#039: The 7 Benefits of Keeping a Journal [Podcast]

In this episode, I talk about the benefits of keeping a journal. I also share my own practice and offer a few tips. Whether you have never journaled, need a little motivation to keep going, or are just curious about what others do, I think you will find this episode helpful.

The 7 Benefits of Keeping a Journal

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Between blog posts, podcast show prep, courses, speeches, and books, I typically write several thousand words a week. However, I have never been a consistent journaler. I tried. I had friends who swore by it. It just never worked for me, until recently.

On our vacation last summer, my wife, Gail, challenged me to give it another try. I reluctantly agreed and fell in love with it. I have now journaled daily for more than six months.

If I had to sum it up, I would say journaling has afforded me seven benefits.

  1. Process previous events
  2. Clarify my thinking
  3. Understand the context
  4. Notice my feelings
  5. Connect with my heart
  6. Record significant lessons
  7. Ask important questions

When I started journaling, I did it the old fashioned way. I kept my journal in a physical notebook. I happen to use an EcoSystems Journal. However, I am not the best at writing lots of text by hand. The legibility of my writing deteriorates quickly.

On day three of my journaling experience, I stumbled upon a software program called DayOne. This is a beautiful minimalist writing tool that reminds me a lot of ByWord, the program I use to do much of my blog writing.

About a month ago, I started using Evernote for my journaling. Several people had suggested this from the beginning, and I finally saw the wisdom of it. It makes all my journal entries readily available when I search for a topic, making my notes available for blog posts, speeches, books, etc.

Regardless, there are a thousand different ways to keep a journal. Don’t get hung up on the method or the software. The most important thing to do is just to start.

Listener Questions

  1. Aaron Johnson asked, “Some people just can’t seem to journal. Are there other ways people can engage in the process of self-reflection?”
  2. Bud Brown asked, “How do you flag pages in your journal, so you can get back to the important stuff?”
  3. Christopher Scott asked, “How do you catalog or keep track of previous journal entries?”
  4. Lynn Morrissey asked, “Is journaling scriptural or should Christians be wary of it as a New Age practice for self-exploration?”
  5. Jackie Ulmer asked, “Is your journal more of a Cliff Notes summary of the events of your life or is it super-detailed?”
  6. Jason Jones asked, “Is there a benefit to paper journaling?”
  7. Kwin Peterson asked, “For whom do you Journal? Who is the audience you envision?”
  8. Linda Kuhar asked, “When you are journaling, how do you keep yourself from lapsing into performance-mode and writing for an audience?”
  9. Sam Lytle asked, “What are the benefits of keeping a private journal as compared to a public one, like writing a blog or engaging in social media?”

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Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    I’ve never been a “journaler” because my penmanship is so poor. However, this year I’ve been using the “LifeJournal” which has a recommended daily scripture reading plan that gets you through the entire bible in a year’s time. 

    The “LifeJournal” is nice because it requires me to focus on my faith while applying the SOAP method to  the recommended daily reading (S=scripture; O=observation; A=application; P=prayer). This has been a great addition to my morning ritual.

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Great suggestions Elizabeth. Your “poetry journaling” idea sounds a lot like stream of consciousness writing, which I’ve done a little bit of before. I’ll have to give it another try!

  • Carla Flemings

     Thank you Sam!

  • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

    I don’t do it as a matter of habit or in a specific time, but I do carry a journal with me virtually at all times to record ideas, things that I see, blog topics, work thoughts, etc.

    I would guess that 50% of my blog posts originated in one small moleskine notebook that I carry. It’s getting pretty full though.

    And I do more “journaling” about four days a week during my devotional time, but it is more in response to questions or topics about which I am reading, rather than recording my internal dialogue per se.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    Another great free tool is 750Words.com. I like it because it has some prompts and incentives that keep you motivated to write every day. It’s very minimalist, but it does support Markdown. I write there, then clip the entry into Evernote. 

  • http://titusng.com/ Titusng

    Journaling is a great way to slow down. Having to reach deeper into myself, processing my feelings and reflecting on my actions and thoughts. Sometimes the day goes pass so quickly that we don’t have to time to slow down and understand why we feel the way we feel. I’m a believer that feelings are a gift that points us towards something deeper. So often i ask – How am i feeling? What feelings did i experience through the day? What have caused it? What could i have done differently? What am i grateful about? 

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  • heathmaster

    If you’re an iPad user, Penultimate, a handwriting app that is made/owned by Evernote, just updated to be free in the past few days. The journal writing “experience” directly tied into Evernote.

  • http://www.ethicalbehaviorboy.com/ Michael Belk

    Michael, maybe I should write my ideas down because at the end of the day I forget what was important to me.  I might try recording my ideas on a recorder first.


