I once read an article that described research that showed journaling could be just as effective as therapy. As a therapist, naturally, I didn’t want to believe that, but I always remembered it. I’ve also appreciated how journaling has benefited me and most of my clients. Not everyone is a candidate for therapy; cost, convenience, process and fit are all obstacles that could prevent someone from seeking counseling. Could journaling be a realistic alternative?
What follows are a dozen benefits of developing the practice of journaling.
- Clear your mind – As a writer, it’s important to clear your mind of extraneous thoughts in order to be able to focus on your work. Julia Cameron recommends this in her book, The Artist Way. This is not only good for writers; it can help anyone. If your mind is full of thoughts that are not serving you, sometimes writing them down is all you need to do to dismiss them, creating room for you to focus on yourself and other important things.
- Create a record of your progress – Journaling can provide you with a record of your life. It can be enlightening to look back and see the progress you’ve made. You may find gut-feelings and hunches you recorded that turned out to be correct. Perhaps you’ll spot where you made a wrong turn or the best decision of your life. You might see how you were struggling—financially, for example—but since implementing a budgeting plan, you haven’t talked about money issues in years. It can be validating to see how much you have grown and how far you’ve come.
- Recognize patterns – On the flip side, you might recognize things haven’t changed much at all. You may notice things you do repeatedly that could be considered a pattern. Becoming aware of this may help you decide to do something different. For example, you may notice that every time you think a man is losing interest in you, you end the relationship. Knowing this can help you do it differently next time.
- Make plans – When fleshing out a plan, you can journal about your options and the pros and cons of each, helping you to arrive at a rational, well-informed decision about what you want to do.
- Release pent up emotions – Emotions are energy. Left unexpressed, they can literally make you sick. Failing to express what you are feeling can create stress, which can lead to hypertension, stroke and autoimmune disorders, just to name a few. Writing down your emotions is one path to removing the emotional energy from your body and onto a page. You don’t have to do anything with what you’ve written, but you can stop the emotions from poisoning you from the inside out.
- Speak your truth without damaging the relationship – When facing struggles in any kind of relationship, you can journal your version of the truth, justifying why you are right and the other person is wrong. In your private pages, tell the person off, without holding back, if it makes you feel better. This release can feel extremely satisfying. You’re not required to do anything with what you’ve written, but be careful not to leave it lying around where someone can see it.
- Gain insight into yourself and others – The sheer act of writing down what you are thinking can help you get to know yourself better. And when you are in the proper frame of mind, you can employ empathy to help you see where the other person is coming from with greater compassion and understanding.
- Document successes – Some people use their journal to document successes and accomplishments at the end of each day, just before going to sleep. It’s a great way to program your mind for positive things as you body shuts down for rest.
- Focus on gratitude – Others keep a “Gratitude Journal” to record and focus on the things they are grateful for in their day. Creating this practice can help you shift from the brain’s default programming of noticing negativity toward developing a more positive mindset.
- Explore your learning – Sometimes while reading a book or taking a class, you may want to use a journal to solidify your learning during the experience. It can become a journal of things you learned you don’t want to forget and the ideas you have for implementation of that new knowledge.
- Change your story – Have you ever noticed that you make stories up in your head, especially when things aren’t going your way? Usually the details you think up are about what other people think, feel or say about you; of course, when you do this, you imagine the worst. You can use a journal to write down a new story, one that serves you instead of one that tears you down. You’re making it up anyway… why not write something that will help you feel better?
- Search for the GLO – In every painful experience, there is an equal amount of positivity. The problem is that most people don’t know about this balance, so they stay stuck in the pain. Once you know all painful experiences have gifts, lessons and opportunities (GLO) that will balance the scales, journaling can help you search for the GLO. They won’t balance immediately—this is a process you can engage in over time, and a journal can help you unpack the positive from the negative.
Even if you’re not a writer, either as a hobby or a profession, I encourage you to check out the benefits to journaling and see if it’s a habit you’d like to develop.