The rewards of keeping a journal can be summed up in what I call the five R’s:
Reinforcement: By writing down an incident, insight, or observation, you’re forced to recollect and describe it as accurately as possible. The act of writing functions like an asterisk in your brain: whatever you choose to put down in your journal provides emphasis. Writing about an incident or observation reinforces it, so you’re more likely to learn its lesson, if there is one, on a deeper level. You’re also likely to remember, over time, the incidents you write about more easily than those that you don’t.
Reflection: Writing means spending time – even if just a few minutes – in quiet communion with oneself. It puts you into pause mode, to quiet down and reflect. In a reflective state you might arrive at a new insight, or go deeper into the way you really feel about something. At the very least, it’s a break from the busy-ness and hubbub of everyday life.
Re-evaluation: When the writer Saul Bellow was asked how he felt about winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, he replied, “I don’t know – I haven’t written about it yet.” Writing is re-evaluation of experience. It is not uncommon to reach new conclusions or to change your point-of-view based on what’s included in your journal. While writing, you might suddenly gain a new perspective, or realize that a small piece of information is more significant than you originally thought. In a sense, writing allows us to live twice – once during the actual experience, and a second time while writing about it. Of course, some experiences aren’t always pleasant to live through once, much less twice – which is one reason writing can be painful. Welcome to my world.
Renewal: Even in the case of negative experience, writing is an opportunity to “vent.” It serves as an outlet for self-expression, and can bring about emotional resolution. By writing something down, we get it outside our heads, where it can be more objectively examined. After completing a journal entry you might suddenly be able to think more clearly, free of anxiety or confusion.
Review: A journal is a place to celebrate success, such as evolved awareness and the resulting shifts in your life. Re-reading your journal from time to time will show the direction you’ve been going, how far you’ve traveled, and perhaps point to the way forward. You can review observations and track your progress. A journal is a record of experience that might prove invaluable someday, should you need some forgotten information. Finally, think of the fun you’ll have at 85 when, in the mellow wisdom of old age, you can read about the early stages of a lifelong journey to self-knowledge. Or all your madcap affairs. Or…but I leave you to it.