The meditative magic of journaling: How it can transform your life

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So you want to change your life.

What is it exactly that you want to change? If you were to answer honestly, the answer would likely be: everything. You look in every area of your life and see room for improvement.

You could be making more money, be in better shape, and have better relationships. You have all sorts of wishes that are yet to be fulfilled. When you envision the perfect lifestyle, it’s something drastically different from what you currently have.

But the big question is how do you get there?

The problem with wanting everything is that it’s overwhelming. There are so many things to improve that you don’t know where to start. So you end up in the same spot, wistfully thinking about how to transform your life, yet having no idea how.

Most people live in the daydream, never escaping the “what ifs” that could have been.

The Domino Effect of Habits

The good news is that there is a way to achieve transformation. The trick is, instead of trying to change everything, to just change one thing. It may sound counterintuitive, but improving one little part of your life is the most effective way to improve all areas.

As much as we like to compartmentalize our lives, every aspect of our lives is interconnected. When our personal lives are under duress, our emotions carry over to how we feel and act at work, about money, and in health. But when one section of our lives is doing well, this positivity spreads elsewhere.

A domino effect happens when creating change. One small positive change leads to positive changes in the rest of your life. Quite often, these changes almost seem to unfold by themselves.

Let’s say you start changing the way you talk to yourself. Instead of looking at a challenge and saying, “I can’t do that,” you say, “How can I do that?” You then try to understand how others have overcome that same problem.

You read more, you talk to people, and you attempt new things. Your confidence levels rise, you improve your social skills, and you make greater progress on your goals. That simple initial change creates ripples that flow into the rest of your life.

But in order to create all those positive changes, you need to develop that first habit. Get that down, and then the rest of your life starts to fall in place. This is where journaling comes in.

Why Journaling is a Great Starter Habit

Like the first domino that knocks down the rest, developing a starter habit is just what you need to trigger other good habits in your life.

Writing in a journal is one of the easiest habits to start. Anyone can begin journaling at any time. There are no logistics to consider, whereas other healthy habits may require planning beforehand.

For instance, many people try using exercise as a starter habit. While it’s a great idea, you also need to think about what to wear, where to exercise, and whether or not to join a gym. Not to mention, you’re probably going to feel self-conscious jogging in public for the first time.

A journal, on the other hand, can be done anywhere, anytime. You can jot down notes on your couch at home or at the local coffee shop. You don’t need to think about who or what’s around you, because what you write down is for your own consumption.

Besides the ease of keeping a journal, there are a number of benefits:

Stress Reduction

Journaling has been shown to act as a source of physical healing. A study found that 76 percent of the adults who spent 20 minutes writing about distressing events for three days in a row were fully healed 11 days after a biopsy, compared to only 42 percent of the control group, who did not write at all.

Like a friend you confide in, a journal is a safe outlet for you to release your emotions and thoughts. Writing in a journal helps you to make sense of difficult events and boosts your mood. It’s also been found to lower stress hormones and improve the immune system.

Reaching your goals

When tennis legacy Martina Navratilova wrote her book Shape Your Self, she discussed the role journaling has played in keeping her healthy in mind, body and spirit. She wrote, “Keeping a journal of what’s going on in your life is a good way to help you distill what’s important and what’s not.”

You have only so much time and energy to write, so you put down your key thoughts and filter out the rest. By writing down what’s important, you become more focused on your priorities, you maintain discipline, and those written words solidify the seriousness of your intentions. Essentially, you see the big picture more clearly.

Improving your communication skills

While your journal might be meant solely for yourself, it’s still a form of written communication. In the process of writing, you learn to convert your thoughts into words, express yourself, and choose what to write about.

Like any muscle, it can be difficult at first to think about what and how to write. Even though all sorts of thoughts are racing through your mind, it’s difficult to get them down on paper. But the more you practice, the easier it becomes, which translates into better communication skills.

Measuring growth

Have you ever looked at an old photo of yourself and felt surprised at how much you changed since then? Journaling is the same. But instead of looking at your physical appearance, you see a snapshot of your thoughts and realize how much you’ve progressed.

After journaling for a while, you’ve recorded a good amount of thoughts throughout time. When you look back at old journal entries, you see how much you’ve changed without noticing it. There’s no better substitute for seeing your past thoughts.

How to Journal

Journaling is really very simple. You need only a few tools, there’s no barrier to getting started, and it provides so many benefits to your life. When you consider all these factors, it seems almost obvious that anyone should start journaling.

Yet so few of us do it, and even fewer practice it regularly. Those who journal are often excited in the beginning, only to find that enthusiasm slip away. Life gets busy, so they quit.

How do we make journaling easy and enjoyable, then? How do we turn the knowledge that something is good for us into something we actually practice?

Here are a few suggestions:

Choose your format

All you need to get started technically is a pen and paper. But there’s more than one way to journal.

If you prefer the old-fashioned method, you can use a notebook. It keeps all your entries in a concise format, and you may like the feel of putting pen to paper (an almost lost art these days). There’s a sentimental quality to flipping through a paper journal, feeling the texture of the paper on your fingers, and seeing your own handwriting.

Or, you can use a more modern format. As one reader suggested, Evernote is a great app for journaling. To use the program, create a notebook for your journal, and then create notes for each entry.

The benefit of journaling on electronic devices is that you can write from anywhere and sync your devices together for ease of access. You can also insert photos you took that day for reference.

I know people who journal using either approach. Personally, I usually use the electronic format, dividing entries by day and noting the time of my entries. Occasionally, I’ll use a pen and notebook when I’m traveling and want to get away from modern devices. Do what’s easiest for you.

Use a starter question

So you’re ready to write…but what do you journal about? Generally, you can write about your day, interesting events, or thoughts that come up. If you’re stuck, here are some starter questions:

  • What am I most thankful for?
  • What is something I’m proud of achieving?
  • What is something I want to achieve?
  • What is something interesting that happened today?
  • How am I feeling?

You can pick any of these questions to get you started. Answer as many or as few as you like. If you prefer a journal that provides structure, take a look at The Five Minute Journal.

Make it convenient

If you make journaling a complicated, difficult exercise that you need to force yourself to do, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you give up. You probably won’t even get started in the first place.

To begin, you might prefer to journal either in the morning or in the evening (or both). You can put your journal on your bedside table so that you remember to write an entry everyday. Someone I know carries a journal around and pulls it out to jot down an entry when the mood strikes, whether that be in a restaurant, in a park, amongst family and friends, or alone.

Many people think a journal entry requires a minimum number of words as if you need to write a certain amount or else it’s not worth bothering at all. If this is what you think, reconsider that thought. Your journal is completely your own for you to do what you want with.

An entry can be as short or as long as you want it to be. If you just want to jot down a couple of words, that’s fine!

Journal Your Style

When I first started journaling, my entries were brief. I wrote down the facts, including where I went and what I did. Then slowly, my entries grew longer.

I started to write reflections on my experiences. I started to connect different events in my life and how one led to another. I would ask myself why I did certain things or felt a certain way.

In short, a journal allowed me to see life from a different angle. The effect wasn’t immediate, but as I become more comfortable journaling, I better understood recurring patterns.

Starting a journal is like planting a seed. You might not see much today, but one day you’ll see the fruits of your labor and be glad that you took the initiative. The rewards of journaling are great. They’re yours for the taking.

This article first appeared on Jump Start Your Dream Life.