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The Art of Keeping a Journal

Journal Image

Photo by Barnaby

I have faithfully kept a journal since 1980 and because of that, I have a record of the important times, places and people in my life over the past 30 years. I have recently begun transcribing my journals into the computer and as I read through them, I recalled people, events and places long forgotten. Through my written words, I was able to relive experiences that I had when I was barely out of my teen years and as I continued to read, saw myself develop into the man I am today. My earlier entries – the one’s that took place when I was in my early 20’s – were obsessed with love and romance – I wrote about little else. Funny to see how the focus of my life has changed. What I find particularly interesting is how much I’ve changed – I barely recognize the immature boy I was back then who constantly bemoaned his relationship setbacks.

Yes, I am a strong believer in keeping a journal – and in my opinion, the reasons to do so are many.

WHY KEEP A JOURNAL

Keep cherished memories alive

Even though we may not believe so at the time, the majority of the experiences that occur in our lives will be forgotten. People I was certain that I would always remember – always be in contact with – were completely gone from my memory until recently, when I rediscovered them on the pages of my journal. Without my journal, I would not have 30 years of cherished memories at my fingertips. All of them would be gone forever.

It’s Excellent Therapy

Many people in the mental health professions recommend journaling to their clients as part of the recovery process. I can’t tell you how many times I have “journaled out my anger” rather than taking it out on someone else. Just writing about all my emotions and feelings often provided clarity about a situation or problem.

Problem Solving

Journaling can also help solve problems. By writing down the pros and cons of a difficult situation, I have more than once received flashes of insight which then helped me to move forward. Moreover, taking your time and putting a troubling issue to paper may help you to see the situation from a different perspective, which may then lead to a solution.

Receive New Insights

Writing out your thoughts and feelings can lead to some interesting insights about your life – aspects that may not have come to your attention before. When I worked as computer programmer in a hectic corporate environment, it was journaling that helped me to realize that I was in the wrong profession – and that what I really wanted to be was an entrepreneur and create my own business. Sometimes simply writing it all out can provide you with both motivation and a starting point.

Additionally, reading old journal posts aid you in realizing how much you’ve grown (or perhaps how much you’ve strayed from your original goals), especially once you revisit all the mistakes you made!

Learn About Yourself

For many, one of the most important uses for a journal is to learn about yourself. A habitual journaling practice can help you to define who you are and what you believe in. By writing regularly about an issue or a topic in my journal, I found that I was more than ready to discuss the topic intelligently and confidently when it came up in real live conversation. In this way, it has helped to clarify my opinions and beliefs – basically help me to decide who I am.

Creativity

Journaling can spark creativity. I know of several people whose journals gave rise to an entire novel. I personally have had many new ideas pop up into my head while writing in my daily journal. This blog post was one of them. Journaling regularly can also make you a better writer. There’s an old adage that goes, “If you do something every day, you can’t help but become an expert at it.”

Proof That You Existed

A friend of mine, whose mother passed away a few years ago, told me that the most valuable treasure she has ever received was her mother’s journals. Her mother, an avid journaler, documented her entire life on paper, ever since she was a young girl. My friend says that reading those old journals keeps her mother alive in her memories. She also told me that reading her mother’s thoughts and feelings is like getting to know her for the first time. Think how much your children and grandchildren will enjoy reading about your life. Who knows? Maybe your journal will someday end up in at a historical society or museum and will provide others insight into what life was like for someone of your time period.

Stress Management

Journaling regularly helps counteract the negative effects of stress in your life. When I had gone through a particularly challenging period in my own life, I discovered that journaling about it made me feel much better afterwards. Be releasing my anger and frustration on the page, I felt calmer and more relaxed.

Goal Planning

Journaling can also help you to achieve and stick to your goals. Writing about the achievements you’ve made and the milestones you’ve attained can help you to keep on track. Sometimes just logging your achievements on paper provides ample motivation to see your goals through to the end.

Logging Daily Activities

A journal can also help you to keep track of daily events and activities in your life. This can be quite helpful if you ever have to remember or prove what you did on a particular day. You can even use your journal as an expanded version of an event calendar.

Hand-written journal with pictures

Hand-written journal with pictures

Photo by sushi♥ina

HOW TO KEEP A JOURNAL

The way to being successful in keeping a journal is to find the journal medium that is best for you. A friend of mine asked me what is the best type of journal to get? I told her, “the best journal to get is the one that you will write in.” Don’t buy an expensive Italian leather-bound journal book if you wouldn’t write in it. The first step is giving some thought as to whether you want to keep a paper journal or store it electronically on your computer. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.

