By Tim Gebhart 3:48 am PST

I have been journaling for more or less than 20 years. My journey in journaling began with an English teacher I had in high school who assigned for us to write a journal entry every day for the whole school year. During that class, I began to see the benefits of journaling regularly. My teacher’s rules for the assignment (or what the journal entries should look like) were loose. We could sketch, write poems, bullet point ideas, write a to-do list or goals, just paste whatever into the journal, fully write out ideas and stories, add quotes we liked, or jot down our dreams. We used the journal basically in whatever way worked best for us. I am giving you that assignment for this year and I will share some of what I do and the many benefits to keeping a regular journal others and myself have experienced. 

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
~ Anne Frank

In my case in terms of how I use a journal, I typically don’t write out full paragraphs, but sentences or loose poems just to convey the idea, scribble down dreams, or thoughts I want to flush out. Apart from that, I draw a picture along with the writing, jot down some notes about things, and that is basically it. Most of my writing I’m sure wouldn’t make much sense to anyone else. In a journal entry, I usually try to capture a feeling, write about an idea, or try to dig deeper into my thoughts and beliefs to find out where they originated. Taking the time to reflect on my mental chatter and views of the world and of myself has helped me feel like I can change and evolve as a person instead of repeating the same patterns of thought over and over each day. 

Since birth, we collect ideas about ourselves and the world that shape us and how we see things dramatically, so I try to identify the beliefs. Writing helps me see these patterns in my thoughts and most importantly, the beliefs and notions I have that are behind them. I have discovered so many deep-seated notions I had about life in this way. This process of writing daily to understand myself has drastically altered my life. One tiny belief we have can shape our lives in dramatic ways. 

Photo courtesy of Hannah Olinger

In the process of journaling, I have found that it helps me become more mindful of each day instead of just going through the motions, beginning and ending each day without any reflection. Many people say writing things down helps them release whatever is in them to better analyze it. For me, sorting through issues, understanding them, and rising above or letting go of them can be a gradual process that happens after days, months, or years pass before I look back on my previous entries and found I am in a completely new state of mind or have a totally different view of the events, thoughts, or whatever it is I wrote down.

Another benefit of journaling is that it helps articulate our thoughts. It helps us structure our emotions into sentences or images which then helps us better process and manage our feelings. We use language and visuals to communicate, but most often the source of what we say or think comes from an emotion which has a corresponding physical effect on the body. Note that when a person is happy or sad, their entire body moves and aligns with those feelings. The lighter our feelings and emotions are, the lighter we will feel.

“Your Journal is like your best friend, You don’t have to pretend with it, you can be honest and write exactly how you feel”
~ Bukola Ogunwale

Photo Courtesy of Marek Uliasz

In my opinion, to get the most out of journaling, it would need to be undertaken with the intent that no one else would ever be seeing it. We spend so much energy consciously, or unconsciously filtering what we want to say. A journal is a way to understand ourselves and our own lives. This is one of the few, if not only places we can be as we are. It is a precious opportunity to write or draw without thinking about scrutiny from others. This takes practice, but you will notice significant benefits of journaling this way. Your thoughts, creativity, and personality will flow more easily out onto the page more easily over time.

Also, in this day and age with relentless messaging from media, advertising, and peer pressure all trying to force their way into our minds and personal identities, anything that can help ground us in our own identity is priceless. One of the best ways to do that is through journaling. It helps us develop more confidence, and more of an ability to stand up for ourselves as we develop a greater sense of self-worth. 

Take the time this new year to make a resolution to get to know yourself. It will surprise you after it becomes a habit how grounding journaling can truly be.