Why Journaling Works

There’s a reason that Restwell’s goal is to help people slow down through journaling: it works. Here's a few reasons why.

It slows down your thoughts, creating space for re-examination and re-evaluation.

We all live busy lives and it’s easy to get caught in the current of it, moving from one thing to the next without giving thought to why we do those things. Maybe it’s because it’s what we've always done, what we were told to do, or simply that old habits die hard. But, it turns out, that we often derive the most joy and fulfillment from that which we’ve consciously chosen and worked to make a reality in our life.

To counter the speed of life, writing actually slows down the brain's processing speed and redirects its attention. You can read more about it here.

It turns complex and unexplored emotion into thought.

It’s hard for us to move on from difficult situations or avoid repeating them if we don’t have a deeper understanding of the situation. Often, when we are in an emotionally charged situation we typically ruminate. Ruminating is when we relive the emotional aspects of a situation. Journaling helps to create a little bit of space between you and the emotionally charged situations. With this space it’s easier to evaluate the situation and ask hard questions like “why did it happen in the first place?” or “what does life look like next?”

The great thing about ending the rumination cycle and finding resolution is that it actually frees up your brain's resources to focus on the things you actually want to be focusing on.

It refines your personal values, granting clarity.

We all have values, but it’s important to be able to name them. When we’ve done the hard work of identifying our own values and why they are important to us, our values become “the one decision that removes many decisions.”

These kinds of decisions or values make it easier for us to quickly decide how to respond to a situation. Essentially, the next time you’re asked to do something that makes you a little uncomfortable, knowing your values helps explain how you are feeling and makes it easy to simply say no. It’s not who you are or who you want to become.

Journaling is a way to consistently slow down, evaluate what your values are, and how you are living them out.
This process between what we give our attention to or what we dwell on, often happens instantaneously and without us knowing, and yet the choice is profound.
What’s interesting about journaling is that it allows you to hack into this often automated decision making process.

It prevents you from looking stupid (less often)

Let’s face it, we all make fools of ourselves at one point or another… and there isn’t any avoiding it. But a healthy understanding of yourself can definitely help it happen less often.

Consider the Dunning-Kruger effect. This cognitive bias happens when you have a moderate amount of information on a specific topic, feel confident in your decision making because of it, and fail to realize you still have a lot to learn. Then, you end up saying or doing something with great confidence but little to back it up, and make yourself look the fool.

Journal helps to re-examine tired thought patterns and re-explore subjects we once thought we knew everything about. The incredible part of this re-exploration is that it often reveals there’s still much to learn… and there’s a joy to that. What had become stale has new life breathed into it, and you get to rediscover it again.

If you’re curious how your brain sees old ideas in a new light, you can check it out here.

We really believe in journaling, but it’s not a cure all.

As with all truly good things, it has its limits. Here’s a few situations where journaling isn’t actually helpful.
Journaling is really helpful when it comes to creating a path to resolution or coming to terms with a situation that cannot be resolved. What’s more helpful though, is just fixing a fixable situation.

In other words, if you got in a fight with a close friend, journaling may help you cool down and think about why it happened. But there comes a point when journaling doesn’t help, and it’s time to put in the hard work to fix a relationship. Journaling is unhelpful when it’s being used to avoid a fixable situation.

All our lives have periods of deep grief: plans fall apart and loved ones passed away. Journaling can sometimes help in these situations, but it sometimes doesn’t. The reality is that we are complex individuals who all experience and react to grief differently. There is no right way to grieve. If journaling is something you want to try to process your grief, it can be really helpful. If you want to binge TV, it too can be helpful in these periods. Times of grief are when the normal rules of life don’t quite apply. Whatever the case, don’t attempt to force someone to journal to help them “get over it.” It’s unhelpful. Journaling only ever works if the person actually wants to journal, and it’s okay if they don’t.

There have been a large amount of studies done that show productivity hacks don’t make us happier. To give an example study from Pennebaker, two groups of students wrote in their notebooks everyday over the period of a month. One group wrote about their schedules and the other wrote about an emotionally charged event in their recent past. Unsurprisingly, the group that wrote about their schedule had no significant change in their stress levels in the time after the month of writing, while the other group had a notable drop in their stress levels.

Journaling simply isn’t that helpful when it doesn’t involve some level of self reflection. All in all, journaling isn’t a cure all, but has enough consistent positive benefits to be worth pursuing. If you’re interested in picking up journaling, sign up for a free journaling prompt at the bottom of this page.

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