Keeping a Journal Can Change Your Life

Keeping a Journal Can Change Your Life

keeping a journal

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Have you ever started keeping a journal – perhaps starting on a particular milestone like your birthday, or January 1st – only to give up after a few days or weeks? Like many projects which we’re initially enthusiastic about, writing daily or even weekly in a journal can all too quickly become a chore. After all, what difference can it make to write down words that no-one but you will see?

There are several ways for keeping a journal to change your life, and I’ll show you how to achieve each in just ten minutes a day. Still think it’s not worth it?

1. Your Journal Offers Self-Insight

Do you ever wonder who you really are? Do you have problems which occur again and again – patterns of behaviour that you just can’t break out of? Keeping a journal for an extended period of time lets you learn the truth about yourself: how your motivation waxes and wanes, how many projects you let fizzle out after a brief burst of excitement; what topics you return to again, and again, and again…

Ten-minute exercise:

If you’ve been keeping a journal for a while (even if it’s fallen by the wayside recently), read through some old entries. Do you spot any patterns? Look for strong emotions that occur frequently, such as anger, misery, excitement. You might also take note of recurring problems or difficulties. For example, do entries about lack of sleep coincide with stressful periods such as exams or project deadlines at work?

2. Your Journal Builds the Writing Habit

Are you an aspiring blogger, author, poet, journalist or writer of any description? If you’re making serious attempts at writing, you need to be disciplined about it – no professional writer works just when they’re “in the mood” or when “the muse descends.” Developing the habit of writing regularly (ideally every day) will be a bigger factor in your success than your raw level of writing skill. You will get better if you practice, and your journal is an ideal place to do so – no-one will laugh at clumsy phrases or failed experimental pieces, and you can write about whatever topics inspire you the most.

You can even write about your writing; building the ability to think about how you write will give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses. Being able to explain how and why a piece of your writing worked will let you replicate that achievement in the future.

Ten-minute exercise:

Set aside a period of ten minutes to write a journal entry every day. Even when you don’t think you have anything interesting to say, honour that commitment and write something. Some people are inspired by writing prompts, famous quotations, or simply picking a topic (work, family, health, goals). Even the busiest of us can find ten minutes in the day – set your alarm earlier, if you have to. It’s worth the effort: a hundred and fifty words a day – easily possible in ten minutes – adds up to over fifty thousand words in a year. Once you’ve built up your journaling like this, you’ll find it much easier to work on your other pieces

of writing.

3. Your Journal is a Gift to Your Future Self

journalDid you keep a journal at any point as a child or teenager? If so, and if you still have it, go back and re-read some entries: I guarantee that you’ll have a few great laughs and smiles in doing so. There might be references to incidents you’d previously forgotten, or particularly telling phrases or observations. Keeping a journal today means you can look back in five years, ten years or in old age at what you were thinking about, dreaming of, hoping for … it’s the closest you can get to time-travelling back to meet a past version of yourself.

Ten-minute exercise:

EITHER: Pick up one of your old journals and flick through it. What stands out? Are there incidents described that you’d forgotten? Have your views on a particular issue or topic changed radically?

OR: If you’ve never kept a journal in the past, use a page of your current one to write a letter to yourself in the future. Jot down some thoughts about the main strands of your life – are you happy with your job, your relationships, your health and fitness? Write down where you see yourself in a year, and in five years.

4. Your Journal Holds You Accountable

Many people like to record facts and figures in their journal, especially ones which relate to an important life change. Calories consumed, exercise done, cigarettes not smoked, alcohol units drunk … whatever the nature of your change, your journal can help you to achieve it. Seeing your progress in black and white helps you to carry on when your motivation is at rock-bottom, and for some people, the knowledge that they’ll have to record their failures is enough to keep them on the straight-and-narrow.

Ten-minute exercise:

Pick an area of your life where you want to improve: perhaps you want to get up early every day. For the next week, write down how you did each day – it’ll only take a minute or two, and you’ll be able to see if you progress as the week goes on – or if your enthusiasm quickly peters out.

