For more than 25 years I've been keeping a journal. I started around the age of nine, squirreling away my thoughts in one of those diaries with a padlock and key that all girls seen to have had at some point in childhood. I wrote mainly about events of the day, too afraid to commit to paper what was really going on behind the scenes.
In my teenage years I drifted away from keeping a journal as I got caught up in the world of boyfriends, A levels and completing my degree. Then, one snowy weekend in Leeds on a counselling retreat, I had a remarkable breakthrough where the painful words inside me that I’d been holding in for years escaped and turned themselves into poems. For the whole weekend I wrote pages and pages of poetry based on my experiences and unexpressed feelings and emotions. There was no stopping me. It was as if the words wrote me. I was possessed, and read aloud to the group every chance I could and to anyone who cared to listen. I was broken open and as the poet Mary Oliver writes, ‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’
Since then I have accumulated over 10,000 journal-writing hours and attribute journal-writing to saving my life. I’ve extensively researched the growing body of evidence about the many physical, psychological and emotional benefits of journal-writing and how it can help you.
Here are five reasons why you should keep a journal:
1. Your journal has the potential to be both therapist and a dear friend who listens without judging or interrupting and is open 24 hours a day. You can tell your journal things you wouldn’t dare verbalise to someone else. Writing it down takes the edge off more toxic feelings and emotions and helps you better understand what you’re feeling, freeing up thinking space to gain clarity on what to do next.
2. By getting into the habit of consciously and attentively looking back over your journals, you’re able to track your personal patterns of behaviour that help you achieve goals and respond effectively to challenges. You’re also able to see the patterns that get in the way of personal and professional growth, and healthy relationships with self and others. By becoming mindful with what you are discovering, you can move yourself from knowing into a doing state.
3. Journaling is inexpensive, accessible and is easily self-managed. It carries very few side effects and can be applied almost anywhere. Hence my naming it the new paper therapy.
4. Journals are creative portals. Because you’re in dialogue with your inner life when you write in a journal, you solve problems and get creative. Keeping a journal can be both a clearing-house and – in the next word, sentence or page – become an incubator where you tap into your imagination and unleash your creativity and ideas. Paul Smith and Betty Smith both fashion designers who both keep their creativity alive by regularly writing in a notebook. Writers like Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Sylvia Path and Alice Walker along with hundreds of writers across time who all kept diaries and journals which has informed their writing and creative productivity.
5. You give yourself permission to write yourself into history – consider how many women are left out of the history books? Journals give voice to your dreams and aspirations but are also safe spaces to release negative feelings, hurts and disappointments that could get in the way of those dreams and aspirations being realised.