Why Keep a Journal and How to Go About It

Writing regularly in a journal has a surprising number of potential benefits, including: venting negative emotions, boosting positive emotions, reframing a bad day or experience, providing personal insights and inspiring creativity. It was learning more about the power of journalling during my training in wellbeing coaching and supporting clients on their recovery from chronic exhaustive conditions that inspired me to start a regular journalling practice. I have found that I feel much calmer for it and when the habit has slipped occasionally I have noticed a sense of dis-ease creeping back in, which has then motivated me to get back to it!

You may think that writing about negative feelings could make you feel worse, but studies have found that people who regularly write about their thoughts and feelings have better mental health than those who do not. To help you express yourself as fully as possible, keep your journal somewhere private so that you don’t worry about anyone else reading it. It is for your eyes only. You may choose never to re-read what you have written or you may wish to keep your journals to refer back to. It is up to you. I like to record the key learning points from each completed journal.

There is no right or wrong way to journal. Find what works best for your needs. It very much depends on what you want to get out of it. If you can, though, find a quiet place for your journalling and schedule 15-30 minutes every day for it. It is best to write your journal by hand, but typing it or recording it as audio are other options if you prefer. 

Lauren Ostrowski Fenton, who is a counsellor, life coach and meditation teacher, describes journalling as a tool to learn about your authentic self. (I can recommend her guided sleep meditations on Spotify by the way!) Journalling prompts that Lauren suggests are to describe the day, then talk about:

  • What are your goals and how are they going?

  • What gives you joy or what are you grateful for?

  • How did you care for your body today?

  • How did you care for your soul today?

  • What boundary have you set for yourself/what did you say no to?

  • What negative self talk has come up and how have you reframed it?

  • What did you learn today?

  • I am [fill in the blank] today.

In The Stress Solution, one of the tips that Rangan Chatterjee gives for reframing a negative experience is: “Write down the experience. When we write, we tend to automatically adopt a more rational and distant viewpoint. We’re able to give the situation context and clarity in a way that we can't when we replay it over and over in our head. And when we write, we tend to be kinder to ourselves.”

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends journalling as a tool for boosting creativity. If that is your aim, she advises writing first thing in the morning “Three pages of whatever crosses your mind…. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write, ‘I can’t think of anything to write…’” The idea is that it gets you to the other side of what is blocking your creativity. These ‘morning pages’ as Julia calls them are simply a brain dump, they are not meant to be big or clever.

I hope this has inspired you to give journalling a go or to pick it up again if your regular practice has lapsed. If making the time for it is a barrier for you, try starting with just 5 minutes a day, perhaps listing the three things that you were most grateful for that day and see where that takes you…