In the past I never liked the idea of journaling, I thought it was an exercise in futility, done mostly by teenage girls with gel pens to write about their latest crush or break-up. Even when I had read articles about others finding great value in journaling, I still never thought it was very important. The few times I had written journal entries, I didn’t find it to be a valuable exercise – especially when I was depressed or anxious.
At the time it was more of a psychological regurgitation of some crappy event that I had endured that day, how horrific my anxiety had gotten, and/or how severely depressed I happened to be. The journal seemed as if it was nothing more than a reminder of how tough the times were. I didn’t get any therapeutic effect from spilling my guts on a Notepad or Microsoft Word document.
Fast-forward from my first journaling attempts (2004) to the year 2010, when I was convinced to give it another shot. In 2010 I had been conducting some biohacks for mental health, experimenting with various supplements and was trying to quantify and track my changes. After becoming frustrated with saving each individual entry from Microsoft Word or Notepad in a folder, I discovered a software [fittingly] dubbed “The Journal.”
The Journal Software Review
When I first began using The Journal software, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer number of features it contained, and was amazed at the practicality of many of them, including the built-in templates or “writing prompts.” Although I strive for simplicity and minimalism, it’s comforting to know that there are many valuable “extras” contained within the software should I ever want to use them.
Aesthetic interface: The interface of the software is aesthetically pleasing, yet relatively simple – which is what I like. I’ve never been a fan of anything overly flashy, but still like whatever software I’m using to look nice and be organized. The interface is highly-customizable, allowing you to select the ideal fonts, themes, colors, and skins.
Calendar sorting: All of the entries are sorted by date and time. As soon as you start writing a particular entry, the software notes the date and organizes it according to the calendar. You also have the option of skipping around on the calendar to write future reminders and/or notifications.
You can timestamp any entry and the software does a good job of keeping track of the precise times that the particular entries were written. Looking back on yesterday’s entry for me, I can see that it was written at 7:20 AM. It’s nice to have each entry automatically sorted according to the calendar.
Multiple users: If you and a significant other, spouse, or family wanted to share the software, there’s an option to have more than one user. This allows everyone to keep track of their individual thoughts and concerns, without “sharing” a digital document. Think of it like having the potential for more than one user to log-in on the same computer.
Each person can set their own password, so none of the entries can be read by other family members. While most people probably will not want to share their software, let alone their computer with others, it is still a nice optional feature to have.
Notebook: Within the software, there’s an option for a “notebook” or digital loose-leaf appearing notebook, that can be used to take notes or list other concerns unrelated to your journal entries. These notes are in an entirely different section than your journal entries and may be work-related, grocery lists, or a list of tasks that need to be completed.
Organized entries: The biggest plus associated with The Journal is that it stores all of your entries by both date and time and organizes them accordingly. When you log-in to the software, you’ll see a calendar that lists all the dates of that particular month. It automatically will load “today’s date” and save your entry accordingly.
If you want to see an entry from the past, you can simply scroll to whatever date you want on the calendar, and view that specific entry. You can still edit past entries and you’ll be able to see the exact times that they were composed. Another great feature is that the entries can be organized by “topics” or “subtopics” such as “Family” (topic) and “Mother” (subtopic).
All of your entries under “Family” would be clustered together, and all of the entries under the specific subtopic of “Mother” would also be organized together. Although I don’t use these features, they are especially nice for those that strive for the highest levels of organization.
Password protection: If you value your privacy, you have the option of creating a password. This password protects others from logging into the software to view your journal entries. The files that the software saves aren’t able to be opened up with other programs, therefore you must log-in to view them.
If you share a computer and/or have other people snooping around on your computer, you can password-protect your journal entries. Most people don’t want their deepest, darkest secrets or thoughts revealed to the world, and therefore will want to password-protect their entries. Even if you don’t want them password-protected, it’s nice knowing that this is an optional feature.
Skins/Themes: There are over 170+ different skins that you can use for The Journal, giving you an abundant number of choices. These themes are all free and built-in to the software. The idea behind them is to give you a color scheme and layout that you find aesthetically or subjectively pleasing. In addition to changing the themes, you can tweak the colors of your fonts and background colors of the “digital” paper or interface.
