Why Keep a Journal

keep a journal - me with my journals Do you keep a journal? I have been squirrelling away my thoughts in one for almost 30 years. Today, I will share with you why I keep a journal. I encourage readers to take some time out every day – take some self-time and enjoy the process of writing. Journaling is a very worthwhile, practical and interesting thing for anyone to do. Journaling does not take too much time in any one day, but to gain benefit from the process you do need to be consistent. It is one of those activities that the more you do it the more you gain.

For me, a journal is a constant process. I use a journal literally to make sense of the day. As I reflect upon my life, recording my thoughts via word or sketch, it helps me make sense of the world. As an example, often in school, you sort out what you think about a topic as you are writing an essay. A journal does the same thing. Through writing about something, you can make sense of it.

A journal is something you do for you. It is time out to think – away from responsibilities and obligations. This is self-time, not selfie time. It is away from social media, work and domestic tasks. It is time used to record what you have observed in the day. What you notice and what you choose to record is unique, and that is what makes your journal special. It captures your view of the world.  With a journal, you literally notice – and take note of – your life. A journal trains you to notice the big and small details in your life, and keeps it there for future reflection.

For me, a journal increases observation and helps me to think beyond the obvious. I have the habit of looking for what I call “journal fodder”. This active looking has meant I have developed a respect for the everyday. I am sure, without my journal, I would not have noticed how even the everyday can become of interest over time. For instance, in my journals, I recorded how these new things called CDs were going to replace vinyl records. I could not imagine at the time that I would witness the disappearance of vinyl. I also noticed changes, such as the introduction of the Walkman, then the Discman, then MP3 players and on through to iPods, while seeing even each of those technologies become superseded themselves. Technology is something that has changed everybody’s life, yet most people think it either too geeky or too mundane to write about.  I recorded how 3¼-inch floppy disks were so easy to use after storing data on 8-inch disks. Who today still uses a floppy disk?

My journal was a place to record the rise of the internet. I described pre-internet days and how the universities ‘connected together and shared information’. I also recorded world events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers etc and simple little things like recipes, supermarket shopping, and store sales etc. – all this is currently changing with online shopping. I learnt that working a little, consistently, leads to achievements so I have become more intentional in many of my pursuits. This intentionality and focus adds depth and texture to my life.

Most articles that encourage readers to keep a journal emphasise that a journal is a great way to store memories but I would like to add that journaling makes memories. What do I mean by that? While writing a journal or sketching in a journal, you notice more about your day. Think about the process for a moment. When writing a journal you need to recall what happened in your day, then write it down. In this process of writing, you have consolidated the memory in your mind. You have reminded yourself of something that happened in the morning, which, if you had not taken time to write about, would have simply slipped away in the whirlwind of daily activity. Retelling and recording what you do each day builds and consolidates memories. Do it often enough and you will remember more of your life.

A journal helps me to keep personal priorities in focus. It is very easy to be caught up in Doing, yes Doing with a capital D as it becomes just that. Sometimes I need to ask if this or that activity will lead to where I want to go. In a journal, I can question current priorities and redefine them if need be. I can explore whether this or that priority is still appropriate or I may decide to spend my time in a different way. A journal is a safe private place to weigh the pros and cons of an idea. You can set out both sides and in the process be very clear about what you mean and what the implications might be. In other words, journalling speeds up a decision process.

When you keep a journal, you have a place to remind yourself of your goals, and a place to celebrate your wins. When you keep a journal you also have an obvious place to track your progress too. Working towards a long-term goal becomes easier if you can record each step toward the dream. Each small step is affirmed along the way making the journey towards your goal easier.

A journal can help you over stall points. If you are working on a big project and feel directionless, overwhelmed or have hit a stall point writing about it can really help. Describing and writing about the project makes you focus on what you want to achieve and defines clearly the project. This focus will help you list what needs to be done, helps you understand with greater clarity the scope of the project. By putting it down on paper you can get a hold of the thing. You can break it down into smaller achievable steps and this will naturally lead to you being able to see how to structure the project. By defining and structuring the project you are taking control and that action counters feeling overwhelmed by it.

Keeping a journal is not only for goal setting. A journal can be a place of deep reflection allowing you to connect with your core values. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves what our ethical stance is on this or that. Sometimes our ethics slide but in a journal can bring something into focus. For example, if we think recycling is really important we can remind ourselves of that value and do it!

A journal can help you develop a creative skill such as writing or drawing. If you want to write or draw, a journal is a good place to practice. The journal becomes a record of your skill development. Many professional writers advise you to write daily. Artists keep sketchbooks in order to draw daily. A journal is a place to do it and practice! Over time, these creative skills will get better and you will be able to look back and see your progress.

Keeping a journal can promote good mental health. Over the last 20 years or so science-based studies have demonstrated that there are beneficial effects on both physical and mental health in writing regularly. Even blogging has its health benefits! This article in Scientific American points to research that indicates writing produces many physiological benefits.

Journaling is inexpensive, as all you need to start is a cheap notebook and ballpoint pen. Of course, as your journal habit develops, you can indulge in all sorts of nice notebooks and pens but basically, that is your choice. Low cost means journalling is accessible.

For the amount of time you put into a journal, you get so much more back. That is why I do it. What are your thoughts about Journalling? Do you keep a journal? Do stall points prevent you from journalling? If so you could journal about them! Leave a comment if you are in the mood to tell me what you think. Next, I will share some tips on how to keep a journal.

