The 7 Benefits of Keeping a Daily Journal

Though I typically write several thousand words a week, I have never been a consistent journaler. I’ve tried. I have friends who swear by it. It’s just never worked for me.

Diary and Coffee on a Newspaper - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/neomistyle, Image #15713596

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/neomistyle

Until recently.

My wife Gail and I have been on an extended vacation for the past two weeks. We have been tucked away in the mountains of East Tennessee on the edge of a beautiful lake.

When we arrived, Gail challenged me to keep a journal. I rolled my eyes but reluctantly agreed to give it another try, evidently forgetting a previous post I had written on the difference between trying and doing.

So far, I have written daily for twelve days in a row. I’ve surprised both of us.

Here’s how journaling has worked for me in this setting.

  • Gail and I get up at about 5:30 a.m. (Yes, even on our vacation. We can’t help ourselves.)
  • We read the Bible on our own while drinking a cup of coffee. I’m currently reading through The One Year Bible (Tyndale).
  • When we finish, we grab our journals and walk down to the dock. It’s only about twenty yards away.
  • Then we sit quietly for fifteen minutes. No talking, no writing. No doing. Instead, we silently take it all in, give thanks, and pray. We take time just to be.
  • Finally, we crack open our journals and start writing. This is completely unstructured. We don’t edit. We don’t judge. We just get it out. We write for twenty to thirty minutes.

I might write about what I read in my Bible, a dream I had last night, an experience I had yesterday, or what I hope to accomplish today. Sometimes I will write on one topic; sometimes on four or five.

The main thing is I am writing for myself rather than an audience. I have found this tremendously liberating and deeply satisfying. Amazingly, I am effortlessly writing five hundred to a thousand words a day.

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

  1. Process previous events. What happens to me is not as important as the meaning I assign to what happens to me. Journaling helps me sort through my experience and be intentional about my interpretation.
  2. Clarify my thinking. Writing in general helps me disentangle my thoughts. Journaling takes it to a new level. Because I am not performing in front of a “live audience,” so to speak, I can really wrestle through the issues.
  3. Understand the context. Life is often happening so quickly I usually have little time to stop and reflect on where I am in the Bigger Story. Journaling helps me to discern the difference between the forest and the trees.
  4. Notice my feelings. I understand feelings aren’t everything, but they also aren’t nothing. The older I get, the more I try to pay attention to them. They are often an early indicator of something brewing.
  5. Connect with my heart. I’m not sure I can really explain this one, but journaling has helped me monitor the condition of my heart. Solomon said “above all else” we are to guard it (see Proverbs 4:23). It’s hard to do that when you lose touch with it.
  6. Record significant lessons. I’m a better student when I am taking notes. Writing things down leads to even deeper understanding and, I hope, wisdom. I want to write down what I learn, so I don’t have to re-learn it later.
  7. Ask important questions. A journal is not merely a repository for the lessons I am learning but also the questions I’m asking. If there’s one thing I have discovered, it’s the quality of my questions determine the quality of my answers.

Will I stick with this after my vacation? Time will tell. I sure hope so. So far, it has been one of best personal development exercises I have done in a long, long time.

By the way, I started out writing in my 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 Day One (not an affiliate link). This is a beautiful minimalist writing tool that reminds me a lot of ByWord, the program I use to do most of my professional writing.

Day One Screenshot

Day One sports:

  • A simple, uncluttered writing area.
  • iCloud and DropBox sync to iPad and iPhone.
  • Password protection (though not encryption yet).
  • A calendar view, allowing you to jump quickly to a specific day.
  • MultiMarkdown support, which is a formatting language I have grown dependent on. I use it in ByWord.
  • A fast, intuitive search engine that allows me to retrieve my notes instantly.

Best of all, it is only $4.99. I only wish the Apple app store allowed for trial versions of software, so you could experience the beauty of this program before you buy it.

Regardless, the tool is unimportant. The main thing is for it to become invisible, so you can focus on writing and reflecting.

Question: Do you journal? If so, what has been the primary benefit to you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Deb Osorio

    I journal rather sporadically. I’m trying to get better with it. Thank you for this article.

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  • Luci Swindoll

    Loved your blog, Mike and your seven reasons for Journaling make perfect sense to me. I’ve journaled daily for the past 26 years, and have kept those “chronicles of life” in my library, referring to them all the time. One of the primary reasons I love having them handy is that when I write a letter, essay, devotional or book, I can refer to my journals knowing the information will be accurate because I recorded it the day it happened…or the day I felt what I wrote. I’ve often said if my house were on fire, my journals would be the first thing I’d grab before I ran out! A journal is a place of self-reflection, to which I turn when I want to either relive what happened, or re-create what can so easily fade in one’s memory.

