Some of the most gifted people I know make it a daily habit to journal. But does it really make a difference?
Well, you may have heard that it does not really matter what you experience in life, but rather, how you interpret events. For example, optimists will give their past life events a positive spin, like turning them into a lesson learnt, while pessimists tend to ruminate about their bad luck.
In either case, it is the way we interpret past events that shape our beliefs about important topics like our capabilities, our worthiness and our future. And although beliefs are neither true nor false, they can be extremely powerful, as they shape the story we tell ourselves, usually beneath the surface of our awareness. Beliefs create feelings of certainty about key topics of our lives, and these feelings trigger our motivation to behave in the manner we do.
Through the practice of journaling, we gradually become aware of our patterns of thinking, and the beliefs that shape much of our habits. And here is the real issue: Our mind is constructed in a manner that wants us to understand why we do the things we do. When we understand ourselves, we feel good. But when we don’t, we become terribly frustrated.
Through the process of journaling, we learn to make sense of our lives, of our behaviours, including the irrationally self-sabotaging ones. We finally get to know ourselves in a deeper and more intimate manner.
In fact, we humans are generally speaking social beings who are designed to express themselves and share with people we like. At the same time we all have our little secrets that we want to keep away from others, and often even from ourselves— unpleasant, embarrassing and at times even traumatizing memories we just want to forget. But it is these little secrets that often at some level still run our lives and give us sleepless nights and restless days. This of course is not good for our health, our relationships, or our work.
Therefore it seems evident that it would be helpful to express those secrets in one way or another. In fact, Pennebaker, a leading expert on this topic, discovered that people with powerful secrets were literally more prone to health problems. He found that by just writing down some of these secrets, participants of his study instantly improved their health. Thanks to further research on this topic he then showed that people also experienced similar benefits when expressing emotionally charged situations, like a divorce or even a business setback.
His conclusion was that emotionally charged circumstances impact every part of our lives. This is what makes the practice of journaling so important—it helps us focus and organize them in a manner so that they no longer run our life. By translating our experiences into writing, we give ourselves the opportunity to literally heal the wounds of the past. At the same time, we can also articulate our desires and dreams for the future, and gain deeper understanding as to what it is we really want, and how we can get it!
So give it a try: Make it a habit from time to time and write about:
- your day
- your experiences
- feelings and thoughts
It does not need to be longer than 5 minutes at a time. Try and connect your inner world to important past events, so you can understand why it is that you think and feel the way you do. But also spend time thinking about your future, like your goals and dreams. The key is that you enjoy the process of expressing yourself truthfully to the most important person in your life- yourself.