What do Winston Churchill, Marco Polo and Ludwig van Beethoven have in common?
Aside from being timeless leaders in their respective craft, they all kept journals.
Yet today, journaling sometimes carries a stigma that doesn’t sit well with men. We think of it as being reserved only for the recluses or over-the-top-in-love types.
But research continues to dissolve the skepticism.
There are too many proven benefits to ignore, and in today's world where more and more men are struggling with mental health, it's more important than ever to address.
The good news is that more men are finally starting to open up about these issues. While there is still a long road to follow, we are at least on that road.
And while there are many factors to consider when addressing mental health issues, one step in the right direction is consistent journaling.
In this post, we’re sharing the top five benefits of journaling as a man.
Journaling Strengthens Self-Discipline
Put simply: setting time aside to write each day is an act of discipline.
Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Goldstein says that self-discipline is like a muscle - the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Furthermore, he says that without self-discipline it’s impossible to achieve anything.
The beauty of practicing self-discipline in one area of our life is that it tends to spread to other areas as well.
For example, when researchers ask college students to attend to one area of their lives - like trying to improve their posture throughout the day, they also improved in other areas like eating, fitness, etc. Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon is known as the “snowball effect.”
In the words of Jocko Willink “discipline equals freedom.”
As simple as that may sound there is a lot of truth to it. The habit of consistent journaling frees up headspace and helps us to become more disciplined and steady men in all areas of our lives.
Journaling Improves Communication
Here’s a sobering stat: According to a survey of 100 mental health professionals, communication problems were cited as the most common factor leading to divorce (65%).
The top communication complaints? 70% of men blamed nagging/complaining wives and 83% of women cited a lack of validation for their feelings and opinions.
Married or not, effective communication is arguably the most important aspect to any relationship.
A Stanford report by Melanie Sperling concluded that “writing has critical connections to speaking.”
Even though journaling is typically done by yourself it still is a form of communication. Journaling our thoughts, emotions and feelings enables us to put them all in view in one place, outside of us from which we can observe. The process of observing them from this viewpoint allows for greater clarity and ultimately elevates our spoken communication skills.
Even if all of the above were not true, if you journal consistently but struggle to communicate with your wife, she can simply threaten to read your journal out loud if you refuse to share. That would probably do the trick!
Simply put, we as men need to be effective communicators - in our relationships, at work, in society and beyond. Journaling consistently can be of great assistance to our communication.
Journaling Helps Track Goal Progress
It’s been proven that writing down your goals leads to a greater probability of achieving them. In her research as a psychology professor, Dr. Gail Matthews concluded that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
But certainly there is more involved with increasing your probability of achieving goals than simply writing them down on a piece of paper. I’ve done that 100’s of times and would have very little to show for them if that’s all I did.
It’s not just the act of writing them down that matters; we need a system for achieving goals - and that is where journaling plays an important role.
For example, if you told your spouse that one of your goals for the year was to pay off your car, you could spell out a pretty clear plan to geting that done. You could write out monthly and quarterly milestones and easily tell if you were on or off track.
Journaling consistently would also help reinforce your goal when you’re tempted to veer off course. And for those times when you did make a bad move you would be able to clearly see what needs to be done in order to catch back up.
This applies to much more than paying off a car. As men we are called to lead our families. So where are we leading them? If we don’t have some sort of plan to lead our families in a particular direction, are we even leading them at all?
Journaling Increases Emotional Intelligence
Many of our communication struggles can be traced to a lack of emotional awareness.
In 2019, Men’s health charity Movember polled 4,000 adult males between 18-75 about their perceptions of masculinity and expressing emotions. What they found was that while 77% of men think that talking is an effective way to deal with problems, nearly 40% avoid doing so.
While the study above points to the fear of appearing unmanly as the reason for avoiding these conversions, it goes without saying that before you can even initiate one, you must be aware of your feelings in the first place.
How can a man become aware of his feelings if he has spent years and decades of his life bottling them up? By journaling, of course.
There’s a fancy term in the psychology world called “affect labeling” which means putting feelings into words. It’s when you can verbalize your internal, emotional experiences. It almost sounds ridiculous to think that “naming your feelings” lessens the grip negative emotions have on us, but research shows that it’s true.
When we as men take the time to write down what we’re experiencing and feeling, we have a better chance of understanding and labeling why we felt that way to begin with. We’re able to recognize and release disruptive thoughts and emotions. Getting to the root of our underlying thoughts and emotions is essential to growth. And the world certainly could use men who are more aware of who they really are.
Journaling Provides Clarity
What comes to mind when you hear the word “clarity?” I like how dictionary.com defines it:
“Freedom from ambiguity” has a nice ring to it, especially in a world where things seem to be increasingly ambiguous.
When we journal we give ourselves the chance to see things clearer and free ourselves from ambiguity.
Why does this matter? On average, we make more than 35,000 decisions per day.
These decisions range from the smallest of things to the biggest; from what you will have for breakfast (we make around 226 food related decisions daily) to the difficult conversation you need to have with your boss.
With so many decisions to make it’s no wonder why we experience mental exhaustion, burnout and decision fatigue. The last thing we want to do is be unclear about our daily decisions.
While I’m not suggesting that you should journal about every decision, I do believe that as men we need to put the most thought, energy and effort into the decisions that will have the greatest impact.
Ignorance is a killer, and we must fight daily to bring clarity to the choices we face personally, relationally and beyond.
Importance of Journaling for Men
The impact that journaling can have in our lives is apparent. We’re able to communicate effectively, express ourselves more clearly, track goals more efficiently and the list goes on.
Our world desperately needs more men like this. Men who will lead, who will serve and who will sacrifice for the greater good of mankind.
You can take action right now without making it complicated. The easiest way is to grab a notebook and start your day off with what author Julia Cameron calls “morning pages.” The idea is to wake up, open your journal and write a few pages of whatever comes to your head. Lots of times you will wake up with all kinds of thoughts from the previous day, and by writing them out first thing in the morning, you clear your mind and create headspace.
As the founder of the Daily Kairos, I would also highly recommend trying out our daily prayer journal if you’re looking to not only reap the benefits of everything listed above but above all want to draw nearer to God.
The daily prompts combined with the simple structure provide ample space for writing out prayers and praises to God as well as giving room to wait and listen for Him.
Whatever you do, please do something. We need more men to rise up and it starts with you.