You don’t have to be a starving artist in an 1899 Parisian café to write, you just need a pen and paper. Jotting down your thoughts, feelings, emotions and developments for just a few minutes a day has been demonstrated to be beneficial to both your physical and mental health in a cataclysmic way. So, why is keeping a sweet, short and simple journal important?
It can positively change your body
In the Journal of the American Psychological Association, a study was conducted of the physical effects writing can have. The study conducted was where 71 patients were asked to write about the most stressful event of their lives. Four months after the exercise, almost 100% of the patients showed improvements in those who wrote about stress. “So writing helped patients get better, and also kept them from getting worse,” says Smyth who conducted the study.
Keeping a journal a day, can keep the doctor away
According to the Journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, expressive writing can pay off in the long term. Expressive writing has been linked with improved mood, well-being, stress levels and depressive symptoms, as well as more physical benefits of lower blood pressure, improved lung and liver functioning and decreased time spent in the hospital.
Supporting your goals
One of my all time favourite authors Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich) was adamant that in order to achieve goals, they have to be written down, and then reiterated through writing and voice practice for the goals to be realised. Research by Laura King shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can lead to decreased illness and a significant improvement in overall wellbeing.
Reduced stress and improved productivity
Who knew?! By investing time in a creative process instead of hitting your to do list, you actually can become more productive and reduce your stress levels. Research conducted by Adam Grant concluded that “when people doing stressful fundraising jobs kept a journal for a few days about how their work made a difference, they increased their hourly effort by 29% over the next two weeks”.
Increased chances of employability
A computer company laid off 100 engineers, and after four months none of them were reemployed. A study was conducted to determine how journalling could positively support the engineers in their plight for new work. The 100 engineers were split into 3 groups:
- Group 2 (general writing group): wrote specifically about time management and the emotional, financial, relationship struggles with the job loss
- Group 1 (control group): continued living as per normal
- Group 3 (expressive writing group): wrote about their deep emotional thoughts, feelings, worries and machinations as a result of losing their jobs
Both groups wrote for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Three months later, less than 5% were employed from the Group 1 (control group), whereas in the expressive writing groups, more than 26% of the engineers were reemployed. Eight months later, less than 19% of the engineers from the control group were reemployed full time compared with more than 52% of the engineers in the expressive writing group. It wasn’t necessarily the number of interviews that landed the successfully re-employed engineers their jobs, it was after the interview itself that the odds were increased. Why is this? The researchers who conducted the study deemed that expressing negative emotions instead of suppressing them, positively impacted how the subjects were able to evaluate the situation and make positive next steps to ameliorate their lives. The study was published in the Academy of Management Journal.
Now we’ve already spoken about sleep being a great antidote to amplifying your body’s overall health. Another supplement to help boost the quality of your sleep, is through the continued practice of journaling.
According to a study published in Applied Psychology Health and Wellbeing
researchers found that study participants who wrote down a list of things they were grateful for before bed experienced longer and better quality sleep.
Did you know, some of the greats maintained journals and diaries to flesh out book outlines, military plans or strategic political plots:
- Anais Nin
- Jim Rohn
- Tony Robbins
- John D. Rockefeller
- George Patton
- Ben Franklin
- Thomas Edison
- Ronald Reagan
- Winston Churchill
- Mark Twain
- Ernest Hemingway
As Jim Rohn puts it: “Journal writing is one of the greatest indications that you’re a serious student.”
HOW TO WRITE
Why should you handwrite?
Right. Now you know how journaling can positively impact your health and life, let’s crank up Run-DMC and get old school. I’m talking pen and paper – that’s what a journal is baby, and let’s not detract from that. If you absolutely must write in digital format into your iphone, ipad or laptop it’s better than not doing it at all, but I just want to outline why physically writing gives you a better return on your time investment, rather than type touching.
