Keeping a Diary or Journal

See also: Keeping A Stress Diary

Keeping a diary or journal may sound very old-fashioned, something that a Jane Austen heroine would do. It is certainly something that many distinguished people, including a number of established writers, have done in the past. It has also featured in literature over many years, with famous diary-keepers including Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones.

Keeping a diary has many benefits. These include improving your mental health, as a result of giving you a place to vent your feelings, and an ability to process difficult experiences.

A diary is also a way to keep track of your feelings and views and how they have changed over time, which can be particularly helpful in personal development terms.

What is a Diary or Journal?

diary n. a daily record: a book for making daily records, noting engagements etc.

journal n. a daily register or diary, a book containing a record of each day’s transactions.

Chambers English Dictionary, 7th edition (1989)

A diary, then, in its simplest form, is a record of each day. Keeping a diary is a matter of keeping a record of what happens in your life: the interesting and the mundane, and your thoughts and feelings about both.

Diaries can also be used for very specific purposes. For example, those who think that they may have a food allergy or intolerance may be encouraged to keep a food diary for a few weeks to record everything that they eat, and any incidence of discomfort to see if there is a pattern. Similarly, you may keep a diary to record your stress levels or episodes of depression. Here again, a diary is a record of each day, but for a particular reason.

The Benefits of Keeping a Diary

There are many benefits to keeping a diary. Probably the three main ones are:

  • Keeping a diary has been shown to be good for your mental health

    The reason is thought to be because it allows you to process your experiences safely, and review particular events in a less stressful way. Writing your personal story appears to play a part in this, and it seems to be important to focus on both thoughts and feelings, and not just feelings.

  • Keeping a diary helps to improve your writing

    The best way to get better at anything is to practise. Writing a diary allows you to focus on your writing without worrying about your audience or what anyone else will think. And doing it regularly helps to improve your thinking processes, and can even help you become more creative in how you think.

  • Keeping a diary can help you to remember events and activities

    This can be important for a number of reasons. For example, when you are applying for a job, you often have to describe times when you have demonstrated a skill, or done something particularly well. A diary or journal can be a good way to record your successes, and ensure that you have a ready source of examples for job applications. It can also be a way to reflect on your experiences, and learn for the future. Writing about positive events, and looking back on them, can also be a good way to boost your self-esteem.

You may also be interested in our pages on Reflective Practice and Personal Development.

Paper or Electronic?

Back in the 1980s, Adrian Mole did not have a computer or smartphone on which to blog. His (fictional) diary was paper-based for a reason: it had to be.

Nowadays, there is much more choice.

There is a huge range of electronic options as well as the traditional paper-based route. You could, for example, use a diary app such as Penzu, which claims to take security very seriously, try a note-taking app like Google Keep, or just record your thoughts in a Word document stored on your laptop or in the cloud. You could even go ‘open’ and keep a blog, sharing your thoughts with the world, and not just your diary.

All these options have merits. Diary apps are right there on your phone, and quick and easy to access. They are also private. Electronic back-ups in the cloud should mean that even losing your device does not mean that you have lost your diary.

Using word-processing software gives you the option to craft your thoughts more carefully, and to go back and change them later. This could be both an advantage and disadvantage: an advantage because you can refine your thinking, and a disadvantage, because it will not show you your raw thinking when you look back, and may encourage you to spend more time than you really need on your journal.

A paper-based diary may be old-fashioned, but it is also completely private. You can hide it away at home, and nobody need ever suspect that you write it. Writing things down long-hand can also be useful practice in ordering your thoughts in advance, which is good if you will ever have to sit written exams.

Tips for Keeping a Diary

Some people find it hard to get started on diary-writing, or difficult to keep going once started. These tips should help you to do both.

  1. Don’t worry, just write

    Your only audience is you, so it really does not matter if what you write does not seem very exciting or inspiring. Over time, you will find it becomes easier to write, so it is important to just put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and simply get started.

  2. Try to write every day, but don’t panic if you miss a few days

    It will be easiest to build a habit of writing if you do it often. You will also not need to write as much each time if you do it regularly. You may find it easier to develop a regular time slot: for example, just before you go to bed. This may make it easier both to find the time, and to develop the habit of writing.

    That said, of course it does not matter if you miss a few days here and there, or even if you don’t fancy writing anything about what happened that day. Just try not to get too far out of the habit, and start again if you do stop for a while.

  3. Write as if you were writing to a friend, or even your future self

    This will encourage a more informal writing style, and also help you to share information about your feelings and deepest thoughts. This is important if you are to get the full benefits of journal-keeping. Some people even find that it is helpful to give their diary a name.

  4. Your diary does not have to be just a written record

    You can also draw or sketch, or stick in pictures from magazines or tickets from events and the like. Anything that takes your fancy, really. It is all about having a personal record, and that can be as personal as you like. Plenty of people prefer drawing to writing, and a sketchbook with or without added notes can also be a form of journal.

  5. You can be negative, but remember to be positive too

    A diary is a good place to vent about things that have upset or annoyed you, but it is also important to record the positives. When you look back, there is a reasonable chance that you will have forgotten quite a lot of it, and you don’t want reading your diary to be a completely negative experience, dragging you down. Instead, you want to be able to read it to feel good about the things that you have achieved.

A lasting benefit

While few among us will ever become the sort of person whose diaries are published and sold around the world, keeping a diary has benefits for anyone. It is well worth giving it a go for a few months to see if it is helpful for you.

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Personal Development

Learn how to set yourself effective personal goals and find the motivation you need to achieve them. This is the essence of personal development, a set of skills designed to help you reach your full potential, at work, in study and in your personal life.

The second edition of or bestselling eBook is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their skills and learning potential, and it is full of easy-to-follow, practical information.