Starting a journal is simple. All you require is a notepad, pen and a few minutes of spare time. Journals don’t always have to involve writing lengthy entries and passages. In fact, psychologists advise starting small, writing down a few short sentences, from what you’ve done in the past 24 hours to three things you’re grateful for each day. From there, you can write longer pieces reflecting on what is happening in your life. Carving out the time to do so has been proven to boost mindfulness, allowing you to reflect on what’s happening and place events in perspective. There is also evidence to suggest that taking this time can boost self-discipline and productivity.
While a basic notepad and pen are great, the growing ability to save notes digitally means that it’s well worth investing in a smartpad and pen. Wacom’s Bamboo Slate and Bamboo Folio are a good place to start, allowing you to digitize your handwriting at the press button, saving work in the cloud or on your smart device using the Inkspace app. This will provide a handy back up your musings, as well as giving you the option to turn handwriting into text for easier reading.
Journals can come in many forms, with a growing number of techniques gaining popularity and giving the whole practice a new lease of life.
Chief among them is the Bullet Journal. This is a concept that utilizes short, single sentences and a series of symbols to identify tasks that need to be done, notes on things you need to remember and events that you have occurred since you last wrote in your diary. This process is aimed at clearing your mind of distractions, as well as blending traditional diary taking with everyday to-do lists, putting productivity to the forefront.
For those reticent about writing down their feelings, one sentence journals are a strong option. This is as easy as it sounds. At the end of each day, simply write down one sentence about what has happened and how you feel.
Pioneered in the early 1990s, Morning Pages has become a cornerstone of the journal writing scene. This technique requires journal writers to put down three pages of stream of consciousness shortly after they’ve woken up, the idea being that the brain is less constrained by intrusive thoughts at this time of day. Julia Cameron, who developed this concept, says that pushing yourself to write three pages will reveal breakthroughs and help you explore problems in a way that a few short sentences cannot.
The joy of keeping a journal means that it isn’t just about writing lines of text, though. Expressive writing can also involve sketches, doodles and symbols, all valid ways to show a creative approach and get feelings, thoughts and ideas onto the page.
There’s a large body of evidence showing that keeping a journal can improve mental wellbeing. 2005 research by Cambridge University showed that those suffering with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress could ease the effects by writing down how they feel, thereby reducing stress. Researchers suggest that such writing should be conducted regularly and in a private space where intrusions are unlikely. Further research found journals to be helpful in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy too, a key tool for those struggling with their mental health.
As well as having tangible mental benefits, journaling has also been shown to have positive physical effects too. Researchers at the University of Arizona discovered that writing a journal lowers heart rate and helps develop better heart rate variability, a key sign of good health. There are even studies showing that a journal can strengthen immunity.
A journal isn’t just something to turn to when you’re feeling low, however. The evidence shows that keeping a journal is a vital part of daily self-care, helping with defenses against anxiety and depression. Therapists claim that writing one can help us gain perspective, therefore having a more objective and less subjectively critical view of our own lives. The mindful benefits of writing a journal are also clear. Being able to take yourself away from screens and devices for just a few minutes can help you become more present and less stressed. A 2012 paper for Berkeley Science Review found that a mindful journal writing practice could boost happiness.