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  • Jaime Contesse

    Do you go back to journal entries to edit them or add new information? (Especially when writing in an electronic journal)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I only go back to review them. I don’t edit or add new material.

  • http://twitter.com/paulogarra Paulo Fernandes

    I’ve been journaling for a month and have been an amazing experience.
    I can remember everything I do and can see my progress in my self-improvement skills.
    Nice podcast, Michael!

  • http://www.easyjournaling.com Sam

    Dan Miller is great as well. 

    I once learned that I could listen to podcasts at faster speeds and I gave it a try. After practicing for a while at 1.5x I bumped it up to 2.ox. Now I sometimes listen at 2.5x and normal speed seems slow! It was funny to hear myself on Michaels podcast at double speed!

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  • http://twitter.com/ScribeLifeGames Corey and Christina

    I journal, maybe I journal excessively. I journal in the morning, when I’m distraught, and when I am excited about something. As your podcast mentioned, it is a good way to gain perspective. I also find it a good way to find answers. Writing to myself, for myself, helps me to read my own words as if I were reading a friend’s words – and offer myself the same solutions I would offer a dear friend. Somehow, the act of writing bridges the gap between questions and answers for most of the troubling issues I am facing. 

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  • http://twitter.com/brettrbarker Brett Barker

    I’m curious. Has anyone that used to keep physical journals ever cut out the pages and scanned them into a program like Evernote? I recently got a Fujitsu scanner and use Evernote to file all kinds of paperwork (Bills, Receipts, Recipes, etc). I wonder if anyone has applied this scanning idea to old journals.

    • http://emuelle1.typepad.com/ Eric S. Mueller

      I used to carry a small Moleskine notebook in my pocket to write things in. I scanned the pages and saved them into Evernote.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I used to do it this way. Search for Evernote and journal on my blog, and you will find a how-to article.

  • Jacob Summers

    What a great podcast! Journaling is something I’m very interested in, although not so good at. I started a blog called Daily Self Growth Journal for the very purpose of making journaling easier. I would love it if you or one of your listeners/readers could tell me how to do better. You can see my blog at http://www.selfgrowthjournal.com. Again, great podcast and subject. Thanks, Jake

  • http://www.VictoryChristianCoaching.com/ Marianne Clements

    I love to journal!  It’s like therapy for me.  My journals are letters to God.  I pray about things, process the days events, dream, etc.  As special things occur, I have a separate spot at the end of my journal that is organized by month and I will note those things there.  At then end of the month, I can look at that and see what happened.  I also have a section where I ask myself reflective questions and check my progress on goals.

    I started out journaling on paper, but now I use MS Word.  I keep an entire year in one document.  It’s so easy to just search for different words when I need to go back to something. 

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  • http://www.seeincolors.com/ Lisa Nelson

    This was so good, I will have to listen to it again.  I have to raise my hand and say “I too, struggle with journaling.”  Going to give it another try though because of your great tips.

    I like when you said each day is different with your journaling.  Sometimes you write on one topic, other times you may cover 4 topics. 

    The question/answer section was great.  I kept hearing a theme with the questions around “who are you writing for?”.  I just had to draw a visual of your response, “I am writing for an audience of 1.  Me.” http://pinterest.com/pin/52917364343590244/

    That answer just brings us back to the 7 benefits, which ties it all together :D

  • Nora

    I have been using a digital journal called The Journal for several years.  I haven’t been consistent but it is a great way to discuss with myself.  I do prefer the digital way more than the paper and pen I used for several years before.  I feel comforted actually, by the fact that my digital journal has a password and that only I can open it.  The software has several ways to journal so some things I write for possible copy/paste to FB or what was supposed to be a blog- somethings are meant only for me.

    Thank you Michael, for the podcast.  I’ve always enjoyed a journal.

  • http://about.me/revchadbrooks chadbrooks

    Ok. The serious question here is what DON’T you use Evernote for?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Ha! I don’t use it to write my books. ;-)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/73D7HN524T6LQZYTM7PCRB6A7Y tmabie

    I have journaled on and off for years.  One of the thing that I find is that often the thought that I have, which I want to capture occurs during the day and for a variety of reasons I don’t stop and record it, so I generally lose it.  Does anyone have suggestions for capturing thoughts during the day, in the moment?

    • http://www.cohenwoodworking.com/ Phillip Cohen

      Yes. I almost always carry a folded up piece of paper with me and a pen. I can jot down thoughts and record them in my journal later.
      I learned this from a former pastor.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      One word: Evernote.

