The many benefits of keeping a journal for life

The many benefits of keeping a journal for life

You never know when you might come back to your journals throughout your life, says author Alyss Thomas, who’s just published a book on journalling. She talks to Ailin Quinlan.

Would you like to become calmer, more centred, more focused, and confident that what you think or say is worth listening to?

Of course you would.

And according to psychotherapist Alyss Thomas, there’s a cheap, enjoyable, and hassle-free way of doing it — write a journal.

Thomas is a committed journal writer — in fact she’s written a journal on a relatively regular basis, the 63-year-old recalls, since about the age of four.

“I was obsessed with keeping journals most of my life,” she says.

“I’ve been writing a journal since I was about four years old. I grew up in a publishing household and I was quite creative and emotionally expressive so it was a place for me to ‘put’ things.”

But if they are to be useful later on — and they can be, for a number of reasons — there’s a skill to writing a well-organised journal.

A few years ago, when Thomas, who has also taught writing for some 20 years, rifled through a number of her old journals, she found herself regretting that she hadn’t organised them better. As she points out, sometimes, and often years down the road, journals can come in very useful.

If I’d had just a few tips in terms of how to organise the journal, like always having every item dated and with a title, and having an index at the front of the journal, it would have made them much more useful in terms of knowing what’s in there and being able to raid it later on!

"In later life some of it can be very relevant. You can use it for projects or, for example, in a book.”

Writing a journal is good for you, observes Thomas is so convinced of the benefits of writing a journal that she’s just published a guide to effective journal writing. Over her 30 years in psychotherapy, she says she’s found the patients who have benefited most from therapy have been those who completed the recommended exercises in journal writing .

“No matter who does it, adult or child, there’s no way that you won’t benefit from being in a peaceful, self-reflective, confident space in terms of who you are — and being clear about your goals.”

The many benefits of keeping a journal for life

The biggest benefit, she believes, is that the hobby allows you to be “present with yourself. It’s a form of mindfulness. It enables you to clarify your mind,” she says.

She also recommends handwriting your journal.

"A journal is about self-reflection and it’s been proven that when you write things down by hand you remember them better. Also it’s a more tactile experience and can feel more real."

Plus, she adds, hand-writing is an “elegant analogue solution” which takes you offline and away from all those online distractions. When you take time to sit with your journal you find yourself. You become calmer, more centred, and more focused. The most important assets we have are our time and our focus.”

Another major benefit, she says, is that journal writing can help you define your personal goals, and the things that matter to you.

When you write about a situation you’re clarifying what you want and what steps you want to take. It’s a way of tracking what you’re up to.

Keeping a journal improves self-confidence, encouraging the writer to feel that their thoughts and feelings matter.

“You have to pay attention to that, because what you feel and think can be an inner guidance system to help you stay on track with what matters in your life.”

She strongly recommends encouraging children and teens to write so as journal-write by encouraging them to use a journal to express situation and feelings. Suggest to children that they write a story or poem about a family mem-ber, pet, or About Me — or even describe their world to a visiting alien!

There are many different forms of journal writing — life journaling for example, involves simply writing about your life.

Therapeutic journaling encourages you to ponder why something is upsetting you so much and helps you track and tweak your behaviour.

It also assists you in working out how best to resolve a complex situation.

Gratitude journaling on the other hand, explains Thompson, “nudges you into a more positive mindset” and gradually trains you to be a more positive person.

In essence, Thomas believes journal writing helps us sift through the whirlwind of life and gain clarity in terms of their priorities and what they should give their attention to. “I really want more people to be doing this because it’s not out of anyone’s reach.”

Here’s how: Find a journal that you like and a nice place in which to write, recommends Thomas.

Write every day for between 15 and 30 minutes, and keep it up for 90 days. If you manage that, she promises, you won’t want to give it up.

Ensure everything you write has a title and a date, that each page is numbered — and keep several pages at the front for an index.

Don’t entertain any self-judgment or self-criticism about your journal writing, she says, but keep it private.

Your journal is always a work in progress. It’s always messy and incomplete and it’s not your final thoughts on a subject. I encourage people to be messy and not worry about how their journal looks.

Thomas also recommends carrying a pocket version of your journal in your bag to write down any thoughts you have, as well as keeping another journal in which you can take the time to get into things in more depth.

On her website, she says, there is a PDF for a New Year/New Start journal which people can download for free — why not give it a go!

The Journal Writer’s Companion — Achieve Your Goals • Express Your Creativity • Realize Your Potential by Alyss Thomas, published in hardback, Exisle, €16.50

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