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25 Comments

  1. Hi Sharon, years ago I took an online class from you about studio journals intended for fabric people… I think I begged my way in because it sounded right to me even though I didn’t do fabric work. I was interested in making a single journal out of the bits and pieces I wrote and Drew and played in. I’ve been doing it in various versions ever since. My stack is not as big as yours by any means and I did destroy some. There was a bad stretch and when I realized I was past it I took them all out and burned them and it felt great.

    The only other journal I kept was a kind of record book with a yearless date at the top of each page. On those pages I wrote a single line every day since 1989. I recently ran out of lines in the book and have been reading through almost 30 years of days. It is amazing! The first year is hard, as 1 line doesn’t feel like much but after that you can see life emerging….

    1. Jordi good to hear from you again and great to hear of your journalling journey. Oh your yearless date book kept for so long sounds wonderful – I have heard of 5 and 10 year one line journals but not kept one. Sounds great

      Sharon B
  2. I’m a writer who doesn’t write! I do a lot of thinking, on my walks and in the garden, but it seldom gets written down, as busywork usually takes over, unless it’s a specific post to accompany my sketching. I do keep a gratitude diary though, and a sort of adapted bullet journal. One of my goals this year is to write more. I’m heading in a (somewhat scary 😉 ) new direction, and writing and blogging are going to play a big part.

  3. Hi Sharon….Susan from Australian Pilgrims here…..I too have kept a journal for many, many years, although, over the past three or four of these years, I have become a bit inconsistent…but, I take photos every single day and I always have a notebook at hand, beside me here at the computer, on my bedside table, in my backpack and, even, one in the Loo. I have a passion for Notebooks of all shapes and sizes and each and every one I have, has some precious words of poetry, a quote which has caught my eye , a few words of observation as I travel on the train and observe my fellow travellers, the name of a song, little snippets of everyday life.
    I will definitely be carrying one with me as I wend my way along the Camino again in April….looking forward to meeting you both somewhere along the Way.

    Susan Morris
  4. I have been writing in a journal for over 20 years, just a few lines a day. During the last few years though I realized that more or less all I was writing about was doing laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning – boring everyday duties. That shook me up! I was losing the days of my life! I changed my technique and started to write only about special moments. First the pages often staid empty until I started actively looking for fascinating things in my life, often just small things. Becoming an Urban Sketcher helped a lot. Now the pages of my journal have become more colorful the same as my everyday life. My journal has become a lifeline!

    Franziska
  5. I too have kept a journal for many years – about 50. I recently looked through the last 20 years and it is quite eye-opening as there were so many things I had forgotten about. It is also so useful for settling arguments and clarifying things. I keep planning to burn them but i’ll maybe go on for another year!

    Lynda Baker.
  6. I keep my journal up to date when we go on vacation. It is so much fun to read my journal, especially my Camino journal. When we look at our photos we take my journal out to get our facts straight.
    Thank you for the reminder to keep up a journal for everyday.

    Susara
    1. Thanks Susara – we are going on another camino in 6 weeks time – same trail different season and probably staying in different villages. I am so looking forward to it.

      Sharon B
      1. I am Camino envy. My feet is aching to walk. Due to my husbands work we can only go in 2020. We want to do the Norte route. I will follow your walk with Jerry. Have a great time. Buen Camino

        Susara
        1. Hi Susara we will walk the Frances again this next but the time after that we are thinking perhaps do bits of the other routes – ie 100 k on one and then 100 k on another a bit of sampler and see how we go

          Sharon B
      1. Bless you, no. Not an off-putting picture at all. It’s a nice one! It’s just that I’ve been trying so hard for the last 3+ years to really reduce my stuff and simplify my life and possessions (esp in the face of possible multiple home moves), so the idea of carrying decades of journals from one place to another isn’t one that works for me. 🙂 We downscaled a fair bit to fit in our current home, which included reading up umpteen notebooks for me.

        We recently met an Aussie family who’d just spent a few years between 2 countries in South East Asia and who came here with their worldly goods fitting into 4 boxes (I must ask what size and was that in addition to any suitcases), and I really rather envied them.

        So, that’s where I’m coming from. 🙂

        1. Elizabeth – digitize! keep a journal that is either on the computer or in the cloud. I have gone through phases where my journal was a word doc, I am on a mac so I have used Mac Journal, and there are phone apps galore. Digital journals can be fun because you can take photos etc but also store little movies and sound files. So in the case of our family I have little movies of Eve performing and sound files of jerry playing the violin. it can be great fun and good way to learn new digital skills.

          Sharon B
          1. That’s an idea! In a way, some of that is already ‘achieved’ through my blogs. If I want to be as enviably unencumbered as my new Aussie friends, digital is my way forward. I rarely buy print media now – it’s all digital. 🙂

  7. Totally agree! Have kept journals in particularly stressful times. Always plan to do this daily self-care like stitching everyday but some how days pass until another entry. I’m now stitching more consistently but not journaling so consistently!

    Marilyn
  8. Hi Sharon, I do a journal every night , not the way you do but it’s a habit I’ve been
    keeping up for many years. Mine is a grateful journal that I saw someone on the Oprah
    Winfrey show talk about. I feel it has kept me sane while dealing with life’s ups and downs.
    It’s great to look back over the day & write down all the positive things that have happened .

    Yvonne Wright
    1. Yvonne I also write with gratitude every day – I record my day and always think of something that I am grateful for – I think it is very good way of building a sense of being positive.

      Sharon B

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