The Benefits and Dangers of Keeping a Journal
Every time I pass by the notebook section of any store (mostly Barnes and Noble) , I drool at all those beautiful leather covers and blank pages that are just begging to be filled with thoughts. Sadly, I buy the book only to let it collect dust on my shelf. But I’m determined that it will be different with this notebook. I will actually use this notebook. And in order to fulfill that dream, I will write down the many ways in which a journal can help me (and possibly you) improve your life.
Let’s Start with the Benefits
Perfect Shoulder to Cry on
Have you ever had that one friend that you avoided like the plague because all they did was complain about their life and how difficult everything was? Well, I started turning into that one friend. Even I was trying to avoid myself like the plague. But you know who doesn’t complain about your complaining? A blank piece of paper. You can tell it whatever you want, you can repeat the same stories over and over and it will never judge you for it.
Clarity of Mind
There are times when I don’t even know what is wrong with myself or what is bothering me. I know I’m sad but can’t really figure out why. I may think something superficial is bothering me, when in reality, there is something deeper at play. The thing is, I won’t know for sure what’s going on in the deep dark alleys of my mind until I sit down and write it all down. Things start becoming clearer once I start writing it on paper.
Maybe the answer is within you. Maybe you know more than you think. Maybe you’re the answer. Okay, that last one was totally untrue, but you get my point. Journaling can help you define the problem and find the solution to it. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed by a problem, write it down, define it and list possible solutions. This doesn’t mean the solution will jump out immediately and magically from the page. This might take time and work, but journaling about it will help you get there faster.
It’s a new trend word and everyone is trying to be mindful, but have you tried the whole meditation thing? It’s close to impossible if you’re a newbie. Even 3 minutes of mindfulness is too much to ask of my frazzled mind. I try so hard to concentrate that I end up itching in places I didn’t even know existed. Then I can’t help but concentrate on that itch and on new and innovative ways to scratch it, and everything goes downhill from there. I found that, at least for me, writing is a much faster way to get my mind to concentrate on the present moment. It has a task at hand that demands focus, and it forces my mind to become introspective. (Did I use that word correctly?)
Increase Your Vocabulary and IQ
There are times when the words you know can’t quite describe what you’re feeling. In that case, you end up searching new words or you end up making up new ones to add to your own vocabulary. How do you think Shakespeare made up some many words? He probably journaled everyday (Don’t quote me on that). There are studies that claim that journaling can also help you increase your IQ. A report by the University of Victory found that “Writing as a part of language learning has a positive correlation with intelligence.”
I’ve only known one person who claims to not believe in the existence of stress. That same person ended up in the hospital for stress-related health complications. He’s still a non-believer. In any case, we all suffer from stress at different levels in our lives. Journaling or writing about your stressful day may help you cope better and it gives you an excellent opportunity to explore your emotions — the ones you have and the ones you didn’t know you had. For example, I recently discovered I really dislike (read “hate”) my neighbor’s birds and I may, at times, feel murderous urges towards them. (The birds, not the neighbors) But I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t been writing while they kept their incessant chirping. I knew I was stressed and I didn’t know this horrible background noise had become the soundtrack to my own “Psycho.”
Journaling can help you release all those negative emotions, and it gives you a safe space to express all those things you KNOW you can’t say to another person. It’s a safe space for you to get to know what’s stressing you and to help you pinpoint those toxic people, things, and places in your life. I see my journal as a perfect dump where I toss out all my sludge, and I am better able to move on with my life.
Reading back past entries really let’s you know how much you’ve grown as a person and maybe even how much growing you still have left. It’s a beautiful walk down memory lane.
Possible Obstacles to Journaling
Feels Like Homework
For some people, writing or typing might take them back to their school days when they had to complete assignments in a given period of time. “But I don’t want to feel like I need to write on it everyday!” And the great news is you don’t have to. You don’t have to religiously write on it every day for you to reap the benefits of journaling. Write on it whenever you’re mad, when you’re super happy, when you’re confused, or when you just feel like doodling. It’s not homework and it should feel like homework. Do what feels right for you.
