Some people start a diary as casually as they start golf, stamps, or a new digestive cure. Whereas to start a diary ought to be a solemn and notable act, done with a due appreciation of the difficulties thereby initiated. The very essence of a diary is truth—a diary of untruth would be pointless—and to attain truth is the hardest thing on earth. To attain partial truth is not a bit easy, and even to avoid falsehood is decidedly a feat. – Arnold Bennett
I’m not sure at what point the word “diary” took on a feminine connotation, but whether you prefer to use a ‘diary’ or a ‘journal’, writing to reflect is an important discipline to develop — and as anyone who has ‘tried’ to keep a journal knows, the key word here is discipline because it takes a lot of self-discipline to maintain this habit. Writing to reflect is about taking time on a regular basis to think through and record your life experiences, to find meaning, and to preserve your memories so that you can go back and read them later.
An exciting and relatively new field in the world of counseling is “writing therapy.” Research has found that “writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health.” Whether it’s writing stories, recording memories in a journal, or expressing emotions through poetry, expressive writing has the ability to help us heal, process emotions and thoughts, and relieve stress and anxiety. In addition to the health benefits, physical and emotional, journaling is also a fun recreational activity!
Besides the benefits of keeping an individual journal and encouraging our kids to do the same, keeping a family journal is also a great way to preserve memories and reflect on experiences together as a family. A family journal can be as simple as recording birthdays and noting important activities (such as a family vacation to Disneyland) or as detailed as writing about every single day. Family journals can also provide a written records for future generations to learn from and enjoy. We have a tradition in my family which we call a “thanks book.” Our goal is to look back at a previous week or month and record things that we are thankful for. My parents started this tradition, and it is still going a generation later.
Here are three quick tips for journaling:
1. Figure out what time of day works best for you and then develop a routine that lets you fit journaling into your busy schedule on a regular basis.
2. When you write, try to turn off the internal ‘editor’ and don’t stress out about writing “amazing” prose or making sure every word is spelled right and every law of grammar is obeyed. Instead, just think of writing as you would talking: You’re communicating, and the focus is on what is being communicated, not how it is being communicated (substance, not style).
3. Remember that it is quite natural for journaling to feel like a chore. Most runners will tell you that it is often hard to get out of bed in the mornings and that they often loathe having to go for their morning run, but once they start running, they fall in love with it all over again and by the end of the run, they’re happy they resisted the impulse to skip it. The same is true of the discipline of journaling.
Writing to reflect is a habit that can benefit all of us, and, while it is often hard to get started, it’s well worth the effort. Make a conscious decision to start journaling and encourage your kids to do the same.
This classic essay, “The Diary Habit”, by Arnold Bennett, is a passionate defense of journaling, a comical essay that gets you laughing, and a thought-provoking discourse on the power of the written word.
Part two of a four part series on writing.