Buddhists talk about the mind being a spastic, unruly monkey. When the monkey is under control, it’s a wonderful pet, but give it the chance, and it will bounce around, looking for bananas and mischief. For non-Buddhists, getting it under control requires a wide variety of tricks and tranquilizers (television and xanax, anyone?).
For creative types, we need to have zen-like control of our mind. However, if you’re not the mediating, yoga-ing zen type, journaling provides the fastest way to get the mind monkey under control.
Daily journaling calms the monkey down, allowing you to increase creativity, improve your memory, solve problems, and reduce stress. By establishing the simple habit of daily journal keeping, especially as a part of your morning routine, you can realize all these benefits and more within the next few weeks. Getting started is easy.
Increase Creativity and Unlock New Ideas
I generate most of my new ideas in the morning. Something about being so close to the dream time allows more access to the subconscious thought. Whether story ideas, business schemes, lesson plans, song lyrics, or travel plans, the ideas come easy and fast in the morning. I feel like there’s less of a filter, less self-editing, when I just start writing stuff down.
When you start to write down one idea, you’ll often find that another will naturally follow. The other was floating around, but until you write the first one down, you don’t have access to it.
Improve your Memory and Focus
Kitty Klein, Ph.D. at North Carolina State, has done research on the memory benefits of journaling. She found when people journaled about negative things, their memory improved by 11%. Positive things brought 4% increases, general writing increased memory by 2.5%.
Further, the mind is a muscle, and recalling things to write about is like doing push ups. If the brain knows it will have to work later, it will take try to save itself the work and remember things in the first place.
Solve Problems and Make Decisions
All problems demand one thing: a solution. Journaling makes problem solving easier. The more complex a problem, the harder it is to solve by turning it over and over in your mental washing machine. You’ve got to get it out of your head and on paper,
Writing about a problem allows you to break it down into its component parts, to see the parts, and figure out how they work together. You might see things you hadn’t thought about, or you might find new ways to approach the problem. Writing increases understanding, and the sooner you understand the problem, the sooner you’ll see the solution.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Monkeys are cute when they whine, but you’re not. By writing such drivel in your journal, you not only give yourself a chance to get all that bad stuff out (and improve your memory), you spare your friends and loved ones.
When I started journaling, the job I had involved hours of driving. Driving is dangerous, and it left me perpetually stressed out, irritable, and prone to stupid escapist habits.
After about two months of journaling, I realized my anxiety was gone. Nothing else in my life had changed; I paid for no expensive therapy, used no harmful drugs; I just engaged in simple, daily writing. People around me noticed that I seemed more relaxed.
If our minds are a sponge that seeps up all the negative shit around us, journaling acts as a way to wring out the shit, only with less mess.
How to Get Started
Establishing the daily habit of writing in a journal is easy, free, and requires no strenuous physical or mental activity. All you need is a notebook, a nice pen, and the gumption to sit down at the same time every day and write. That’s it. The hard part is actually doing it every day. Give yourself about 30 days to really establish the habit. By that time you should start seeing some benefits, and if not, what are you missing out on? Checking email or reading the news?
I believe first thing in the morning is the best time of day for this kind of writing. You’re fresh from sleep and morning is the easiest part of the day to carve out the extra 15-30 minutes required to fill 1-2 pages. Just wake up earlier.
Some tips for writing: Don’t proofread, edit, or self-censor what you write. This ain’t English class. You’re writing for yourself, no one else. If you’re worried about the stuff you write down, just make plans to burn the journal once you finish it. If you think anyone might read it, don’t worry; most people don’t have the patience, and most of what you write won’t be that interesting at all to anyone besides yourself. Hell, I usually don’t reread what I write unless I need to pull out a specific idea.
If you’re not sure about all this, just try journaling for thirty days. After that time, see if you’ve noticed a change in your monkey’s behavior. I think you’ll find you’ve got a friendlier, happier, and most importantly, calmer monkey.
A Side Note:
Excuses, excuses. I’d like to apologize for not keeping up with the blog. I’ve been worn down with bronchitis for most of the month, and that, along with quitting smoking, has made focusing on this blog rather difficult. I think it’s getting better, and I promise to resume regular posting this week.
Photo credit: ChrisL_AK