You know exactly what you want in life. But you can’t seem to get there. You have all these resolves—I’m going to get healthy, I’m going to write that book, I’m going to be more present with my loved ones, I’m going to start that business, I’m going to learn another language, I’m going to be more patient and happy, I’m going to get out of debt, I’m going to be more organized, I’m going to be a better friend, I’m going to overcome bad habits—but the problem is, sticking to these goals is really hard. And it gets harder every day. Some days, it seems more realistic to just give up entirely. The whole taking one step forward and one or two steps backward pattern is getting old.
For a long time, you’ve been telling yourself, “Today is the day!,” only to fall back into old habits before the day—or if you’re lucky, the week—is spent.
When there’s a gap between who you are and who you intend to be, you are incongruent and unhappy. You’re torn, mentally exhausted and regretful. You always feel slightly like a fraud to yourself, and probably to those around you.
If you try to tackle everything wrong in your life, you’ll quickly burn out and quit. It’s happened many times before.
Life is busy. You don’t have time to simultaneously focus on a thousand different problem areas. That’s exhausting and, frankly, not helpful.
More effective than microscopically analyzing your sabotaging behaviors is nailing down a “keystone” habit, which tightly locks all your other habits in place. Without the keystone, everything falls apart.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes keystone habits as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
A person might start exercising once per week, and unknowingly begin eating better and being more productive at work. They begin smoking less and showing more patience with colleagues and loved ones. They use their credit card less, feel less stressed and have increased motivation toward their goals. The ingrained patterns in their brain reform, and eventually, they become an entirely different person. All because they started exercising once per week.
When you acquire one of these habits, everything in your life can change. Keystone habits spark a chain reaction of other good habits, rapidly altering every aspect of your life.
23 Benefits of Daily Journal Writing
Daily journal writing is one of the most potent and powerful keystone habits you can acquire. When done correctly, journaling can benefit every area of your life. Every area! Without question, it has been by far the No. 1 factor to everything I’ve done well in my life.
The problem is, most people have tried and failed at daily journal writing several times. It’s something you know you should do, but can never seem to pin down.
After you read this post, you’ll never want to miss another day of journaling again. These are the biggest benefits of daily journal writing.
1. Journaling benefits your creative potential.
10 minutes before going to sleep:
It’s common practice for many of the world’s most successful people to intentionally direct the workings of their subconscious mind while they’re sleeping.
Take a few moments before you go to bed to meditate on and write down the things you’re trying to accomplish.
Ask yourself loads of questions related to that thing—in Edison’s words, make some “requests.” Write those questions and thoughts down on paper. The more specific the questions, the clearer your answers will be.
While you’re sleeping, your subconscious mind will get to work.
10 minutes after waking up:
Research has shown that the brain is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. While you sleep, your subconscious mind wanders, making contextual connections. Creativity, after all, is making connections between different parts of the brain.
In a 2016 interview with Tim Ferriss, Josh Waitzkin, former chess prodigy and tai chi world champion, explained the morning routine that allows him to tap into the subconscious breakthroughs and connections he experienced while he was sleeping.
Unlike the “71% of Americans [who] say they check their phones within the first 10 minutes of waking up,” according to a 2022 Reviews.org survey, Waitzkin goes to a quiet place, does some meditation and writes in his journal.
During these journal-writing sessions, he thought-dumps for several minutes. Thus, rather than focusing on input, Waitzkin’s focus is on output. This is how he taps into his higher realms of clarity, learning and creativity—what he calls “crystallized intelligence.”
If you’re not an experienced journal writer, the idea of thought-dumping might be hard to implement. In my experience, it’s good to loosely direct your thought-dumping toward your goals.
Consider the requests you made of your subconscious just before going to bed. You asked yourself loads of questions. You thought about and wrote down the things you’re trying to accomplish.
Now, first thing in the morning, when your creative brain is most attuned after its subconscious workout, start writing down whatever comes to mind about those things.
I often get ideas for articles I’m going to write while doing these thought-dumps. Ideas about how I can be a better husband and father to my three foster children come to me. I gain clarity about the goals I believe I should be pursuing. I also get insight about people I need to connect with, or how I can improve my current relationships.
To be sure, you’ll need to practice this skill. It might take several attempts before you become proficient. But with consistent practice, you can become fluent and automatic at achieving creative and intuitive bursts.
2. Journaling accelerates your ability to manifest your goals.
As part of your morning creative burst, use your journal to review and hone your daily to-do list, life vision and big-picture goals.
As you read and rewrite your goals, they’ll become forged into your subconscious mind. Eventually, your dreams and vision will consume your inner world and quickly become your physical reality.
3. Journaling creates a springboard for daily recovery.
People struggle drastically to detach from work. Now more than ever, we fail to live presently. Our loved ones are lucky to experience a small percentage of our attention while they’re with us.
But daily journal writing can curb this mismanagement. At the end of each workday, reopen your journal and review your to-do list. If your morning journal session was excellent, then you’ll have likely gotten everything done you intended to do. Private victories always precede public ones.
Journal sessions are your post-work reflection time. Recount what you got done that day and what needs to be moved to tomorrow. Write the things you learned and experienced.
Lastly, direct your subconscious by writing about things you want to focus on tomorrow. As you put work behind you for the evening, your subconscious will be preparing a feast for you to consume during the next morning’s creative and planning session.
This end-of-day journal-writing session doesn’t need to be as long as the morning session. Greg McKeown, author of Effortless, recommends writing far less than you want to—only a few sentences or paragraphs at most. This will help you avoid journaling burnout.
A primary objective of this session is to mentally turn off work mode. Just as in physical training, you need to rest and recover between workdays to get stronger.