Evidently putting pen to paper has a better impact on your ability to learn compared to when you type it away according to researcher Anne Mangen from the University of Stavanger, Norway. In research Mangen conducted, two groups of adults were split into two both tasked with learning a new language. One group learnt via computer typing and the other by handwriting. The group which learnt through handwriting, were able to recollect and rapidly distinguish right and reverse letters quicker than the group who learn on the computer when they were tested three and six weeks into the experiment.
Love your journal
Now, I was on a tight ass budget, and you might be too. When you capture ideas, thoughts, ideas, concepts, emotions, gratitude, reflection all in one place, it’s a reflection of your soul, brain and spirit. So definitely look at using a journal that brings you joy when you look at it – it’s the physical output of your brain. Invest wisely.
Kikki K has a beautiful range of journals, but the ones I use are these Papaya Art ones, they are gorgeous and cheap. I stick little motivations in my journals every time I open them:
When is best to journal
Either first or last thing in the day.
Of course, you can journal for whenever works for you and however long you like, and yes, I know you’re busy. For me personally, I journal at the end of my morning routine (wake, put breakfast on, shower, eat, meditate then journal). It should take just for 5 minutes as a minimum, the longer the better as we can see from the studies above. But 5 minutes is a great start and you can morph your journal practice according to the best time that suits your body clock. If you want to get better quality sleep though, take a leaf from one of the research studies above and write your gratitude journal just before bedtime.
WHAT TO WRITE
Always put the date, it’s just to make life easy when you look back and reflect on how far you’ve come, particularly when you reflect back at the end of the year and wonder what on earth you’ve been up to.
Gratitude Practice: Writing 1 thing you are grateful for
Ever lived in the ‘if-then’ scenario? IF I had enough money, another car, a bigger house, a boyfriend…THEN I’d be happy. These ‘if’ lists can go on, and on, and on. But what happens when we get it? We’re onto the NEXT if..’If this house was bigger, if boyfriend had abs, if I could go from a Yaris to a Lexus’. Attaching happiness to possessions can be incredibly dangerous, not only because it’s a ‘bought’ happiness, but because it’s impermanent. Fleeting happiness that comes with instant purchase, is not a genuine state of being. It is a new age style short-term gratification technique we’ve been taught by clever marketers.
If instead we focus on happiness as the pursuit of life, not life is the pursuit of happiness the better off you’ll be. How do we make such a huge mental shift though? Through gratitude practice. In his TedTalk, Monk and interfaith scholar David Steindl-Rast connects how showing gratitude creates inherent, long-term happiness.
The mental health benefits of developing a sense of gratitude are astounding when it comes to how you look at life. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis and the University of Miami. The New York Times reported that people in the study who kept a gratitude journal that they wrote in once a week for two months were more optimistic about life (and, interestingly, exercised more), compared with people who did not keep such a journal.
So, how do we physically convert gratitude, into a practice through journalling? Simple! This is where all you need to do is write about just ONE thing you are grateful for. Make it simple and very small, one sentence is enough. It is usually so small that you miss it. Here are teeny tiny things you might take slightly for granted and are great to start you off:
‘I am grateful for the beautiful sunny day out there today. I am so lucky that the sun shines where I live and stimulates life. Can’t wait to get out there!’
When it’s sunny, I always write how grateful I am that we are blessed with amazing sunshine and Vitamin D in summer (hint: girls be careful if you are taking certain skin care routines and supplements in the sun ok, you need to protect your beautiful skin!). But living in London I experienced sunshine 1% of the year. You have no idea how much we take for granted the yellow bright light that can make us feel so good.
- Dirty dishes (yes, you read that right!)
‘I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share my meal with my loved ones I care deeply for. I love washing the dishes to show we’ve enjoyed a sacred and beautiful meal, and time together’
We all groan don’t we when we think of all the washing we have to do. It’s a pest hey? But how lucky are we that we can afford food, to put on a plate, have the skills, physical health and wellbeing to slice, dice and rock and roll our food to how we want to eat. Did you know 98% of the world go starving? And what if you have 4 dirty dishes to clean up after your family? How lucky are you that you have a family to take care of. Yes, families aren’t a walk in the park all the time, but how lucky are you to share your meal with people who love and care about you?
