Over the last year I have heard people talk about the benefits of journaling more than ever – there definitely appears to be a buzz about it.
A favourite guru of mine Oprah Winfrey has kept a journal all her life and often refers back to them, using them as a tool to learn things about herself in the process.
Having never been one for writing a diary or journal and instead preferring something shorter like writing intentions and affirmations I decided to see what it was all about.
However, with keeping a diary usually something done before bed and that not being my most productive time of day, I was keen to look for an alternative.
In order to take advice on the subject I referred to a book that I had been given but never used by a lady called Julia Cameron. An American creativity coach and guru formally married to the film producer Martin Scorsese she appeared to be very much at the forefront of the “journaling” movement having written her book “The Artists Way” in 1992 which has since been republished.
In it she introduced a practise she called Morning Pages (already I liked the sound of it).
The book has been a huge best seller and the practise has been adopted by thousands of people so there is clearly something in it.
What are these mystical morning pages?
The instructions are that you sit down and write three full A4 pages of words. Anything that comes to you. It is best to do it first thing in the morning when you are fresh and keep writing until all 3 pages are done. Those are the rules.
When it comes to what you write. Just write anything. Literally it can be as brilliant or pointless as you like. No one is ever going to read them so don’t worry. Cameron says herself:
“All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye — this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.”
What is great is that you are not meant to read your morning pages. The idea is to get things out and clear your mind and get it gone.
The connection between the hand and the paper I believe is an important one to recognise. We know it intuitively with other craft work done with our hands. Why don’t morning pages work typed up?
When we write by hand, we slow ourselves down. There is a time lag between the thought appearing in our minds and then on the page. It is hard to keep up with your thoughts, which is key so you can’t sensor what you write.
When we type it is the opposite as most of us can type pretty quicky and usually we cannot think of things fast enough to type.
It is important to stick to the 3 pages. Anymore you don’t have time for on a daily basis realistically and too little and you don’t get much from the exercise as you need to push yourself a little.
It is clearly a discipline if we are doing it every morning. It can be hard to stick to things unless there is a benefit. So, what are the benefits to our health and wellbeing?
The desire to record your daily life and keep a journal or diary has gone on for centuries although the benefits of it for our health and wellbeing were only starting to be realised in the 1960s.
Probably one of the most common reports from people who write journals is that the act of putting thought and feelings on paper helps give useful emotional and mental clarity. However, Dr. James Pennebaker, a researcher in Texas (Centre of Journal Therapy), has conducted studies that show that when people write about emotionally difficult events or feelings for just 20 minutes at a time over three or four days, their immune system functioning increases. Dr. Pennebaker’s studies indicate that the release offered by writing has a direct impact on the body’s capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.
This is pretty incredible. Writing down your thoughts and anxieties clearing your mind actually helps your body to function better. It makes sense doesn’t it? All those thoughts are baggage, weighing down your system, putting extra pressure on. Take the pressure off and everything can work better.
It is believed that by recording and describing the salient issues in one’s life, one can better understand these issues and eventually diagnose problems that stem from them. Journal therapy has been used effectively for grief and loss; coping with life-threatening or chronic illness; recovery from addictions, eating disorders and trauma; repairing troubled marriages and family relationships; increasing communication skills; developing healthier self-esteem; getting a better perspective on life; and clarifying life goals.
It is clear to say the benefits to our mental health with this technique are potentially great which is important to know when we consider as a nation, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
So now spring has sprung and our energy is raised it is a great time to implement new positive habits in our life.
I can confidently say since starting this exercise I feel better for it and definitely have more clarity.
Why not give morning pages a go?
It seems we don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain!