From civilization’s earliest times, and certainly preceding language as we know it, people have used whatever means were available to them to record their pursuits. In the intricate cave paintings of Lascaux, France, now more than 17,000 years old, Paleolithic peoples chronicled aspects of their daily lives in more than 1,500 images. In Spain’s Cave of Altamira, prehistoric scribes illustrated the challenge of the hunt in detailed charcoal and ochre drawings.
Like the ancients, as children many of us used a diary to record our activities, and also as a means to express our dreams and desires. But experts say journaling as adults may provide even more benefits, playing a significant role in helping us achieve our goals and leading to a healthier life in the process.
Using a journal as what some experts call a significant “life tool,” the writing process helps bring out insights and identify ideas that may not have occurred to us in passing thoughts, and allows us to chart and measure change and progress along the way to getting what we desire. Some of the world’s most successful business people, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs have reportedly used journals to help them achieve their goals–which includes writing down their fears and any obstacles, and working out problems–day by day, week by week, or month by month. Additionally, some health experts posit that journaling may lead to fewer incidents of stress and stress-related illness, such as depression, heart disease, asthma, ulcers, and high blood pressure. The simple act of writing about our problems can stop them from churning inside of us. It may result in more serenity and help us come to terms with them.
Here are some suggested steps to set you on the path to a more stress-free life, and help you attain your goals through journaling:
1) Set aside some time each day (15 or 20 minutes is adequate) to record your thoughts. This may be difficult in the beginning but will become easier over time. Remember this is just for you–not for friends, family or publication–so try to do it without personally censoring or editing. Let thoughts, feelings, and observations flow in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way, just getting everything on paper. In time, writing every day, though beneficial on many fronts, may become less essential toward reaching your goals as some journal keepers report that doing it once a week, or two or three times a month, is enough for them.
2) At the end of your entries, set some short, medium, and long term goals for yourself (these can be the same each time you write, and/or add new ones or subtract those that have been met). The act of writing down goals helps define, clarify, and solidify them in your mind, even if you have no idea how to cross the finish line, and experts say writing about them subconsciously sets you on a course to achieving them anyway. In vernacular, it “plants the seed.”
3) Write down any steps that occur to you about how to reach your goals, if they do. Also write down any fears, doubts, or perceived obstacles to accomplishing what you want, personally or professionally, without trying to judge, justify, rationalize or solve everything. Be specific. The act of getting these issues on paper often accords great insights into managing them. If solutions occur to you over time, record these as well. If not, again, getting the negatives out is a huge step toward freeing yourself of limitations.
4) As the days and weeks go by, record any observations about yourself on the path to better health, as a result of releasing problems to the page, and meeting your personal or professional goals. These may or may not include identifying patterns in your behavior, a calmer demeanor, increased self-awareness, improved self-confidence, deeper insights into yourself, others, and your relationship to them, etc. Refining or redefining your goals as your journaling progresses may also help speed you on your path.
Remember there is no absolute right or wrong way to keep a journal, and how we approach it is up to each of us. What works for some won’t necessarily work for all, and when or what we write may change over time. The important thing is to remain open to the varied possibilities and results that keeping a journal affords us. Many would agree there’s power in those pages!