‘I have an exam coming up which is freaking me out, but I’m so glad I have access to books, resources, lecturers and peers to help me get a pass and that the education itself, is first class’
Remember having exams (or maybe you have them coming up).Stressful yes. But are you accessing a first class first world education system developing your thinking processes to be the best in the world? Australians comprise of some of the most intellectual and best workers. And YOU get to be raised in that environment. Do you know how many people risk their lives every single day to try to live in Australia because of the prosperous future, resources and society we live in? And you get to access the system, education and ability to grow your mind without even cognisant of how lucky you are (unconsciously of course).
It’s the small things in life that really add up. They may seem so small, that you probably think I’m a raving prison escapee talking about how the small things count. But these little things, help develop your sense of gratitude and appreciation for life. Take a leaf out of Jeff Bezos’ book when he recounts how he built Amazon; he always says it was a series of small daily tasks, that added up to the big wins.
Moment of Motivation (MOM): Writing 1 thing you have excelled at
In the case of bad skin and acne in particular, it is comparable to sticking an ice cube at the top of a volcano. It can melt away our our self-esteem and confidence with each progressive pimple.
So how are we going to rebuild some of those broken confidence barriers? By writing about one thing each day, that we’ve achieved or ‘won’ either recently, or retrospectively from our past (it all adds up!). Slowly and surely, you will start to rebuild your awesome superfox self-esteem. And again. We’re going to keep it simple. You can write about something that day, the day before, or from your past. Here are a few examples:
- Colossal achievements
‘I received my HSC results. A UAI of 94…WAHOOOO!!’
There are a some times in your life you will have absolutely nailed something to a tee and really thrived. Maybe it was getting 99 UAI in your HSC, or you won your first client, you won first place in a race, entered a photography exhibition, gave birth to the most beautiful little creature on earth, or when you were offered your first real job. Whatever the case may be, there is definitely one period when you would have been your proudest and felt like you really achieved. These are the ‘above and beyond’ moments when you’ve even impressed yourself.
These are fantastic moments to reflect on, particularly if you are feeling ultra low or like you’re constantly being kicked in the pants. You’ll begin to realise how much you really have achieved, and sometimes you’ve even taken yourself for granted.
- Daily win
‘Today, I got out of bed.’
Sounds captain obvious doesn’t it? Getting out of bed, is an achievement. Especially if you’re plagued with chronic debilitating acne. I used to spend weekends hiding under my sheets and struggled big time to find the motivation to get up because I was afraid to look in the mirror.
- Serving others
‘I cooked for my family’ / ‘I did 2 hours at a soup kitchen’ ‘I served others today’
Did you cook for yourself, a family member? That’s a win. You kept people alive.
- Negative thinking.
‘BUT I’ve never achieved anything, and I don’t achieve….. Ever.’
I hear this statement, mainly from Mum’s, usually single Mum’s too. The ironic thing is, these are the people who forge living about 3 alternate lives in the same hours every single one of us is given, and by definition, they achieve WAY more but just are so consumed with ‘what’s next’ and tomorrow’s to do list, they can’t see what impact they’ve had from the day before.
Are you one of these superwomen Mum’s who did about a zillion things yesterday, and although you think ‘I’ve been so busy doing so much but don’t feel like I achieved anything.’ WRONG. Did you drive the kids to sport / school? You led them to education and physical health didn’t you? That’s a win. You paved the way for your kids to access a better life. That’s a freaking big tick. I know it’s monotonous and you do that job every week. But look at it from the big picture. You are instilling great traits in your kids – discipline, extra curricular well rounded ness. Did you run around doing the shopping, cleaning, cooking? Boom. You’re creating an environment you’re comfortable in and happy to raise your kids in, want to feed them and nurture them to good health. That’s a fairly big win in my book. Did you manage to fit in work on top of all of this? Seriously, I don’t know how you even did that!!
