This is an evolving post. Keep checking back in, we'll add more reasons over time. Let's see if we can make it to 100...
- Writing spawns clarity
The very act of writing things down forces us to bring complex thoughts in order. In many cases, this will lead us to the realization that we have no clue about some of the things that we thought we had figured out. Likewise, some problems might turn out to be easy to resolve or are rather opportunities and not problems.
Looking back and assessing your experiences and decisions in hindsight is an essential ingredient of improvement and progress.
- Keeping a record
It is in general amazing to possess a record of one's life. Imagine you open your journal 10 years from now and read about what you did today. Sometimes it is also valuable to be able to reconstruct how events unfolded in great detail.
- Improving memory
Forcing your brain at least once every day to recollect details about what happened will train the gray matter and make it better at this task over time, thus gradually improving short-term memory.
- Surfacing monotonous behavior
Almost everyone would agree that it is boring to do the same things over and over again every single day. Yet, it is easy to adopt a very monotonous lifestyle without being actively aware of it. Keeping a journal will change that.
- The incentive to do something special
Elaborating on #5... being forced to write down what you did on every given day might incentivize you to do small things that make the day special and worthwhile, even if it is just for the sake of having something interesting to log.
- Taking things off your mind
It's a common practice to write "loud" thoughts down to take them off our minds. That is also why many people like to make lists. Once something is written down or expressed our brain usually drops it from the repeat loop.
- Tracking habits
Tracking both good and bad habits is a great strategic way of reinforcing or getting rid of them.
Some journaling apps like Journalistic make habit tracking very easy with tags and visualizations.
- Dissecting decisions
If you ever look back and wonder why you made a certain decision that makes little sense in the now you can look up the days that preceded the decision and reconstruct your train of thought based on the events that occurred.
- Assessing the state of your life
Am I happy? Do I make progress? Am I on track to achieve my goals? Those are at least partially subjective questions and the answers might vary from day to day. But it might help to have a look at the big picture and look at actual numbers, e.g. how many highlights did I mark in my journal per week, what is the ratio of positive to negative entries, aso.
Journalistic is currently conducting research on whether algorithms can assess happiness over time automatically from your writing.
- Shining new light on your thoughts
Writing about something is quite different from just thinking about it. The very nature of writing forces you to take your thoughts from the abstract into the factual. Different regions of the brain get activated and produce input and insight from a completely different angle.
- Analyzing changes
It is easy to fool ourselves when we assess situations in hindsight. To accurately analyze a change it is favorable to have a written record of details over time. For instance, if you decide to stop smoking or start to meditate regularly your journal will reflect whether or not those changes had an impact on your life and also how long it took for the change to take effect.
- Tracking relationships
"Where did we actually meet?", "How long have we not seen each other?", those are questions we all have asked and their importance can range from "fun fact" to closing a business deal or not. Marking social interactions in your journal can help with these questions.
- Writing daily improves your ability to express yourself
Many people are not as good at expressing themselves as they could be and the reason for that can more often than not be found in a lack of practice. Expressing yourself usually comes short in modern-day life and we receive more appreciation for just going along with whatever society dictates. Keeping a journal is a great way to practice. Expressing your thoughts daily in written form can work magic in making you better at expressing what you really feel or want.
- Gratitude is a powerful tool
Psychology research shows time and time again that the plain act of being grateful increases happiness. Simply thinking about your little privileges sparks positive emotions and measurably improves mental and physical health. That is why so many journaling apps leverage this ancient technique.
- Browsing through old entries is fun
Sometimes it is just fun to flick through your journal and read through your old entries.
- Routines are great for rhythm
Daily routines are great, they are like anchor points for our minds to adjust by. Many of history's greats are known to have adhered to routines to stay on track. Journaling is an easy and useful routine to establish.
- Collecting wisdom
How many times have you learned something very valuable but forgot about it later? A journal is a great place to store "learned lessons", "deep insights", etc.
- Staying on track
When writing about your daily business frequently it's very easy to assess whether you are locked in on pursuing your goals or not, whether you make continuous progress or constantly get sidetracked by things that neither bring you forward nor give you joy.
- Straighten out skewed timelines
When looking back, our brain is very bad at weighing experiences with their respective time horizons. For instance, imagine you go on a one-week business trip to Tokyo. On 6½ days of the trip, you just feel stressed and overwhelmed, but on the last day, you have a few hours of exploring an exciting city and a pretty good time. In hindsight, your brain will rate this trip as the average of stressed and exciting, so pretty ok actually, not taking into account that the stressful part actually completely outweighs the good one (source: Homo Deus by Yuval N. Harari, see our library). Looking back at this scenario with a written record will give a different impression and you will think twice if you really want to go on another one of those trips.
- Credibility of memories
Retrieving events from our memory can be misleading. While the human brain is quite good at storing relevant information for a long time, most of us (there are exceptions) do not memorize scenes in high detail as a video camera does. Instead, a quite strong compression is applied, reducing the saved information to keyframes and meta information, basically the minimal amount of data that is required to restore the "video" to a certain degree of accuracy. When retrieving a memory the brain "hallucinates" the happenings back into existence based on the stored keyframes and the model of reality it builds up over time. This process can, and often does, lead to glitches and sometimes we remember things that never really happened, or in reality, were actually quite different from our recollection. Naturally, memories deteriorate over time and a written copy from the day of the event can obviously give us an edge and more confidence in accurately retrieving memories from the distant past.
Thanks for checking in!
If you have a good reason to journal, which is not yet mentioned in the list, please send it our way so that we can add it.
And if the above list inspired you to start a journal check out Journalistic and sign up for free.