Here’s What You Need to Know About Keeping a Journal

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Journaling is a simple way to monitor your thoughts. It also can help you learn from past mistakes and control your narrative.

Here’s What You Need to Know About Keeping a Journal

What I learned from journaling

I tried to stick to a daily journal routine for about a month. I won't be coy about my "results"—I failed. However, the exercise did help me create one positive life-long habit.

I now write notes, messages, and small insights in my daily planner. Seemingly silly sayings, such as, “it’s never about you,” or, “people typically mean well” have helped me control my anger during trying times.

These notes, along with my planner's guide-like layout, help me keep my life—and mind—organized.

Why journaling helps

Lisa Doggett, MD, MPH, and family physician, has journaled almost every day for over three decades. In addition to journaling, Doggett also recommends the practice to patients.

Doggett explains that journaling helps people make sense of events in their lives by creating a personal narrative. “It can feel like a release to write something down and then let go of it,” says Doggett.

Doggett adds that she’s discovered many personal insights by tracking patterns in her life, and monitoring her responses and behaviors. “I think people who struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic disease are particularly likely to benefit from regular journaling, and may see a decrease in their symptoms and improvement in their mood and general well-being,” she says.

Doggett adds that journaling also has helped her keep tabs on her health. "I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis eight and a half years ago, and I use my journal to track my symptoms and correlate them with my mood and sleep patterns,” she says. “Journals can be very helpful for finding triggers for medical problems like migraines, abdominal pain, insomnia, and an array of other conditions.”

And even if you’re feeling healthy and mentally well, journaling can help you preserve memories. Doggett enjoys having a written memory of her life. Journaling has helped her figure out “what really happened” during past interactions and conversations, remember special occasions, and write a memoir about her MS diagnosis. “Time seems so fleeting and elusive to me, and journaling helps me capture a small piece of it,” says Doggett.

Journaling tips

First, commit to it. Doggett suggests you pick a time to journal every day; writing before bed works for her. And simply write one sentence if you’re low on time and energy. “Get something down to help solidify the habit and remember a little about that day,” she says.

Jasmin Terrany, LMHC, life therapist, suggests the following journaling process for compassionate growth.

  • Set a time for 10 minutes to write. “Make sure to keep writing until the timer is done, even if you don’t think you have more to say, it helps you go deeper,” Terrany says.
  • Get another color font or pen and read through what you wrote as your own "lovingly curious therapist.”
  • Underline key themes, ask probing questions, give observations, and lovingly challenge unhealthy thought patterns.
  • Respond as yourself, and repeat until satisfied.

Ready to start a journal?

The following journals are great choices.

Start journaling here.

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration

This journal asks people to nurture their creativity, stay mindful, and improve self-motivation. Priced at $12.80.

Start journaling here.

She Believed She Could So She Did

This journal encourages people to write freely. In addition to its writer-friendly format, each page includes an inspirational message. Priced at $8.77.

Start journaling here.

You Got This from Eccolo World Traveler

This super simple journal features a vegan leather-like cover that reminds you that you truly do “got this.” Priced at $13.61.

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