5 Kick-Ass Reasons to Use a Journal, and How to Do It

by Henrik Edberg

5 Kick-Ass Reasons to Use a Journal, and How to Do It
Image by dro!d (license).

“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior”
Christina Baldwin

One of the most powerful tools to aid your own personal growth is keeping a journal.

I prefer to do this on my computer and use the Journal by David RM (45 day free demo, 39.95 dollars to buy). It’s easy to use, a simple layout and it also has password protection. You may prefer some kind of the dead tree variety or another program. I prefer the software option. When I have all my thoughts in one piece of software instead of a handful of large notebooks it becomes easier to make connections and find what you are looking for in your archives.

But why is it helpful to take the time to use a journal in the first place? Here are five of my top reasons.

  1. Increased clarity when solving problems. You can’t hold that many thoughts in your head at once. If you want to solve a problem it can be helpful to write down your thoughts, facts and feelings about it. Then you don’t have to worry your mind about remembering, you can instead use it to think more clearly. Thinking on paper makes it easier to think things through, find valuable details and weak spots in your current problems. This makes it easier find useful solutions to your challenges.
  1. To remember important events and insights in life. Just recording the important things that happens in your everyday life is fun and fascinating. Or sometimes painful and revealing. If you don’t write it down then the details, the nuances, the emotions may lose some of their power or simply wind up lost forever somewhere in your brain.
  1. To talk it out with someone. A journal can be good place to vent and unburden yourself. A place to unload mental RAM and get some emotional release. Your journal can be like a conversation partner that you can talk things through with. This might sound silly but this can be very beneficial. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons to keep a journal. If you do it you may find that you become more relaxed and feel lighter after getting things out and down on paper.
  1. To bring thoughts into reality. If you don’t write things down it can seem as they are not quite real. When you write them down you bring them out into reality. They are not just some vague thoughts floating around in your mind anymore. For example, one thing a lot of very successful self improvement writers – Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and so on – go on and on about is the importance of having written goals. A written goal brings clarity and focus. It gives you a direction. And if you rewrite your goals over and over you not only reaffirm what your goals are. You may also find new insights that bring more clarity and focus to your goals and life.
  1. An overview of how things really are. You can use a journal as a way to keep an overview of your thinking over a longer time span and to recognize both positives and negatives in yourself. You may, for example, think of yourself as a healthy person but realise when you read through your journal that you have only been out running four times this month. Or feel like you have a positive attitude, but as you go back over the last few months find a lot of whining and victim thinking. You may also find positive surprises about yourself while rereading and analyzing. The journal allows you to see how things really are. Rather than the way you think they are.

How to Use Your Journal.

Here are a few quick tips that have helped me to use my journal in better way.

Write down your memories while they are fresh.

If something interesting happens I write it down as an entry for that day in my journal. Details and emotions will start to degrade so capture them quickly.

Think about how you want to use it.

The Journal software has more than a space for an entry each day. You can also create entries in a notebook section. I use a few of these to aid my personal growth. The most important is the one I call “Sticking Points”. There I write down problems that come up for me personally time after time. And then I try to come up with solutions.

One example would be that I some days can fall into the pattern being pretty unproductive. The solution I use for this is to set the context for my day quickly after I wake up. I do something important early on in the day and then it becomes more natural to be consistent with that mental state for the rest of the day. And so that day becomes a lot more productive than it would have been otherwise.

Think about in what ways you want to use your own journal. Perhaps your want to use it to analyze your personal finances. Or your relationships to other people. Or to document what you are eating on a day to day basis. Find out what you want answers for.

Actually use it.

You get good stuff out of your journal based on what you put in it. So set off some time, perhaps 5 minutes before going to bed. Or 10 minutes every Sunday night to review your week and write down what happened, what you thought and felt and problems and positive things you discovered. Not matter how you want to use it, use common sense so you don’t fill your journal with every little detail of your life. Or wind up leaving it unused after the first week of initial enthusiasm.

Actually review it.

Remember to go through your archives on a regular basis to explore yourself and also other people more deeply. And to find patterns in your world, self-talk, attitude and in other vital parts of life.

What are your best tips for using your journal in a more helpful way?

