When you write something down—whether it’s a grocery list or a memory—you work to cement it into your brain. The act of writing also helps your mind process events. As with any habit, getting into the practice of journaling takes time and effort, but the benefits are tremendous. Not only do you create a tangible record of your day-to-day life, but you can also strengthen your mind.
In an illuminating study out of the University of Texas at Austin, researcher James Pennebaker found that when people wrote about uncertain things, their physical health improved. By voluntarily exposing themselves to uncertain or complicated memories and experiences, the research subjects were increasingly less affected by the negative response the uncertainty of these memories brought up.
You don’t need much activation energy to begin reaping the rewards of a regular journaling practice. First, designate a time to journal. It’s easiest to add to the existing structure of your day, and you are more likely to continue the practice, if you journal at a set time, so consider setting aside the same time each day. Some people prefer to journal with pen and paper, and others prefer to type on the computer. Each method has its pros and cons, but whatever method you decide to use, make sure that your journal is easily accessible. Keep your computer or journal in the same place, preferably in an area of your home that is conducive to journaling, such as a desk or next to your bed.
Personal writing can do more than just document the day-to-day: you can also use it as a tool to understand your past. This can seem like a daunting task, so try dividing up periods of your life and take on writing about those different periods one at a time. Whether you are writing about a memory from your childhood or what you did this morning, once you start journaling, it can be hard to stop because you may realize you have more to say than you initially thought was possible. No matter if you journal in the morning to prepare yourself for the day or in the evening to reflect and relax, being the author of your experiences is a powerful way to take the reins of your life.