  • http://DesireeMMondesir.com/ Desiree M. Mondesir

    I LOVE journaling! And I’m such a girl about it too! I always try to have a beautiful journal in which I can write that consists of my “diary entries,” what I feel God is saying to me at any point in time/prophetic words, thoughts on Scripture passages I’ve just read, poetry, dreams I’ve had, as well as letters that I write to God as well as to people (these are letters that I will NEVER EVER send!).  If my journal travels to church with me, it’s likely I’ll have sermon notes in it as well. I usually  get cozy in my bed and journal late at night (I’m a definite night owl!) unless it’s a dream I’m writing down in which case, I write about it as soon as I wake up so I can remember it best. 

    (I mentioned being “a girl about it” because I just can’t stand writing in a plain, ugly journal if I can help it!)
    I also take my more important entries (these are usually the prophetic words, dreams, and poetry) and type them up and keep them logged meticulously in My Documents. If it’s a prophetic word, I’ll go ahead and print it out so I can keep it near my bed and go over whenever I have the urge.
    I’ve also recently started journaling about my goals and aspirations as well as going back to either annotate past prophetic words or write out a new entry detailing how God has brought his word to past as well as what dreams/aspirations  (nocturnal and goal-oriented dreams). I find that keeping track of the things that have come to past is extremely encouraging to one’s faith.

    Whether spiritually, emotionally, or mentally, journaling of any kind has been a great way to look back at and gauge the growth you have personally made throughout one’s life. 

    Thanks again for this great podcast Michael! :) 

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Thanks for willingness to share. I love being able to look back at things that seem so HUGE and insurmountable and then, with a little perspective, (and time) it’s so cool to see how God has answered each of theses concerns. Like you said, sometimes keeping a journal gives me an opportunity to go back and see how God has been SO faithful!
      Thanks again, Desiree!

      • http://DesireeMMondesir.com/ Desiree M. Mondesir

        My pleasure Barry!  And yes, “God has been SO faithful!” :) It kinda blows your mind doesn’t it?! 

        P.S. With a headline like yours, I MUST check out your blog! ;) 

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  • http://CraigDesmarais.com/ Craig Desmarais

    I want to start journaling.  I also take notes on the bible verses I read.  

  • Tracey L. Moore

    I highly recommend journaling.  The main benefit that I get out of journaling is self-awareness and identification of wrong thinking. When I am struggling with an emotional issue, I write down the situation and then the words of Samuel in the scriptures, “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening.” I wait, then I write whatever comes to mind. I find that God will give me the insight I need to resolve the issue. He usually pinpoints my erroneous thinking and helps me to apply His Word to my situaion. He communicates to me by using my own hand to write what I need to know. I have gotten so many breakthroughs in my thinking by using this method. I have been journaling since high school and have many volumes of journals. I also like to go back and read them so that I can see how much I have grown. That encourages me.
    Tracey L. Moore
    Author of the upcoming book entitled, Oasis For My Soul: Poems and Inspirational Writings for Spiritual and Personal Growth

    • http://DesireeMMondesir.com/ Desiree M. Mondesir

      You know what’s so interesting Tracey: people in the world know about writing down what a supernatural force says. They call it “automatic writing”; it’s a counterfeit. Yet could you imagine if more people would make huge waves of transformation in their lives if they would take that same time to write down what God is saying to them and actually believe and adhere to it?? It would be most powerful! 

  • Nancy

    I have journaled now and then.  Once during a time of terrific stress, I journaled in the third person, referring to myself as “she”.  It gave me distance from emotional issues and an objectivity that let me solve problems more easily, especially in seeing where I had been wrong or needed to change.

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  • Dominique Johnson

    One app that I ran into on my Ipad is Ido…there is a free version and a version for about $3.00. I use this for taking notes, sermons, and etc.. You can create files and folders. I like it.

  • http://twitter.com/ChannelofJesus Channel of Jesus

    I love this story.yeshoowa

  • http://www.musingsofanoldlady.com/ BeckyAnnDavis

    I’ve tried journaling countless times and then quit, for several of the very reasons you mentioned in your podcast. I love the idea of journaling and think it would benefit me greatly so I’m giving it another go. This morning I began, using your Evernote template, and I have a question. Would you mind telling me how to copy the Evernote template so that it can be used again and again? I’m writing on my iPad and can’t seem to figure it out. Thanks Michael! By the way, your blog, books, and podcasts continue to be life changing encouragement for me.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I am note sure how to do that on the iPad app either. Hmm.

  • http://twitter.com/CamGoede Cam Goede

    Really enjoyed this podcast and the concept makes a lot of sense. As a recent user of Evernote, I started my journal tonight! Also as a result of your message I ordered a copy of the One Year Bible as this is a perfect fit to help me reach my goal of reading the Bible in its entirety. Thanks for a useful and inspiring message.

