Why Everyone Should Write a Journal — And How to Start

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Despite spending a big chunk of my early adult years as a television sports anchor paid to ask a ton of questions, one of the few regrets I have in life is not asking even more of them. Having a grandfather with a treasure trove of knowledge, an essential time capsule of historical awesomeness, was a huge opportunity that I could have and should have taken more advantage of during my childhood years.

Story-time with my grandfather was always an interesting tale of life growing up in Brooklyn during the 1910s and ’20s. He’d tell of going over to the ballpark to watch the Yankees or of his time spent as a shoe salesman.

But when my grandpa passed during my teenage years, I lost that time machine. My Delorean was now without a Flux Capacitor. I still find myself wishing I could have another conversation with him about his life and of all the interesting things he saw during his glory days.

We should all be so lucky to have family members share those unique and interesting memories with us as we grow up. And now in the role of parenthood, the responsibility is essentially passed on to us to do the same for the next generation.

Banging out a memoir of the hows and whys of your ridiculously awesome life is quite the undertaking. No one expects you to be the next Elizabeth Gilbert and pen the Eat, Pray, Love of your own life. But knocking out a few words every day into a book, journal, or notepad is a much easier and acceptable task that will document the many adventures that molded you into the person and parent that you’ve become.

Before we begin, this isn’t about sitting down and writing in a diary to talk trash about the mean girl in math class. This is about a measured and specific approach to daily writing that will improve your own life along the way. It’s worked for centuries for some of the most important historical figures who’ve ever walked the planet:

  • Abraham Lincoln

  • Benjamin Franklin

  • Winston Churchill

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Maya Angelou

  • Oprah Winfrey

Journaling worked for this collection of super-fine scholars and historically phenomenal people, so it’s very much well-positioned to work for you, too. And none of the above who journaled would ever have their relevance called into question because they kept a “diary” of gossip. So, essentially, you no longer have an excuse.

The benefits of keeping a journal

When done with diligence and consistency, keeping a journal will not only unlock a window to the past for your kids and grandkids and every additional branch of the family tree that is blessed with seeing your work, but the therapeutic aspect of a daily writing practice will benefit you in numerous ways.

Historical reference — Just like the newspaper dateline is a great time piece that we use to chart historical events and experiences, the journal is a perfect and much more personal newspaper for your life. As events of importance progress, you’ll have a current events medium to document the occurrence in vivid fashion without losing out on littlest of details; things that may seem minutia now, but end up being terrific nuggets 15-20 years down the road. Think back to something that happened 15 years ago and try to remember every single detail. It’s almost impossible to accomplish this with perfection off of random memory. But, if you charted this in your journal, you could easily refer back to those details in a particular entry.

Spur Creativity — For the writers in the bunch: nothing will improve your writing like writing some more. And in doing so, your brain adapts and learns to identify and communicate complex ideas more effectively. It’s also a fantastic way to brainstorm for new ideas, challenges and goals.

Combats Stress — While keeping a journal is a terrific way to document the past – especially if later generations are able to see the regular writings – it’s also extremely therapeutic for the author. Take the time during the daily practice to vent if needed and let off some steam. Doing so will have you feeling much more focused and driven on the flipside of the journal entry. It’s a daily form of catharsis in action. In fact, a study from Advances in Psychiatric Treatment revealed that a 15-20 minute practice of journaling on 3-5 occasions were enough to help combat trauma, stress and other emotional events.

Improve Mental clarity — Daily reflection through a journal allows a complete and total environment free of judgment that opens up the door to truly process an experience. Whether that is a positive or negative experience, it doesn’t matter. No one is there to judge or make crucial comments, which provides a free zone to explore the inner workings of your own emotions and thought processes.

Help establish and achieve goals — Checking in with your goals on a daily basis is a big step in the right direction towards achieving success. Go the extra mile and document your journey through the use of a journal to chart the progress. Track your successes, failures, learnings and emotions along the way to improve as you move closer to your goal.

Pick a medium

The day and age of finding a random cave or wall to chart your adventures through Hieroglyphics are no more. In other words: there are so many different options for starting and maintaining your daily practice, so essentially, there’s no excuse not to get started.

Paper Journal — For many of us, there’s nothing like flipping through the pages of a book and jotting down the thoughts for day with a good pen in hand. For those that want to take a page out of the old-school days of journal writing, find a good notebook and use this as your regular medium for an outlet.

Word Processor — If you want to bang away at the keyboard as part of your daily release, simply open up a new Microsoft Word or Pages (Mac) document and start going to town. You can save each entry as a specific document in folders based on dates; or you could even keep one long document open and just add to it each and every day.

Blog — Now that we’ve hit the 21st century, things like blogs are wonderful opportunities to keep your thoughts in one place without taking up room on your bookshelf or in your own personal computer space. Use outlets like Blogger or WordPress to express yourself on a regular basis. Both allow you to keep posts private so it’s really like a blog for an audience of just one.

Evernote — Saving your work in the cloud means being able to access it anytime, anywhere. Especially when using an app like Evernote. I’ve written blog posts in this app, while also utilizing its wonderful properties for organization. Keeping a journal here is a great idea, too.

What to write about

There are no hard and fast rules for how a journal is comprised. Which means it can be more than just words on a paper. For the uber creative or just the visual peeps, think outside the box and take to some drawing and diagramming to help encapsulate the thought process of the day. The key to victory is consistency. Just plan out a 5-10 minute (or even more if you are so inclined) and sit down to start writing on a regular basis. As you continue the practice of daily introspection, you’ll improve in your writing. You’ll begin to develop more ideas and topics to write about and you’ll see.

And 20, 30, 40 years from now, your grandkids and great-grandkids may just be sitting around and noodling through some old notebook and having an awesome time reading about all of the wacky adventures that you unlocked in their own little Delorean to the past.

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