I have a very on-off relationship with journaling. I was an avid journaler as a teen but went most of my twenties without a journaling practice. I began journaling again sporadically in my late twenties, but for the most part, I seem to rely on journaling only during especially difficult times when my anxiety levels are high. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how a journaling or free-writing habit could help me wrangle in my thoughts and clear my head either before or after my work for the day.
Then this morning I stumbled across this piece in the New York Times about the potential effects personal writing can have on achieving desired outcomes. The key according to the research is in the act of editing our own internal narratives. By externalizing the voice in our head, we are able to look at it more objectively and make adjustments to the story accordingly.
Here’s an example I’ll pull from my own archives. A few years ago, during a period of high stress, I wrote a journal entry about why I was feeling so stressed. Re-reading the entry, it was clear that a major source of my stress was being caused by imposter syndrome: that horrible (and unless you’re an actual con artist, inaccurate) feeling that everyone can tell you are faking your way through life. In the first part of the entry, I wrote down everything I was feeling and followed my emotional trains of thought to their extreme ends. But the second part of the entry is where it turns around. I start to talk myself out of those thoughts. It seems once I externalized them, I was able to look at them for what they were: absurd manifestations of my own anxiety and insecurity. This allowed me to start to challenge my thoughts, one by one.
This entry was several years ago, so I can’t remember if I walked away after writing feeling any better, or if it made me more productive later that day. It did, however, reinforce some of the points made in the New York Times’ piece and left me wanting to explore this connection between journaling and productivity further. What if, instead of journaling only in times of elevated stress, I developed a more regular habit? Would this have a positive impact on my productivity?
It’s January, the time for new beginnings and resolutions.For academics, it’s also the time when we step out of our winter break hibernation caves and into the blinding light of real-world expectations: classes, deadlines, research, and more. For many, myself included, it can sometimes take weeks to get our brains back to normal operating speed after a hiatus.
So why not try an experiment?
I’m going to attempt to journal every day for the next month to see if it helps with my productivity. I won’t have a minimum word-count or specific prompts to follow. I will just try to put a few words to the page every day that capture my thoughts and feelings in the moment. To hold myself accountable, I’ll post weekly updates here and let you know how it’s going.
If this sounds like something you’d like to try, why not do it too? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on whether journaling helps them to be more productive. Share your experiences in the comments below.