Use this session to completely unplug and detach from work. This is your time to recover and be present with your loved ones, because there is more to life than work. The higher quality your recovery, the more potent and powerful your creative sessions will be.
4. Journaling generates clarity and congruence.
The keystone habit of journaling has so much power and so many benefits. By journaling in the morning and evening, you’ll quickly see what in your life needs to be removed and what should be included. Journaling is a beautiful and powerful facilitator of self-discovery. My own journaling is how I’ve come to form my sense of identity and find my path in life.
Not only will you have more clarity about your own life’s path, but journaling will improve your ability to make decisions along the way.
On the pages of your journal will be the future world you are creating for yourself. You are the author of your life’s story. You deserve to be happy, and you have the power to create whatever life you want. As the designer of your world, get as detailed as you desire.
5. Journaling clears your emotions.
Several research studies have found that writing in a journal reduces stress. But that’s not the only benefit of journaling: When you are in an intensely emotional mood, writing in a journal can help you more fully experience and understand those emotions.
After you’ve vented on the pages of your journal, you’ll quickly find a release. Objectivity will return and you’ll be able to move forward.
Without a journal, intense emotional experiences can be crippling for hours, days and even years. But an honest and inspired journal session can be the best form of therapy, allowing you to be better and smarter than you were before.
6. Journaling benefits your learning.
Humans are bad at retaining information. We forget most of what we read and hear. However, when you write down the things you’ve learned, you retain them far better. Even if you never reread what you’ve written, the simple act of writing something down increases brain activity and memory.
Neurologically, when you listen to something, a different part of your brain is engaged than when you write it down. Memory recorded by listening does not discriminate important from unimportant information. Writing creates spatial regions between important and unimportant pieces of information, which allows your memory to target and ingrain the important stuff you want to remember.
Furthermore, the act of writing allows your subconscious mind to work out problems in unique ways, intensifying the learning process. You’ll be able to work out problems and get insight while you ponder and write about the things you’re learning.
7. Journaling increases your gratitude.
Even if you start a journal session in a bad mood, the insight writing brings has a subtle way of shifting your mind toward gratitude.
When you start writing what you’re grateful for, new chambers of thought open in the palace of your mind. You’ll often need to put your pen down and take a few breaths. You’ll be captivated not only by the amazing things in your life, but by the awe and brilliance of life in general.
As part of your morning and post-work journaling sessions, be sure to include some gratitude in your writing. It will change your life orientation from scarcity to abundance. The world will increasingly “become your oyster.”
Gratitude journaling is a scientifically proven way to overcome several psychological challenges. The benefits of gratitude journaling are seemingly endless. Feeling and showing gratitude can:
- improve physical well-being
- potentially improve your sleep
- make you more likely to exercise
- increase your energy levels
- potentially help your marriage
- improve workplace performance
- make you more optimistic
- increase your self-esteem
- make you more empathetic
- increase employee retention
- help to decrease stress levels
- deepen your relationships
- improve your decision making
8. Journaling unfolds the writer in you.
Journaling benefitted my writing skills. While I was on a mission trip, I wrote in my journal for one to two hours per day. I got lost in flow and eventually fell in love with the writing process.
If you want to become a writer one day, start by journaling. Journaling can help you:
- develop strong writing skills
- explore and crystalize your ideas
- free write without any pressure or expectations of a polished final product
- work through your writer’s block
- get closer to the 10,000 hours Malcom Gladwell says are required to become world-class at what you do
9. Journaling records your life history.
I started journaling in 2008 after reading an article about the importance of journal writing. In the article, the author described how much journaling had changed and benefitted her life. She said after all these years, she now has 38 recorded volumes of personal and family history.
Since reading that article, I have never stopped writing in my journal. In my family room on a bookshelf are 20-plus journals filled with my thoughts and experiences. I’m certain they will be cherished by my ancestors as I’ve cherished the writing of my loved ones who have passed on.
Other Benefits of Daily Journal Writing
10. Journaling can help reduce conflict in relationships.
11. Journaling can help you heal from the past.
12. Journaling assists in the development of new skills and values.
13. Journaling provides a nonjudgmental space to openly and honestly express yourself.
14. Journaling increases self-awareness.
15. Journaling can also help change your mindset.
16. Journaling can serve as a personal counselor.
17. Gratitude journaling can increase happiness and positivity.
18. Journaling allows you to work through difficult experiences.
19. Journaling allows you to keep track of patterns in your mood and behavior.
20. Journaling lets you keep track of tasks you have achieved, and those which still need to be completed.
21. Journaling about tasks that need to be completed may help you fall asleep faster.
22. Journaling can increase engagement in prosocial behaviors.
23. Finally, journaling allows you to record, interpret and utilize your dreams.
How to Enhance Daily Journal Writing
- Pray for inspiration before you begin.
- If prayer is not your thing, then meditate for five to 10 minutes to heighten your mental state.
- Listen to music (I listen to either classical or dubstep depending on the output I’m trying to get).
- Write about the people in your life. You’ll get breakthroughs about how to improve those relationships.
- Write with confidence and power; use this to strengthen your resolve.
- Write, “Today is going to be the best day of my life.” Read that over and over until you begin to believe it.
- If you can’t think of what to write, try writing about minute details of your day or recent history, or start with gratitude.
- There are no rules.
- Figure out the system that works for you; it takes time.
I daresay that daily journal writing is one of the most important things to do in your life. If done effectively, journaling will benefit everything in your life.
You’ll become the person you want to be, you’ll design the life you want to live, your relationships will be healthier and happier, and you’ll be more productive and powerful.
This post originally appeared on BenjaminHardy.com.
This article was published in October 2016 and has been updated. Photo by Makistock/Shutterstock