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By Dr. Bethanie L. Hansen
Faculty Director & Interim Program Director, School of Arts & Humanities, American Public University
I’ve kept a personal journal my entire life, since I was about the age of 12. In the early years, my entries were short and basic, telling the brief details of my day and what I thought about it.
Keeping a journal does not have to be a sophisticated process or one that will impress others. The main idea is to let your thoughts come out on paper. It’s about writing, not worrying about grammar or structure.
Journaling is also about being authentic and reflecting on your own ideas and experiences. One of the best parts of journaling is that it is writing for yourself, without being concerned about feedback or judgement.
My journals grew in length every day as I wrote regularly. Throughout my college years, I continued to write, using a personal journal as the one place I could really communicate all that was on my mind.
Journaling Is a Good Way to Become a Better Writer and Focus on Future Goals
The practice of journaling can help you work through complicated thoughts and become a better writer. Because there are no rules to keeping a personal journal, you can try out different ways of expressing your ideas and see your own writing grow over time.
On many occasions, I wrote about goals and future plans in my journal. Writing things down made my plans more focused.
As I moved forward to realize some of these goals, I was able to look back on my list and continue developing my plans to achieve each goal. Although not everything worked according to plan, having a written record of my ideas helped me remember what I wanted to achieve.
Also, a personal journal allows you to organize your goals and plans. Because most journals have plenty of space to continue writing and adding ideas, you can reflect on your progress and write down the adjustments needed for your plans to continue forward. You can keep track of your earlier ideas at the same time.
Later in life, I married, had two sons and also maintained a career. During these years, I was much busier. I wrote less frequently, but I still tried to add to my journals occasionally. As I have aged and my children are now adults, I can look through some of my earlier journals to remember details of my life, our family, and our experiences together.
Tips for Starting Your Own Journal
Writing a journal about your personal experiences and relationships helps you maintain a record of things you might otherwise forget. What you write about relationships with family members, friends and other people in your life may become more important to you over time.
Here are a few ideas for starting a journal habit:
- Buy a small notebook with high-quality paper and a sturdy cover. Even better, I’ve learned that a notebook that is made to be used as a journal maintains its binding better and remains intact over time.
- Carry your journal with you throughout the day or store it in a place where you will see it regularly. That will help you to remember to write and makes writing more convenient.
- If you don’t have anything to write about, just start writing. Give a description of your day, work activities and mundane life events. When I look back at my journal, I’ve noticed that sometimes the simplest ideas have become my most cherished journal entries.
- Try to write when things happen. If I’ve experienced a major setback or achieved something, I write my thoughts and feelings about it in my journal. I don’t want to forget the details about significant things I’ve experienced.
- Use your personal journal to work through thoughts you’re wrestling with and to feel “heard,” even though it is only the paper listening. Slowing down to reflect and work through deep or challenging thoughts has given me the space to decide what I’d like to think or do about things.
When life challenges come along, your own words about happier times can be reassuring and strengthening. Written in a journal, your voice from the past can speak to you with words of comfort and encouragement. Best of all, journaling can help you acknowledge your own strengths, talents, and abilities, and see your personal growth over time.
About the Author
Dr. Bethanie Hansen is a Faculty Director and Certified Professional Coach for the School of Arts & Humanities at American Public University System. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University. She is an educator, coach, manager, writer, presenter and musician with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.
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