In an age when we are so reliant on technology, it seems as if people rarely put pen to paper anymore. However, many thought leaders still champion the practice of daily journaling. The popularity of journaling among successful individuals and great thinkers is not new. Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Marcus Aurelius are just a small selection of historic figures who regularly recorded their thoughts in writing.
More recently, former U.S. President Barack Obama told Time magazine: “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”
While college represents an exciting time full of possibilities, it’s also a time associated with a high-degree of uncertainty. For college students, journaling is an excellent way to structure their thoughts and ideas, reflect on what they are learning each day and prepare for the future.
What Exactly Is Journaling?
Before discussing the benefits of journaling for students, it’s useful to briefly examine what journaling is.
First of all, it’s important to note that there’s no single prescribed format when it comes to journaling. It can take many different forms, depending on what you want to get out of it, and can be as structured or free-form as the person who is putting pen to paper likes. For some people, journaling might consist of a “stream of consciousness” or simply putting thoughts into writing. One example of “stream of consciousness” journaling is known as “morning pages”, popularized by the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. This involves taking the time to write about three pages every morning. The idea is to write about whatever enters your consciousness, whether that’s how you’re feeling, your hopes and plans for the day or even what you dreamt about the night before.
Others, however, may prefer more structured journaling. For example, journals are available that provide daily prompts or exercises.
Writing in a journal for any amount of time is beneficial. As we shall see, journaling even for as little as five minutes per day could have benefits.
You can write in your journal at any time that suits, depending on your objective and the type of journal you are writing. The famous Roman emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius primarily wrote his journal entries early in the morning to get ready for the day ahead, including preparing for the people he would encounter and difficult situations he may have to deal with. Thomas Edison, on the other hand, preferred to keep his journal close by so he could write in it whenever he needed to.
If you’re considering journaling it’s important to just start writing. Over time you’ll find out what works best for you and can adapt accordingly.
Daily Journaling To Improve Academic Performance
Many studies have documented the myriad benefits associated with journaling. One particular study, conducted by Harvard Business School, found that daily journaling increased academic performance by as much as 25%.
In order to determine whether writing in a journal everyday had tangible benefits, participants were split into two groups. One of the groups wrote in their journal at the end of each day, while the other group did not.
The researchers concluded that that reflection was a “powerful mechanism” when it comes to learning. Their results echo centuries old wisdom, including that of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who said that reflection is the most noble way to learn.
For college students, this type of journaling could prove particularly effective. Before going to bed, perhaps consider revising what you’ve learned during the course of the day. Reflect on your lecture notes, as well as any articles and books you have read. Try to write about what you’ve learned in your own words. Many people, including Albert Einstein, have said that if you can’t explain something in simple terms, then it’s likely you don’t fully understand it.
Journaling to Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Journaling has also been documented as an excellent way to deal with stress and anxiety. Anxiety is a particularly pertinent problem in today’s demanding and high-speed society.
College students have lots of demands on their time and also tend to experience a high-degree of uncertainty relating to their future, both of which can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
Research has demonstrated that taking the time to write about traumatic or anxiety-inducing events leads to lower levels of stress.
Clarifying Goals and Realizing Ambitions
It’s well known that those who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. This applies to both short-term tasks and mid- or longer-term goals. First, writing out one’s goals and aspirations makes them easier to keep track of. In addition, once long-term goals are put into writing, it’s easier to break them down into smaller, more manageable steps.
Writing down goals and the measures it will take to reach them provides a tangible roadmap for you to follow. It’s also a useful tool for assessing how important each goal is and tracking progress in a structured way.
Developing a detailed to-do list on a regular basis has other associated benefits. Research shows that taking five minutes to write a to-do list before going to bed could reduce rumination and contribute to a better night’s sleep. The authors of one particular study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, noted that worrying about incomplete future tasks is a significant contributor to difficulty sleeping. The research found that the more detailed the participants made their to-do lists, the faster they subsequently fell asleep.
Using a Journal to Record Ideas
According to David Allen, author of the popular productivity book “Getting Things Done”, your brain is for having thoughts, not storing them.
A journal can be used to record ideas and reflections throughout the day. Thomas Edison is said to have kept his journal on his person at all times. Edison would use his journal to jot down ideas for inventions that he would later review. While your ideas may not be quite as bright as those Edison had, keeping an “ideas journal” close at hand may be a useful way to free your mind for other things. Ultimately, you’ll have more capacity to focus on your studies.
Giving Your Thoughts a Coherent Structure
We live in an information-rich age, which can be overwhelming. Journaling is an excellent way to give your thoughts a coherent structure.
For students, journaling may assist with clarifying the future. Students naturally have many possibilities open to them and different career routes they could follow. If you’re a college student, writing in a journal may help you better understand yourself and to ultimately have a clearer vision about what you want from life. With the myriad benefits of journaling, including improved sleep, decreased anxiety and better academic performance, keeping a journal seems like something all college students should strive to do.