamic frontal lobe capacity to engage in clear thinking and discerning decision making.” Taking time out of your busy schedule to analyze what’s actually on your schedule for the day and how you plan to tackle it allows you to be more intentional with each day. HOW TO GET STARTED: “Ask yourself: ‘What is my morning going to look like? What is my afternoon going to look like? What would I like to accomplish throughout the day? It works much better than making it up as you go along throughout the day?” says sports neuropsychologist Douglas Polster. In the morning, jot down your schedule, where you need to be at what time, your top three to five priorities and what must get done today to feel satisfied. For example, make an important phone call, meet a deadline or make it to your workout.
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SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY
The creative process can be tricky. Sometimes it’s flowing -- and sometimes it’s not. The good news is you can turn the creative faucet back on with a few noteworthy journaling techniques like non-dominant handwriting. Using your non-dominant hand activates the right brain, which is known to be home to visual processing, imagination and creativity. Sure, your penmanship may not be fantastic, but the thoughts, emotions and words that come out on paper may be a work of art. HOW TO GET STARTED: To take it to the next level, take your journaling outdoors and get moving. Carry a pen and small notebook in your pocket when you’re on a walk in nature. Some of the best ideas come when you’re moving, getting oxygen to your brain and creating space for thoughts to flow more freely. Another way to spur inspiration when you seem to have lost the creative spark is to write morning pages. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” recommends writing three notebook-size pages in a stream-of-consciousness style in the morning. This can serve as a “mental dump” if you feel stressed or creatively blocked, or it can be a guide for further self-exploration.
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ENHANCE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
It can be difficult to keep your cool when you feel frustrated or angry with a friend, co-worker or significant other. Instead of getting all fired up and saying things you may regret, make a habit of writing them in a journal. HOW TO GET STARTED: Sports neuropsychologist Douglas Polster recommends writing a journal entry as if it were a letter to that person -- or perhaps writing a letter to yourself. What would you like to say? Why is it important for it to be verbalized, felt and understood? What would you like to happen? Journaling about the situation and what you would like to say can help you gain more clarity and perhaps more empathy for yourself or the other parties involved, even though you never actually write or speak to them about it. You’ve resolved the issue within yourself for your own peace of mind. Or it can help you organize your thoughts before you do approach them for a conversation. That way, you can be direct and compassionate in your communication.
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REDUCE ANXIETY AND STRESS
Suppressing emotions can be very harmful psychologically as well as physically. You can get stuck in a traumatic experience from the past or become fearful of the future. When this happens, you tend to relive the experience or imagine the fear over and over again, causing your body to release the same chemicals as if it were actually happening (adrenaline and cortisol, for example). This can lead to debilitating pain and stress-related diseases. HOW TO GET STARTED: When you feel stressed, it’s important to have an outlet; a safe place to share your emotions and let go. Sports neuropsychologist Douglas Polster uses a technique called “worry it out.” He advises his patients to take 30 minutes a day to stress (if needed). “Write it down, visualize those negative thoughts coming out of your head, through the pen and onto the paper, and let them go,” he says. When your 30 minutes is up, that’s it! Time to move on from the worry and stress.
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EXPRESS GRATITUDE AND SELF-APPRECIATION
Numerous studies show that the simple act of being thankful can boost your health and happiness. For some it can be difficult to think about the things they’re grateful for or when they do something they’re truly proud of. But just as working toward self-improvement is important, so is self-appreciation. Noticing the small wins can help you stay motivated and cultivate confidence. HOW TO GET STARTED: Each day write down things you’re grateful for, and don’t forget to include things about yourself!
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you currently keep a journal? What other ways do you express yourself? How has journaling helped you transform your life? What differences do you notice on days when you journal versus days you don’t? Do you track a certain goal, record your thoughts or write down your hopes and dreams? What else do you use your journaling time for? Share your thoughts, stories and suggestions in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
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