  • Tomb1312

    I started my journal  after I heard this pod cast. I’ve noticed the extreme level of personal accountability it provides. While its a good tool to change habits I find that I’d rather quit the journal than quit the old habits. Should I omit topics from my journal until I am ready to face them? Avoidance isn’t the goal. I’d like the journal to remain a positive experience.
    I hope I didn’t miss the boat on this topic, thanks in advance for the feedback.

    • http://www.cohenwoodworking.com/ Phillip Cohen

      I started out 43 years ago just journaling my negative stuff. Then I went a few years only journaling positive stuff. Now I journal it all because it’s all me. 
      Journals can be complete thoughts or fragments. Just throw it out there. Let you be you for you.
      I hope that helps.

  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    I’m not sure what you mean … DayOne has search. Click on the calendar view.

    • http://www.kevinrothermel.com/ Kevin Rothermel

      There it is. I didn’t see it before and thought you were implying your switch to journaling in Evernote was for the search functionality. Now I’m torn between technologies again. The tyranny of choice ladies and gentlemen.   

  • Dave Simpson

    Inspired by Michael’s podcast on morning routines, I began including journal writing as part of that routine. After some experimentation I has settled on this workflow. I use the APP vJournal on my Ipad to type my entry. Then that entry is loaded directly into my evernote journal notebook with a time stamp. All entries I make during that day are uploaded with their own timestamp and added to that day’s journal entry.

    My journal, by default, is private. I am writing to myself. However, I anticipate that in the future I will want to go back to my journal and draw from those entries to create a public memoir for my children. To make that easier, I try to go back aat least weekly and review my journal enttries in Evernote and tag them. For journal entries that I think I might want to include in a memoir for public consumption I tag with “memoir”. That solves the private or public dilema for me.

  • Allenhmarsh

    I have tried this for a week and tried all different combinations to get this to work.  Anyone else have a hard time?

  • http://twitter.com/dailyRx dailyRx

  • http://chrismorton.info Chris Morton

    Thanks for describing your process.  I feel like journaling is often thought of as mysterious, or something limited to teenagers.  Your podcast inspired me to describe my own practice of keeping a prayer journal here: http://wp.me/p37SBp-12G

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  • http://mikeskiff.com Mike Skiff

    Really enjoyed this podcast, just as I enjoy most of your podcast topics. I am committing to 21 days of journaling as you suggested, planning to make it a habit in my morning routine. Although you mention in the podcast that the tool is not important, I am similar to you in that I am a bit of a geek – and I LOVE Evernote. I’ve completely committed to their platform and dump nearly everything into my EN account. As such, I had a similar desire to journal in Evernote. However, it is not quite as clean and “sexy” as Day One. With their recent update to their iOS version of the app, you can now export your journal to PDF at the interval you choose. I am jumping back into Day One after toying with journaling directly in EN, with the intent to export to PDF my journal entries each week, sending them off to EN (via the Hazel app and Applescript on my Mac to automatically file them where they belong in EN). This allows fort the best of both worlds – writing using the “sexier” Day One app, and curating this content in EN (also making it searchable as I am a premium EN user). The only drawback I see is the lack of tagging in EN. To me, this is not important, however I realize it may be for some.

    Anyway, thought I would share my current workflow (as always, subject to change).

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  • http://www.loganheavensbest.com/ Carpet Cleaner

    What are you thoughts on venting in a journal? I can see that it would benefit to get out the frustrations, but considering it could become a habit…

    Would it be better to try to write positively instead?

    • http://www.cohenwoodworking.com/ Phillip Cohen

      I’ve been journaling for more than 40 years. When I started, I dumped all my pain. After several years I realized I was writing myself into insanity.
      So I bought some high priced journals and wrote only positive things.
      Over the past few years I’ve learned from therapists and mentors that I should write everything, because that’s my whole self.
      Someone in this discussion mentioned the Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro. I immediately bought the book on Kindle and devoured it.
      My wife and I started using our own modified version of the SOAP Bible study journaling method. We flat love it! I have several people in my company using it. I taught it to my children, people I’m mentoring and at church. It’s a great way to interact with God!

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  • Jacob

    I am new to the podcast/evernote. I have enjoyed the benefits of journal writing previously in my life and fallen out of the habit. I know you explained in the podcast how to Title the entry. Do you just label it “2013.09.10-Journal-Tuesday” and then in the body put Location, Weather, etc (with of without # ?). Thanks for the podcast. It has opened up my thinking and hopefully I can improve in some areas of interactions with others.