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How to Write a Journal: The Powerful Habit to Greater Happiness, Health & Brainpower

in Self-Improvement

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.– E.L. Doctorow

Aretha Franklin, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Harry S. Truman, Marcus Aurelius, George Bernard Shaw, Maya Angelou and Snooki all kept journals.

But you don’t have to be creative, politician, scientist or a professional wrestler for this practice to be worthwhile.

Regularly putting your thoughts and experiences into writing has some tremendous benefits regardless of what you do.

How so? Let me show you. 🙂

The Benefits of Journaling

There are tons and tons of benefits to keeping a journal and many of them have been scientifically proven. To give you an idea of possible improvements, check out this non-exhaustive list of examples:

  • Capture ideas – If you trust your memory to keep your ideas you’ll be disappointed more times than not. The short-term memory is fairly limited and can hold about seven items for no more than 20-30 seconds at a time. For this information to be retained into the long-term memory it needs to be repeated and used. Avoid losing your biggest insights by habitually writing them down and reflecting on them in your journal.
  • Know yourself better – By routinely clarifying your thoughts and feelings you’ll get a clearer picture of what you want and how you feel. You’ll learn what makes you feel confident and happy. It’ll also become more evident to you what situations and people are toxic to your well-being and what you can do about this.
  • Problem-solving – Writing about difficult problems helps you to clarify and come at them from different angles. Keeping the issue in your journal also ensures you won’t forget about the problem which brings welcome relief to your mind. Knowing you’ll come back to the problem later helps you stay present in your everyday activities.
  • Get smarter – Writing about emotional or stressful experiences can increase your ability to concentrate by improving your short-term memory capacity. One study (1) showed that on average students saw am 11% increase in their working memory by writing about negative experiences, a 4,5% increase by writing about positive experiences and a 2,5% when simply writing about their daily activities. These percentages were directly correlated with an increase in grades of the students participating in the study.
  • Emotional well-being – There’s so much data confirming the mental and emotional benefits of journaling that councilors, social workers and therapists often encourage their patients to do it. One study (2) showed that 15- 20 minutes on 3 – 5 occasions was enough to help the participants deal with traumatic, stressful or otherwise emotional events.
  • Lose weight – According to a study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research (3) keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss. According to the researchers the participants who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. The simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to eat less calories.
  • Reduce stress Anne Frank wrote ”“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn”. Paolo Coelho said ”Tears are words that need to be written” . Writing about your frustrations and sorrows helps you release the intensity of these feelings. Psychotherapists refer to this as ”catharsis”; your words helps you release pent-up emotional energy.
  • Better health – Journaling has been scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system and preventing from a host of illnesses (4). Writing about important experiences for as little as 15 minutes a day can increase anti-body response, lower heart-rate and lower pain and medication use.
  • Self improvement – Reflecting on what you did well and what you messed up during the day  is an essential tool for your personal growth. If you never give yourself the chance to pause and reflect on your achievements and setbacks it’s going to be really hard to make the proper adjustments and grow as a person.
  • Self-esteem – Keeping an ”awesomeness section” in your journal where you record everything you’re good at can work wonders for your self-esteem. Not only does it feel good to write down, it also helps you relive the experience a second time.
  • Optimism – Research has shown that writing down three things that your grateful for each night can actually rewire our brains to scan the world not for the negative, but the positive, first (5).

How to Write a Journal

Those are some pretty sweet benefits, I know. 🙂 So how do you get started with your own journal?

1. Start small – Don’t make a huge commitment to this thing. Simply try it out for one month. Spend 5- 10 minutes a day reflecting in your journal. When the 30 days are up go back and review what you’ve learned and the progress you’ve made. Then you can decide if you want to continue journaling.

2. Pick a time – Aim for 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to do your journaling, ideally the same time every day.

3. Create a reminder – If you want to journal before leaving work, set an alarm and spend a couple of minutes writing before heading home. If you want to write before going to sleep, put your diary and pen next to your bed.

4. Find your medium – Some people prefer regular physical books and others the electronic versions. If you with a physical book I suggest you get one you really like and a pen you enjoy writing with to help stick to the habit. If you prefer software there are plenty of versions to choose from like Penzu, Day One & RedNotebook. A regular word document or google document will do the trick as well. Go with whatever suits you best that is easy to keep.

5. Refresh and reflect – As you get down to the actual writing, give yourself a minute or two to relax and clear your mind. See what stands out that you want to capture. Then get to it.

What to Write About

What you write about is completely up to you. This is time you take for yourself and you should be to focusing on what feels right to you personally. If you’re not sure here to start here are a couple of examples of what you could write about:

  • Progress/setbacks – Capture your big breakthroughs as well as your small wins. Pat yourself on the back for your achievements. Also ask yourself what you can learn from your setbacks to continually grow as a person.
  • Awesomeness – These are the wonderful things that happened during the day that might be so fleeting you’ll forget about them if you don’t capture them. Save the experience and be grateful you got to experience it.
  • Hassles & horrors – Write about the tough things that happen in your life. Express how you felt, what you were thinking at the time and how you dealt with the situation. Get the hassles and horrors off your chest, work through them and leave them behind.
  • Count your blessings – Write down at least three things every night that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t matter how big or small. The important thing is to help your brain to start looking for the positives in your life.
  • Whatever is on your mind – Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on what to write about. However, these pointers are just that; pointers. Fill your pages with whatever you feel a need to right about. Whether it be setbacks or achievements, golden moments or horrors, the key is to relive and reflect on them to make you just a little bit better every day.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
 – Anaïs Nin (Tweet that)


    1. Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity
    2. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing
    3. Keeping A Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests 
    4. Writing to heal
    5. How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves

2nd image courtesy of aopsan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you know anyone who could benefit from this article? I’ll love you forever if you share the knowledge with him or her. 🙂