Daily Journaling: A Practice You’ve Overlooked?

June 27, 2016

According to a study ran at the University of Texas, regular journaling strengthens immune cells. Psychologist James Pennebaker, who completed the study, also contends that the activity can help those who practice it come to terms with events in their lives, thus better processing them and relieving themselves of accompanying stress.

Journaling, in some ways, has saved me as an individual. It’s something I do almost everyday and have tried for years to establish as a daily habit alongside other things like meditation, exercise and learning. It works simply. I open up my computer (I don’t write by hand), I open up Evernote (one of my favourite applications), I set the Google Timer to 10 minutes (or my phone if I have no internet access), I put my favourite writing track on repeat and then I go. I don’t think about crafting a masterpiece. Journaling doesn’t work well with that kind of pressure.

Instead then I basically write a stream of conscious block of text that encompasses my particular thoughts in that moment. Sometimes they are nonsensical. Most of the time they are repetitive. But, nonetheless, they are there and out of my head.

The process has become for me, after regularly journaling over the last three years, something akin to taking a soothing shower. It’s a healing process. And one that leaves me feeling mildly relieved, refreshed and reenergised.

It’s this same feeling that appears to reoccur across studies of people who journal with regularity. Oscar Wilde, as pointed out in this article, was a keen journal keeper, and someone who seemingly benefited from the exercise in terms of increasing his capability to think and create great works. Tim Ferriss too, someone whose podcast I listen to with alarming frequency, also talks a lot about the positive benefits keeping a five-minute journal, or doing ‘morning pages’, has had on his life.

Then there’s friends of mine I know who practice journaling as a habit too. The progression of Niall Doherty’s writing, who even publishes excerpts of his in a section of his website called ‘Momentos‘, has shot through the roof thanks to his commitment to write every day.

What I hope to suggest here then is that you should, at the least, consider taking up the practice of journaling given the minimal time commitment it involves yet the massive return it appears to yield. You don’t have to publish anything like Niall does. You don’t even have to get down three pages worth of thought (morning pages). You simply have to make a start. Five minutes, written or typed, every day if you can.

What if you can’t think of anything to write? This is a problem that even the most successful writers of the modern era have experienced. You can’t wait for the perfect conditions. They don’t exist. So just sit down for a time in a place where you could write, if needs be, with minimal effort. If nothing comes to you? That’s fine too. You’ll find simply embarking on the activity is enough to ease you in.

That’s why I like to write to a timer. I know when my journaling period begins and ends. And I’m not confined to a specific word-count or number of pages.

Without that pressure I find it much easier to write freely, explore what’s on my mind and write solely for my own benefit with nobody else in mind.

And so what if a lot of it is repetitive? The same anxieties surfacing, the same worries carrying over from one day into the next. That’s life.

At least, through journalling however, you become aware of these patterns. Observant of their manifestation and their demand on your time and energy. Conscious too of just how fleeting they are and how unimportant a role they will play in the greater context of your life.

String a couple of days together journaling and you’ll feel the same satisfaction that high-level creatives feel too. That you’ve got something out of your head and into another form that day. That, if you do nothing else the remainder of that day, you still have something to point your own inner-conscious toward and say “well, at least I did that.”

That in itself? Goes a very long way in terms of helping you build a foundation of confidence, gather momentum and go out and get after life.