Keeping A Journal Will Start 2019 Right and Change Your Life (It’s Science!)
Ah, we’re kicking off another New Year, and most of us have resolutions coming out of our ears. Exercise. Eat better. Be a good friend. Sleep before the sun rises. I know the gist. And I also know New Year’s resolutions have a high failure rate, because we always get ahead of ourselves, feel overwhelmed, and give up. We recently discussed how mindfulness can help you tackle that by bringing your energy and focus to the present moment and the process of change here. Mindfulness is a perspective, a frame of mind, a way of being. It’s something you develop, cultivate, strengthen. How?
A very popular method of increasing your ability to be mindful is ‘mindfulness meditation’ which has incredible secondary benefits for your health we’ve talked about right here. Simply having the intention to be mindful is also a great start, bringing your attention as often as you can to the ways you are presently being (or not being) mindful in your behaviour and thoughts. Sometimes, challenging yourself to a ‘mindfulness boot camp’ can be a spectacular way to get your mindfulness-muscle flexing. Here is 7 Days of Mindful Action to do just that. But there’s still another way to help you develop your mindfulness: journaling.
Mindfulness is usually not an intended result of journaling; it’s simply a happy by-product. You become more mindful when you journal consciously (intentionally). But there are other benefits to journaling too (which may or may not also be associated to mindfulness). In fact, journaling is the perfect way to keep yourself on track throughout the year. Studies have found that people who do expressive writing through their journaling got sick less, had lower blood pressure and better liver function. This is presumably in part because you are processing your emotions rather than repressing them, checking in with yourself in an ongoing way, and reflecting on your experiences.
Rachel Grate, in her 2015 Mic article, Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Journal, highlighted some particularly interesting research about journaling. She shares that:
- “James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing at the University of Texas at Austin, has found that when we translate an experience or secret into language by writing it down, we essentially make the experience graspable.”
- “Writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational,” Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert, told Fast Company. “While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
- “Journal therapy is all about using personal material as a way of documenting an experience, and learning more about yourself in the process,” Kathleen Adams, a psychotherapist and author of Journal to the Self, told the Huffington Post. “It lets us say what’s on our minds and helps us get — and stay — healthy through listening to our inner desires and needs.”
Pretty great, right? Your journal is both your therapist and friend, always available, and lacking in judgment. It lets you free up space inside yourself, and learn how to stay in an ongoing self-reflexive relationship with yourself. You are able to mindfully observe yourself through your journaling, to notice your patterns, to unleash your creativity through your own process of inner dialogue. Here is a quick little summary on how to journal for self-growth:
So, journaling really can change your life- because it helps you stay emotionally balanced, self-aware, and actively engaged with the process of your own unfolding and growth. It’s hard to fall asleep at the wheel and forget your focus and intentions when you are continuously listening to your inner voice! Now that the argument has been exhaustively made, here are 4 easy journaling suggestions for you:
1. One-Sentence Journal
The first thing I’ll say about this one is that it’s super fun to get to the end of the year and have 365 sentences that highlight each day of your entire year. I’ll also say if writing is not your thing yet, and you simply feel you don’t have enough time, this is the perfect type of journaling for you. You very literally write one sentence. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has been keeping a one-sentence journal for more than 10 years, and finds that just the single line keeps memories vivid, acknowledges the daily moments that matter, and because of this, actually makes us happier. So why not try it? Write down one-sentence every evening before you sleep that best encapsulates your day, or a specific memory from the day. Do it for a week, or a month, then see if you want to make a year of it!
2. Gratitude Journal
When we’ve talked about deep self-care (and indeed, when other authors and researchers have too), gratitude always takes the prize. Let’s direct-quote the highlights of gratitude from our previous blog on the topic :
“1- It makes you happier! Studies support this (Harvard has a famous one). How? It’s actually quite simple. Drawing your mind’s attention to a specific focus repeatedly creates new brain pathways. These pathways become natural positive routes your thinking patterns take.
2- This focus also calms the ‘monkey mind’. Have you heard of it? Wandering and swinging from branch to branch? Your mind hops from one thought to another, musing on the past, the future, and everything in between. Being in the present moment increases happiness, and actually helps reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms (this takes us back to mindfulness).
3- A direct link has been made between a gratitude practice and increased production of dopamine and serotonin. More happy hormones= more happiness.
4- The gratitude practice acts as a healthy and protective touchstone that you can reach for in difficult moments. When you reach for it, you activate points 1 through 3, disrupting the cycle of thoughts and feelings washing over you, even if just for a few moments.”
A gratitude journal is the perfect ‘gratitude practice’. You can start or end your day with it. You can choose to write one single sentence (again) that specifically states something you are grateful for that day (The delicious coffee? The phone call with so-and-so? The subway not breaking down?). You can also choose to have a list of 3 things you are grateful for each day. Make it work for you!
3. Prompt Journal
This is exactly what it sounds like. You pick a ‘prompt’, which is used to trigger an association of thoughts you then write down! One that I have recently used is ‘What lies beneath…’. I read the prompt, set a timer on my phone, and write for three minutes straight. The amazing thing is that you often end up uncovering some really unexpected stuff, and after doing this for a series of days, or weeks, looking back on these can be pretty amazing. Here and here are some great journal prompt ideas to get you started.
4. Morning Pages
Last but not least, morning pages, popularized by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, are:
“…three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not overthink Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
Trust me, you’ll fill those three pages fast! Check out more about Julia Cameron and morning pages right here.
Well that’s it for now, folks! We suggest buying yourself a journal you love to look at; it’ll inspire you. Keep it next to your bed! And before you go, try this directive strategic self-reflection exercise to get your journaling feet wet and start your year off on the perfect note!
If you’re already a journaling connoisseur, share your experiences in the comments! It will help others, and we always love hearing from you.