Imagine the quality of a relationship with a partner, spouse, or significant other in which you rarely check in to see how the other person is doing. Or one in which you rarely let the other person know, honestly, how you are doing. Would you expect such a relationship to work in the long run? Bring out the best in each of you? Be fulfilling?
Now consider that the only life partner you’ll have for life is yourself. Regular checking in is essential. And journaling, I have found, is a great avenue for doing this.
Here are five key benefits of making it a practice:
1. Keeping in Touch with Yourself
In a world with endless distractions, and sometimes endless demands, it is all too easy to lose sight of our own thoughts, feelings, preferences, deeper needs and priorities. Journaling provides a vehicle for checking in with yourself on a regular basis to assess these things. When the day gets going, most of us – most of the time – are just responding unconsciously to the task at hand that’s calling for our attention. Journaling creates an opening for our more conscious selves to have their say. It gives us the space to tune in to what actually matters to us, important things worthy of our consideration that might otherwise slip through the cracks. These things might not appear urgent (and are therefore easy to dismiss in the moment), but what if we never addressed them? What would our lives end up looking like?
2. Increasing Self-Knowledge
This is a natural extension of #1 above. By checking in regularly, we get to know ourselves a lot better. We become more aware of our own patterns, habits, tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Self-knowledge alone will not create a desired change, but it is the necessary first step, and it can help tremendously with making smarter decisions. For instance, if you know from observed experience that you won’t exercise without a partner to whom you are accountable, then you can be proactive in finding such a partner as a means of motivating yourself to keep on track with a fitness goal. If you want to lose weight but know yourself well enough to know you are unlikely to resist the temptation of ice cream in the freezer, you can make the conscious decision to not bring it in the house. If you know that you need solitude in order to get some writing done, you can plan accordingly rather than just hope that the time and space will come your way. You may feel that you already know yourself well enough to know these kinds of things without journaling. But human beings (or hominids, as I like to refer to us) are complex, multifaceted, ever-evolving creatures. And I find, personally, that self-discovery and self-understanding are both very much ongoing journeys, and that I can often use reminders about those things I already “know” about myself.
3. A Tipping Point for Change
There are a number of ways in which journaling can help facilitate change/decision-making. As noted in #2 above, self-knowledge is key. But also, if you find yourself complaining about the same thing(s) over and over again, or yearning for the same thing(s) over and over again in your journal, you might actually be moved to finally do something about it as a result. I have found over and over again that the simple act of writing down goals – in list form, or otherwise – is the first step in realizing them. It might require writing the thing down more than once – many times, even – but writing things down is powerful. A journal provides a safe space to brainstorm, to dare to dream about things, and to explore possibilities for yourself. It can literally be the tipping point for making those decisions, small and large, that shape your life. By making such decisions more consciously, with deeper reflection and consideration, and from a space where you are more in tune with what’s important to you, you increase the odds of your life being more to your liking, and less filled with regret.
4. Developing Your Intuition
A journal is a place to record your thoughts and feelings about anything and everything. It heightens your powers of observation. By recording an impression on paper, you are more likely to pay attention to it and keep it in mind.
Do you like or dislike the way a particular person is treating you? Do you notice a pattern with this person’s reliability or lack thereof? You might get a better sense of what you can expect from him/her, and can decide more consciously to what extent you want to include this person in your life. (You can also reflect back on your own behavior and see the way(s) in which you can act with greater integrity to improve your relationships with others on your end.)
One of the cool things about a journal is that you can refer back to previous entries to remind yourself of what/where/when events in your life occurred. By looking back at previously recorded thoughts and impressions you can gauge, in hindsight, how astute you were or were not about a given person or situation, and perhaps hone your skills of perception as a result.
5. A Validation of Your Existence
I write, therefore I am! A journal is a place to record the happenings of your life. A way to chronicle your activities, adventures, interests and passions, meaningful interactions and conversations, ideas, progress, regress, milestones, insights, and experiences. It can be a private container for your struggles and victories, both internal and external. It is a way to document those little details you would likely never otherwise remember when reflecting back years later. It can allow you, over time, to bear witness to the events of your life, and note the ways in which you have made big changes as well as the ways in which you have remained essentially the same.
By flipping through old journals, you can revisit the past in (perhaps) extraordinary detail, and marvel at how rich life is in the variety and quantity of your everyday experiences. You can see with the benefit of hindsight how limited (or perhaps visionary!) your perspective may have been, and it can serve as a reminder that just when you think you have it all figured out and that nothing will ever change, you never know what unpredictable bit of kismet is lurking just around the corner and how much your world can open up with the introduction of a single new idea, book, experience, person, or blog post(!) into your life story.
A journal is a way to prove that you were here. You’ve lived. You’ve done things.
My Experience of Journaling
I have journaled in one form or another, on and off, for many years. It has been, and continues to be, an essential tool for me in:
– Following the promptings of my heart.
– Being a student/explorer of my life and of Life.
– Giving myself needed pep talks.
– Living more creatively, more daringly, more passionately, and more compassionately.
– Crystallizing and clarifying what is and is not important to me, and therefore what is and is not worth my time and energy.
– Processing the events of my life.
What is the ideal amount of journaling to do, in terms of time and frequency? Only you can figure that out for yourself, but I think daily or near-daily is best. Like so many other things, it is a practice. And as with any practice, you can significantly alter the trajectory of your life by doing it regularly. But consistency is key: you’ll get out of it what you put into it.
Making the time and space for journaling in your life is a gesture of self-respect, self-love, and self-kindness. It is a unique way of attending to yourself – a gift that only you can give yourself – and it only costs as much as the pens and notebooks (or computer) you use, and the time you devote to it. I, personally, am grateful for what journaling has done for me, and I highly recommend it for all of the above reasons.
I imagine that most reading this are likely to know all of this already – I’ve said nothing new here. So consider this a friendly reminder, and if it prompts even one of my fellow hominids to start or restart a journaling practice, and reap the benefits of it as I have, then writing this post will have been time especially well spent. 🙂