The secret power of a journal


As a child, my mum would buy me beautiful hardback notebooks to record my thoughts and prayers in. Some notebooks had sections for different types of thoughts, and some were in diary form with a page for every day of the year. I loved filling out my journals. Most of it was a load of rubbish. My struggles with homework, thoughts about the boys I fancied and those my friends liked. Frustrations with my sister, arguments with my dad. I journaled because I liked the books and the satisfied feeling of filling them up and flicking back through the pages. Now, as a coach, I will often encourage my clients to journal. They don’t need to have a beautiful book with clever sections: any notebook, phone app or document on a laptop will do.


Journaling increases self-awareness. In the process of journaling, I engage more deeply with my thoughts and feelings. Writing uses a different part of my brain to everyday experiences.  To write down my thoughts I must pass them through more neural pathways. In doing this I am connecting more deeply with my thoughts and feelings. Journalling creates a visual memory of the words on the page and can help log experience into our memory bank. Re-reading journal entries is a hugely beneficial reflection exercise. My clients and I will often re-read what they have written. We discover new insights and can frame how far their thinking has come.

I don’t keep pretty hardback journals these days. I don’t ever try and write down what I’ve done or keep a diary. Life is far too busy and unpredictable now. However, I make a habit of reaching for my iPhone whenever important thoughts and feelings are threatening to spill out. I also journal new ideas dreams or complex thoughts. My Evernote app is on my home screen and never far from my fingers. It is a messy, happy pile of my inner workings.  I don't show it to anyone.


Awareness of my internal world has become a reflex for me I have developed it over many years. I have developed language and imagery to help me understand my emotional and thought life. It has taken patience and practice.

So how can journalling and increase your self-awareness?

Here is an extract from my journal when I was considering the impact of failure and business risk:

Evernote. April 2017
I may have had the most failure in any 6 month stretch of my life so far.  I was expecting it.  Starting your own business means that you will try lots of new things and not all of them will work. 
All? What if not any of them work? 
What if there were more ways to fail than I thought? What if failing hits me harder than I thought it would?  Can I fail at failing well?
It’s embarrassing to have to answer the question “How’s the business going?” with “It’s not”.

But what if failure is not actually a failure?  What if failure is just learning that does not feel nice.  If I can reassure my bruised ego that this embarrassment is all part of growth. What if I can calm my confused and angry mind and remind myself of the big picture; “you are lucky to be able to have a go at the business thing”. “It’s Ok if it doesn’t work”. Does every business failure get turned around for good? Am I just wasting my time, money and energy?


Being able to record with honesty my feelings about my new business has helped me reflect on some of the challenges I had but was unaware of. I was able to relate my experiences with the business to my ego, fears and hopes. As I worked through these deeper emotions I came to a point of being able to let the business fail and start up Gumptious. I moved past needing to know if the failure was OK and just to accept it; ‘it is what it is’. 
Had I not journaled those thoughts are a year ago they may have been lost in the mists of time. Without the increased awareness of what was happening in my inner world, I would have been likely to repeat the same mistakes again. Journaling has increased my happiness and saved valuable time and energy. It has also granted me to move on from painful experiences with some learnings in tact. Learnings I will use again and again no doubt.

It seems like such a small and insignificant thing to do to write down my feelings. I have begun to learn that journaling has a secret power. My journal can teach me much about myself and life. Accurate self-reflection is such a valuable thing to have in a culture that moves at such a pace. I am grateful for all those pretty notebooks my mum bought me. They were a gift of much greater value than she realised. Let’s become people who live deeply aware of ourselves and teach our children to do the same.