Keeping a journal is not like the writing you did in your diary as a teenager. A journal improves self-awareness by letting you record the smallest and biggest moments of your life.

All kinds of people keep a journal for many reasons. If you’re going through a hard time, need to rant or need to reflect, a journal is a safe space to record your thoughts and explore your feelings in a creative way.

Journaling Allows You to Start and End a Day with a Fresh Perspective

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron tells her readers to sit down every morning and write three pages of whatever comes to mind. These are called “morning pages.” What you are writing does not matter. Your typos do not matter. The exercise is about getting your thoughts all out onto the blank page.

You may be writing, “I have no idea what I am doing. This is annoying…” Eventually, something emerges from the stream-of-conscious writing. You feel relieved by emptying out all these pervasive thoughts. Stream-of-consciousness writing does not have to be good or bad: It just is.

You can detox from your day. Much like taking a walk, you are removing your mind from the burden of information it has contained all day long. As you pen your thoughts, the weight on your mind lessens.

Write during any time of day you need. The point is to let it go in a safe space. You can always return to the journal page to gain further insight.

Journaling Gives You Insight into a Situation

After a situation has happened, you often think about what you could have done differently. Writing about the situation helps you to put it into perspective. You will notice details that you didn’t notice before.

  • Try writing about a past event in which you had an argument with a loved one. This is from your point of view. Now, take the same situation and write about it from the other person’s perspective.
  • If you’re still too close to the situation, write about it from the viewpoint of an inanimate object (a lamp) or another person (the bag lady) who was just sitting there. This option gives you an unbiased perspective. Ease into the situation by focusing on the environment.
  • Turn the situation into a list. Write your name. Write the other person’s name. Under each name write down specific details: what everyone wore, what was said, emotions experienced and surroundings. List what comes to mind, but place the same type of detail under each name.
  • Write down three things that went right in the situation for you. Write down three things that didn’t go right. How would you change your actions or words? Do you notice something about the other person’s perspective that you didn’t notice before?
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Journaling Allows You to Process and Heal Painful Emotions

If a loved one has passed and you’re having a hard time dealing with the grief, write. You likely will feel like you don’t have any words to describe your emotions, but they’ll come. Write the truth. Write about the pain, but also consider the good memories. Think of your journal as a way to honor your loved one.

You might also lose big promotions and grieve the loss of your dreams. When writing through grief, focus on the “place” of your pain to see what is stuck and why. You will also write to see clearly and transform these stuck emotions.

Janelle Shantz Hertzler, author of Seasons of Solace, offers many prompts to journey through grief. Consider this prompt:

“Go through your family photo albums. Notice your reaction to various photos. When you find a photo where you react more strongly (either positively or negatively), write about it. Write about your memories. Write about your feelings. Write about what you wish you could change. Write about how you adjusted to not having the ability to change things.”

Journaling Provides a Creative Outlet

As we get older, we lose touch with our imaginative, creative self. Did you write poems or songs? Have you always wanted to explore your world through writing but never took up the pen? Journaling is a safe space to let your creative self-explore.

Experiment with content. Instead of a nonfiction recording of what happened, try something different and creative:

  • Write a poem.
  • Draw an image from your dream last night.
  • Cut out images from a magazine and glue them into your journal.
  • Upload images or music to your online journal that describes how a moment from the day made you feel.
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Journals Come in Every Format

There’s just something special about writing in a journal that you can touch. The experience offers time for consideration. It’s like you’re writing a letter to someone else. There is only one copy, but perhaps you want to pass on your handwritten treasure trove of memories to later generations. Your journal may be as simple as a spiral-bound notebook or as sophisticated as a handmade leather journal.

Online journals are everywhere. LiveJournal (LJ) has been around since 1999, founded by American programmer Brad Fitzpatrick as a way to keep his high school friends up-to-date on his life. Many first journals by Millennials had their start at LiveJournal. There are even communities for TV shows and various interests. List your mood or the music you’re listening to and keep it private, share with friends, communities, or the world. George R.R. Martin’s LJ is one of the most popular journals in the world.

Additional Tips to Consider When Journaling:

  • Don’t worry about finding the perfect word.
  • Remember to give yourself distance from your writing. Come back to your entry a day or week later. Imagine how you will feel when you read those words years from now. The perspective that time offers is a unique one to take into account.
  • Experiment with length. Try Julia Cameron’s morning pages. Challenge yourself to keep it short and simple: Perhaps you write a daily entry of only three sentences.
  • You don’t have to journal daily. It is important to try for consistency if you want to observe your words over time. However, it’s more important to write when you want to and when you need to get the words down.

Journals contain painful and joyous memories, drawings of buildings and people, poems and old movie tickets alongside pressed flowers. They hold statistics and theories. Journals are used for many reasons. Reflection through journaling allows you to seek a greater level of self-awareness and perspective about the world.

Author Bio: Megan Ray Nichols is interested in how the mind works and self-improvement. She loves discussing psychology and other sciences on her blog, Schooled By Science.

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