    Congratulations for journaling Mike. I wish you well with this venture. Hopefully, it’ll be a source of joy and discovery about yourself and your thoughts for many years to come.  There are so many things about you I admire…and this is one of them. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Luci. You are precious for stopping by to comment. I have seen your journals in your library, and I so admire (actually envy) that you have kept up with it all these years. You are an inspiration.
      Hope you are well. Gail and I miss you!

  • http://twitter.com/hisadventure Rocio

    As always, I appreciate you taking the time to share this information.  I have recently been journaling again, and yet, much like you, I find it so much easier (faster) on a keyboard.  However, for now, it’s paper, and for me it has helped focus my mind on things of God, even if I don’t write about God.  For that alone, it’s priceless!

  • http://christinefaour.wordpress.com/ Christine Faour

    I journal just about every morning, and have been doing so for a few years. It helps clarify my feelings, sort them out and classify them. It is also my own sounding board for things I want to do in my creative life. Lastly, journalling helps me get the worry and negativity out of my thoughts so that I can get on with my day. When I reread my journal entries over a period of time, I detect certain themes that show me where I’m putting my energies and thoughts.

  • Brian Tomlin

    I have been journaling since high school, and I find the longer I keep it up, the more I get out of it. I frequently refer back to my old journals to look things up: restaurants, quotes, etc. But most importantly I learn amazing things about my thought process, my decision making. So often the right course to take or decision to make is revealed long before I consciously realize it. I encourage anyone to stick with it. 

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  • Peter j Foster

    Many years ago, as a young man, I went on a 4 week exploration of USA (I’m from UK). I’d driven for days and days alone and found myself in Palm Springs. I checked  in to a Motel early evening and sat in my small room, very lonely and very miserable. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me – miserable to the point  of depression.
    I had a sudden urge to write but found no paper. It was by then 11.30 pm. I went off in the car to find writing paper. An hour or so later I returned, having brought a large A4 note book. I sat on the bed and wrote and wrote all night. 
    I was clearly depressed. I wrote about feelings from childhood, my youth and the dissapointments of my later life. There were broken relationships, un-realised dreams; there was loneliness and even self-hatred.
    From that night onward I have written a daily journal – and wouldn’t (couldn’t) be without it! It has helped me to forgive others who had hurt me. It has been my counselor, my therapist and most importantly it has been the chief factor in recognising my need for a Savior. My journaling clearly led me to a relationship with God, through Jesus. And I have never looked back.  
    Keep up the Journaling. Peter j Foster (Christian Journaling Coach)

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Peter,

      Thanks for this heartfelt testimonial to the power of journaling. Is there any piece of advice that you end up giving out to people who are thinking about journaling? Any pitfalls?

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  • Steve

    I use http://www.sojo.co
    to journal. Its really cool. It uses my facebook, google + or twitter
    account to help jog my memory. Allowing me to catch the rest of the
    story to the items I’m writing on my social medial sites. 

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  • Tonya

    Thank you for your message on writing in a journal. I have been writing in a journal for about 18 years now and boy oh boy has it made a tremendous impact on my life—I call it my Grateful Journal—I sit down before I go to bed each night and write 15-20 things daily I am grateful for. What I am personally grateful for is in MY control and with the world changing since I started teaching and coaching 35 years ago it helps me continue to appreciate what I have in life verses what I do not have. As a high school Health teacher I have my students also journal daily 5 things they are grateful for as well a state one positive affirmation about themselves. I know for a fact that writing in a journal has helped my positive mind set and striving to help our young of today as well. Again—Michael–I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and thank you for what you do–Looking forward to reading more of your blog—

  • elauer4

    Great post. I’ve been journaling for over 30 years, since I was 6. Actually, I’m blogging my journals (backward) at http://www.firstpagelast.com. Your list is spot on, especially the one about getting in touch with your feelings. My favorite part of journaling has always been looking back; it’s given me lots of perspective on my life — and actually my 18 journals are helping me write a memoir now! I love the ritual you and your wife started on vacation. Thanks for this!

  • http://thepuresacrifice.blogspot.com/ Deanna Wiseburn

    I find for me that journaling works with about the same benefits in me. However it must be hand written. It just seems to be best that way….before I become plugged in, and after I unplug for the day. I journal twice daily, most days. But it doesn’t seem to be as effective if I type it. Something about having the handwritten journal affects me, and the idea that my family will find this one day after I am dead and gone, is much better than anything that I would do online that the family would not see. Kind of like leaving a written legacy for the future generations. I’ve been journaling since 2009.

