At the end of last year, in a moment where I felt utterly discouraged, isolated and lonely, I picked up a discorded notebook and started to write. As the thoughts poured out of me, my hand barely being able to keep up with them, the words sprawling out larger and larger as I kept on writing, my mind started to ease. When I finally stopped, depleted, my hand aching, I was able to feel a sense of peace so complete and so encompassing, as I have not felt in a very long time.
“Why have I ever stopped journaling?” I asked myself.
All throughout my childhood, teen years and young adulthood I had kept a journal close at hand or a document on the PC ready to absorb all my anxieties, fears, doubts, accomplishments or the detailed minutiae of any crush that I happened to have. Then, after a while, I stopped. I don’t remember the precise moment or why.
Since I rediscovered the connecting and liberating feeling of free writing and journaling, my overall sense of well-being has increased significantly. Multiple studies in positive psychology suggest it as well. I have touched a little bit about this in my previous post.
Before we continue, let’s discuss what they each mean since free writing and journaling differ slightly in their manner and scope:
Free writing is considered, in the writing and art community, a practice meant to give the writer free reign over the writing process, for a set period of time (5 to 10, 15 minutes) without any constraints. The pen on paper or the fingertips on the keyboard move constantly with no pause to correct spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Its main purpose is to allow the flow of ideas and thoughts uninterrupted. In other words, you just write down anything that comes to mind without any censorship: annoyances, grievances, dreams, memories, are all jotted down quickly without stopping. As you can see, we don’t need to be “writers” to use this techniques. I find it especially helpful after a particularly negatively charged encounter with someone or to simply relieve stress.
Journaling, on the other hand, involves a more structured and reflective approach in the sense that it has a broader scope and multiple purposes. The inner life is recorded, explored and (possibly) analized. It can be used to address depression, stress, anxiety, even trauma. It can even be, life-changing. It creates a haven, an open space for exploration, reflection and introspection.
Now, I would like to share 10 specific benefits of free writing and journaling in the hopes of inspiring you to try it for yourself (if you haven’t already). Or, to help you deepen your practice:
- It can happen any time, anywhere, and minimal resources are needed (pen and paper, a word doc on your PC, or an app on your phone). The beauty of writing is that it literally can happen anywhere and can instantly allow us to create a safe space to lay down our thoughts. A sacred space just for ourselves and our private inner world.
- It is a freeing and liberating experience: the notebook or document on your PC won’t ever judge or criticize you; there is no need for censorship, to follow any grammatical rules, nor does it need to be coherent. Whatever we cannot express outside, in front of the others, we can do so here.
- It allows for a deeper understanding of one’s motivations, drives and desires. By writing down our thoughts we become aware of them in a way that brings more clarity and perspective of our own internal world. Here is a list of 30 prompts to use for self-reflection and self-discovery.
- It is a powerful tool for regulating mental health by reducing the feelings of stress, anxiety and depression: The University of Rochester Medical Center has found that a daily practice of journaling helps in changing one’s mood for the better and improves mental health. Our emotional and mental well-being is just as important as our physical health, our professional development or financial situation. We invest time, energy and resources to learn and upkeep the aforementioned ones. Why not taking some time to address and explore our inner world?
- It fosters reflection and introspection: becoming aware of what drives us, what upsets us, how we respond to stressors and events in our life is the first step in learning to address them. Cultivating a practice of reflection will inevitably allow us to choose from a wider pool of options when next dealing with anxiety, a depressive episode, or a conflict.
- Practiced daily, at the same time, helps habit formation: by practicing it daily, around the same time, journaling can easily be turned into a habit. The instant, many benefits of the process, as well as the simplicity of it, makes it a bedrock for practicing and implementing other healthy habits (e.g. keeping a glass of water next to you each time you write can help you increase your water intake. We can easily adopt new habits if we associate them with existing ones).
- Enables creativity and self-expression: free writing especially is a well used tool that writers and many other artists employ to expand their creative process. So can you.
- Deepens our spiritual practice: whether it is a written prayer, asking for guidance, reflecting upon our daily Bible readings or connecting with “The Voice”, as Janet Conner encourages us to do in her book, “Writing Down Your Soul”, journaling can be a powerful medium to connect with a higher power (if this belief resonates with us) or to address our higher self.
- Can be used for goal-setting and life planning: journaling is a great exploratory process that can be used at the beginning, before we embark on the specific, identifying process of finding out exactly what we want to do with our lives. We might not know it (yet), but we can explore it in writing. By simply writing down a wider vision for our life we can identify the main theme, the one important drive that can propel us forward in this particular moment in our life, as well as our most urgent desires. This process, through journaling, can span days, even weeks, thus allowing time to fully reveal and clarify. Then, we can delve deeper and write down the actionable, measurable steps we can take daily, weekly and monthly to bring this vision closer to surface and align our inner world with the outside one.
- As a gratefulness practice: Journaling is instrumental in practicing gratefulness and in helping us focus our attention on all the things that bring us joy, that were given to us, that we have in our lives. Every day in my journaling practice I start and end with giving thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon me. It’s a wonderful way to recognize all that we have, all that we are, and all the help we are constantly given, every single day.
There are many, many more benefits of free writing and journaling and I invite you to explore them all here :)
If you decide to pick up a new hobby/habit this year, I hope it is daily journaling. Allow yourself this investment in yourself.
Allow yourself this space, that is free of judgment, this practiced solitude that can take you deeper into yourself and foster a deeper connection to your soul and your subconscious mind.
*In my next week’s post we will discuss more in depth specific exercises and techniques we can use in our journaling sessions to bring more clarity, focus and healing into our lives. So make sure to subscribe to receive the blog posts as soon as they are posted (each Sunday morning at 9:00 EST or UTC/GMT -5).
Thanks so much for reading this!