Revisiting journals…why keep one? And, how to make it fun.

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On my 6th birthday, I was given a diary. It is green and has a lock and key. From that point on, I have been motivated to keep some sort of diary, log, or journal, on and off. If I could go back in time, I wish I had been more consistent; however, I did capture some very significant moments. I discovered that journaling (or keeping letters or diaries) is an ancient tradition and that successful people throughout history have kept journals. Now that I am in my 4th decade and approaching another birthday (next Monday), I have been making more of an effort to write and create in my many journals, daily.

Lately, I have been learning more and more about all the benefits of keeping a journal. While I knew some of them, like it is an outstanding way for me to record and document my activities and significant events in my life, as well as, track my food/drink intake and nutrition. I have also found that journaling is a great way for me to brainstorm ideas and channel any negativity, fear and doubts. And, lately, I have writing down everything for which I am grateful and I have found this practice to be quite uplifting!

The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm found there are emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 2005):

Health outcomes

  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
  • Improved immune system functioning
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved lung function
  • Improved liver function
  • Fewer days in hospital
  • Improved mood/affect
  • Feeling of greater psychological well-being
  • Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
  • Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms

Social and behavioral outcomes

  • Reduced absenteeism from work
  • Quicker re-employment after job loss
  • Improved working memory
  • Improved sporting performance
  • Higher students’ grade point average
  • Altered social and linguistic behavior

In the Baikie and Wilhelm case study, the participants were given the following instructions:

For the next 4 days, I would like you to write your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your entire life or an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. In your writing, I’d like you to really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. You might tie your topic to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends or relatives; to your past, your present or your future; or to who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now. You may write about the same general issues or experiences on all days of writing or about different topics each day. All of your writing will be completely confidential.

Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up. (20 to 30 minutes)

Initially, the participants experienced negative distress; but, over time, these gave way to the positive benefits listed above.

According to Maud Purcell (2016), there is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker states that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps one come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on one’s physical health.

While I don’t need any more evidence to keep a journal, because I delight in making time for it; many of us are simply too busy for one more activity that takes any kind of perceived effort. Am I right? Only the “writing nerds” in school kept journals. Who has time or even wants to do it? Let me share with your more reasons why to consider it; and, then, I will share with you how to make it fun. Yes, you read, correctly…FUN.

Purcell explains that scientific evidence supports that journaling provides other unexpected benefits. The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit, perceive, understand, and feel. In summary, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you. Start journaling, you will start experiencing these benefits:

  • Clarify your thoughts and feelings. Do you ever feel all befuddled, confused, unsure of what you want or feel? By taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and emotions (no judging and no editing!), you will quickly connect with your internal world.
  • Know yourself better. By writing routinely you will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you — important information for your emotional well-being.
  • Reduce stress. Writing about anger, sadness and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings. By doing so you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
  • Solve problems more effectively. Typically, we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capacities within ourselves, and gives us unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
  • Resolve disagreements with others. Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another point of view. And you just may come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.

In addition to all of these wonderful benefits, keeping a journal allows us to track patterns, trends and improvement and growth over time. When current circumstances appear impossible, we will be able to look back on previous dilemmas that we have since resolved.

Huffington Post gathered these 10 benefits that totally won me over; but, then again, I am a pushover:

  1. Stretch Your IQ
  2. Evoke Mindfulness and Joy
  3. Achieve Goals
  4. Increase Emotional Intelligence
  5. Improve Memory and Comprehension
  6. Strengthen Your Self-Discipline
  7. Improve Communication Skills
  8. Spark Your Creativity
  9. Boost Self-Confidence
  10. Improve Immune System and Health

With all the above evidence you are at least somewhat enticed to start keeping a journal. Here how you can make it delightful…the highlight of your day.

Fun Ways to Keeping a Journal.

First of all, there are no rules! You heard me correctly, NO RULES. The only instruction is to record (write, type or draw) periodically (preferably daily) for 20 to 30 minutes each session to reap the most benefit. You can be imperfect! No editing! No judging! Spelling doesn’t count! Typos are acceptable. Messy handwriting is a plus! And, no fancy notebook needed; furthermore, with the advent of digital devices, you can journal electronically. And there are many websites and apps available. One of my favorites is 750 Words.

Currently, my preferred way to keeping a journal is with colorful pens and art supplies. I find it quite engaging to not only write, but also draw and doodle my thoughts and experiences. I have even used stickers, ink stamps, and glued items like photos, greeting cards, magazine pictures, and other ephemera into my journal, which makes it more visual and fun to revisit.

By incorporating art, color, images, scribbles and doodles into our journals, we have increased the benefit of our journaling practice significantly. The practice of keeping an “art or visual journal” allows us to:

  • Dump our negative feelings in a form of color, marks, and scribbles
  • Revisit hurts and trepidation in a safe place using imagery
  • Vent our frustrations with emoticon-like drawings
  • Explore our beliefs intertwined in circles and other significant shapes
  • Illuminate our most intimate thoughts using collage, stamps, stickers, and stencils
  • Remember our dreams visually using images, signs and symbols
  • Express our gratitude and count our blessings creatively
  • Improve our concentration and memory by using repeating doodles and patterns
  • Brainstorm ideas and solutions with illustrations and mind-mapping (concept-mapping).

I wrote a series on keeping an art journal in March.

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What also keeps journaling fun and fresh is having a purpose for it, as well as having bank or supply of prompts and/or questions.

Here are 10 ways (of many) to use a journal that I have found most useful.

  1. To chronicle significant events and experiences.
  2. To talk to God through written prayer and meditation.
  3. To record diet and exercise.
  4. To plan (meals, gardens, events, lessons).
  5. To brainstorm ideas for stories, projects, business ventures, etc.
  6. To count my blessings and create a list of gratitude.
  7. To dialogue with my spirit to affirm my value and worth (love notes to self).
  8. To jot down clever quotes of friends and celebrities.
  9. To create poetry and/prose.
  10. To practice creating various art forms: faces, mandalas, lettering.

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And, here is a short list of prompts and questions you can use to get you started in keeping a journal:

  1. My bucket list – What do I want to do and visit before I die; and, why?
  2. I deeply appreciate…
  3. Happiness is…
  4. What gives me great comfort?
  5. These are the ways I show others I care…
  6. My greatest fear is…
  7. I really enjoy…
  8. It bothers me when…
  9. My fondest memory is…
  10. My saddest moment is…
  11. What was the highlight of my day?
  12. One year from today…

Keeping a journal has helped me to grow and evolve professionally and spiritually. I have grown to love to not only chronicle my life, but also explore my deepest thoughts and feelings. I have made this into a personal daily practice and I keep it fun with things that make me happy…colors and images. I invite you to do the same so you, too can reap all the wonderful benefits.

Title artwork by: Rick Orobko

All rights reserved. ©2016 by A.K. Orobko

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