The Science behind Journaling
Posted Fri 11th Oct 19 - 13 mins read
I'm gonna tell you right off the bat, I don’t have a 'sciency' mind but I do have an interest in why we do the things that we do in a 'how-do-we-fix-this kind' of a way.
I had read a lot in the past about related subjects but, this time:
I was on a mission to prove my theory that writing and journaling can, and does, have a positive effect on our health.
I went full on research mode and this blog post is a summary of what I found.
(I have also included a reading list at the bottom, which includes some of the books and articles I came across during my research. They are the ones that I feel provide a good narrative and are not so 'sciency' that they’re too difficult to read. If you are interested in reading more, they are a good place to start.)
Journaling has had a profound impact on my life and it can do the same for you
I'm not going to spout on about the rates of suicide in men or anything like that - we know there is a real problem and that there are various options out there to help. I do, 'tho, want to share why I believe that journaling can help you, just as it helped me.
The idea for this website initially came about as a result of my experiences and my joint efforts with my husband to make general improvements to our lives - as a couple - and journaling was an important part of that process. It works doe us, why couldn't it work for other people?
The idea to develop this further came from a conversation with my husband on one of those perfect evenings where you just talk and talk and, all of a sudden, you have this idea for something...
Guys need to be able to disclose too
That was the end of 2017 and as I started to talk about the subject more and look into it more and even look at the people around me more, I realised there was a real need for men to be able to open up in a safe space.
Not only that, but this safe space needed to be a place where there would be no judgement or stigma attached to the idea of them disclosing their deepest feelings. If men were more able to be vulnerable and talk about how they are feeling in a way that women are able to do naturally then surely and their world would be a better place?
It also occurred to me that this kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to men but more than that, not everyone has that safe space available to them, would even know this could be healthy or would even know where to start with letting their feelings out. But I knew that bottling up emotion only leads to trouble and I wanted to try to tackle this.
My 40th trip around the sun was looming and after a period of self development I had recently come to realise how beneficial journaling was for me. It was a great way to clear my head from overwhelm.
I have been a list maker all my life and now knew that something as simple as a good ol’ brain dump helped me to relax and sleep better when there was a lot going on - even if it was making a quick to do list before bed. I left the thoughts on the page, digital or paper, didn’t matter to me and my head was clear enough to sleep. Journaling, for me, was a great way to manage overwhelm and combat sleep deprivation.
I knew that journaling work for me, but a key part of the FOML journey was to understand what the research says about the benefits of journaling for our users
Scientists are great, aren't they?
Everything is black and white and every tiny detail is measured and remeasured, so true, so to the point. Even with things as messy as emotions, scientists have researched the theories that enable them, and us, to make order out of chaos.
Here's what I've learned during my research:
One of the first things I came across during my research journey was Plutchik’s Wheel.
I talk a lot about emotional intelligence and this is where really understanding it started for me.
The wheel is made up of a set of core, or basic, emotions which are set out with their exact polar opposite emotion:
Joy - Sadness
Acceptance - Disgust
Fear - Anger
Surprise - Anticipation
The wheel then continues outwards to list other combinations of these emotions and layers of things that cause us humans to be so complicated. Seeing our emotions depicted in this way made me realise how important it can be to acknowledge your emotions and deal with what we notice instead of keeping everything bottled up.
Plutchik's wheel seemed to demonstrate to me that it really is a case of learn to open up or continue to experience some sort of explosive reaction to your emotions. That reaction will usually a negative reaction - such as anger.
This lead me to realise how much our emotions can drive our actions and our behaviour and that our emotions are a demonstration of our reaction towards our thoughts or particular events.
Energy is Everything
'Emotere' is Latin for energy in motion.
My next stop was to learn that energy can’t be created or destroyed but it can be transferred from one form to another - this is The Law of Conservation of Energy. When you are feeling a strong emotion, that energy can either go on a downward spiral towards negativity or it can travel up the emotional scale towards positivity but whatever you do, you can’t get rid of it.
Therefore, your best hope is to face the emotion and work with it in order to reach your desired outcome. This means you need to deal with it in a way that allows you to successfully manage it. There are many different methods out there, what’s important is you use methods that work for you. To start that process through journaling, grab my have rested mind toolkit here.
Next, I touched briefly on the Human Condition and why we have so much trouble doing the things that are good for us such as facing our emotions. Usually, it’s too hard, too painful, too draining etc etc. Basically we are too afraid of being weak and too afraid of being all powerful. We’re basically a constant oxymoron. It’s laughable really.
This lead me deeper into our ‘consciousness’ and our moving away from primal instincts towards more conscious thought. A range of scientists, psychologists and philosophers in history have struggled with this idea and I would imagine they continue to do so today. Honestly.
I went next into quantum physics in the attempt to try to understand the idea of positive and negative energy and how it can move around and affect us. I had touched on this briefly before because the idea of our ‘energy’ kept coming back to me. What is energy? It is physical, emotional, spiritual or something entirely different?
There are some incredible scientists out there who will define energy as everything around us and go so far as to tell us that includes the entire universe. We are made of stars. Literally. Honestly, go down this rabbit hole and you are unlikely to come out the same person, it’s mind-blowing.
Quantum physics also lead me to learn each of us has our own electromagnetic field. This is fascinating, if not slightly over my head, type of, science so I've included a link to enable you to read more at the bottom of this post.
Essentially we all have our own ‘vibration’ which can be affected by external factors such as people around you, things that happen like being late to work and having a bad day - and we’re back to energy again!
Next on the reading list was ‘How to Win’ and ‘The Mask Of Masculinity’. Each had compelling theories on how to make your own life your own as well as the benefits of mantras and meditation.
