There are a lot of science-backed reasons that written reflection is good for you. People who write about their experiences and emotions have better emotional and physical health, more positive outlooks, and stronger relationships, among many other outcomes. The research isn’t always clear on why written reflection is so good for you, but some of the theories that have stood up to scrutiny so far include:
- Self-Affirmation: Writing about things that are important to you validates these aspects of yourself. If you write about your values, you are more likely to act in accordance with them
- Affect Labeling: The process of labeling your emotions engages the parts of your brain that encourages you to manage these emotions, hence the phrase “If you can name it, you can tame it.”
- Cognitive Processing: Writing about your experiences can help you make meaning from them as you develop an understanding of how these experiences fit into your world view.
However, an undervalued aspect of keeping a journal is its role in keeping data about yourself — an invaluable source of self-knowledge. You can use your journal entries to find patterns that are, essentially, who you are. For example, you might realize as you review your journal entries that any time you feel insecure and uncertain, you lash out and are rude towards other people.
The problem with many journaling practices, however, is that it makes it difficult to review your entries for patterns. If your journal is a flow of thoughts, you likely won’t be able to quickly review it and look for patterns.
Here are a couple suggestions to make your journal a more useful source of data about yourself:
1. Reflect often
Don’t limit your reflection to “significant” events. Reflect on anything that triggers your emotions throughout the day. The most mundane experiences are essential parts of understanding who you are. A boring meeting at work is just as worthy of a journal entry as a fight with your partner.
2. Ask yourself consistent questions
A free-form journal entry might help you process and feel better about your experiences, but try to include some structured, consistent questions as well. For example, the Inome app will ask you a series of questions about your needs, feelings and behaviors. You can use the questions we recommend in the app or you can come up with ones on your own. The more often you answer the same questions, the more easily you’ll be able to find the patterns.
3. Manage your journal entries
Reflecting on scraps of paper, on Facebook, on your blog, and in various notebooks is great. But if you can’t pull your journal entries together to keep track of them, you’ll never be able to look for patterns. You might think you can keep track of your patterns in your head, but let’s be honest, our memories are extremely limited. We forget some information or even intentionally ignore other information.
These can be fairly minor shifts in your journal. Including these practices can still give you the benefits of releasing your emotions, processing your experiences and telling your life stories while also creating a source of knowledge about you.