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Journaling: A Cheaper Alternative to Therapy

Recently, a friend reached out asking for recommendations of journals for daily reflection — something she could use daily and take a few minutes to write down her thoughts.

I could not have been happier to hear this request.

I’ve tried therapy.
I’ve tried coaching.
I’ve even tried curling up into a ball and sobbing into my pillow.

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Dollar to catharsis ratio wise, the last one saved me the most money.

They’ve been helpful, for sure.

But to be honest, they paled in comparison with what journalling has done for me. I’ve found so many benefits that have helped me specifically, and are also scientifically proven to help people in general.

There are a multitude of studies that show how journaling can help everything from reduced doctor visits, depression, and memory improvement.

Journaling is the perfect combination of self-acceptance, encouragement, and problem solving. If you make a mistake, or if you do anything that makes you feel bad, journaling is how you come to accept yourself for it. It’s also where you come up with the solutions.

Thrive Global, Solve Your Toughest Problems With a Smart Journaling Routine

For me, I find that journals has helped me the most with the following:

  1. Improve self-awareness
  2. Understand boundaries
  3. Creative problem solving

Know thyself: improve your self-awareness

Journaling is a direct exercise in self-awareness — it’s a method of self-reflection. Similar to the diary you kept hidden between your mattress as a teenager, it’s a safe sanctuary to help you process your thoughts and feelings.

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As mentioned in an earlier post, if we don’t diligently reflect and process the day to day, we are less in tune with how our external environment impacts our internal needs and desires, and vice versa.

Writing things out allows you to check in with yourself, which is something we oftentimes neglect the most. We check in on friends, coworkers, family, etc. But how often do you ask yourself: How have I been impacted by the day? What positive and negative emotions have I experienced from things that happened?

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Don’t mind me, just checking in

The less often we check in with ourselves, the higher the likelihood that we will drift off course in our own personal direction and get swept up in other people’s priorities, which causes emotional suffering that can spin into a vicious downward spiral.

Key takeaway: By understanding how you react to your external environment, you allow yourself to better understand yourself, which is the prime definition of self-awareness:

Self-awareness and self-regulation are key to better executive function and decision-making. The bedrock is identity, self-knowledge and a sense of direction and purpose. These are the building blocks of a life that is intentional and in control of its destiny.

The Neuroscience of Self-Reflection, the Sniper Mind

No means no: establish boundaries

Improved self-awareness establishes boundaries. When you journal, you reflect on both the positive and negative emotions in your day. In this way, you are understanding the things that spark joy and the things that don’t.

There are boundaries we instinctively know that are crossed, but what about the subtler instances?In many cases it’s not easily decipherable until we come back and process the event. We receive so much signal and noise throughout the day that it is only by looking back that we begin to pinpoint the patterns of what sparks negative and positive emotions.

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By understanding this, you better understand where your boundaries lay and how to manage yourself in situations at risk.

Key Takeaway: When journaling becomes habitual, you refine your skills of observation so you can concretely define where your line in the sand is and better predict the likelihood of it being crossed.

Line In The Sand GIFs | Tenor
Draw that line in the sand loud and clear

Problem solving

Beyond recording experiences, journalling is also a valuable problem solving tool. Dedicating time and attention to thinking something through thoroughly is an opportunity we don’t normally do unless we proactively enforce it.

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Be like Sherlock. Find space to think.

A writing exercise like journaling to help you figure out a problem returns massive dividends.

Actively seeking the extra space to really think about the long term consequences (aka the second degree and third degree impact of a decision) can help you problem solve in a way that is proactive, instead of reactive.

For some of my journals, I’ve used a structured format to analyze a problem and brainstorm solutions, asking myself:

  • What’s the problem?
  • How can I resolve it?
  • What are all the possible solutions?

Journaling is like brainstorming with two people — by examining my thoughts and myself reacting to the particular problem at hand, it’s almost like I have Past Yina to help Present Yina figure out the underlying cause of the problem, identify solutions, and help Future Yina assess possible scenarios of a single decision.

Clone GIFs | Tenor

Key Takeaway: Journaling is a valuable way to problem solve. It gives you the mental space and focused thinking to help you figure out a solution, or at the very least, the next step forward. Take the time to brain dump problems by identifying the problem, potential resolutions, and examining different alternatives.

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In finance, we call this scenario analysis


  • Research has shown there are many benefits of journaling for mental health
  • For me, I use journalling primarily to help:
    • Improve self awareness
    • Understand my boundaries
    • Problem solve

1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: How I Journal and What it’s Done for Me |

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