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{ 21 comments }

James @ Organize IT December 10, 2008 at 9:15 pm

This is spot on and is one of the big benefits I get from having a blog. Even though I’m writing for a particular audience, it’s all based on my own thoughts and experiences. I wrote a similar piece a while ago discussing the importance of writing regularly and having a journal. People centuries ago used to write all the time to get their feelings and thoughts down. I think it’s a valuable tool that’s getting neglected.

Nicolai Larsen December 10, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Don’t know what happend, but my first and quite long comment vanished, don’t you guys just hate when that happens :D

Okay, here we go again:
I have recently started a time journal as well, but with a twist. First the porpuse of the journal were to locate my time and find the time stealers, but yet again note that it got a little twist.

I split my word document up in 3 lines:
1. Time
2. How did I use the time?
3. What have I learned from this experience?

The document will then reflect over a day at a time. You probably thinking, so I just gonna say it, it will end up in many documents, but you can organize it in weeks, months to get a clear perspective over all the documents.

I will add “sticking points” to the document, it’s a great way to quickly line up what I have to work with.

I haven’t been using my time journal long enough to comment on the effectiveness, but I’m sure it will kick ass ;-)

Thanks for the article henrik, it’s good insight.

Nicolai
Happiness Cafe

NJR December 10, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Agreed on all points. I’ve been keeping a journal for many years, though the paper versions have, regrettably, long since been reclaimed by the dust of time. I do have regular digital entries going back to 1998 and find it well worth the time and trouble to keep them for all the reasons you list, plus a few more. It’s pretty much a daily habit for me to at least jot down a thought or two during the day and sometimes a much longer entry. I also daily scan at least one daily entry from a year ago to see what kind of (hopefully) progress I’m making.

Password protection is a must, of course, otherwise you won’t feel comfortable really writing down your deepest thoughts. The author is correct – sometimes reviewing your thoughts can be embarrassing or uncomfortable, and you wouldn’t want your brother, your wife, your uncle Ted or your partner at the firm reading them. On the other hand, if you can’t be totally open and honest, the value of keeping a journal is greatly diminished.

David RM’s The Journal is a good package, though I settled on Alpha Journal Pro from Alpha Realms software. Similar package, a little less money and their tech support is excellent. Like David RM’s The Journal, it can be installed on a thumb drive and password protected.

Chris (from Lifestyle Project) December 10, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Thanks for sharing how you use a journal. This is something I’ve tried in several forms previously. I like the online/software option but as I do everything online I like to occasionally write my thoughts freehand in a journal to think out my ideas. I’ve been doing this once a week but often forget! I think I need to set myself up a reminder.

I’ve being starting the Artists Way and part of the course is to do ‘morning pages’. This is 3 pages of longhand stuff about anything. It is a useful way to think out ideas and get things straight in your head. I think i’ll switch them to online as my hand hurts after about half a page!

Henrik Edberg December 11, 2008 at 12:21 am

Thanks for all the feedback and ideas, guys!

James: I gree, I think it’s a bit underappreciated. And yeah, a blog is of course also a good idea for a journal.

Nicolai: Yep, it’s no fun. :) Good idea with time tracking, it can certainly reveal some interesting results.

NJR: True, password protection allows people to open up more and be more honest which makes the journal more powerful for learning things about yourself and your life.

Chris: I like the morning pages idea, it sounds helpful. But it doesn’t sound like fun if your hand hurts. Switching to a computer journal seems like a good idea.

Stephenie December 11, 2008 at 10:23 am

Would anyone recommend a mac version of the journal software? I’d love to try one out. I do, however, love the handwritten journal. It’s great therapy to get away from my computer which I sit at all day and physically write out my thoughts and feelings. I’ve just begun keeping morning pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as a way to “brain drain” but I’d like to grow my journal into more of a life scrapbook. Keeping memories, photos, drawings… everything in one place.

Love this site =)

Vincent December 11, 2008 at 10:53 am

Hi Henrik,

Reviewing what we had written in our journal is a very useful step. If we jot down all the great ideas that we have only to leave it in the book, it is the same as not writing it down in the journal.