I Don’t Want to Relive Negative Experiences
It’s understandable, and you don’t have to write about these negative experiences. Your journal should be a place where you write down things to make you feel good, not worse. If you’re hesitant about writing about negative events, try starting with anything else, like something good that happened to you, something you found funny, listing things you find adorable. I mean ANYTHING. Let your brain go where it wants to go. If you start feeling uncomfortable, drop the pen/keyboard, and come back at a later time.
One of my biggest fears keeping me from having a journal was, “What if someone gets a hold of this? What if someone has access to all these horrible things I wrote?”
Diaries and journals are always at the center of hilarious sitcoms misunderstandings, and sometimes, they can even be the main evidence for solving crime cases. (I’m not even kidding. The twins Tasmiyah and Jasmiyah Whitehead finally got convicted of their mother’s murder when their diary was found) Let me be clear, I’m not advocating crime. I’m simply providing an example of why some people might be worried about their journal getting lost.
The solution? Keep a digital journal. Under lock. Password protected. With a two-factor authentication. There are many iOS and Android apps out there that offer that type of protection.
If digital is not your thing, keep your journal in a safe and creative place. Not under your bed, not in your underwear drawer. Get creative. Buy the biggest canned food you can imagine (something like a Juanita’s Hominy can), empty it, and keep your diary there in the depths of your pantry.
Let the first few entries be totally mundane. Let the first 20 pages be nothing but quotes from boring books, notes on a fake Chemistry class, lists of groceries. Then, after you think you’ve bored the brain out of your intruder’s skull, get down to business writing down your actual thoughts.
Something to keep in mind for privacy matters, don’t use a super fancy, unique, leather-covered journal. These will only call attention. Buy the most boring-looking notebook you can find. Preferably something from the 99 Cents store.
Don’t Tell Anyone You Keep a Journal
This might be your most effective method yet. In fact, talk derisively about journals and those who keep them so no one would suspect you’re one of those people.
Don’t Use Any Names
If you’re super nervous about keeping your journal private, don’t use any names in any of your writings. Not your own name, not anyone else’s. If you must speak about other people and express your crush, dislike or downright hate for someone, give them nicknames. If your journal were to get lost, it will be a lot harder to link it to you.
Write in Code
This might be for those who are beyond anxious and have entered the paranoid territory. But, hey, no judgment. The great Leonardo Da Vinci wrote some of his entries in “code.” Granted, it wasn’t a great code. He wrote most of his notes personal note in mirror. If you were to hold up his notes to a mirror, you’d be able to read them with ease. You might want to use that method, or get creative and come up with your own.
If you know someone is already looking for your journal because for some reason you let people know you keep one, then keep a decoy journal where you write anything you wouldn’t mind other people reading. This might appease intruders that are dying to know about your thoughts.
When Journaling Could Be Dangerous
Too much of anything is never healthy. If you’re spending your days journaling your life away, there may be cause for concern. You don’t want to be a life-observer. Be a life-liver! (Huh?) Don’t isolate yourself. Go out, live life, and come back and write about it. Don’t spend your days fantasizing in front of page.
Yes, journaling should be a safe place for all that negativity you may be dragging around, but it shouldn’t be the only content of your journal. Every time you include a negative entry, make sure you also include a possible solution to that negativity. And it should be a positive (and LEGAL) solution, not anything that may make matters worse.
Too Much Introspectiveness
Ever see that first episode in “Maniac” with Emma Stone where she keeps wanting to relive that horrible moment where her sister dies over and over and over? “Well, that can’t be healthy,” is probably what 90% of viewers thought when they watched this episode. And the same goes for journaling. If you’re using your journal or diary to torture yourself with past failures or anything that evokes negative feelings, STOP! Go do things that will make you feel better and that will build your confidence to go out into the world and do better. Use your journal for solutions and not for constant negativity.
All in all, journaling can be a great experience and it can help you get to know yourself better. Give it a try, and if it doesn’t work for you, at least you already tried. Keep exploring and happy living!