5 Ways to Use a Journal to Get Healthy

With the mindfulness movement in full swing and the gratitude movement gaining steam, keeping a journal is a timely (and popular) New Year’s resolution. Check out the Savvy Psychologist's 5 tips to supercharge your writing.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #54

Tip #4: Journaling Is About the Process, Not the Result

Unless you’re a teenage girl in Amsterdam hiding from the Nazis, or a young naturalist on the voyage of the Beagle, your journal will probably never be published, let alone find a place in the canon. So don’t agonize over churning out clever turns of phrase, gorgeous imagery, or even proper grammar, unless, of course, it makes you happy.

Instead, think of journaling as a process, not the final product. Getting words on paper forces you to process your thoughts and feelings to the point where you can articulate them into language. And that process is the real work (and point) of journaling.                                        

Tip #5: Write When You Want, How You Want

There are purists who swear a journal just isn’t a journal if it’s on your laptop rather than on paper. There are others who swear you have to do it everyday to make it worthwhile. I say do what works for you. If you get a sense of continuity and discipline from writing every day, great. But if you see it as a chore, don’t worry about it. Write when you feel the need.

Regarding the medium, use the same principle: Do what works for you. An app or a document on your laptop gains the advantage of easy editing and password protection. Or use a $0.99 spiral-bound notebook; or a leather-bound tome and a quill pen. You can even unleash your inner exhibitionist and journal on a public blog. Basically, do whatever makes the words appear before you.  

Your journal is to document your journey. And unless your last name is Lewis or Clark, writing about your journey will be for your eyes only.


Niles, A.N., Haltom, K.E., Mulvenna, C.M., Lieberman, M.D. & Stanton, A.L. (2014).  Randomized controlled trial of expressive writing for psychological and physical health: the moderating role of emotional expressivity.  Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 27, 1-17.

Pennebaker, J.W. & Beall, S.K. (1986).  Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 274-281.

Smyth, J.M. & Pennebaker, J.W. (2008).  Exploring the boundary conditions of expressive writing: In search of the right recipe.  British Journal of Health Psychology, 13, 1-7.

Notebook writing image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.