Why I gave journaling another try

Many years ago I observed that some of the people I respected the most made a habit of journaling. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try. So, I bought a nice leather journal and set out to record those moments of inspiration and pithy wisdom. Unfortunately, those moments came about as fast and furious as Haley’s comet. A few entries later, my beautiful journal was collecting dust on my bookshelf.

But late last year, I decided to give it another try after reading Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. In it, she suggests a way of journaling that was very different from the approach I had taken. And for me, that made all the difference. I can honestly say that  I look forward to my time of journaling in the morning. It’s been one most personally transforming disciplines I’ve ever engaged in. I only wish I’d known to take that approach earlier. In my next post, I’ll outline that approach and offer some tips I learned along the way. For this post, I’d like to share some of the benefits I’ve gained from journaling. If you’ve never journaled before, or if you’re like me and gave it up, perhaps these benefits along with my subsequent post will convince you to give it another try.

Here’s what I’ve gained from journaling:

  • Greater self-awareness and sensitivity to God’s work. The Bible says that a “good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” (Matthew 12:35). As believers in Christ with the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have a storehouse of things to discover and bring forth. Taking time to journal creates a space to listen to what God is doing in our lives. Of course, journaling may make you overly introspective. Honest journaling carries that risk—it exposes your shadow side: your fears, failures and frustrations. If your sole focus is on your own mess, you may very well get discouraged. However, if you remember that God has put something in your storehouse to benefit others, your journaling time becomes a treasure hunt, with you as the explorer. The more you dig up, the more you’ll find your gratitude growing from the insights you gain.
  • Space for strategic thought. It takes me about 45 minutes each morning to complete my journaling. When I began to journal, I thought that was more time than I could afford. “I have too many other things I need to be doing instead of this,” I told myself. But as I kept at it, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. I learned that most of my day is spent in a reactive/responsive paradigm; driven by the needs of others. When one need is attended to, I’d turn and look for the next. Rarely, did I take time to think strategically on behalf of my clients or even about my own goals. Journaling creates a space to think proactively and strategically. The result has been a noticeable increase in my creative energy and enthusiasm.
  • Increased focus. One of the interesting byproducts I’ve received from journaling is increased concentration. It wasn’t until I put my hand to writing undeterred for 45 minutes a day that I discovered how prone I am to self interruption. I’d get up to get a drink of water, head for the bathroom, or even stare out the window. None of which were needed. I had just grown accustomed to these interrupts. I was working in bursts, rather than at a sustained pace. By ignoring the urge to take these “breaks” I reconditioned the way I work, improving my focus and productivity. In my post, Beating distraction and the Push-Away Impulse, I describe some of the strategies I use to stay focused.

Not every time of journaling brings big ‘aha’ insights and laser like focus. There are days when my writing is more banal than brilliant. But that’s what treasure hunting is all about. Sometimes you’ve got to dig through a lot of dirt before you discover the diamonds.

Leave a Comment: What are some of the benefits you’ve received from journaling?

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6 thoughts on “Why I gave journaling another try

  1. I, too, have had journaling recommended to me on good authority, Leary. I’ve been pushing encouraging it for my 8-year-old as a way for her to reflect on what she’s learning, but haven’t been able to bring myself to do it regularly. But, taking what’s a nearly-opposite approach to yours, I’ve been using OhLife with some success. You set up an account and email reflections to a private address. What’s most interesting to me is that it mails you reminder prompts with random quotes from past entries — “X-many days ago, you said such-and-such.” That’s a useful (albeit brief) “forced reflection” for me…

    • That’s a fun way to do it, Eric. I’ve stumbled through a few of the automated options out there and still prefer the tangible paper and pen method. Most of what I write I would not want coming back at me as random quotes. It might be a little scary to see what it digs up and sends back!

  2. I always kept diaries when I was younger and even into my early twenties. Then, when I started doing morning pages and working with the Artist’s Way, a whole new way of journaling was opened up to me. I realized that emptying out all the silly stuff and the clutter really helped me get to some good stuff for my “true writing.” I will always journal. I have no idea, however, what the heck I will do with all these books! 🙂

    • Hi Diana and thanks for commenting. Yes, I agree. It’s a whole new way and I don’t intend to stop doing it either. I’m sure you’re farther down the path than I. I’ve only amassed 6 journals so far, but each has been a small step in the adventure.

    • Increased focus was one of the biggest surprises for me. I didn’t realize how conditioned I was to distraction until I started journaling. I’d be interested to hear how valuable reviewing your journal entries have been. I’ve not sat down to reread my journals, though I’ve thought that would be a good thing to do at one of my planning retreats.

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