What was interesting about these books was they were both written by men and they were both insisting on how there is no shame in asking for help or even helping yourself.
This is when I came across some articles about the benefits of journaling for things such as stress, anxiety and depression and one of these articles cited the book, Opening up by writing it down.
The Spontaneous Fulfilment of Desire - Deepak Chopra
It was at this point I read The Spontaneous Fulfilment of Desire, written by Deepak Chopra, a medical doctor with an interest in wellbeing and our soul. This book is mind-blowing science mixed with spirituality. Every bit a mans book as well as a women’s book.
He also writes about how our individual perception can affect our reality - our habits and thoughts affect our lives.
Next on the readying list where 'How to Win' and 'The Mask of Masculinity'. Each had a compelling theories on how to make your own life your own as well as the benefits of mantras and meditation.
The Mask of Masculinity - Lewis Howes
The Mask of Masculinity brings 'Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus' hurtling into the 21st century. It's a really interesting look at how (generally speaking) men can get lost in performing the role of who they feel society thinks they should be instead of who they want to be.
Whilst giving men permission to be vulnerable, Lewis Howes talks about how men can take care of themselves and completes each section with advice for men on how to remove their mask together with separate advice for women on how to help the men that they love.
Reading this book reinforced my understanding of the connection between us and our energy and how we are affected by external energy and also energy leaks/drains.
In pursuit of the answer to my question: 'how-can-we-fix-this problem?' I felt I needed to look more into the energy and emotions side of things.
How to Win - The Secret Footballer
How To Win is another compelling theory on how to make your own life your own. It also highlights the benefits of mantras and meditation,
It's a fascinating read into how football got clever and started to employ psychologists to get the best out of their players and how the lessons learned can be used in everyday life.
My research then led me to read several articles on the benefits of journaling for things such as stress, anxiety and depression and one of these articles cited the book that made it all so clear to me:
The Holy Grail of Journaling: Opening Up by Writing It Down - Pennebaker & Smyth
This book, although a very scientific book, had a great narrative. It is a fascinating look at the history of psychological study of journaling and expressive writing. The writers obviously had a sense of humour and gave a general background of the discovery of how journaling could assist with some very specific mental health problems. The book delivers fully in its sub-title - How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain.
It seemed to be the holy grail of research for this project.
The book was full of content that backed up my theory that journaling can, and does, have a positive effect on our health.
One that stood out in particular was that generally, in life, when there is something to do and we do it straight away its gone out of our mind and no longer bothers us. However, the longer we leave it untouched or unfinished, the more it festers in our minds and takes up valuable space - opening the door to more negative thoughts & actions.
We have a human condition that drives us to complete tasks and look for meaning in everything. The things we are able to complete and end in a way that satisfies are those that we are able to forget enabling us to move onto the next thing.
The things we don’t finish or the things we don’t get closure on or meaning from remain, forever circulating around our brains bringing fog down on everything else. All we can think about is the unfinished, unneeded and the negative energy circulates. So writing about it seems an obvious choice.
One thing I have definitely learned from this book is that there are levels of effectiveness to journaling. Simply venting can be effective on a sporadic basis, it’s not going to help you in the long term.
Journaling about general things can help if you’re trying to figure out a problem, which is the main premise of the FOML website but we also give you the opportunity to dive deeper into expressive journaling at the end of your entries for the day.
If you have time and there is a specific thing troubling you or something new in your life you’re trying to make sense of in a very sensible productive way then you can spend 10 minutes or more writing for 3 or 4 days in a row writing down everything you can think of about this one thing. Or it may work better for you, to pick a different aspect of it for each day.
What that will do is to provide you with clarity, a new perspective, the ability to join the dots and ultimately understand. And once you understand it better and from every angle you have the power to create your own reality.
I had proved my theory
Journaling can, and should, be tweaked to suit you as an individual, depending on where you are in your life and what you need to work on in the present moment.
I don’t like to use the term ‘Self Help’ or ‘Self Development’ when talking about non fiction. I don’t necessarily think that labels are effective. If i like the sound of a book i’ll give it a try and the ones below I felt were particularly good - in addition to those mentioned above.
Dare to lead - Brene Brown.
This is not just a book about leadership, it’s pure gold. You will learn a lot about yourself and how the world works or, rather, should work. Implement wherever possible.
Pivot - Jenny Blake.
An interesting look into perspective shifts in your career.
Stumbling on Happiness - Daniel Gilbert.
Amusing read on perspectives in our personal lives and how psychology can make a joke of us all
The Magic of Thinking Big - David J. Schwartz.
By the original ‘self help’ author of How to Make Friends and Influence People this is an amusing read on how there’s no point in thinking small if you want to succeed in life. As relevant today as it was in 1959.
Designing your Life - Bill Burnett & Dave Evans.
Our career and subsequent life isn’t just this thing that you stumble along with until retirement. It’s something that can be planned and plotted to ensure you get where you want to be and this book teaches you how.
Here are some interesting articles that we have dug up online:
Mind, The Mental Health Charity, Stories: Journal to self love
Mind, The Mental Health Charity, Information & Support: How to Help yourself with Dissociation and dissociative disorders
Psychology Today Blog: 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
Psychology Today Blog: The Art of Journaling
Psychology Today Blog: Journaling Clears Out the Bad, Builds Up the Good
From The Grapevine: 8 Famous Visionaries Who Kept a Journal
medium.com: 5 Celebrities Who Keep a Journal
5 Minute Quantum Physics: What is Energy? (video)
Sivina Spirit: How to Use Quantum Physics to Find Your Sacred Energy
Virgin video: 3 Tips to Heal Your Mental Health