Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.

Robin Sharma

Keeping a journal can be both rewarding and helpful. Yet many hesitate to keep one since they wonder if documenting daily events is really worth the hassle.

But there is so much more to journaling than just recording what happened that day so you can read it later. In fact you can make your journal whatever you want it to be!

And most of the benefits of keeping a journal happen during the writing of it, and not reading it later — although that can be useful and fun as well.

This article looks at six key benefits you can get from journaling, each with tips for getting the most of that benefit.

The goal is also to inspire you with ideas for how to approach your own journal.

Go After Your Goals

Journaling is a great way to drive toward your goals in life.

These can be grand goals like your ultimate career, that next promotion, or starting a business. Other examples of goals are buying a new house or car, acquiring a new skill, retiring, or even meeting a significant other.

Writing in a journal can clarify to yourself what your goals are in a crisp way, and provide the mechanism to create a strategy to carry out a plan to reach them.

It’s amazing how goals can seem vague in your mind, but when writing them down, they become crisp. Written this way, you can see areas of the goals you need to define more. 

Journaling can also help with your motivation to achieve your goals. You can use it to give yourself pep-talks by exploring why you want the goal and how things will be when you obtain it.

Don’t forget that the journey itself is interesting and fun. Also don’t overlook the indirect things you can do to achieve goals. For example, getting fit and feeling good to give you a sharp mind to excel at work to help get that promotion

Here are some tips for Journaling to meet goals: 

  • List your goals in detail along with your general strategy for achieving them. Track regularly what you have done toward those goals
  • Pick regular intervals for checkpoint reviews. Use these to write what you have been doing since the last milestone in obtaining your goal, and what you are going to do for the checkpoint. These checkpoints can be weekly, monthly, or even yearly. In fact New Years’ day is one of my favorite times to journal, to really look back on what I did last year and what plans I have for the current year to keep on track
  • Set deadlines for your goals. Make them doable, or you may get discouraged — but it’s important to have a timeframe to focus your actions
  • Related to the above, for projects that you find hard to start and dedicate to — give yourself a drop-dead deadline for a significant milestone. If you don’t meet it, drop the whole project. This can be a great way to know how much it really means to you and prevents a lingering goal that causes stress when you are just forever not doing progressing

Relieve Stress and Anxiety

First of all, the act of writing itself is relaxing.

I am talking about the actual physical act of writing, especially with pen and paper.

You may not associate writing with relaxation. But that’s the heavy thinking, organizing, and editing parts of writing you are thinking of. You do not need to be formal with a journal! The writing just needs to be clear enough so that you can understand it yourself.

When you just write what is on your mind, and do not worry about others reading it, then the physical act is like an enhanced version of doodling, which everyone knows is relaxing.

So even just writing down thoughts, events, and opinions not related to your stress helps to relax you.

But to go further, it’s a good exercise to write down the things that are bothering you. This clarifies your thinking on them.

In most cases, your problems will seem smaller and more workable when written down. Otherwise, your mind has a tendency of amplifying worries and repeating them over and over again until you think that things are a lot worse than they really are.

Also once you have your problems listed, it’s easier to plan actions to address them.

Another helpful way to relieve tension, anger, and worry is to have a gripe session using your journal. This consists of writing down all of the horrible things you feel are going on around you. Go hog wild and don’t filter it. This can cause great relief in certain more intense situations.

I often find for these venting journal sessions that I like to rip the entry up and throw it away afterward if particularly intense. This not only symbolizes ridding these things from your mind, but also prevents you from reading it later, and putting you in a bad frame of mind.

You don’t want your future self thinking you were more unhappy than you really were. After all, it was more of a vent session, and exaggerating your gripes helps vent more sometimes. But overall I find this a good way to purge heavy stress quickly.

Improve Your Mental Health

At certain points in your life you may find yourself stuck in an unhealthy pattern of thought that is affecting your outlook and general happiness. It could even be leading you to (or you could be already in) an anxiety or depression disorder.

At these times, you need more than simple stress relief, although that helps. This section expands the previous benefit of stress relief — and pulls out some journaling big guns, so to speak, to address your mental health.

External happenings can no doubt be bad — sickness, death, loss of a job, loss of property, etc. In these cases it’s important to keep a proactive mind, focusing on what you can change, and let go of things you do not have control over.

Journaling can help these times by clarifying and driving toward goals to adapt, and sorting out your feelings on it. It can also sort out how much of your suffering is due to the external event and how much is due to your mind amplifying and panicking over it.

But in many cases, it’s an illusion that the things you are focusing on are really that bad. In those cases, it’s your feelings and reactions to these external events that are the vast majority of the problem.

