Journal Challenge – The Benefits of a Keeping a Journal

how to journal, types of journals, journals

I’ve kept a journal for years, but never considered it a positive life habit. Instead, I used it as a tool to express ideas, write down lyrics (I used to want to be a songwriter/rock star), but mostly, I used it to vent.  Although this practice was somewhat therapeutic, I was missing out on other major benefits of keeping a journal – advantages I’ve since found and want to share with you.

A journal is a tool for personal exploration and reflection. It’s important to understand your thought patterns, but more important to trace what you’re doing. Personally, I find it’s easy to skew past events to support my current way of thinking.  I don’t do this on purpose, but I have a tendency of “remembering” things working out differently. So what happens? Remaking the same mistake – which is one of the worst things you can do.

I believe failure is a key step for all who excel.  I’ve failed many times and despite the temporary pain, I found comfort knowing that it wasn’t a complete loss if it taught me a lesson. If you learn nothing and make the same mistakes again and again, you need to give your head a shake because you’re only wasting money, energy, and time.

Why You Need to Journal

A map or plan tells us where we’re going, but a journal reminds us where we’ve been. This is so critical to the ideas here at KTOOLs because it reminds us of the progress we’ve made. It tells us what’s working and what needs adjusting. It gives us evidence of our accomplishments, as opposed to remembering what was done or making guesses. There are so many tips, tricks, and “hacks” out there – not all of them will work for us, but some of them will. These are things that will change your life, so start experimenting – just ensure you keep a record of it.

The Benefits of a Journal

  1. A History in the Making – Life goes by so fast, so take the time to capture your life story.  It’s always fun to look back at your own life to see where you’ve been and what you were thinking.
  1. Focus on your Goals – What are your goals? What progress have you made towards them? Seeing yourself moving forward in your goals is great motivation to keep it up. On the opposite side, is there a lack of progress? This might be discouraging, but can also give you the kick start you need, or provide details of what you’re doing wrong.
  1. Notice Any Patterns – This became obvious for me when it came to blogging. Every six months or so I went on a personal journal rant on how I wanted to get my blog going again. I would listen to a bunch of Podcasts, read articles, write up a new business plan, and sometimes I would even write an article. Then life would get busy again (my go-to excuse) and I would forget about blogging and move on to something else. What patterns do you see?  What do you constantly come back to?  What could this mean?
  1. Explore Ideas – Despite our best efforts of attempting to be logical, we are still emotional creatures. I often spend time pondering over problems in my head (usually on walks) and then try to write them down in my journal. Sometimes I explore new problem-solving tactics.  Other times, it is my gut trying to convince my brain to stop trying to rationalize a bad idea. A journal is a great tool to problem solve and dive deeper into a topic.
  1.  A Record of Lessons Learned – How many important lessons have you learned and then quickly forgot before you could implement them in your life? The act alone of writing them down will help cement them in your brain. Reviewing these important lessons keeps them fresh and ready to apply
  1. Health – Psychologist James Pennebaker believes regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Pennbaker believes facing traumatic or stressful events through writing can assist you in coming to terms with them, which can reduce stress and the impact it has on your mind and body.
  1. Reduce Stress – Journaling allows for the lethargic dump of emotions, and provides a safe place to vent. You can also list all the things that are causing you stress and then experiment with ways to remove each one. I’ll be going deeper into Stress Journals in the future.

The Journal Challenge – Write in a journal everyday for five minutes.

I like to keep the challenges as simple as possible to assist in success. Please remember that every challenge can be tailored specifically to you and your needs or goals. So feel free to set the limit that works best for you. I like to work with a timer and go for 15 minutes. You might want to start small, even one minute and after a few days you won’t need to use a timer at all – I have to use the timer to stop or I’d write all day.

Types of Journals:

Goal Specific – This journal focuses on specific goals. It can include your progress, questions, new information, motivation tips, or anything that will help you succeed.

Feelings  – Why did you react the way you did? What’s bothering you? What are you excited about or feeling? This is the place to figure out or just record your emotions.

Memories – Dear Diary today I… One day in the future you can read this and laugh, cry, or relive wonderful moments.  

Ideas – Business ideas, story ideas, inventions or songs. Don’t let amazing ideas slip through your fingers. Have a place to put them.

