Growing up, maintaining either a journal or diary was considered taboo and dedicated to the female race. Or at least that’s how I perceived it. Over the years I’ve realized a great deal of my own limitations were self-imposed, influenced by society and those immediately around me. One includes the practice of journaling. Distinct from a diary which tends to be a line by line account of your day, a journal is an introspective tool that offers a multitude of benefits for today’s man.
Maintaining a journal is a simple change you can implement in your life today, that provides immediate reward at virtually no cost:
- Collects your thoughts on paper, rather than stirring around confusingly in your head for hours, days, or weeks
- Strengthens a mindfulness practice by staying present, focusing on dedicated journal time and actively engaging with your thoughts
- Promotes relaxation and self care as you allot a few minutes everyday to the habit
- Starts your day in the right place, setting up a positive mindset that exudes the rest of your day
- Helps you understand yourself better by tracking symptoms to better control your responses: What triggers get you excited? What gets you down? How do you process feelings and day to day events?
- Maps out your goals and aspirations, both short and long term
- Maps out a specific incident that’s troubling you lately, to identify a solution
- Historically logs your thoughts and actions, to monitor progress and identify how far you’ve come!
“The same situations you’ve been dwelling on internally start to take on a new perspective.”
Suggested Elements of a Journal
While you have the freedom to structure your journal however which way you please, here are proven subcategories you may consider implementing:
Wins of the Day
It’s important to recognize and review what went well each day, as this practice boosts self confidence. This can include positive interactions with others, great ways you handled a situation, successful business acquisitions that transpired, or simply that you caught 10 minutes outside to enjoy nature! Don’t judge yourself on the “size” of the win; every win counts.
What Could’ve Went Better
Take time to acknowledge certain areas of your day that could’ve been improved. Perhaps you got frustrated with a coworker and wish you handled things differently. Maybe you wasted slightly too much time, when you could’ve been working towards one of your goals. Expressing these on paper allows you to process what happened and work towards avoiding the same situation tomorrow.
Global Goal Planning
Put your aspirations on the page and prioritize the steps you need to take to get there. These can range from short-term goals to a 10-year plan! Strategic planning is used by all successful individuals and businesses, why should you be any different?
Random Thought Expulsion
Allow yourself to simply write what’s on your mind. I’m constantly amazed at the clarity and direction I attain by expressing what’s on my mind and working through the scenario on paper. The same situations you’ve been dwelling on internally start to take on a new perspective. The act of physically writing has also been implicated in studies as a strategy for improved memory retention and heightened ability to understand and retain concepts.
A common mindfulness practice is keeping a separate gratitude journal. Gratitude is identified as counting one’s blessings. It’s essentially a free, happy drug that’s always available and has no side effects. Gratitude is something you can call upon at any time of your day when you’re feeling down. Often, the root of any frustration or problem is simply that you’re not being grateful enough. Re-read that last sentence!
When you’re in the habit of writing what you’re grateful for, you’re more likely to focus on gratitude during other parts of your day. It doesn’t have to be its own journal; you can incorporate a gratitude section in your regular journal if that’s more convenient for you. It just needs to get done! Being able to review gratitude moments of the past is an essential tool to maintaining a constantly positive mindset.
A study of counting blessings vs. counting burdens was conducted in 2003. Subjects who practiced gratitude exhibited heightened well-being across most outcome measures, with the effect on positivity being the most significant. Those who kept a daily journal also lead to better sleep, reductions of physical pain, and improved ability to handle change. A conscious focus on your blessings has a significant, scientifically proven connection to emotional and interpersonal benefits.
In 2009, researchers examined blood flow in those who practiced gratitude on a regular basis. The study demonstrated higher activation of the hypothalamus, an area that controls hunger, thirst, sleeping, metabolism, stress. Based on this, it is clear how something as simple as practicing gratitude can have an effect on a wide array of daily practices, from exercise to improved sleep to decreased depression. Gratitude has also been shown to lead to higher amounts of dopamine in the brain, the chemical transmitter released when we’re engaged in rewarding and pleasurable acts. Convinced yet?
Take Home Points
You have the freedom to structure your journal in whichever way desirable. You can pick up a blank journal and have a free canvas, without judgment by anyone including yourself. If you prefer, you can pick up a dedicated journal with subsections that ask certain questions, offer quotes, and more. The style isn’t so important, as long as it’s sustainable. Is the current framework one you can keep up, actually look forward to and use as an opportunity to relax each day? If not, change your system and find one that works for you. Common pre-set journals include the The Five Minute Journal and The Passion Planner.
When you implement this practice into your life, it might seem tedious at first. If necessary, ease into the habit: start out at a few days a week, and slowly ramp up. It’s important to remember the habit must be upheld in order to receive true benefit, regardless if you’re stressed, want to keep working and “being productive”, or tired and just want to climb into bed. Take 5 minutes for self-care to experience the power of pen to paper!