Dear Diary: On Journaling As A Practice

I had a diary when I was a kid; it was pink and white. It locked with an impossibly small key that I kept in my matching ballerina music/jewelry box. I couldn’t say for certain, but I’m fairly sure it held notes about cute boys, mean siblings, and all of my hopes and dreams. I turned back to writing through my childhood and adolescence during the highs and lows but never kept it regularly.

Now I journal almost daily. Not just to document a moment of joy or to express my feelings about the tough stuff, but as a daily intentional practice to be more productive, monitor my health and balance, keep track of the many spinning plates in my life, and as a catch-all.

There is a lot of research and advocacy for the practice of journaling. Forbes described journaling as “The #1 Productivity Tool You Aren’t Using” in a 2012 article by Dorie Clark. Psych Central’s Maud Purcell lists the health benefits of journaling to include: Clarify your thoughts and feelings, know yourself better, reduce stress, solve problems more effectively, resolve disagreements with others, track patterns, trends and improvement, and growth over time. Go ahead, throw any question you have about the benefits of journaling into the googs and you’ll get all the information you could want.

Most experts suggest that you set time aside daily and begin with 10 -20 minutes a day, I don’t necessarily agree with this. Who has time for that? No one has ever asked me personally or professionally “Megan, I have an extra 20 minutes every single day how should I spend them?”. On the contrary, I am frequently working to carve time out where we can with clients, and myself. I journal during a commute on the train, while I wait for the water to boil or dinner to cook, I have even been known to scribble something down while brushing my teeth. I keep a journal with me almost everywhere. This has two major benefits. 1. If I don’t write it down immediately, it is probably gone forever, so it gets written down. 2. If I have it with me, I can review the contents.

The real benefit in journaling doesn’t happen right away; it comes when you go back to it. When you review all the “data” you have collected in the pages and look at the fantastic progress you have made. If it isn’t a positive trend, you can see it there in black (or blue, pink, green, crayon, finger paint – whatever works!!) and white. Then you pick up your preferred writing utensil and plan the recovery. Because there is so much reward from reviewing, just getting daily entries is what is important. If all you have time for is “I’m tired today, didn’t sleep, busy day at work, the dog ate my favorite book” or “Good day, so busy! Love vacation, and the food!” that is GREAT. Over time you will learn what works for you.

If I were to give any advice to someone beginning a journaling practice (‘cause I’m about to), I would say just a few things.

Your journal is ONLY for you. Keeping it private allows you to be open and honest with yourself without self-editing for fear of judgment. Keep it private, even if it is just grocery lists.

Never forget the date!

Track your general wellness. Hours of sleep, energy, mood, prayer, weight, exercise, food, drink, and meditation are just a few ideas. Using these to see patterns will teach you a lot as well.

Make it a habit, whatever that takes. You absolutely cannot learn from what you never put in the journal.
Journaling is an important teacher and confidant to me. I have reaped many rewards from the practice. Nowadays the only boy that makes it into the pages of my journal is the one I married, and they don’t have tiny keys, but there are a lot more curse words, a lot of self-reflection, and many useful insights.
Good luck, and patience to you.

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