Gratitude Journal – One of my personal favorites and a simple exercise that has scientifically been proven to increase happiness. Here is my own experience with a Gratitude Journal.

Dream Journal – Interested in your self conscious and trying to make sense of the dream you had last night? This type of journal is usually found on a night table to scribble down your dreams as soon as you wake up – before they’re forgotten.

Affirmation Journal – This type of journal is a place to collect positive affirmations or prayers. Whenever you’re in need of a little inspiration just turn through a few pages.

Family Journal – This type of journal can take many forms. It can be a written documentation about your family or entries can be added by the entire family as you journey through life. A Family Journal is a great way to communicate with those close to you and something fun to bring along on adventures, trips, or bring out on rainy days to share and relive again.

Recipe Journal – Did you make a fantastic dinner and want to remember the recipe?  Write it down here. Remember there are no boundaries in what the “journal” needs to look like. This could even be a binder with printed out recipes. What makes it a journal are your own ideas, thoughts, or additions to the book.

Travel Journal – This can be for a particular trip or for all your adventures. Accounts of funny anecdotes, interesting facts learned, sketches, or contact information for new friends.  

Health Journal – This may not apply to everyone, but can be very important if you are suffering from an illness, recovering, or pregnant. Writing down information ensures we don’t forget it, so it can accurately be shared with your doctor. It also allows you to monitor how you feel with different medications or diets.

Hobby or Specific Interest Journal – This is a place for all your learnings about a specific hobby or interest. If you are a collector, this can include an inventory of your artifacts with more information or ideas to explore.

Diet or Exercise Journal – These are gold.  In the words of everyone’s favorite DVD Personal Trainer of P90X, Tony Horton says, “how you going to know what to do, if you don’t know what you did.” This journal can track everything from weights used, sets completed, calories burned, workout times, nutrition… the list goes on.

Finance Journal – This is a place to record your financial goals, keep track of expenses or loans, keep information on investments and assets.

I can’t stress enough that life is all about experimentation and growth. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you write about or track, but that you are keeping accurate records you can return to and help you grow.

Journal Tips for Success

How I scheduled my Journaling: I have been journaling for a long time without any sort of schedule or frequency. I used to write in a bound notebook (something inexpensive you can find at any bookstore) and later switched to computer (just to keep what I was carrying to a minimum). I would write when the feeling took me and found the topic was either a negative feeling or I was exploring a new idea. Of course, this blog itself is a type of journal and has become another form of exploring ideas that I use. In regards to this challenge, I went back to the old-school method and physically wrote out my entries. I picked up a new journal and a couple pens. I didn’t get too specific with what I was writing but loosely used the following rules:

  1. Just write whatever pops into your head (free writing) and don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or mistakes.
  1. Attempt to stay positive – Before this challenge I completed another challenge on gratitude. In this experiment I learned that our thoughts and emotions are linked. Therefore, if you think positive you’ll feel happier.  However, the opposite is also true. If you concentrate on negative thoughts or events you’ll end up feeling depressed. I wanted this exercise to make me feel good, so I stuck with positive thoughts.
  1. Use a Timer – I just used my phone and usually wrote for 15 minutes. I recommend starting at five minutes and build from there.

Looking for a little more direction try The Five Minute Journal

This is a product I stumbled upon by accident and had to try.  It’s a paper journal that includes prompts like inspirational quotes, daily goals, and of course a section on gratitude – Great product and well worth checking out. I’ve been using it since I’ve completed the challenge and I love it. It keeps things short, sweet, and straight to the point.

The Journal Challenge Results

As I’ve said from the beginning, journaling isn’t new for me, but there was freshness in the challenge by leaving the laptop behind and using a pen and paper. I found this let me fully escape the distractions of the computer and concentrate on my writing; this turned the habit into a relaxing experience. Despite my attempt to keep things “open”, looking back over the thirty days the majority of my writing concentrated on feelings and decisions making me wonder if maybe the answers I found on some big parts of my life might not be completely made.

Moving forward, I will continue to keep journaling.  For the meantime, I’m going to keep using my Five Minute Journal. I like to keep things separated so I’m planning to start using an Affirmation Journal (for a future experiment and article) and a goal specific journal to keep me on track with my career goals.

What kind of journal do you plan to use? What are you going to write about?  I’d love to hear how the challenge helped you, so please leave a comment below or on Twitter at #KeysToOptimalLiving.