These reactions can cause such a sinking and real feeling of suffering for things that cause no physical or material harm to yourself or loved ones. Why live life like that?

Journaling can help with this type of anxiety by using techniques from Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). The basis of CBT is that to fix your bad feelings and general suffering about an event, you should address how you react and think about that event.

Suppressing the strong emotional response directly is usually not a good idea since it tends to come back with a vengeance – but addressing the way you think about the event can indirectly reduce or eliminate the feeling.

To use this technique in journaling, list the things that are bothering you. Then under each one, put on your analytical hat and record what you think about that item. Include answering what you think is the worst that can happen with this situation?

Look carefully at your answers and ask yourself with a logical hat if they are really true. Look for areas where you are over-generalizing (like with words like ‘always’, or ‘never’). Pretend this is some friend’s problem and you are just logically seeing how bad it is.

After recording your observations above, write out an alternate more positive way of framing the event. It’s amazing that sometimes you can flip it on its end, where it’s now mostly positive. But even if that is not possible — in most cases you just need to take the edge off the negativity.

The point is your perceptions and reactions are what makes suffering from events real rather than the actual physical situation.

You can also supplement journalling with seeing a licensed CBT therapist if needed. Also, there are a lot of CBT books and resources to explore on the internet.

 Become a Better Writer

Journaling is a great way to improve your writing skills. After all, writing is the best way to get better at writing!

Building writing skills are good for aspiring authors, as well as people who want to write better in their everyday personal life and at work.

Since your journal material is very familiar to you, you won’t stare at the page long waiting for ideas. Words flow quickly — and that fact gives you confidence.

Sure, the writing itself is not refined and strictly structured. But even formal pieces of writing should start off in an unstructured, unedited way so you get your ideas down on paper. Then you refine and edit later.

Journaling is also a great place for raw ideas you can use in your other writing. It also gets you into a writing habit that is one of the biggest hurdles for aspiring authors.

Also, writing in a journal is a good way to find your writing voice. The thoughts, ideas, and events you write in your journal can give you ideas of how to express things in other writing that you do.

Famous writers including Virginia Woolf, and many others kept journals.

 Appreciating Life

Do you ever stop and appreciate things that are good in your life?

Earlier we discussed writing down things that bother you to help relieve stress. The opposite — writing all the good things you have and encounter — is definitely something you should do regardless of your current level of stress.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a growing trend now and with good reason. Research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal has many positive impacts on your happiness. It can lower stress, help your confidence, and even help you to sleep better.

You do not need a dedicated journal for gratitude (in fact there are no rules at all of how you want to handle your own journal). You could just add a gratitude section to your daily entry. Or even pick an interval (every week for example) to have a dedicated entry of all the things going great in your life and that the little things that you appreciate. Whatever format feels comfortable to you.

It’s so easy in daily life to focus on the negative things, even when positive, wonderful things vastly outnumber the number of things that can be classified as negative. It usually takes a concerted effort to really list the great things about life now to be grateful for what you have.

What do you put in a gratitude journal entry? Here are some ideas of events you can include:

  • Moments when you encountered some really nice scenery, such as a flower, trees, or a sunset.
  • A nice exchange with a stranger or someone you know
  • A session reading a good book or viewing an interesting show that made you feel good
  • Quality time spent with a pet
  • A simple walk outside where nothing special happened but just left you feeling refreshed
  • Spending time with loved ones
  • Eating a great meal or even an especially good snack or a great cup of coffee

There are of course endless things you can be thankful for. So list the main ones and reflect on them and it will improve your outlook!

Recording What is Happening

I saved the obvious for last — and it’s what most people think of when they think of a journal.  You can use your journal to walk through the significant events of the day.

The daily events, even the ones that seem routine now, are fun to read later. Not only is it interesting to read, but it can also give you confidence (or at least a learning experience) in how you handled situations in the past.

It also can make you realize how temporary things are, and how you alternate in many cases between being happy, and being bothered or stressed. It gives you a mindful perspective of life and it’s amazing how things that you perceived as bad then, do not seem so bad later.

Sometimes it can be tedious just trying to remember and write the main events of the day. Perhaps it is this way because it seems unremarkable now since your current situation is so fresh in your mind. But just remember how useful it can be to read in the future.

You don’t need to exhaustively list every detail and action that you do. It’s amazing how even a short description will be enough to jog your memory of the event later. Also writing down the event sometimes gives you a new perspective on it.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article motivates you to start or continue keeping a journal. The sky is the limit of what you can do with it! This article discussed some of the benefits to journaling and hopefully this gives you some good ideas of how to approach it!

I’ll end with a quote from a former Late Night show host:

I started writing a journal, and I was learning so much along the way.

Jay Leno

Happy Journaling!

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