The Three Life-Altering Benefits of Journaling

Posted on: Aug 03, 2018

From helping us remember our days to clearing our heads and transforming our spirits, the benefits of journaling are countless.

I turned the final page of my journal which I had just filled and closed it. This journal, like the dozens I’ve filled before it contained memories, emotions, moments, realizations and summaries, all chronicling my journey of growth and awakening.  

While there is something about opening a new journal that feels fresh and bursting with optimism, I felt sad to move into it. It’s like saying goodbye to a companion, a friend who has carried the contents of my heart or having a final session with a trusty counselor with whom I have developed a deep connection. I love the way its pages feel and the way the binding lay when I wrote. It even had a foldover flap which protected my deepest musings so that it could never accidentally fall open.

Why was I so attached? It’s just a journal, right?  A book of pages, disposable and temporary.

Then it hit me: The love I have for my past notebooks is a result of the hours and hours of time spent together bearing my soul, like a relationship that deepens over time. As my spirit fills it up, the material item takes on a life of its own.

After this surprisingly profound moment, I realized that journaling serves three sacred purposes in my life—three purposes that I think could enrich any traveler’s journey.

1. Journaling helps us to remember our lives.

In the trenches of motherhood when my kids were little, I decided to help myself find some meaning in the monotony and never-ending chaos.  Each day, I would capture one moment in a brief sentence or two. I had entries like:

  • “Today a tiny bird sat on our window ledge seeing his reflection wondering why he couldn’t come in…”
  • “This afternoon Mirabelle laid in the grass, flat on her back, for over an hour just gazing at the clouds…”
  • “I parked my kids in front of the television and played Smoothie Moves on Webkinz for much longer than I want to admit.”  

Chronicling the mundane gave meaning to the craziness.  Each moment recorded is now a visual picture in my memory.  It helps me see the story of my life and find joy in the ordinary and simple. Even now as my kids are older, I still strive to take a few moments each evening to record what mattered, what I am grateful for, and how my day filled up with life.  And every so often I look back to reflect on the journey taken so far.

“Life has a peculiar feel when you look back on it that it doesn’t have when you’re actually living it.” Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

If you had to document one thing that happened so far today that brings you joy, what would it be?

2. Journaling clears the way for our creative selves.

Julia Cameron, author of one of my favorite books The Artist’s Way, prescribes her readers to handwrite three pages every single day, as soon as you wake up.

Some days, these pages may be filled with deep reflections on the spiritual connection between all people, other days, you may use these pages to list out all of the reasons that your coworker is making you crazy. The whole point is to use these pages to get overwhelming thoughts out of your head to clear the way for the thoughts that will inspire you to create.

Writing down your raw thoughts is also great practice in silencing your inner critic. They’re for no one but you, so who cares if they’re sloppy, short, or uninspired?

Once you’ve practiced this kind of “brain dump” writing for a while, you may find that inspiration will make its way onto your page. Julia Cameron talks about how a character for one of her novels came to her first in her morning pages!

How will you know what ideas you have if you never give them space on a piece of paper to come to life?

3. Journaling is a tool for metamorphosis.

I have traveled the world. I have experienced deep grief and deeper healing.  I have vented and talked to God. I have shifted my life in cataclysmic ways. And I have processed it all with a paper and pen.

Though there have been years that I haven’t journaled at all and years that I filled multiple journals, the theme of my life is journaling consistently. I have been thinking a lot lately about going back to read my old journals (I never read what I write). I am very curious (and actually a bit scared) of what I might find from my 16, 24 or 35-year-old self. Even though I don’t usually look back at old entries, my life today is proof that I have grown and changed.  

It’s funny how progress feels so slow until you look back and take inventory of how far you’ve come. It’s like the earth orbiting around the sun: We can’t feel that we’re traveling 1.5 million miles in space every day, but at the end of every year, we can tell that it’s been a long journey.

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My new journal went through tough scrutiny before being selected for the job of dream catcher. I tested, touched, opened and closed the blank book to determine whether it was worthy of my entries.  Was the design too juvenile or whimsical to carry around such serious stuff? How did it make me feel as I reached for it? Would it be sturdy enough to be shuffled through the messiness of my life? Could I learn to love this journal like I have all my others?

I have confidence that with the three purposes of journaling in my back pocket, this new journal will become as dear to me as the last. Who knows what will fill these pages?