5. Your Journal Encourages Positive Thinking

When you write in your journal, don’t dwell on things that went wrong. Focus on the positive aspects of your day or week – even when you have to dig hard to find something. It might take a while for you to notice the effect, but you’ll soon be seeing faster change in your life: we tend to move towards what we’re focusing on. Time coach Mark Forster advocates writing a daily “What’s better” list, recording the things which were not just good but better – this is a powerful way to focus on growth.

Ten-minute exercise:

If you’re reading this in the evening, how do you feel your day went? (Morning readers – use yesterday.) Chances are, you can think of lots of frustrations, things that went wrong, things that didn’t get done. Get your journal and write “Things which were good today”. List at least five. They don’t have to be big things – something as simple as “I saw a beautiful sunset” or “I left work on time” are fine. Now how do you feel about your day?

Images by Barnaby and Windy Angels.

Ali Luke

Ali writes about personal growth and development on her blog, Aliventures. As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing.

Latest posts by Ali Luke (see all)

43 Comments

  1. I think there are a couple of other elements that you have to use to make writing a journal useful for life change.

    1. Be totally honest. Don’t let fear stop you from writing something down, code it if you want be still write it down.
    2. Write down thoughts and feelings – not just events. These are the real indicators of what happened in your day.
    3. Review very regularly and make note of key areas that repeat and need to change

    Jarrod – Warrior Developments last blog post..Life Change is Hard Work

    Reply
  2. I’ve written millions of words in my journal, but I seldom read them afterwards. I used them more as morning pages, a way of talking to my best friend, of encouraging myself. I don’t do it much any more…talking aloud to myself seems to work, too. And, of course, I write weekly posts for each of my blogs.

    Why do it? When I write I never feel lonely. Writing is empowering.

    Jean Browman–Transforming Stresss last blog post..What I Learned About Learning…From a Rafting Trip

    Reply
  3. I don’t keep a journal…maybe I should. And not that your recommendations lack significance and the ability to be impacting (I certainly see the ability to inspire change). It’s just that at present I lack the motivation to just do it.

    I do however keep a thorough record of my days and time spent. I have a Daily Planner that I use to plan my day (in fifteen minute increments; how’s that for thorough?). I’ve been doing this for some time now. And lately I’ve been holding myself accountable to meeting my goals. If I have something on calendar and I accomplish that task, I put a green check mark. If I don’t, I put an X. My goal is to have a week full of green check marks. Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen a positive progression towards more and more green marks than red X’s. I’ve come to hold myself accountable and discipline myself. Without this little planner of mine, I’d probably be a little lost in terms of my day and life for that matter.

    Ricardo Buenos last blog post..Be Consistently Interesting

    Reply
  4. I find writing to be a function of thinking and learning at the same time. As I write, my existing thoughts are clarified and new thoughts find their way into my mind that would not have materialized otherwise.

    I believe our being is unfolded through the communication of our thoughts on paper, blog, or whatever medium works best for the individual.

    Writing is also a wonderful way to make sense of the world outside of ourselves…

    “I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind – and to work some of those contradictions out for myself.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

    Thanks for the post…

    Kent

    The Financial Philosophers last blog post..Delusion, ‘Non-Bottom Callers’ & The Afflictions of the Investor’s Mind

    Reply
    • I like your response! When I used to journal, I found it helped me sort through the thoughts in my head and it indeed make sense of various forms of contradictions!

      When I read previous entries, I sometimes marvel at my writing and at the picture of myself I am able to me.

      Reply
  5. In the past I have tried to start the habit of writing in a private journal on a few occasions because I love the idea of being able to go back and read my thoughts, ideas and generally just the things my family and I got up to. However, I admit that after a few weeks or months my motivation for keeping such a journal has waned and I have stopped.

    It’s funny then that blogging has become a passion of mine. In terms of the benefits you have listed of a private journal, I would say blogging offers all these for me and more. Many of my articles relate to personal experiences, so re-reading them tends to bring back a flood of past thoughts and memories. What I feel I am missing out on, though, is keeping track of those everyday events, in particular in regards to my two boys.

