Journaling is the habit of keeping a diary or log about our experiences, ideas, insights and anything else that daily life evokes in our minds. The Stoics have a long-standing tradition in journaling, with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations as clearest evidence. Writing our thoughts down has several benefits, which I’ll explore in this video: the power of journaling.
Marcus Aurelius never meant to publish his diaries. This makes it more plausible that the contents of his Meditations are his honest thoughts about a variety of topics. I could imagine that because a man in the position of emperor and most powerful person in the world didn’t have any equals to talk to, and, therefore, resorted to pen and paper as an outlet.
But it could also be that Marcus knew very well about the psychological benefits that journaling brings. Anyhow, his writings have provided humanity with profound wisdom to this day, and, thus, we could say that by journaling he built his own personal bible, which proved to be invaluable for many generations after him. This brings me to the first benefit of journaling.
1) Preserving personal life lessons
It’s great to have access to other people’s experiences and learn about life by reading books or watching YouTube videos. But there’s nothing like our own individual experiences. Every person is unique and so is every situation. And I believe that the only person we should compare ourselves with when it comes to personal growth is our own past self.
By keeping track of our personal life lessons, we will know where and when – exactly – things went wrong and things went right. Why is this important? Many people make the same mistakes over and over again and just never seem to learn. By having certain key moments in writing, it’s easier to remember what we usually forget, so we can make wiser decisions in the present and future.
2) Illuminating what’s in the dark
For those who’ve seen my video about the shadow probably know what I’m talking about. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is the realm in the unconscious that harbors unwanted personality aspects, thoughts, and desires. Because we all wear a mask to show ourselves to society in a desirable manner, everything that’s undesirable is kicked down into the shadow. What’s so dangerous about this is that the shadow can manifest itself in very destructive ways.
Journaling is a way to make sense of our own shadow behaviors and keep track of when they emerge and what the look like. By doing this, we shine a light on our unconscious inner world and, bit by bit, we basically journal ourselves into our souls.
3) Strengthening discipline
Keeping a journal every day is a discipline on its own. That’s why it’s hard to stick to it. But, when we manage to write a journal every day, this affects other areas in life as well. Discipline is contagious. When I do something in a disciplined way, like exercise, I will automatically become more disciplined in regards to my nutrition and sleep, and let go of bad habits that obstruct the good ones. The effect with journaling is similar; because I journal about my activities I’m more inclined to actually do these activities.
For example, one of my key habits in regards to this channel is that I write down my daily goals on the night before. Even if it’s just one simple goal like ‘writing a video script’. This helps me to stay disciplined the next day because it’s clear what I have to do and the burden of the future limits itself to that task alone. This not only strengthens discipline but reduces anxiety as well.
4) Reduce anxiety
Writing down your thoughts brings relief. Life can be very chaotic and food for destructive overthinking. Thinking – especially overthinking – is what causes anxiety. Psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker from the University of Texas found that journaling removes emotional blockages and allows us the better ‘grasp’ what’s going on, and helps us to come to terms with stressful events. Simply put: journaling creates order out of chaos.
In a way, it’s like cleaning a room. We take all the mess and put everything in perfect order, remove the dust and make sure it looks good. With journaling, we take the mess of our mind, put in into words and remove the nonsense. This way, we basically lose our thoughts on paper; saved for future consultation. We don’t have to hold on to them anymore, which is a soothing idea.
After sharing these benefits with you, here are some words of caution though. In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Steven Stosny writes that journaling, when done wrong, can have negative effects on the mind as well. Journaling can make people self-obsessed, passive towards life (meaning: observing instead of taking action), wallowing in the past, going on and on about all the bad things that have happened to them. His advice on good journaling is, in a nutshell, doing it constructively, so it leads to solutions.