A teardrop hit my paper.
In an instant, I remembered one crucial thing… I was at an airport. There were people around me. I was crying in front of other human beings while writing in a journal.
This is common 21-year-old stuff, right?
Yes, I was crying while writing in what some would call a diary.
I had just spent eight months working at Walt Disney World on a life-changing internship. I journaled the whole time because my sister sent me a notebook to write in. She told me I’d want to remember these experiences later. She couldn’t have been more right.
As of today, six years later, that journal is my most prized possession.
If my house suddenly caught fire and I could only save one thing, I’d skip my birth certificate and get that notebook instead.
However, despite how much I love my journal, I love the one intangible gift it gave me even more.
It gave me self-awareness, the likes of which few people have ever experienced. If you don’t know what you want, if you’re confused by yourself, and if you feel “lost” in life, I’m happy to tell you a journal can clear all of that up.
All you need is a pen, paper, and 30 days.
Let me show you some of the biggest benefits of journaling.
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How Journaling Can Help With Your Self-Awareness
They say 75,000 gallons of water flow over Niagara Falls every second. Crazy, right?
Now imagine standing in the middle of a raging river. There are probably hundreds of gallons of water flowing past you every second.
It’s almost inconceivable to the human mind.
Now imagine trying to fish in a river like this. There are probably dozens of fish passing you by every minute, you just don’t know it. Imagine trying to catch them with your bare hands.
That’s a depressing thought because it’s not going to work for you.
Now imagine using a net. Problem solved. Journaling is like using a net in a river to catch our thoughts and feelings.
Most people live out their day, go to bed, and forget everything that happened the day before. Most people fish in a river with their bare hands. Not us, though.
If you take up journaling, you will remember. You’ll have swapped your bare hands for a net. You’ll capture and reflect on things you don’t normally give a second thought to.
It’s incredible to see how many “problems” I thought I had last week and how almost always, they resolve on their own soon after.
All it took for me to find them were two tools: a pen and paper.
How To Journal Every Day for 30 Days
Let’s get one thing straight: You don’t absolutely need to journal every day for thirty days. You can take some days off – the key is to just build a habit for one month.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind.
- Choose a desired length for each entry: Figure out how long each entry is going to be. For me, it was one single page. For you, it might be half of a page.
- Write the date and where you are: Each entry starts with the date along with where I am physically. If you spend most of your time in one city, just specify where you are. Are you in your room? A Starbucks? Your kitchen?
- Write about your emotions first: Start there. Are you excited? Are you anxious? Are you angry? Are you sad? My journal entries were always rooted in my emotions. I treated my journal like a paper counselor. I unloaded all my problems into this thing, and I always started with the thing that I most deeply needed to get off my chest. Then the rest of your entry takes color from there – you’ll talk about the background of your problem, what led to you feeling this way, and you may be three pages deep before you know it. Start with emotion.
- Write about events second: Journals should be like a personal history book. After you’re done with your counseling session, talk about what happened during your day and how you felt about it.
- Write about the future third: At the end of your entry, it’s time to talk about the future. What do you want to do differently tomorrow? What did you learn about yourself while writing today? Did you learn you get easily triggered by X or Y? Good, endeavor to stay away from X and Y in the future, then. In many ways, this last part of the journal entry is the most important for our personal growth.
- Put your journal by your bedside: Journal at night. It’s bar none the best time to do it. You’re about to go to sleep and do a reset on your psyche, right? Record everything first. Resolve your issues, and then try to sleep. You’ll find you rest better – I promise.
As you go through your journaling journey, you’ll start to notice some positive effects on your psyche. Here are a few that I started noticing personally.
If You Journal, You’ll Stop Getting So Angry and Upset
I love complaining. Don’t you?
It doesn’t matter if I’m complaining to a piece of paper, a wall, or a breathing human, I love to hurl angry words around.
One month after my sister sent me a journal, I realized I was using my entries as a way to complain about everything.
I was screaming headfirst into my journal, basically.
The benefit of getting stuff off your chest to an inanimate object is that you’ll be less testy in real life. You already complained uninterrupted to a piece of parchment.
Doing this is like going to get a massage. Your shoulders lower and you’re more at peace afterward, right?
Writing, for me, was therapy, and I became much calmer in real life because of it.
You see, most people deal with their emotions in real time. They start feeling angry or sad and since they can’t wrap their mind around WHY they’re feeling this way, they fold into themselves and break down into tears.
They’re in reaction mode.
It’s like an NBA team drawing up a game plan against a particular offensive scheme, then once they get out there the opponents have switched their offensive strategy entirely.
Now they’re in reaction mode, right? There’s no plan. There’s no time to reflect on what’s happening. All they can do is react.
Journaling puts you out in front of the action. It makes you reflect on problematic people in your life or issues that you keep coming up against at work or at home. You first deal with the emotions, then you start writing about ways to fix them.
Recently, I realized that as a vlogger, I have a big problem with lugging my camera gear around. My book bag is a horrible solution for storing all my cameras and lenses. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve had this problem for two years now. Not once have I thought of fixing it because it’s one of many problems I have.
If I journaled more lately, I’d be aware of the problem.
Yesterday, I got a camera bag and I can immediately see it’s going to be life-changing.
Get out in front of your emotions before they turn sour. Be aware of landmines in your life, and devise schemes to disable them should they rear their ugly head. How? Journal!
If You Journal, You’ll Also Be More Observant
Watching Sherlock Holmes’ movies always fascinates me. I love the way the camera zips across the room, showing us what Sherlock is noticing. What if you could have this superpower of observation?
Scientists say we have about 50 thoughts per minute. Most times they enter and leave our mind in a flash. However, when we write, we’re capturing these details. We’re recording them so we don’t forget.
This strengthens our observation muscle.
Then we become hyper-aware of the details in our day-to-day life.
A snarky comment. A smirk. How someone always goes for a cigarette break at 2 PM. The more we write, the more we’re strengthening our ability to catch the small details that surround us every day.
You’re not just going to get less angry and more self-aware, you’re going to become super observant. Think Sherlock Holmes, except not quite that good.
Imagine having the power to be more stoic in harsh conditions. Imagine having better observation skills. Imagine knowing what you actually want in life. Imagine having a clear direction!
Having all three skills almost sounds like having a superpower, right?
All of these skills can be yours if you start journaling. Go pick up any notepad from the store and get writing. It doesn’t need to be a Moleskin notepad or anything fancy; I quite like those dollar-store notepads myself.
Give yourself time to relax into the habit of journaling. It will be life-changing if you just believe.