Journaling: A Simple Tool for Greater Emotional Health

Humans have been journaling since the beginning. From pictographs to electronic notes, we have looked for ways to record our stories. But, while our ancestors had to gather pigments, mix them into paint, blow the paint from their mouths, and use their hands as stencils, today we can simply speak into the phones we carry in our pockets and record our stories. It could not be easier! And yet, less than one in six people actually keep a daily journal.

Journaling Helps Remember

There are many ways to journal – as many ways as there are people on the planet. We can simply write one line of gratitude, or we can detail our day. We can share a few bullet points, or we can write out memories and lessons learned. All of these methods have the same purpose – to share our story – and none of them are “wrong”.

While I’ve tried almost every method of journaling out there, including electronic notes, I find that the good, old-fashioned method of pen on paper helps me best process life’s events. Writing helps me ponder and focus. If I have time for details, great, but if not, I can pick out a few things that carry the most meaning for me. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is, “I’ll remember this!” It’s a known fact that if you haven’t written it down, within days the memories will be fuzzy. After just a couple of months, most details will be gone. Within a year, we’re lucky to remember the true feelings of the event and the lessons learned could be gone from our memory for good.

While I have journaled my whole life, methods have changed over the years, as has my consistency. I always come back to a simple daily practice that helps me “cover the bases”. Research shows that if we can remember four specific things about our day, then we can basically remember the whole day. I have refined this to four specific prompts: Sweet, Sour, Remember, and Gratitude.

Simple Daily Prompts

Sweet: Share something sweet or good that happened in your day. It could be something someone did for you, or that you did for someone else. It could be a great conversation you had, or a positive thought. Anything that gives you a little lift or leaves a smile on your face is perfect.

Sour: Here you can share something that didn’t quite go your way. Maybe it was a sad event, or you were ill. Maybe you just woke up in a bad mood and had a hard time shaking it. Or someone cut you off in traffic. Little or big, just write something you need to process. Then let it go.

Remember: This is the prompt with the loosest “rules”. Here you can write a chronological list of items from the day, tell details of a specific event, or write out a conversation shared with a friend or family member. Just jot a few notes to remind you of the day. Later, you can write details in a separate journal or piece of paper. I love to do this with those bigger events that might take more room than the usual page. You can always glue that extra page in later, but, for now, the highlights are safely tucked away.

Gratitude: Always make room for at least one item of gratitude each day. This could also be a hope, a dream, a prayer, or a positive mantra. Just think of something that gives you feelings of gratitude and take a few minutes to write it out. Studies show that an attitude of gratitude will help you find more satisfaction and peace with life.

Make Journaling a Habit

Take the time each evening to write out a few things from your day. You will greatly increase your ability to remember good times, reflect on challenges, and ponder on the lessons learned. This simple practice can help you process day-to-day events and how they fit the bigger picture of your story. Writing our stories, gives us a greater ability to process life and create a healthier mental and emotional outcome for ourselves.

After years of using this formula myself, I created a series of journals for kids and teens based on these four prompts. My desire is to help kids develop the habit of journaling, and increase emotional health. You can find my journals here.

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