  • moscowrunner

    Great article! I hope you can keep it up. I have been journaling since I
    was twelve and have regularly experienced each of the seven benefits
    you mentioned. My journals don’t always go into a lot of detail about
    events in my life, but they give incredible detail of the path and
    Scriptures that God used to lead me through those events. Now, I’m able
    to go back and share those blessings with others both in blogs and
    books. I see it as a great tool in God’s system of comfort and
    edification, so much so that I have just published a devotional journal
    designed to help Christians learn to journal their way through their
    Bible reading. I never regret journaling, but I do regret the times I
    set it aside.

  • Dan Walton

    “Hi, this November will be twenty years since I began keeping a journal. It began when the Holy Spirit nudged me to begin living a more disciplined life. My temperament is such that I find it a real comfort to my journey through the years. Being a sixty four year old I cherish looking back at all the valley’s and mountain tops I have crossed. I dated each entry and keep an index at the back so that my writing traceable,for me at least. A few years ago, I lost my best friend Scooter, my dog and stopped journaling for seven months. But then God healed my heart and a new page was added. Record as much as life deals you, don’t be limited by what you consider unimportant, “because everything will be of value when you grow older and reminisce and you aren’t able too.”
    I started in 1993 and plan on keeping it up until I can’t hold a fountain pen. How old or young do you have to be to begin? Now, is a good! “Expose your heart, God may be nudging you to write an never ending story.”

  • Christina Stevenson

    I do a lot of personal journal writing. I have wrote 6 books of journaling and working on my 7th., it has helped me in so many ways. I do it all the time.

  • VDB

    I used to write a daily journal but I figured I was never able to get it all out of me because of the fear that someone else might read it. Hence a week after I had written about three or four daily entries, I would tear off the pages and burn them. I really don’t feel comfortable. Did you ever have had any of such issues?

  • Oh my!

    Hello

    I’m about to keep a Journal/Diary. I am using it as a beneficiary method of learning myself better and attempting to spark my imagination.

    Wish me luck! ;D

  • Ian Matthews

    I use a ten year diary/journal from journal10.com. The format allows just short entries each day, which I find makes it easy to keep up – I don’t feel there is pressure write a lot. I made it a habit to write an entry at the same point each day, just before bed.

  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Great. I am checking this out for my followers who don’t use Macs. Thanks!

  • Henar

    I have never journal until I listened to your “7 benefits of keeping a journal” podcast . Journaling is helping to practice introspection and gratitude. Thank you Michael!

  • Dominic Stanley

    I have journaled since I was five in some capacity. It took years to release the judgement towards the process and now I shamelessly write in my journal. It keeps me clear words aren’t meant to stay inside me.

  • Pam H.

    Also the Bible tells us repeatedly to “remember” what God has done or taught us. It’s easier to “remember” if we’ve written it down.

  • Eddie Rivero

    I’m trying to make it a discipline. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • CM McLaughlin

    I began my “3 pages a day,” what I call Morning Pages (from The Artist’s Way) when chronic fatigue forced me to live my life from bed and change just about everything in my life. (As an athlete who worked with elite performers, it was quite a shock). It saved me, helped me find the way to heal, and now keeps me connecting with my trusty radar as I navigate my way forward fashioning a new and different life. Morning Pages: First thing when you wake up, pick up your pen and notebook and write 3 pages as fast as you can. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, re-reading your work, or writing within the lines. Just keep that pen moving. I find that about 1 1/2 pages in, I often drop into what’s truly real, and it surprises me…a solution, how I really feel about a situation that felt too hot to touch, a new idea, a wonderful piece of writing with connections I had never thought of before, deep gratitude and other emotions, something surprising from The Muse…but in those first pages, I might be writing my shopping or to-do list or reminders, whining or complaining (it’s not pretty), or just plain grumpy…and then the magic drop into the vein of gold. It changes you.

  • http://lancecashion.com/ Lance Cashion

    I’ve been keeping a journal for more than 3years. It is a wonderful experience.
    -I can look back on the landscape of my life and see answered prayers
    -I can see periods of testing and growth
    -My children and their children will receive a legacy of my heart and prayers for them long after I’m gone.
    -When life gets crazy or trying, I go back and read old journal entries and see where God has always lead me and never let me down.

  • stewardshipdad

    I have thought about buying a separate journal for each kid and writing to them about our life together since they are still too young to remember but then keep it going until a time to give it to them. I know this would be writing to an audience and thats not what youre talking about here. I have never thought about keeping one for myself or writing unbridled thoughts. Perhaps I should start and see how it goes.