All Images via Five Minute Journal
"I'm not writing it down to remember it later.
I'm writing it down to remember it now."
When I was a kid, I used to crawl into bed each night with my journal, jotting down notes of the day's events and pondering the meaning of life (yep, I was that kinda kid!). I stopped journaling in high school when I began focusing my attention on more pressing matters (aka, boys and parties...) and then started up again in college. After college, my journaling habits fell by the wayside. Maybe it was due to all the writing I had to do for my graduate school thesis. Maybe it was due to my new found love of blogging. Maybe it was just the simple fact that it seemed to take up a lot of my time.
I'm not sure exactly what happened, but since my early 20s, I've found myself journaling only periodically (usually when going through a tough time). I realized recently that I miss it. I miss the feeling of dumping out a day's worth of content on the page, of having the option to go back and reflect on the words I wrote months or years before. I don't miss the endless hours spent dwelling on what's wrong with my life or myself (something I used to do a great deal of back when I was journaling regularly), but I do miss the release I felt when I put my words on a page that no one but me would see.
Over the past few years, I've sporadically thought, "I should start journaling again..." but every time that thought has crossed my mind, I've countered it with excuses like, "I don't have the time" or "I write every day anyway; isn't that kind of the same thing?" (It's not. A journal is for-your-eyes-only, which is definitely not the same as a website that thousands of people are reading each day.) Whatever the reason, I used it to push a return to journaling to the end of my to-do list.
Until a couple weeks ago when I read about Five Minute Journal.
When I stumbled across it, I quickly realized that it would be the perfect solution to my lack-of-journaling woes. It was easy enough to do every day, but had enough depth to it so that it really seemed as if I could gain something meaningful from it. I got my hands on a copy and was instantly smitten. Not only does it consist of a clean, simple design (which I'm always a sucker for!), but it includes daily prompts that make journaling quick, easy, and fulfilling.
As I spent a few days with my Five Minute Journal, I quickly started recalling how much benefit I receive from spending even a short time recording my thoughts about the day. While, in an ideal world, I'd love to go back to writing page after page on a daily basis, this journal is absolutely perfect for what I can handle right now: a convenient, compelling resource for taking note of what really matters. As I've dipped my toe back into the waters of journal writing, the positive benefits of keeping a journal are quickly coming back to me. There are many, many benefits (some of which have even been scientifically proven!), but the ones I find most important for living a more positive, more present life are listed below. Even after using the journal for a short time, I've noticed how keeping a journal can help you . . .
1. CULTIVATE MORE GRATITUDE.
What initially drew me to the Five Minute Journal is its focus on gratitude. Back when I was younger, I never spent much time thinking about what I did have. Instead, I focused on what I was lacking or what I hoped to have in the future. Embracing an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to live a positively present life, but sometimes it's hard. As much as we recognize the value of being grateful, sometimes thankfulness just slips our minds. However, if you make a point to make note of things you're grateful for every single day, you start to pay attention to all that you have and spend less time focusing on whatever you lack.
2. CLEAR OUT NEGATIVE THOUGHTS.
This study found that writing down your thoughts and physically throwing them away can actually help clear your mind. While I wouldn't necessarily want to throw away any part of a journal (I love looking back on it), I bet there are benefits from just simply writing down these thoughts. Even thinking about what you could have done differently to make a day better can provide you with a more positive outlook. Each day, the Five Minute Journal asks you to consider what could have made your day even better. This is a great way to address any negativity in your life without dwelling on it. When you write it down, it really does feel like you're clearing it from your mind (at least for a little while!).
3. CELEBRATE THE LITTLE VICTORIES.
When you spend time thinking about the good things happening in your life on a daily basis, you start to pay closer attention to life's little victories. If you were to write down one good thing each month or even each week, you'd probably highlight something big. But when you write down good things every day, you start to realize that huge victories don't happen on a daily basis, but little causes for celebration happen all the time. Even the smallest things—like making it to the train on time, treating yourself to something sweet, or starting a really great book—are worth savoring and writing not one but three things each day really makes you think more about the little wonders that pepper your life with happiness on a daily basis.
4. CLARIFY WHAT'S REALLY HAPPENING.
The great thing about keeping a journal is that you can use it as a tool to focus your attention on the truth that lies in each moment. It's one thing to have a fleeting thought about something—like, "Today really sucks."—but it's quite another to actually write down the words. Often we see a situation (or a day) a certain way because we don't really think about it on a deeper level. When you sit down with a journal and are asked to consider all of the reasons why the day was good, it becomes much more difficult to label an entire day or event negatively. The more you use your journal, the more you'll see patterns and be able to figure out what really bothers or delights you, which can be very helpful when it comes to understanding what will or won't make your life more positive.
5. CHRONICLE HOW TIME'S SPENT.
We're often so busy with things to do that we rarely pause and think about what we've done over the course a day or what those actions actually meant to us. If you keep a journal, you have access to information about how you spend your time. And if you're focusing on the positive aspects of each day—as the Five Minute Journal encourages you to do—you'll start to understand not only how you spend your time, but what you enjoy spending your time on. Even though I've only been using my journal for a short time, I can already see some clear patterns as to what activities I consider to be good (and, on the flip-side, I've been able to make note of what activities I don't list in my journal—a sign that maybe I should spend less time on those things).
6. CLAIM POTENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS.
Did you know that keeping a journal can actually be good for your physical health? According to this article, "University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker, contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health." Pretty cool, huh? Journaling clearly has some mental health benefits, but it's pretty amazing that it can actually benefit you physically too. That fact alone might make it worthwhile to give journaling a try!
7. COLLECT KNOWLEDGE ABOUT YOURSELF.
The more you learn about yourself, the more you can understand what you want and don't want in your life. And the more you know what you do and don't want, the more you can shape your life so it's as positively present as possible. You've probably read about Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self-Discovery, the workbook I created to help you (and me!) discover more about who you are and what matters to you. Keeping a journal has some of the same positive benefits of completing the workbook: it shows you want you value and informs you about your personal preferences. In addition to showing you how you spend your time, a journal collects knowledge about who you are—knowledge you can use to help create the live you want to be living.
Clearly, I'm pretty passionate about this whole journal-writing thing. I guess finally picking up a journal again—even a structured one like Five Minute Journal—has shown me just how powerful jotting down a few notes about my day can really be. If you're ready to start keeping a journal too, I'd highly recommend giving the Five Minute Journal a try. It's such a great way to start out, and it really only takes five minutes every day! And if you're not the notebook-toting type, they just launched a really nice new Five Minute Journal app that makes keeping track of your day while on the go even easier. Whether you pick up a copy of the journal, download the app, or just grab a blank notebook and start keeping track of what you do and what you care about, if you give it a try, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be pleased by how much more positive and more present the act of journaling can make you feel.