A journal is a simple yet powerful thing. Regularly reflecting on paper can bring clarity and insight into our own minds and lives.
Research has shown that writing and journaling can improve cognitive function and reduce stress and anxiety. Shari Leid, author of The Friendship Series, experienced its powers firsthand when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
“Through the journaling process, I learned to trust myself. I gained a deeper understanding of myself, which led to a greater level of confidence in who I am,” Leid says.
Leid used journaling as a way to process her own experience and sustain confidence in the future. She has since made it her mission to help others do the same. The Friendship Series not only details the process of maintaining these close relationships but provides journaling prompts to help readers immerse themselves in the lessons and stories she shares.
Boosting mental and physical health
The impact of journaling goes beyond Leid’s personal experiences; it’s been highly documented as a tool for boosting mental and physical health.
A 2020 study published in The Permanente Journal found that when patients, their families and their health care practitioners completed three-minute journaling exercises together, the stress levels of all parties decreased and communication improved. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that regular journaling can reduce symptoms of depression; in the study, individuals with major depressive disorder who journaled 20 minutes a day over three days experienced a significant decrease in symptoms compared to those who did not journal, benefits that continued weeks after the experiment.
Journaling can also have physical health benefits. For instance, a 2013 study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that adults who engaged in expressive writing for three consecutive days before a biopsy healed more quickly in comparison to the group assigned to write about their daily activities.
Types of journaling
Although journaling has many benefits, it can be hard for people to get started and maintain the habit. “The key,” Leid says, “is to find something that works for you.”
Leid emphasizes creating an easy routine that’s doable for 66 days. “Journaling needs to be a habit,” she says. And it takes 66 days to form a habit, according to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
That means finding a time and place that’s convenient and comfortable; for some, this may be first thing in the morning, while for others it may be before bed. Finding the right journaling method is also key. Because different people process their thoughts and emotions in different ways, Leid outlines nine different types of journaling people can try.
“If you find out after a week that you drop the ball, that’s OK,” she says. “Try a different method. We’re different in the way we process things.”
With these different types of journaling, Leid says the key factor is the reflection piece.
1. The Traditionalist
Method: Throughout the day, take handwritten notes about what’s happening and how you feel about it. You can write whatever comes to mind without a theme or specific agenda.
2. The Scheduler
Method: Write just a sentence or two in every calendar day’s box. This type of journaling is good for those who need a visual reminder to journal. It also allows you to step back and see the bigger patterns of your journaling over the month and, eventually, year.
3. The Listmaker
Method: List your top five takeaways, goals or even fears of the day—or design your own prompts. This is a quick way to get in touch with yourself.
4. The Videographer
Tool: phone or video camera
Method: Create a video diary to talk through a problem or share your thoughts on the day. They’re not necessarily to share with others but just to have for yourself to look back on (and could be stored on your phone or saved in a personal cloud storage account, such as Google Drive). At the end of the month, you can string them together for another opportunity to reflect. These are great for those who find it hard to write and prefer to process verbally.
5. The Improvisor
Tool: prompts, like for an improv show
Method: Look up journaling prompts that get your mind thinking. This type of journaling is especially useful for those who don’t know where to start or what to write.
6. The Positive Mindset Seeker
Method: List the things you’re grateful for in your life. For a bonus challenge, Leid recommends trying not to repeat gratitudes throughout the year, and then to restart the following year.
7. The Photographer
Tool: phone or camera
Method: Use photographs to capture your day in a meaningful way. This allows you to reflect on what you’re experiencing and why you’d like to photograph it. (As with The Videographer method, photos could be saved to a personal cloud storage platform.)
8. The Social Media Addict
Tool: social media
Method: Create a private or public account and create little entries about your day. This type of journaling works best if social accountability keeps you motivated.
9. The Dear God, It’s Me, Margaret
Method: Use the old-fashioned journaling method of writing to your diary as if it’s your old friend or confidante.
“When you take the time to intentionally think about what your thoughts are and how you’re feeling, you start to understand what makes you unique,” she says. “Getting to know ourselves better through this simple process opens up so many different avenues.”
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by ©Wendy K. Yalom/Courtesy of Shari Leid.