I have often turned to writing to help me process things that happen in life. I record events happening in my family, with my friends, my work, my reactions to what is going on … anything at all that I feel like. Writing is undoubtedly therapeutic; there’s something liberating about offloading your thoughts, reflecting on your fears or your hopes …. especially if you write to yourself as a friend, not as a critic.
That last line is key. It’s taken me years and years to start being my own supportive friend when I write in my diary. It may sound obvious but keep reminding yourself what you have to be grateful for. Focus on the positives and on appreciating the things you really value. As I get older, I’m finding more and more benefits from the habit of writing my journal (which seems to have become today’s word for keeping a diary).
Habit is another key aspect to journalling. If you make it a habit ( – like washing your teeth), it seems to have better outcome.
A good friend who had been through a lot shared with me that her therapist recommended writing at least three pages in your journal every day; that it doesn’t have to be perfect or anything; that if you can’t think of anything consequential to note, write anything at all! (If you miss a few days or longer, just start again: i.e. don’t beat yourself up for not doing it every day!)
Researchers at Harvard Business School found that writing a journal at the end of every day increased participants’ performance by 25% when compared with a control group who did not. This study concluded that reflection is a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: ‘We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.’”
Journalling has also been found to improve sleep — something I myself can personally attest to! The Journal of Experimental Psychology found that committing your thoughts to paper before bed decreases cognitive stimulus, rumination, and worry, allowing you to fall asleep faster.
My first memory of writing stuff down was letters to pen pals. It was a big thing in my early teenage years. When I was 12, I exchanged letters in broken German with a girl in Austria for a year or so. I also had exchanges with a French girl near Nantes. (Handwritten letters are a rarity now, but it is very nice to receive one …. I know because one of my daughters is great at sending surprise letters).
When those pen pal letters petered out, I starting scribbling my most private, hormone-fuelled, often troubled thoughts into a secret diary. Having six siblings meant my diary didn’t always remain secret, but I guess that’s part of growing up in a large family! I often wonder what became of those teenage diaries – I even burnt one of them as I was so afraid it would be read by someone else.
I’ve had multiple diaries over the years since. I would most often write when I had a problem or was angry over something. But I’m older and wiser now (!) Therefore, I now know to also write down the good stuff, to encourage myself and avoid self-criticism.
So, if someone asks you what you’d like for Christmas this year, consider asking for a ‘Paper Blank’ (my favourite type of journal, widely available). Another tip: include the year when you date your entries! It’s astonishing how the days, months and years slip by and you might forget what exact year you were in when you wrote that entry.
With love, Eimear