    Thanks for the post Ali! I may just go out and buy myself a journal….

    Reply
  6. I started writing a journal as a way to keep track of what I was doing when I moved to Taipei to study Chinese. Now it’s been a little over a year and it’s a habit. If i miss a day or two, I’ll be sure to go back and fill it in.

    Though writing with a pen in a journal is a more intimate touch, I find just typing on the computer to be much faster. I have a journal program on my Mac. My journal consists of what I did during the day and sometimes thoughts. It’s a way in the future, to go back and see what I was doing during that time. Sometimes when I read an old entry, I can feel like I’m back re-living that day.

    Reply
  7. Like Peter, I’ve tried keeping a journal so many times, and usually lost interest after a week. I didn’t find my inner writer until I actually started writing articles for my business.

    Blogging is my way to turning my personal experiences into the lessons I need to learn – but in a shared way, which somehow seems to unlock my understanding far better than writing for myself.

    As for keeping track of events with my little daughter, I scrapbook – which, I suppose, is a form of journaling, too!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

    Reply
  8. Thanks Ali,
    I always though about keep a journal but never did take time to do it. After reading your

    blog and reading the comments of others I will start keeping one. It is a good way to

    keep track of your day and your life. Thanks for helping me to make another change in

    my life.

    Eugene

    Eugene Williamss last blog post..Just Say “No” to Depression!

    Reply
  9. I really like #4 – being accountable. This is great. And like what Marc and Angel said about blogging doing this too for you. Blogging can be like an online journal if you want it to be.
    I need to start doing this.

    Lances last blog post..Defeat

    Reply
  10. I find that journaling keeps me focused on taking action towards personal and professional goals. I jot down the things that have moved me closer to success. Great article!

    Reply
  11. I have been journaling since I was in the 6th grade. It is amazing for me to re-read some of my childhood entries as adults. It brings back the memories sharper than a photograph. And it does makes me smile because what I used to think was the end of the world is really no big deal. Maybe it might help when I have a child to raise in understanding how they are feeling at certain situations.

    asithis last blog post..Behaviors that Intensify Feelings of Deprivation

    Reply
  12. I love this article. I feel as though journals are testimonies of ourselves at a given time, almost like a photograph but of our life. I look back on journals I kept when I was about 8 years old and just laugh. It is important to have personal dialogue with yourself and it helps to work out your innermost thoughts.

    Great site! :)

    Barbara

    Barbaras last blog post..Boost, Build, and Protect Your Brain Power

    Reply
  13. I keep a journal to release my feelings, just like telling a friend what is going on, or confessing your sins to a priest, or just to blow off some fumes and rationalize your emotions to yourself. It has helped me keep my sanity, and accept myself better.

    Reply
  14. Ali, I’ve kept a journal for years and occasionally (usually while packing to move house) I will flip through those pages. You are right, they contain such valuable information. Best friend, companion of your days, secret keeper, dream keeper, goal creation tool… whatever you use them for they are so precious we should include them in our household insurance inventory! Learning How To Journal was the most difficult process for me and because of that I’ve created a blog, please visit if you need some inspiration or motivation.

    Cate Fergusons last blog post..Is keeping a journal good for you?

    Reply
  15. I read this article a few months ago, and it struck a chord with me. I finally decided that keeping a journal might have a purpose beyond self-indulgence. . . I had always felt that when I kept a journal, I was emphasizing the mundane in my own life, and started disagreeing with what I was writing even as it was being written. I felt the need to outline every event, and the sheer volume devoted to history telling was boring me and didn’t turn out to be reflective of the real experience. And of course, when a journal entry doesn’t feel authentic, what’s the point?

