Epictetus the slave. Marcus Aurelius the emperor. Seneca the power broker and playwright. These three radically different men led radically different lives. But they seemed to have one habit in common: Journaling. And they were not the only ones to practice the habit of writing. Foucault observed this in his era as well. All the great minds practised it.
The big thing right now is telling men we need to journal more about our feelings. That is a very feminine way to look at journaling and something that many men struggle with, yours truly included. But what if we looked at journalling from a different perspective? Would, that make it more palatable? Let’s see.
Benefits of Journaling
Many mental health professionals will tell you that journaling is one of the most recommended tools to have a clearer mind and a happier life. It helps to release mental blockades and be more precise about our thoughts while helping us to understand our desires, priorities, and concerns.
In their book “The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being” Stephan J. Lepore and Joshua Morrison Smyth describe how people with traumatic experiences can benefit from writing down their thoughts and feelings.
According to the studies, already short journaling sessions can tremendously increase the psychological as well as the physical well-being of the writer. These results are mainly because writing helps us to structure thoughts and experiences thereby assisting in assigning meaning to our problems.
How to Get Started
For many of us, journaling is a practice we are not used to doing. And as James Clear speaks to in Atomic Habits thinking we are going to jump into journaling daily for 30 minutes might be too big of a step. Instead, I recommend starting small by journalling weekly. Schedule it and use the time to write down what went well and what you learned from the week. Now, even that can be a bit daunting so, thankfully the guys at Mind Journal created a journal book for men.
This Book Will Make You Stronger by Mind Journal takes all the work out of having to decide what to write about. They have broken the book into topics and then give questions to support the topic for you to journal on. The best part is there are no dates so you can fill it out at your pace. It takes the pressure off of writing daily. This was my first journal and I have to say, it made the entire process a lot easier to do.
If you want something that is going to stretch and take you a little deeper then try The Daily Stoic Journal by Ryan Holiday. This journal is broken into weekly themes followed by a daily question for us to answer. The journal then asks us to reflect on the same question in the morning and again in the evening. It’s a great way for us to reflect on the impact the day had on the question and how we responded.
Pick a Medium
Regardless of whether you have never journaled or fell off the wagon, the first thing you need to decide is what medium will you journal in? Today, we are not left to just paper and pen. As discussed you can start with a pre-done journal book for men like I mentioned earlier to help us with the process or you can get a blank spiral notebook. That's what I use today.
If that doesn't feel safe then maybe you are more comfortable journaling digitally. With today's password technology it's a breeze to keep your thoughts private. OneNote, Evernote, Word, Google Docs, Otter, etc. are great platforms you can use for your digital journal. And for the most part, you can get access to it from anywhere with a wifi connection. The point is to choose a medium that fits you and start writing, typing or talking. Yes, Otter is great transcription software that you can use to record your daily thoughts and the software transcribes almost flawlessly. It's actually quite hilarious to read what it transcribes. I found out I speak with marbles in my mouth for a good chunk of the time. No wonder people were having a hard time understanding me.
What to Journal About
If you plan on tackling journaling with the Mind Journal book, that’s great. So, what do you journal about? Well, I touched on a couple above.
If you are doing the weekly plan write down three things that went well. You may wish to write about problems or challenges in the week. It’s ok to do that just not too much. More on that in a minute.
After journaling for a while, I suggest going back and look for any themes that may be developing. This is part of the growth process are you stuck in a certain place? When things are going well, what is happening around those events? Soon, patterns and themes become evident allowing you to do more of what is working while developing tactics to deal with life’s challenges.
Your journalling practice can be as structured as you like or as simple as writing five things you’re grateful for. The latter could be done daily or weekly and wouldn’t take much more than 5 minutes.
Still not sure what to write about, here are six more ideas.
Write about something (or someone) extremely important to you.
Write about three things you’re grateful for today — and why.
Write about what advice you’d give to your younger self.
Write about 10 things you wish people knew about you.
Write about one thing you did this today/week/month/year that you’re proud of.
Write about 10 things you’d say yes to and 10 things you’d say no to.
What Journaling Isn’t About
It's not about rehashing the past or reliving painful situations. In a recent interview with Mary Joye, a therapist whose expertise is in codependency said it is one of the things she warns her clients about, especially men. Mary encourages men to avoid writing and talking too much about their problems. The rehashing only ingrains the feelings. Instead, she offers a twist and suggests our goal with journalling is to look at the lessons from our experience and focus on the outcome we are looking to achieve.
Leave a Legacy
While you might think your life is boring, your great-grandkids won’t. They’ll be just as fascinated about you driving a car that runs on gasoline as you are about your great-grandpa driving a horse and buggy. If your life really is boring, perhaps keeping a journal will give you an incentive to take on more adventures so you have something to write about.
It’s time to get started. Your task today is to start a journal. Pick your medium and begin. If you already have a journal but haven’t written in it in a while, write an entry today. And if you’re one of those few consistent journalers out there, thumbs up! Keep up the good work and use today’s journal entry to pat yourself on the back.