These are small things. So small they do seem really stupid. We all have big wins, big goals to achieve. You’re not going to wake up and ‘JUST’ hit $1M in your bank account (but if you did, can you share how you did it please?!). But success and achieving your goals comes gradually, incrementally and as an end result of the small things that add up.
Fail and learn
As a corporate marketer, I was specifically trained to do everything perfectly. There were bureaucratic levels upon levels to make sure decisions were vetted, materials were approved and nothing failed.
Then as an entrepreneur, all I learnt was that failing, is good. That getting things wrong is part of the process, and trying to get it perfect or ‘right’ every single time, is just going to hold you back, and stunt your learning curve. Failure isn’t bad per se, it’s a steep learning curve that is necessary to life. But it’s what we learn from these experiences that shape our next steps.
So each day, we’re going to write one thing from the day before – or again it can be historical, about one key thing we’ve learnt, or failed at that has subsequently given us a stepping stone to our next personal development level. Here are a few examples
‘I forgot to pay my bill and was charged $20 late fee. Botched that one up! Keep forgetting to put reminders or automated payments scheduled in my bank to automatically pay my health fund. Calling the bank today to negotiate down the $20 late fee and setting up my auto-payments with the fund so it never happens again’.
‘I sent out an email to 20,000 people and it was the older, unapproved version..eek! I sent out the new one with an apology, I know my manager will be livid but at least I can explain a new way forward and steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This is a great learning for when I run my own business so I know how to train and induct staff so it doesn’t happen with my own brand one day.’
Yeah, it happens. And you know what? You won’t do it again. At the very least, you aren’t a heart surgeon, so no one died.
‘Whoops…I forgot to pick the kids up from camp because I got the dates mixed up and the school principal had to drop them home…’
Lol this actually happened when I was in year 7 (poor Mum – working 3 jobs, at Uni and in midst-divorce, I’m surprised she wasn’t an alcoholic to be honest, I would have been). And if this is you, no sweat! Kids got home safely so no harm done. If you’re doing a zillion parent-things, who on earth could blame you?!
Unless it’s life threatening, most fails are manageable. It’s what you make of it and learn from the situation so you can self-improve going forward.
After unpacking all that, if you have anything left over, this is where to put your creative thoughts, observations, musings, reflections, ideas down. It can be anything that struck you when you were reading or listening to a podcast, or if you’re like me, a 2am or shower brainwave.
‘Realised how much I’ve learnt from reading. Still listening to Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy and reflecting on the decisions I’ve made in the past that were driven by egocentricity, not genuine authenticity.
‘I had the BEST partnership idea yesterday!! I was thinking if I could partner with Honest To Goodness to launch my book I would help 1000+ people!’
‘Listened to Tim Ferris on how to be the best version of yourself. Really pondering the statement one of his guests made: ‘You don’t know you can win at something, until you 100% you know what fails. I feel like I’ve failed at so many things and learnt from them that I’m finally discovering my own winning formula to thrive. I’d like to learn how to apply this rhetoric in areas of my life I’m not as strong at – like finance.’
Like I said, this doesn’t have to be an exhaustive process, the above is just to provide a guide on how to do it so you can maximum benefit. It might not be the style that works for you, and that’s ok. It has definitely worked for me, so hopefully you reap the same benefit.
Just to show what the above looks like in practice, here is a have a screenshot of one of my earlier diary entries (and an excerpt interpretation below to my kindergarten hand):
Smile – I can walk
Grateful – We live near a beach
Learnt – Saturday and Sundays are days to RELAX
Understand the importance of actually having a weekend and enjoying it. Very important.
Had a massage, an ice cream and a MASSIVE walk today and it’s exactly what I needed, exactly.
Need to take time off = BUILD my confidence levels back up. I make, better, sharper decisions when I’m confident.
Invest in personal time and having a weekend gives me a clear head.
Clarity = confidence = focus.
Now you’ll note I omit certain tasks like my MOM Moment of Motivation, this is because I have only recently included this into my list of journal activities.
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