    Your article allowed me to see journaling in a different way. I started keeping a journal with a defined purpose–keeping me accountable to the major goals in my life, and I LOVE IT. I’m addicted. At the end of every entry, I now add a list of goals that I’ve pursued today with specific examples from my day and what goals I intend to work on later. I keep an index card in there as a book mark reminding me of the major goals I have (kind of life areas that I’m working toward). . . and it allows me to do a run down on what I have really accomplished today. . . and what my intentions are for tomorrow. I’m also a follower of GTD, but this allows my reflection on my projects and my life goals on a daily basis, as well as time to readjust focus rather than allow the mundane stuff to take over. . .

    Can’t thank you enough for writing this thoughtful article!

    Reply
  16. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

    Reply
  17. My journals date back 20 years. They contain a record of my journey from a 30-year-old wife and stay-home mom to a divorced empty-nester. Each one is different. Some are leather-bound volumes from Barnes-Noble; others are spiral notebooks from the Dollar Store. Some entries spill over with raw emotion and others are so precisely written that they resemble a school report.

    I sometimes choose a journal at random and look through it to see where I was on this date years ago. I had to laugh when I read a lengthy rant from 1998 concerning a colleague’s “act of treason” against me. I couldn’t remember what it was all about. Other entries are very precious to me because they detail my daughter’s childhood.

    In one journal, I found a loose sheet of paper detailing a very upsetting situation at work. That was 15 years and several jobs ago. I can’t believe now that I wasted so much precious time and energy worrying about something I had no control over.

    Often, my journal is a substitute for confiding in friends. While my friends care about me, they also expect me to make the necessary choices to get on with my life after a crisis. But my journal has no such expectations. I can rant, rave, and repeat myself a dozen times if I want to.

    Reply
  18. I myself have been keeping journals since I was nine years of age and find it verry helpfull expecially on those “not so nice days“ When you have somthing that you cant or wont tell anyone else.. I`m 14 now and I couldnt stop writing in my journal even if I tried! Most of my friends tell me that theres no point in keeping a journal other then other people stealing it and reading it. I was suprised when they said this, but then again they`re only 14 like myself…
    My journal has helped me get threw some tough times and has helped me find out more about who I am.
    I would be lost without it.

    Reply
  19. I really enjoyed this. I think #5 was the important key that a lot of people miss when journaling. Instead of just recording everything that happens, you should right from a positive perspective. That is a wonderful way to refocus your energy and summon the Universe to deliver more positive circumstances.

    Nea
    Self Improvement Saga

    Reply
  20. Really nice posts. I will be checking back here regularly.

    Reply
  21. I love journaling and find it very powerful. This is a great reminder for me to keep on keepin’ on! Thank you! I find that the more I notice, the more I’m grateful for, and the journaling helps so much with that. Plus, writing helps me to strip away all the external “stuff” that isn’t from my true, authentic voice, so that I can hear that true, authentic voice more clearly.

    Wonderful!

    Warmest regards,

    Kendra
    Momentary.org
    Count your blessings. Everyday. Everywhere.
    (free with promo code “joy”)

    Reply
  22. Liked it! This triggers me to start making my own journal today. I just realize how journaling will help manage one’s self and aids for personal growth. I will buy one today and will start writing thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of my life..

    Great article!

    Reply
  23. Excellent post Ali.

    I journal regularly and I believe it is one of the most powerful tools for personal development. Journaling gets the clutter out of your mind and helps you to discover what is most important in your life.

    Reply
  24. A very interesting post.
    You know, I used to be very much into blogging up until a year or 2 ago. I used Yahoo 360 when it was up and running and became pretty successful as a featured blogger with many hundreds of regular readers. Sadly, Yahoo 360 and the community created within is no longer.
    All those old journals were dual written into my blogspot page and on the yahoo replacement, simply to keep a record for visiting in the future. I haven’t re-visited that for a while. I guess I want to and also would like to start writing again regularly. I need to overcome my ambivalence about this first though.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll start again again and perhaps keep it up after a couple of aborted restarts in the last couple of years.

    Marty.

    P.S. I’m very much into positive thinking right now and I’m writing some life coaching stuff for work, hence my research here.

