If Journaling Is for Teenage Girls, Buy Me Some Hair Clips

By: Joe Burton
signing a card

A few years ago, a friend recommended that I try journaling when I was working in the ad agency world and suffering from stress. At the time, I was in my early 40s and my response was literally, “Do I look like a teenage girl?” This was meant to be funny. At the time, I looked like a teenage girl’s middle aged father.

When I looked into the “science” behind journaling (not realizing that was even a thing), what I found was fairly surprising:

Writing can boost immunity for people battling terminal or life-threatening diseases

Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, people are significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma

Gratitude journaling can improve sleep

People who were unemployed and started journaling found work 68% faster

Since my very skeptical introduction to journaling, I’ve found it to be an incredibly powerful mindfulness practice. It helps to calm and focus the mind. I’m able to work through difficult thoughts or prepare for hard conversations. It allows me to anchor back to the things that are important in my life; something we could all use a little more of. And I enjoy capturing future plans. There’s something about writing them down and committing that makes them come to be. Commit and the universe moves in your favor. Intention matters.

‘Commit and the universe moves in your favor. Intention matters.’

The primary benefit has not been in having the written history. Instead, it’s provided an active training tool to help me manage a busy and sometimes stressful life.

As I’m flipping through my journals, I came across an old post. This is from the night I first met my wife. At the time, I had been single in New York City for ten years. While I enjoyed dating in the big city, I often found it lonely and unfulfilling. Worse, I was at high risk of becoming one of those approaching 40, used to being on my own, stuck in my ways kinda guys. Until that night, I’d never journaled about a relationship.

“Tonight, I met a woman named Sarah Swanson. She is a beautiful South African woman and I believe that she will steal my heart.

We talked, laughed and danced at Kevin’s birthday party. I asked her out to dinner within five minutes of meeting her. She is smart, has the most beautiful smile, incredibly honest eyes and the grace of a dove (despite falling off of her stool and into my lap).

I learned that she is at the tail end of a breakup. I told her that although I’m sorry for that, I am also happy for me… assuming she’d accept my dinner invitation.

Well, she did. And I can’t remember ever being so excited to meet someone again. Fingers crossed. After having only known her for a few hours, I knew that I have never felt this way about someone before. I believe I may have just met my wife. Thank you fate (and to Kristin for putting in a good word for me).

Over the time we dated, I journaled quite a bit, and especially exploring why past relationships hadn’t worked out. I even saved our email correspondence and letters and compiled them into a book – the journal of my relationship with Sarah. Two and a half years later we were married. In hindsight, it was fun to capture intentions, work through my own limitations as a long-time bachelor and explore another person in writing. Not texts, but actual correspondence.

I now use journaling to work through all manner of life’s challenges and opportunities. For stressed out, Type-A guys, you may find the biggest benefit to be calming and focusing the mind a few times a week. You may find it to be a great way to relax and help the brain recover. News, TV and social media generally don’t do that. In fact, science suggests they provide the opposite experience.

Or you may find my journaling to be weird for a grown man. Surely, that’s okay. In the meantime, pass me my hair clips… and don’t call me Shirley.

About the Author

Headshot of Joe Burton

Retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace

Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He’s an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He’s worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.

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