Keeping a regular journal or other personal record is something that prophets and church
leaders have long encouraged us to do, but not an area that most of us have made significant
improvement in. Fortunately, we can enjoy and learn from the religious records of other
generations without being charged to keep a religious record that will someday become the
“keystone” of a future people’s religion, as they were commanded to.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t take the Lord’s advice to keep a personal
record seriously. In the scriptures, being written records themselves, we see that God’s concern
with the prophets keeping regular and accurate records was the ability to transmit gospel
teachings across generations of time as well as a people’s ability to connect with its past and with
In our time, writing down personal spiritual experiences or things that will help us bring
them to memory when needed is one key benefit and reason that we are counseled to keep a
personal record. Another is being able to leave behind some kind of written testimony or witness,
for ourselves and especially for our posterity. Doing so certainly makes doing family history a lot
easier (and much more interesting!). I can definitely say that reading through the experiences of
my grandfather, an avid record keeper, and his family has made a positive impact on my life. It’s
possible, however, that the benefits of journal keeping and the blessings the Lord wants us to
enjoy for doing so are more immediate and personal than the ones we’ve become so familiar
That would be nice, since the reasons we’re used to hearing have yet to motivate most of
us to begin keeping a regular personal record. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the more
immediate and helpful personal benefit of consistently (hopefully daily) writing in a journal and
going back to occasionally review what we have recorded.
Research has demonstrated repeatedly a large amount of psychological benefits to journal
writing and review, including increasing our ability to:
- Manage anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Cope with depression
- Gain clarity
- Build empathy
- Solve problems
- Boost cognition
- Track patterns
One common them with all of these benefits is that they can only be achieved by stepping
back and taking a time to reflect; each one takes time, intentional thought and analysis, and results in greater mental health and happiness. More than anything, journaling is such a powerful
- it provides the opportunity and time to do the tasks mentioned above and
- it reinforces our determination to improve or the conviction of what we have expressed by our
putting it in writing.
It is common knowledge that writing things down greatly enhances their permanence, not
necessarily because the written record will always last (I can just as easily tear up or throw away
something I’ve written down as I can write it), but because it is written down and memorialized
in our mind. I whole heartedly believe that these mental health benefits are among the many
reasons our Heavenly Father wishes us to regularly keep a record. Seeing that we live in a time
in which science and medicine have improved enough to let us know about their existence, we’d
be foolish to forego these benefits – blessings from our Heavenly Father.
One other benefit of journaling, the one which also caught my attention the most, was so
surprising because it was the actually the solution to the biggest obstacle that keeps me from
journaling: not having enough time. Along with the benefits mentioned earlier, journaling
regularly, when accompanied by regular review of what is written, does incredible things for
your productivity – in every aspect of your life.
This was something I learned about in a class taught at my university (BYU) called “Personal
Development, which focuses on the improvement of one’s overall emotional and mental health.
Our instructor, a licensed and practicing therapist who spends virtually of all of his time working
with students, particularly with varying levels of anxiety, told us about the research put into this
idea and how clearly it demonstrates this practice’s ability to boost productivity. This was
somewhat surprising – many of us had figured that the top benefit would have something more
directly to do with mental health – something more psychological like the benefits discussed
earlier. Surprising as it may be, it is definitely true, for multiple reasons.
One reason I believe productivity can be so greatly impacted by journaling and review is
that it allows us the chance to go back to what we have written and see it in a different light –
with a fresh pair of eyes. One objection that some people have to journaling and one which I
myself shared is concern over recording things that are untrue, overly dramatic, biased or what
we might later consider to be unhelpful. Anyone who has journaled knows that this can very
naturally occur in the course of journaling, and since writing things down gives them the power
to permeate in our minds, as mentioned earlier, how could it possibly help us to write down
things that are over the top, over analyzed or that we interpret incorrectly? Couldn’t that, in some
cases, potentially do more harm than good?
The key to prevent this from happening is the follow up to journaling that occurs even
less often than journaling itself – the objective review of what we have written earlier. Just as
journaling promotes more coherent and critical thinking by forcing us to slow down and
articulate what we are feeling or experiencing, reviewing what we have written allows us the
chance to reconsider those recordings in a different context, state of mind and circumstance.
When we do so, we can more easily recognize and track trends of behaviors or states of minds
that negatively affect us, perhaps even without our knowledge of them.
Because the situation we’re in so greatly differs from the one we wrote it in, it’s almost as
if someone else were objectively examining our behavior in order to give us advice; it’s least the
next best thing, and something we can do ourselves, even when we don’t have outside. It can
also be more effective since we know more intimately what we really feel, share and choose to
obscure or avoid discussing. We can see clearly that we over interpret and over agonize the most
intense of experiences we go through, while finding relatively no meaning or insight in what we
live the rest of the time – the majority of our experiences. Or we can realize how often we
rationalize, excuse away or minimize certain behaviors or thought patterns over others,
depending on our preferences.
These are just a couple examples of the insights we gain through the rereading of our
written records and ones that I have seen in myself. Awareness of these tendencies – which
happen to be among the key contributors to anxiety — is the first step in overcoming them.
Indeed, we will never overcome them as long as we have so little concrete observational
information as to what and how intense they are.
Anxiety itself is essentially unrest; one way it can be described is the uneasiness that we
feel because of our limited grasp as to what our emotional or psychological state is, why it is that
way, and a feeling of powerlessness to alter it. For many of us, we most often prolong anxiety by
avoiding this kind of thoughtful, careful analysis of the things factoring into the state of our
mental health — or by not doing so frequently enough. I know we can enhance it by taking the
Lord’s counsel to keep a personal record seriously – both to enhance our ability to serve others
as well as our ability to care for ourselves. He makes time to care for us – He’d want us to do the
*Guest blog post by Christian Bell, an intern of Lifey.