We live in a digital age when there's a constant information overload. Every time someone asks how you are doing, the word "busy" dominates. We rarely stop to reflect. We take courses, but seldom spend the time to digest the learning and integrate it to our everyday lives. We get performance reviews, but seldom examine the root causes that prevent us from being more effective. We tell ourselves to be more confident, but we end up noticing our shortcomings most of the time and convincing ourselves that we will never "get there".
Widely recognized as an effective tool that facilitates emotional well-being, learning, mindset and behavioural change, journaling is commonly used in therapy, coaching and various personal development practices. Many famous leaders such as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and John D. Rockefeller kept a journal. They were busy people, too. Why don't you read on, and if this article makes sense to you, give journaling a try?
Journaling helps you become more mindful
Mindfulness is the awareness of one's thoughts, emotions and actions. Being mindful helps us observe what's going on in our lives, which fosters self-awareness, generates insights about ourselves, others and our circumstances.
Although meditation is one of the most effective ways to achieve mindfulness, journaling can also be used to accomplish a similar effect because the verbalizing process draws one's thoughts and emotions from their subconscious to the conscious level. As psychologist Randy Kamen suggests in The Power of Journaling, the process of journaling allows the writer to bear "witness to his or her past behaviors which then paves the way for fresh thought and perspective."
Why is knowing our thoughts or emotions important?
Shaped by past experience, our thoughts and emotions influence how we act and subsequently our results. Therefore, to improve our results, we must start from changing our thoughts. To do so, we need to first be aware of our thoughts and the emotions associated with them.
Hearing yourself out loud by journaling helps you observe your thoughts and emotions more clearly and objectively and may offer you insights on how to manage those situations.
Journaling helps you build new thoughts or mindsets that empower you
Decades of neuroscience research has found that our brain is constantly processing countless information and have to build "shortcuts" to "filter out" information unnecessary to us. This leads to a cognitive bias named confirmation bias, a phenomenon where we only notice information that supports our existing beliefs. A good example for this: you just bought a new car and soon enough you started noticing people driving the same car on the streets. Did people start buying this same car suddenly around the same time? That's quite unlikely. You started noticing similar cars most likely because your brain started to allow cars of the same made on the street to "float" into your conscious mind so now you are really seeing them.
How do we make confirmation bias work for us in the world of journaling? You could use journaling to help you record evidence that supports the mindset you want to cultivate.
For example, if your goal is to feel more confident, you could use journaling to help you record instances that support the mindset that you are capable individual. Ask yourself: What did you do right today? What small win did you accomplish today? Repeating this process over a period of time and you may start to notice that it gets easier and easier to notice things that are awesome about you. Owning that positive perception of yourself would allow you to become more comfortable in the face of setbacks and criticisms in the long run because the area of your brain associated with self-appreciation has been strengthened through the mental exercise of journaling1.
Rick Hansen, psychologist and author of the best-selling Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, aptly compares “[the] mind" to be like "Velcro for negative experiences,” “and Teflon for positive ones.” Journaling could help you actively overcome our brain’s “negativity bias” and cultivate positive thinking.
Journaling helps you learn new things or develop new habits
David Rock states in his book, Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work, that for us to translate new knowledge to new behaviours, we need our brain to make new connections2. However, these new behaviours won't become long lasting habits if those new connections built in our brains are not continuously strengthened over a period of time. One way to strengthen those mental connections is to "[make] links to different parts of the brain so that the web of links thickens and spreads out”. So instead of just thinking about a new goal, a new habit, or a new thought, you can write it down, “talk” to yourself in the journal about how it relates to what you already know, and how you can put it in action. You can also use daily journaling to help you stay on track in that learning or habit building process.
Journaling helps you set meaningful goals and stay motivated
According to Denis Waitley (The Psychology of Winning), the human brain requires specific data to function properly3. The best professional athletes and musicians have been found to always vividly imagine their entire performance before even starting it. The visualization process helps the brain “rally” all the essential mental resources to perform the task successfully. Since the brain cannot tell the difference between now and the future, when the scenario visualized is taking place in real life, the brain is already prepared for the real game because a “mental dress rehearsal” has already taken place. Journaling can facilitate this practice of mental simulation by helping you document the visualization process, to help you remember what success looks like and how you can get there over your course of change and learning. Read more about how Octavia Butler, the multiple award-winning science fiction author, practically “wrote her life into existence”.
Journaling can also be used to perform a daily review of your higher purpose, which could help you stay motivated especially when facing challenges. According to research by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps in World War II, those who have a clear purpose for their lives tend to be the most resilient survivors. He said in his famous book, Man's Search for Meaning, that “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
what to journal about
Now that you have a better idea of the power of journaling, check out Part II of this post to find out what to write in your journal and how to get started.
- Kamen, R. (2014). The Power of Journaling. The Writer's Digest.
- Rock, D. (2007). Quiet Leadership, p. 24
- Waitley, D. (1986). The Psychology of Winning - Ten Qualities of a Total Winner