In December of 2019 I bought a journal.
It was a small and simple journal, around $12 from Target. Seemed sturdy, reliable, could fit in my bag with ease. My main issue with the purchase was grounded in self doubt- I mean, how many journals did I have at home with one or two pages filled, only to be neglected within a bookshelf of books I still haven’t read? So I made a promise to myself.
I’d do my best to write once a day, even if it was just one sentence, every single day. And if I could do that, I’d never stop journaling.
The idea occurred to me while I was taking David Sedaris’ Storytelling Masterclass during the slow months of winter (yes, people actually take those). He’s kept a journal for decades and urges people to keep a journal for many reasons. For creative material yes, but also to acknowledge our own stories more. We can grow from our experiences by re-reading our journal entries. It’s remarkable just how many opportunities to grow we miss just because we felt it was a passing thought, a small interaction, a forgotten memory.
At first, it was difficult. I didn’t really know what to write or what was important information to include. I got tripped up on “introducing” myself and the need to clarify who I was writing about. I’d give unnecessary historical context despite knowing that I was the only person who’d ever be reading it. However, similar to cardio exercise, it was one of those things that I just kept doing and didn’t stop. Were the entries that first month anything close to resembling literature? Absolutely not, at points it even read like the ramblings of a mad man. But I still did it every day, and over time I knew what I needed to actually focus on and where to enhance the little details.
Eventually, all of the pages were filled.
Nowadays I’ve upgraded to a moleskin and still manage to write something down every day. Some days it’s as simple as a short list of things I wish were true, others it’s the actual events of my life. The one trend throughout all pages is that I always focus on what I did that day and how it made me feel, like a one-sided conversation with a silent therapist with absolutely no input. But that’s where I’ve found the realization that everyone should be routinely journaling. Why?
The power of personal accountability.
Eventually, I got an actual therapist and during our first session together I mentioned that I keep a daily journal. She was ecstatic, partially due to her job apparently being much easier (which I get) but also because it made my life easier, too.
“Keeping a journal is one of the first things I recommend to my patients,” she explained. “Not only does it make it so much easier to understand where feelings stem from, it also just helps us stay accountable. How about you go back and highlight patterns. Recurring thoughts, trends, habits you may not be aware of. We can discuss those.”
I thought I’d done the hard part already by keeping a journal but the real work came much later. At this point I had almost a year of content about my daily operations and once I looked back I immediately pinpointed what things in my life could be improved upon. Wow, I really suck at going to bed on time (during stressful periods at work) or Yeesh, I drink too much (when I have too much free time). Certain self-doubting sentences repeated time and time again, failed dietary intentions and grocery plans, missed goals spread throughout the pages.
But with the bad there is always the good. I noticed a ton of progress within my writing style, hobbies outside of work began to flourish, I got much better at articulating my emotions and communicating healthily with my friends. It compelled me to get therapy and start being more mindful regarding taking care of my body. It was as if I was meeting my current self for the first time and I had all of the power to influence future journal entries to be positive ones.
If I held myself accountable.
When you’re honest about recording your life you start to notice the patterns you’d prefer to not be patterns. You can easily recognize what causes you to make poor decisions and it’s simple to see which goals and aspirations are more realistically attained than others. Journaling is humbling and in one of the best ways possible, but that is far from the only benefit that consistent journaling can provide.
As a recently converted journaller, I think that everyone should have a journal. Let’s explore some of the many reasons why.
Benefits of Journaling
- Memory Improvement: Do you ever ask yourself, “Where has the time gone?” I know that I have, but definitely less so since I started writing about each day. Journaling can be very beneficial toward those that tend to let things slip mentally. A Cambridge study on the physical health effects of journaling mentions that “the beneficial effect of expressive writing is the development of a coherent narrative over time, increasing cognitive processing of the experiences.”
- Therapeutic Benefits: Emotions can be a tough thing to manage, especially during exceptionally stressful points in our lives. Recording our turbulent experiences allows us to gain focus on what the actual issues are and help simplify the problem to find a solution. Our moods tend to be much more positive when we have a long-term relationship with writing our thoughts down, probably due to how stress relieving and cathartic the process can be.
- Physical Accountability: Not only does journaling help you mentally, but creative writing has proven to have many physical advantages as well. That same Cambridge study found that after four months of consistent journaling, most patients displayed reduced blood pressure, less stress-related visits to the doctor, and improved immune system functioning. You may be reading this because you’re interested in getting healthier through the amazing programs offered at Rise Over Run Fitness. Keeping a journal is a great tool for physical wellness, too. Recording our workouts, gym goals, and meal plans can help build steady consistency in our fitness journeys.
Tips for Getting into Journaling
- Get a journal you’re comfortable working with. I originally struggled to keep a journal because I don’t really enjoy writing at night. So I made sure to get a journal that could fit in my bag and was small enough that I could quickly jot ideas down at any point throughout the day. If you’re vibing in the digital age, there are even apps like Daylio and Five Minute Journal that you can download to get started. You’ll be using this thing every day, so get a journal that you know will set you up for success.
- Don’t limit yourself on material. Your journal can be absolutely whatever you want it to be, the goal is to simply maintain consistency. Wanna use it as a weekly planner? Go for it. Fitness journal? You wouldn’t be the first. A meal planner? Sounds great. Don’t get bogged down by the “Dear Diary…” school crush imagery we tend to resort to when people talk about having a journal.
- Be honest about the details. Going back and re-reading our journals is a great way to recognize our progress, set-backs, and motivations. So make sure to be honest with yourself and not hold back anything out of shame. That’s a little thing called denial, and it’s not like anyone is likely to read your journal anyway. Unless you have the worst roommate ever, it’s all worth including.
- Start small and work your way into it. This is your journal, not a paid-per-word Charles Dickens novel. Focus on major points and events and then elaborate as you see fit. Don’t let yourself burn out just because you were focusing too much on having “enough” content. You can use doodles, lists, paragraphs, whatever works for you will work for you. Just as long as you try to journal for at least a few minutes every single day.
Personal accountability is paramount to finding success in our wellness missions. Journaling allows us to recognize where self-discipline is more necessary and also helps us stay more in line with our inner wishes. It may not feel natural at first, but if you keep writing your thoughts down you’ll be one step closer to maintaining personal accountability and achieving your goals one journal entry at a time.