Some possibilities include:

Bound Journal Books – these can range in price from about $15 to several hundred dollars. Sometimes just having an impressive looking journal book can give you motivation to write.

A Notebook/Tablet – this can be as simple as basic black & white speckled composition notebook. Keep in mind however, that cheaper paper may yellow over time. This is the issue I’m currently facing – one of the reasons that I have begun transcribing my older journals into electronic format.

Blog – Some people keep their journals electronically “in the cloud” using blogging software. Most of the popular blogging platforms such as WordPress, Blogspot and LiveJournal allow you to keep your posts private, for your eyes only. You also have the option of sharing specific posts (or all posts) with others, if you so choose.

Journaling Software – There is a wide array of journaling software available for both the PC and the Mac. In addition to text, most of these applications also allow you to add videos, photos and other media to your journal posts. I currently am using MacJournal (Mac only) to transcribe my old journals. I find it stable and quite flexible.

Looseleaf Binder – more flexible than using a bound book or a notepad. Using a looseleaf binder allows you to move your pages around – or even group them by topic.

Information Gathering/Database Software – There are many software packages used for information gathering that make an excellent platform for journaling. An example is OneNote for Windows — or EverNote or DevonThink for the Mac. Like journaling software, you can also add photos, videos and sound files to your entries.

Scrapbook – Scrapbooking is a favorite activity among many folks and a nice visual way to record your life. You can include text, pictures, ticket stubs, flyers, newspaper/magazine articles and much more to your scrapbook journal. This is an excellent choice for creative folks.

HOW TO STICK WITH JOURNALING

Find a time that works for you to journal and stick to it. Try to be consistent as possible. The longer you journal at your designated time, the more it becomes an ingrained habit. I personally make journaling the last thing I do before I go to bed – no sleeping until I’ve journaled. Some people do their journaling first thing in the morning. If you’ve had an especially hectic day and find ourself too exhausted or too busy to sit down and write a full entry, write one sentence – heck, write one word if that’s all you can muster up. I came across one journal entry in my journal dated October 22, 1992 that simply stated: “Disappointment” ‘Enuf said.

WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

When deciding to keep a journal, there are many possibilities available to you. You might keep a daily journal of your thoughts, emotions and events in your life. Or you could keep a theme journal such as:

  • Art/Sketch Journal – a place for all of your drawings and sketches.
  • Child Journal – a place to record all of the memories and events related to the raising your children. This can include such things as first words spoken, funny sayings or phrases your kids come up with, the ideas your kids have, milestones in your child’s life — basically, anything you want to remember.
  • Creative Writing Journal – a place for all of your creating writing – poems, songs, short stories, fiction, non-fiction – any way you express yourself creatively.
  • Dream Journal – a place where you record all of your dreams.
  • Exercise Journal – a place where you keep track of how you exercised, how much you exercised, your caloric intake, food consumed, your weight, etc.
  • Gratitude Journal – a place where you record all the things that you are grateful for – the people and things in your life that really matter to you.
  • Grief Journal – a place where you write all about the grieving process. Such a journal can help with both long-term and short-term healing.
  • Hobby Journal – a place where you record all the details about a hobby – materials, patterns, projects, costs, etc.
  • Idea Journal – a place to jot down any ideas that come to you during the day. A fleeting idea could be the premise for your next big novel.
  • Mood Journal – a place where you track your emotions.
  • Nature Journal – a place for you to record all that you see, feel and experience while out in nature.
  • Prayer Journal/Spiritual – this is a place to help you connect with the Divine and your spirituality.
  • Reader’s Journal – a place where you write about the books you read. Include such things as what you liked/disliked, synopsis, techniques the author used and important points you want to remember.
  • Vacation Journal – a journal that lists not only places you visited during your vacation, but also your thoughts and feelings about the places you visited. Many people’s lives have been permanently altered by an eventful vacation.

The possibilities for theme journals are endless. I keep a daily personal journal that pretty much includes anything I want it to – stories, songs, poems, quotes I heard during the day, my moods, thoughts, what I did, creative writing ideas, scribbles, drawings and more. There are no rules for your journal – write whatever resonates with you. What’s important is that you fill the pages.

You never know – journaling may even cause you to go out and search for adventure! I remember once reading a quote from a man who journaled. He said, “Journaling forces me to lead an interesting life so that I have something to write about.” Maybe it will do the same for you.

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