We asked people why they Journal, here are the top 7 reasons they gave…

I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, and I’m definitely not the first person to write about it. Just google “why to journal” and you’ll get around 1.3 MILLION results. So why is it that so few people actually do journal? Based on Habitbetter’s own research and survey data, only about 8 percent of the population currently keeps a journal or diary, although an additional 22 percent have kept a journal or diary in the past. 

I have personally seen huge benefits from journaling. I have been journaling two times a day for 6 years, and because of all the positive changes I’ve seen as a direct result of this practice, I want to help spread the word. In addition, our Habitbetter courses serve as a way to help the 40 percent of respondents who say they don’t know what to write or where to start. However, if you are part of the 32 percent of people who have never journaled and said they don’t see the benefit, this article is for you. Interestingly, once non-journalers were provided with a list of potential benefits of journaling, the number who saw no benefit dropped down to 4.6%. Given that change, it’s more likely this group, 32% of respondents, actually feel that they don’t know how to get the benefits from journaling. This is where Habitbetter comes in. 

The following reasons to journal are based on the responses from over 200 people who currently journal, or who have journaled in the past. I additionally dug in to see if there was any research that supports the claims. One thing to note, of all the respondents who have journaled in the past -but do not currently journal- not a single person reported that there was “No benefit.” This is also the case with people who currently journal. Now let’s see why the people continue to crack open blank pages and if the science supports their reasons.

Reason 1: Journaling improves learning, memory and performance

78% of respondents who have or do journal, engage in a specific style called “Reflection Writing”. These respondents reported they saw specific benefits in the form of knowledge integration and retention, and performance. However, only 42% of Non-journalers saw this as a potential benefit if they started journaling. Which is a shame, because double the amount of their journaling counterparts cited it to be a benefit. There is plenty of research to support the practice of daily reflection. 3rd year medical students who were required to do daily reflection as part of one study reported an increased ability to learn and retain information in direct response to engaging in daily reflections. They also reported Increased self-awareness  and improvement in clinical duty performance. Fully 74% of participants thought that the daily reflections should be a continued requirement. In addition, daily reflection increases self-confidence because it specifically turns our attention on forming good habits, rather than reducing bad habits. This shift in attention and energy is shown to lead to higher success rates.(Hansen, R. (2013).  Hardwiring Happiness.  New York: Random House). So what should you reflect on when engaging in this style of journaling? There are a lot of things to reflect on in life- current major events, upcoming decisions, what you’ve learned, your emotional world. One thing many people reflect on are their goals and the progress they seem to be making, which is our next most popular reason to journal…

Reason 2: Journaling helps me set goals and achieve them

Fully 77% of those who reported journaling chose this as one of the benefits. In addition, 56% of those who have never journalled said they thought it would be a benefit. Research indicates that the act of writing down goals and re-visiting them (perhaps during your daily reflection) leads to a 42% increase in your likelihood of completing that goal. In addition, writing goals out in your journal allows you to more fully flesh out the steps needed to actually accomplish them. We specifically go over how to optimize your goal setting and planning in some of our courses. Much of your ability to succeed in reaching your goals simply has to do with being attentive to what they are and acknowledging how you’re making progress on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Reason 3: Journaling helps me stay focused

88% of people who journal cited “Staying Focused” as a noticable benefit to journaling. This specific benefit ranked number one with current journalers! However, barely half (52%) of non-journalers believed that this would be a benefit. I think we can confidently say the numbers support journaling here. As stated earlier, improvement in memory and cognition that comes from a daily journal practice fosters our natural ability to stay focused. It’s also similar to the concept we discussed in writing down your goals. When you know what you want (goals) and have them clearly defined, you are naturally going to be more focused on what matters to you than if you don’t have that same clarity. The use of “Daily Targets” in conjunction with larger goals is one method of journaling that helps improve focus.

Reason 4: Journaling helps manage stress and process emotions

74% of people who do or have journaled saw emotional venting as a benefit – and the science backs up their experience. In addition, 65% saw journaling improve their ability to manage stress, and fully a third of people who journal or have journaled say they started journaling specifically in order to manage stress.  By writing things down, we take control of the narrative and own our story. Writing allows us to take an objective stance on our situation and thus, we are able to see it and our choices more clearly. The act of writing down our mental state can reduce worry and rumination, as it gets swirling thoughts out of our head and onto paper, allowing our brain to settle and observe. A medical study found that emotion focused journaling resulted in better clinical outcomes (lower distress and anxiety symptoms) as well as increased resilience (ability to handle stressors) in just one month. These were sustained over the course of the study.

Reason 5: Journaling helps with self discovery

77% of people who journal say it helps them with “Self Discovery,” and understanding their values, beliefs and feelings about their life. One study at Stanford showed that by doing a written reflection on values students improved performance in school . Other studies have shown that writing about values helps improve feelings of confidence and self-worth. Even more than just summarizing, writing about values also improved physical health (fewer illnesses), and increased energy.

Reason 6: Journaling supports creative inspiration and ideation

59% of people who journal said that it improved their ability to think creatively and get “inspired.” While this may seem a more abstract benefit there is research to show that creating a process or habit improves your ability to generate ideas over time. Creativity can be practiced just like anything else, by journaling you allow yourself to explore your inner motivations and thoughts which can inspire new perspectives and ideas. 

Reason 7: Journaling improves memory

59% of people who journal said it improved their memory and the science readily agrees with them. So if you’re part of the 71% of non-journalers who don’t see this as a benefit here’s a fun fact: Research shows that writing things down improves the “encoding” process in the brain and leads to roughly a 20-23% improvement in the ability to recall facts and important ideas . In addition, by writing daily we “make space” in our working memory which allows us to be more focused and productive. 

I hope you enjoyed our analytical look at the benefits of journaling. If you are interested in some guided journaling in order to learn some evidence based techniques please check out one of our courses. Each one provides daily prompts to help you make the most of or simply learn how to journal. Whether you’re just starting out or are looking to make the most of your existing practice we are here to help. So what are you waiting for? Grab a pen and paper and begin today.