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Dear Diary: Journaling As A Practice That Can Change Your Life

I had a diary when I was a kid; it was pink and white. It locked with an impossibly small key that I kept in my matching ballerina music/jewelry box. I could not say for certain, but I am fairly sure that notes about cute boys, mean siblings, and all of my hopes and dreams were stored inside. I occasionally turned to writing throughout my childhood and adolescence years during the highs and lows but never kept a journal regularly.

Now, instead of sporadically documenting a moment of joy or expressing my feelings about difficult times, today I journal as a daily intentional practice. This habit allows me to be more productive, monitor my health and balance, as well as keep track of the many responsibilities of life.

There is an abundance of research and advocacy for the practice of journaling. Forbes described journaling as “The #1 Productivity Tool You Aren’t Using” in a 2012 article by Dorie Clark. Psych Central’s Maud Purcell lists the health benefits of journaling which include: being able to clarify your thoughts and feelings, know yourself better, reduce stress, solve problems more effectively, resolve disagreements with others, track patterns, trends and improvement, and growth over time. The benefits of journaling are many.

Most experts suggest that you set time aside daily and begin with 10 - 20 minutes a day. I do not necessarily agree with this. No one has ever asked me personally or professionally, “Megan, I have an extra 20 minutes every single day, how should I spend them?” Although many people do not have 20 uninterrupted minutes to dedicate daily to journaling; however it can still be done. For example, I am frequently working to carve out time where I can with clients as well as balance my personal time. I often journal when I can: during a commute on the train or while I wait for dinner to cook. I have even been known to scribble something down while brushing my teeth. I keep a journal with me almost everywhere. This has two major benefits: writing things down immediately ensures that I do not forget anything and always keeping a journal with me allows me to review my notes when needed.

The real benefit in journaling does not happen right away; it comes when you go back to review your thoughts. The real benefit comes when you review all the “data” you have collected in the pages and look at the fantastic progress you have made. If it isn’t a positive trend, you can see it there in black (or blue, pink, green, crayon, finger paint – whatever works!) and white. At this time, you are able to pick up your preferred writing utensil and plan the recovery. Because there is so much reward from reviewing, having daily entries is key. If all you have time for is “I’m tired today, didn’t sleep, busy day at work, the dog ate my favorite book” or “Good day, so busy! Love vacation, and the food!” that is GREAT. Over time you will learn what works for you.

If I were to give any advice to someone beginning a journaling practice (‘cause I’m about to), I would say just a few things:

  1. Your journal is ONLY for you. Keeping it private allows you to be open and honest with yourself without self-editing for fear of judgment. Keep it private, even if it is just grocery lists.

  2. Never forget the date!

  3. Track your general wellness. Tracking hours of sleep, energy, mood, prayer, weight, exercise, food, drink, and meditation are just a few ideas. Using these things to see patterns will teach you a lot as well.

  4. Make it a habit! You absolutely cannot learn from what you never put in the journal.

Journaling is an important teacher and confidant to me. I have reaped many rewards from the practice. Nowadays the only boy that makes it into the pages of my journal is the one I married, and my journal doesn’t have tiny keys, but there are a lot more colorful words, a lot of self-reflection, and many useful insights.

​​Megan Johnson is a Certified Integrative Wellness and Life Coach who works with individuals to create the life they desire. Following her service in the United States Air Force, Megan went on to work with the Department of Defense and Intelligence Communities training and coaching teams around the country. She now uses that experience and her passion combining no-nonsense strategies with her compassionate and positive nature in a private coaching practice. For more from Megan visit: meganjcoachingandtraining.wordpress.com