I’ve recently moved overseas for an intermediate length of time (more than three months but less than two years) and resolved to record my thoughts and more notable experiences in a journal. This has manifested itself in the form of a simple Word document, with entries titled with a snappy tagline, the date they were written and the date(s) of the events in question. I originally intended this as purely a reflexive tool, to look back on someday and smile at the naivety of my youth, but after only a month I have noticed several unexpected benefits this practice has already brought me.
For something that takes zero time to set up and only requires about fifteen minutes every three or four days, the ROI on my writing has been incredible. Here’s why I suggest you start to do the same:
1. You become motivated by the story
A lot of people allow their lives to slip by without much change while their ego rationalizes a feeling of progress. If you’re allowing yourself to stagnate, the lack of recent entries in your journal (or the dreariness of the past few) will alert you that it’s time to get off your ass.
Whether prompted by a lack of content, or a desire to maintain a high standard of narrative, you start making decisions that lead to more interesting, more varied and more rewarding experiences. Excuses like “I’m too tired” or “Maybe another time” vanish from your vocabulary and making bold choices in the moment becomes the new standard.
There are only two things in life—good things and good stories—but neither happens if you allow yourself to become a routine robot. Your journal is counting on you not to be that person, so you won’t be.
2. Your life improves quicker
This is partly as a flow-on benefit of number one, but is also due to the power of reflection. Thinking back on a night-out the next day often highlights moments that at the time you hadn’t considered all that important. 20/20 hindsight allows you to see how things early in the night affected the outcome later, and from that you can see how you could have made a better choice. What’s more, the process of recording these lessons actively revises them, retaining a greater percentage of improvements per experience than simply bulldozing on with the next thing.
Whether your goals are to have more fun, be a more magnetic individual or learn more about the world (especially relevant for time spent overseas or in completely unfamiliar environments), your journal is your best friend.
3. It improves your conversational skills
Your best fallback for awkward pauses, opportunities to impress and chances to make friends in conversation are personal stories. Writing a journal makes it unbelievably easy to always have something relevant or funny to share. I have only been recording my life for a month, but it already allows me to seamlessly produce structured, engaging stories with an accompanying moral on a dime, just by thinking back to stuff that has recently been deemed journal-worthy.
What’s more, as my journal grows more and more extensive, I will be able to briefly skim-read it to refresh myself on the hundreds of highlights in my life and prevent them receding into the mists of time. Even for a naturally loquacious guy, I can’t stress how surprised I’ve been by the impact this has made.
In addition to the above benefits, your journal also passively improves your written communication skills. This is more essential for some than others, but everyone needs to write a CV or plan a promotion pitch at some stage. Plus, its value remains evergreen in reminding you of lessons you learnt a (long) while ago or as a nostalgic and entertaining read. It has zero setup time and costs virtually nothing. Try writing a journal for a month. I think you’ll be surprised at the results.