Keeping a journal is a good way to help us build up our self awareness too.

Cheers
Vincent
Personal Development Blogger

Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome December 11, 2008 at 5:02 pm

I used to keep a journal on and off, but eventually decided that in my case, journaling was just a way to procrastinate and not get anything done – and that anything meaning other writing. You see, if I was journaling, I was writing, no? Of course that meant that my other writing would suffer, but I could pretend that it wasn’t.

Arswino December 11, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Actually many people have applied writing down their thought or their feeling on paper, but most of them didn’t frame it correctly.
You have outlined this method very well, Henrik. :)

Maria | Never the Same River Twice December 11, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Henrik, I love all the reasons you’ve listed for keeping a journal, but want to add how I’ve come to use mine.

I often journal about my desired future. I’ll write a story about what my day will be like in a month, or 5 years, or when I’m 80.

These stories help me think through my goals and dreams in a more left-brained type of way.

Donna December 12, 2008 at 8:17 pm

A friend told me about an author named Noah St. John who invented AFFORMATIONS. Afformations are empowering questions (not statements) and they’ve really worked great for me and my friends.

http://www.iAfform.com – he’s giving a free Afformation Stress Buster Session. I listen to these throughout the day and they’ve changed my life.

Enjoy them!
- Donna

Silke December 12, 2008 at 11:04 pm

The best advice I ever received on journal-writing was:

- write first thing in the morning and your thoughts are more abstract
- write in the evening and your thoughts are more about what occurred that day.

I’ve used morning journal writing to resolve situations that involve feelings and emotions.

Ruthie December 13, 2008 at 11:29 am

I think using a journal is the perfect way to discover who you are, what you believe and who you want to be (if you are unsure that is). For a while I used the method given in ‘The Artist’s Way’ to write for three pages a day every morning. The aim of this is to get you writing, no matter what it is, but also to clear your mind of the negativity so you can be productive for the day. Sadly I gave up on it after a while, but it really helped me to clarify things. I am definitely going to take it up again!

Nicolas December 14, 2008 at 11:00 am

I think that evernote could be good tool too. You can even leave voice notes and add picture through your mobile phone on the spot. I wrote an article on it with regards to collecting ideas but it also will work for a journal.

http://memytime.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/systematically-collect-your-ideas/

Nicolas

Henrik Edberg December 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Thanks for all the tips about journaling and software! And the Artist’s Way seems to be quite popular. :)

Maria: That’s an interesting idea and something I think could be very useful to help yourself make a sharpen vision of your future. Good stuff.

Donna: Noah will actually featured as a guest blogger here in little while so be on the lookout for that.

Silke: Good points about the best times to do your journaling.

Wally December 14, 2008 at 10:02 pm

just can’t see paying for software when there is Evernote. Like the other said, I can clip photos to event or person. tag. When a thought hits me, can jump right to a todo list and link to that. Its really a full multimedia journal.
and its free.

Chase Barfield December 17, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Christina,
Journaling is truly under-appreciated. I believe your high points to be accurate. Keeping (and using) a journal is great for therapeutic introspection.

pepper February 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm

very helpful thanx

RaiulBaztepo March 29, 2009 at 12:31 am

Hello!
Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

Blipalaemeque May 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Great information.. hope to definitely come back again…

tucker July 13, 2009 at 4:09 pm

nice article — and i’m intrigued by the journal software you mentioned.
for anyone who has a blackberry or is thinking about getting one, i strongly recommend it even if only for keeping an electronic journal (i’m sure an iphone would serve just as well).
i’m on the go a lot, and am constantly thinking. so when an idea pops into my head, i just add it to one of my many lists in my blackberry memopad.
the first list, for example, is a to-do list. others include things to learn, good ideas, dreams, books to read, activities, etc. pretty much anything that i value and want to remember i write down. i then type them up on my computer every once in a while which gives me a permanent record and also allows me to weed out some of the less noteworthy material.
i’ve found this is a great way to express myself and keep my mind clear for the everyday tasks of real life. a traditional journal is great too, but like henrik said, you have to keep track of a bunch of paper if you chose that route. and if you write down as much stuff as i do, it can be a burden and even a buzz kill around your friends.

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