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Journaling To Make Sense

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Although often maligned as old-fashioned, the habit of journaling is a simple yet often overlooked Mental Fitness strategy that can help us improve our self-awareness and resilience.


Writing helps us to turn our emotional thoughts and feelings into words. When we turn our thoughts into language, we acknowledge and validate them, rather than suppress them.

The act of writing gives us a safe space to share our deepest concerns and yearnings without judgement in ways we may not be comfortable doing with others.

Writing also increases our self-awareness by helping us relate to our thoughts more objectively. It interrupts our tendency to ruminate and overthink our problems and instead focus on new perspectives and solutions.

By putting pen to paper, we are able to see thoughts 'from above', which creates distance from them and reduces their emotional weight. We see that we are separate from our thoughts, and that we can analyse them with curiosity.

As we write, we naturally simplify and summarize our thinking. Because most of us can't write as fast as we think, writing forces us to become selective in which elements of our emotional experience to attend to.


Sometimes our emotions can feel like a jumble. Writing helps us to turn our daily struggles and catastrophic traumas into a narrative, which ultimately helps our experiences become less threatening.

Much like the plot of a book or a film, narratives have a beginning, middle and end. When writing, we can think about our struggles and challenges to become the author of our very own story. We can think of our lives before adversity as the beginning of the narrative. The part of the story where the protagonist confronts misfortune or struggles and must dig deep to overcome difficulty is the middle. The way we respond to adversity is the ending, which we get to write. While we often don't have power over events themselves, in our response, we get to decide what they mean to us and how they fit into the bigger picture of our lives.

By contrasting how a potentially stressful experience may have changed us in some way from beginning to end, we realize how difficult circumstances may have prompted growth within us.

The precision of the words we select when writing also changes the interpretation and meaning of what happened in our story, and can be the difference between progress or stagnation.

When thinking of how we might describe an experience, notice how choosing between the words depressing, frustrating, revealing, dispiriting, or upsetting each convey different meanings.


Creating a habit of journaling requires us to overcome the barrier that writing "isn't for me" or that we "don't have the time." Like many Mental Fitness skills, very often we are simply not in the habit of writing.

For a start, begin by writing just a few dot points or lines each day when you find the time. Research shows that even writing just twice a week can be as valuable as writing every day.

Second, taking a growth mindset to expressive writing helps you overcome the common belief that you need to write like Shakespeare or be a 'good writer' to benefit from journaling.

Focus on the process, not the outcome. The act of sitting down to reflect, structure your thoughts and craft meaning from events is what boosts your resilience, not the polish of the finished work.

Third, give yourself opportunities to write more by having a notebook and a pen close to you more often or in key locations where you are more likely to see and use them.

By reducing the amount of 'friction' between thinking of writing and actually starting, you are more likely to turn this powerful tool into a meaningful habit.


Reflect: If the idea of writing appeals, think about what type of writing might suit you best. Reflect on whether you would prefer to write about difficult experiences or daily struggles, note-down what you are grateful for, or dreaming up future goals and plans.

Plan: Find ways to stack the process of writing onto something you already do. A morning coffee might coincide with an initial 'mental download' of the day's concerns. Brushing your teeth to get into bed can become a cue for getting something off your mind instead of habitually turning to your phone for distraction.

Act: To build the habit, start with one or two regular prompts to spark ideas and provide structure. What's on my mind right now?", "what am I looking forward to today?", or "what thinking traps might I be using?" can be helpful start.