George Washington. Abraham Lincoln. Leonardo da Vinci. Anne Frank. George S. Patton. Ludwig van Beethoven. Lewis and Clark. Thomas Edison. Winston Churchill. Herbert W. Armstrong. What do all these people have in common? They all kept journals. And so do I.
I started keeping a journal last winter after several discouraging setbacks. I had been dealing with an injury for almost a year, I competed in several dance competitions with disappointing results, and I didn’t understand why everything was going so badly. After several conversations that ended in tears, my dad suggested journaling as a method of working out my thoughts and feelings and understanding the inner workings of my brain. Now that I’ve done it, I can see that journaling has tremendous benefits. Here are five benefits that hopefully will persuade you to start a journal today.
The most important benefit you will gain from journaling is clear thinking. Writing down your thoughts forces you to process them one piece at a time. When I have a bunch of emotions or thoughts whirling in my brain, making an entry in my journal helps me organize them. To put my feelings into words, I have to identify what they are.
The second benefit of journaling is that it helps you reach your goals. Writing down a goal tells your brain what is important. Plus, you have a record that reminds you what commitments you have made. You can use your journal to break large goals into smaller, more practical ones. It also documents your progress.
A third benefit of journaling is that it can improve your memory. Writing things down will help you remember them. The memory is formed in more than one way: the physical motion of your hand, the visual creation of the words and any images you draw—even the process of thinking about something enough to form it into words—will help you remember it.
Benefit number four is that journaling will make you a better communicator. Talking to yourself on paper will help you communicate better with others. As teens, we often struggle to find topics of conversation, especially with people older than us. I have found that taking the time to write down opinions and thoughts gives me much more to talk about with other people.
A fifth benefit of journaling is that it can help improve sleep quality. The hours I have spent lying awake at night make this a motivating factor for me. Just 15 minutes of journal time helps me clear my brain of things that worry me. I always try to end my journal entry on a positive note. This helps me doze off more quickly and improves the quality of my sleep.
Maybe I have succeeded in convincing you why you should journal, but I have a hunch you may need ideas about what to journal about. Well, I have good news! I’ve learned that you can write just about anything.
Here are some ideas to get you going:
Record what happens to you. Surely something interesting happened today! Write down that funny incident at lunch that you want to remember or maybe something that really irritated you. Anything you write will provide amusement to your older self and possibly to your posterity decades down the road.
To write thoughts, you have to think. I know this can be painful, but it’s an important part of journaling. Write about things you are struggling with or about how everything in life is just peachy. Write reviews of the books you read—what you like or dislike, lessons you learn. Record your thoughts on exciting truths you learn in your study.
Use space in your journal to make an action plan for messages you hear on the Sabbath. I like to use one page out of each month for my action plan. You can easily keep track of what you have accomplished and what progress you have made.
At the end of each month or week, try evaluating areas where you did well and areas where you want to improve. Be honest with yourself, which is hard to do. Then write down how you plan to improve, or else your evaluation is worthless.
Make a daily or weekly to-do list. Plan what needs to get done and check off what you finished. I love the satisfying feeling of making a checkmark next to a completed task!
Sometimes an awesome idea strikes you, and you say, “I’ll have to remember that.” But will you really remember? Most likely not. Having a journal is handy to write down all of your ideas, whether good or bad.
As stated earlier, writing down your goals will help you achieve them. Try setting big goals for the year, then breaking them down into smaller tasks.
One of my favorite pages in my journal is my gratitude log—a whole page just for things I am thankful for. Make a bucket list or a list of places you would love to visit. Write down books you want to read or movies to watch. If you can’t think of anything else to write, a list is a great way to get started again.
Here is a list of tips for your journal:
Make it something you love. I have attempted journals many times in the past. Each attempt began with something like: “I’m going to write in this journal every day for the whole summer!” Each one of these ventures fizzled out within days. But this past year, I tried something different. A friend introduced me to bullet journaling, which is a diary, a planner, a place to draw, and anything else you feel like adding—all in one notebook. I found that I loved bullet journaling, and as a result, I’ve been able to stick with it.
Always keep it with you. Smaller notebooks work better, I’ve learned this past year. I had bought an enormous black book to journal in and soon discovered that it was not very practical. Try a size that can fit in your pocket or bag or something you can easily keep in your hand wherever you go.
Don’t edit your thoughts. Just write words however they come to mind, and don’t censor your thoughts and ideas for fear of other people’s prying eyes. Be completely honest with yourself.
Use your journal for many purposes. Use all of the above ideas, plus more of your own, and you will soon find your journal is indispensable.
I hope I’ve given you sufficient motivation to start a journal, plenty of ideas to fill your journal, and enough tips to keep you going. So now it is up to you to grab a notebook and pen, gather your thoughts, and start writing!