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Consistently inconsistent: my battle with journaling

Emily Warner explores the benefits of journaling as a New Year's resolution

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A quick Google search for, ‘the number of people who fail to keep their New Year’s resolution’ yields hundreds of studies that all show the same thing – we are not very good at sticking to our goals. The statistics vary but it seems that about two thirds of people give up their New Year’s resolution within the first month and I willingly admit that usually, I am a part of that majority.

Every 1 January, brimming with the excitement of a new year ahead and fuelled by a smattering of self-improvement ads, I sit down, sharpen my pencil, and vow to keep a diary. I don’t know if it is the part of myself that vaguely aspires to be a writer, or the beautifully rendered pages of calligraphy I see on my Instagram or perhaps a genuine attempt to reflect on my day, but regardless I have always wanted to commit to journaling. Inevitably, life and its pragmatism intervene and within several days my goal has dissipated into an ether of unfulfilled resolutions from years past. I watch as it fades into the abyss alongside half-hearted attempts to take up Zumba, run a marathon, or drink six litres of water every day and resign myself to failure.

Not this year. This year, I have set myself a goal which is impossible to fail and that is to be consistently inconsistent in my approach to journaling. Let me elaborate.

It all began with a notebook. Not a fancy bullet journal with gold-leaf embellishments and neat boxes of lines, demanding to be filled. Nor a diary with a date scrawled across each page, dictating how much and which day to write (if I am doing exams, I will need a LOT of room to complain about them). Just a simple, lined notebook. My downfall, I realised, was the sense of obligation that accompanied keeping a diary, making the process feel more like a chore than a pleasure. Therefore, I need only eliminate that pressure by writing intermittently instead of daily. This meant that if I was stressed, or excited, or happy, I could pour out my verbal diarrhoea onto the page uninhibited (and save the ears of my flatmates who are usually forced to hear it). Alternatively, if my biggest achievement of the day is ‘I bought a 32p banana at Aldi’, I don’t have to write anything at all that day. This method has the bonus of making my life seem way more exciting than it really is because every entry is usually a melodramatic monologue about something.

I am not just a crazy English student though, there is lots of scientific evidence showing the benefits of journaling in many different aspects of life. Firstly, there are obvious psychological benefits that emerge from the process of free writing (essentially the act of writing in an uninhibited way without judgement – so the opposite of writing an essay). It is also sometimes known as stream of consciousness, a term that first emerged in 1980. This practice involves writing without expectation so that the writing produced is often raw and emotional and encourages the beneficial process of emotional confrontation and reflection. As a result, stress levels decrease and mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and body image distortions can be alleviated, feelings which most students are familiar with in some form.

Improved well being in itself is a huge advantage of writing, but the benefits do not end there. Science has shown that journaling can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and increase our ability to fight serious illnesses. That means you can stop popping your vitamin D pills and pick up a pen instead; an essay a day keeps the Covid away (to clarify, this is not backed up by scientific evidence so don’t be too quick emptying your medicine cabinet). Keeping a diary is also important for memory function because the act of recalling and recording the day employs our working memory, associated with absorbing and applying new information.

On top of this, journaling increases our self-awareness and invites reflection on our relationships, sometimes helping us to negotiate issues and strengthen our bond with others. You can say that next time someone accidently reads your journal and finds a long list of complaints, perhaps a page dedicated to ‘top ten ways my mother drives me mad’ or ‘reasons my friends are all irritating cows’ (not that I’ve written anything like that before). In total sincerity however, this space to reconsider the way you interact with those around you can be helpful for navigating the messy world of girlfriends, boyfriends, best friends, parents, Terrence from next door and whoever else you are dealing with. It is a complicated world out there.

Perhaps I am a slightly dramatic person by nature, but I find the act of writing down my emotions and anxieties an effective way of managing these feelings.  The phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is frequently thrown around but sharing a problem is not always possible. Sometimes we don’t want to talk or we don’t have anyone willing to listen but I promise you, an empty page is always happy to share the burden. So why not try starting your own journal? Write your way to better memory, better health, better relationships, and a happier mind and if you don’t notice any differences, at least you’ve written a bestseller by the end of it (if any of you do get to publish your journal, I’ll be expecting a vote of thanks in the acknowledgments). I think that sounds like a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.

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