    Reply
  25. I think self-insight is the most valuable of all these. So much focus on confidence and positive thinking, but if they aren’t based on genuine self-awareness, they have no solid foundation. Good post.

    Reply
  26. great idea, i think we should not think of reading back it again. just concentrate on writing the stuff you come across everyday in ten minutes and close it. if you’ve a bonus time, read old post and reflect on it so you may revamp your thinking.

    Reply
  27. I have a lot of journals; I must have over 10 journals. I enjoy journaling because it’s one way for me to get out all of my emotions and thoughts. I’ll go back and reread what I wrote and am amazed at my emotional state, even my handwriting looks different. Thank goodness for journals.

    Reply
  28. I’ve been keeping journals since I was in high school. I keep all of them in a secret place and I more often than not forget about them. But every once in a while, I would stumble upon them again while cleaning my stuff and moving. Reading everything that I have written brings both smiles and tears. It shows me of how far I’ve come and reminds me of my dreams. They help me get to know myself a little bit better every time.

    Reply
  29. Wonderful work! That is the kind of information that are meant to be shared across the net. Disgrace on Google for not positioning this submit higher! Come on over and visit my site . Thank you =)

    Reply
  30. One thing that I’ve noticed that is rarely covered in articles and blogs on journalling, is the fact that you have to feel safe enough to journal. Fear of someone else reading your journal. There are things in my life, past and present, that would never, ever want someone else to read about…not now, not ever.
    ~Blessings

    Reply
  31. I agree with this as well as everyone else. I started keeping a journal when I was twelve years old and here I am two years later. I plan to keep a journal until my death and read over some past entries. I suppose keeping journals is like a gift to your Future-self,too. I never thought about keeping journals in that kind of sense. Also, some replies made me think about this: Was I honest to my journal? If not, does that mean that I wasn’t honest with myself? To tell you the truth, I don’t write every single secret I have in there for the fear of having someone find it and read it. Keeping a journal has sparked my dream in becoming an author as well. In addition, it has assisted me on my writing skills and progressing my vocabulary. I even named my journal: Davidson Hope. I have an online journal at penzu.com that I have named Maria Faith. This way, I can write anywhere, even if to gather some thoughts when I’m online. I’m very proud of keeping a journal and wished everyone kept one. However, if everyone did, we may as well be tempted to read other journals. Nice blog!

    Reply
  32. All my emotions flow from my heart and majestically spill onto the pages of my journal. It is like a prayer holding my sadness, pain, frustrations and my joy of grace. I have kept cards given to me as a child, young adult and up to today. It gives me peace and calmness when I see cards with the messages and their signature of love ones who have pass to the heavens. This has been such a great gift to myself……….because when I write a message in a card to someone it is straight from the heart and I hold my love ones once again.

    Reply
  33. I think that’s a good point, Jean … I don’t re-read everything I write, and certainly find that the act of writing itself is a large part of the value.

    Reply
  34. Hi Ricardo,

    It sounds to me like you *are* keeping a journal! I think that sort of accountability log is incredibly valuable — I kept a food diary several years ago when I successfully managed to lose 50 lbs and reach my target weight. Writing pages and pages in a journal isn’t for everyone … your method sounds like it’s working ideally for you.

    Reply
  35. Keeping a journal while your boys are young could give you something fantastic to show them in the future! How about a scrapbook where you could include photos, jottings about outings and special occasions, locks of hair, the first scribblings they do in crayon, the letters they bring home from school..?

    I agree that blogs offer a lot of benefits, but they aren’t something you can hold in your hand or stash in the attic for the future. And it’s hard not to self-censor, at least a bit, on a blog.

    Reply
  36. @Ali: Thank you for the positive reinforcement! I think I’ve managed to be somewhat successful because I’ve tackled my goals day-by-day. Sometimes, small incremental changes and progress is the best strategy for effecting change.

    Ricardo Buenos last blog post.."We All Make Our Own Sandwiches"

    Reply

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