Quickly search “past entries”: One of the best features of this software is the ability to search for specific keywords that were discussed within entries. If you want to find any entry that you discussed kayaking, you could search “kayak” and the software would generate a list of all entries with that specific term. You can search over all entries or you can search within a specific entry.
I love using the feature of searching through past entries for a particular keyword such as a drug or supplement that I had taken. Searching for the keyword then generates a “Google-like” listing of the entries with that keyword based on the date that they were written. You then click a link just like you would with Google to take you to the particular past-entry you’d like to read.
Writing templates: Templates for writing are especially beneficial and helpful for journaling, especially those who are just staring out and/or those who want to track specific variables. For example, the “food log” template is essentially a table that allows you to list foods that you ate, calories, the time that you ate the food, the amount you ate, and specific calories (e.g. carbs). Various built-in templates include the following prompts:
- Writing prompt
- Journaling prompt
- Poetry prompt
- Prose prompt
- Free writing prompt
- Simple daily log
- Food log
In addition to these built-in prompts, you also have the option of adding your own “custom” prompt. This means you can design a specific template that tracks a multitude of variables on a daily basis. Just load the template and it’ll give you some ideas for what to write about and/or specific things you can track.
Writing tools: There are an incredible number of tools that can be used in this software. You can set reminders, change fonts, add headers, add tables, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of or would want in a journal is available with this software. Want to change the fonts? You can. Want to highlight things? You can. Need to make a list with bullets or numbers? That’s an option.
There are more tools than a person could possibly want or need with this software. I have dabbled with several of these options. Want to upload a picture to put in your daily journal entry? It can be done. Tweak your font style, sizing, headers, and other personal preferences in whatever way pleases you with this software.
Another nice feature is that you can link to things online and even post entries to a blog. You have the option of printing the entries for binding or storage as well; some people like the option of having a “hard-copy” of their entries.
Therapeutic Benefits of Journaling
Although journaling may not be for everyone, I’ve found that writing brief 5 to 10 minute entries each day does me a world of good. It allows me to “vent” or emotionally unload all of the thoughts and stressors that have accumulated over the previous 24 hours and get them out of my brain, and onto some interface. While journaling may not totally rid me of certain concerns, it is therapeutic in that through writing, I can express precisely how I’m feeling at a particular moment in time (almost like a frozen snapshot of my consciousness).
Compare and contrast: It’s incredible how much change we endure throughout a lifetime. Life is far from static, and the unexpected seems to occur out of nowhere. Although a zombie apocalypse is unlikely to occur tomorrow, an major event that may be just as subjectively significant could occur, throwing your life in an entirely new direction. Comparing your desires, emotions, goals, and thinking to yourself in the past can help you reflect on how far you’ve come.
This comparison can also help you get the “bigger picture” of what’s really important to you in life. Things around you may change, but there will be some commonalities between yourself right now as well as yourself in 10 years. There will also be plenty of differences. This software can help you understand how you’ve changed over time.
Documentation: In the age of self-tracking, many people want documentation of what they ate, where they went, and what they did that particular day. Rather than forgetting specific days, months, and years that you experienced hardships, successes, failures, and everything-in-between, having a journal allows you to review your experiences at a future date. You can forget when you did “Activity X” – but having a journal provides you with documentation regarding the specific dates.
It helps you avoid forgetting when you experienced important events and/or life changes. Want to remember your first date with a specific person and exactly what you did? Write about it in your journal.
Honesty: If you had to write your most intimate thoughts and feelings down in front of the world, you may not do it. Even if you’re in an extremely connected, deep relationship or seeing a quality therapist, there may be certain things that you omit from conversation because you’re not comfortable saying them. By writing in a journal, you can express your deepest thoughts and concerns without worrying about what others will think of you for them.
Maybe you’re finding that your attraction to your spouse has drifted, despite a deep connection; this isn’t something you may have a difficult time immediately talking to them about. Maybe you’ve gone through something in your past that you don’t quite have the courage to talk about in therapy. In this case, you can write about it in your journal and be completely honest with yourself, without having to answer to another person’s feedback or potentially unwelcome thoughts.
When you journal, there’s no social pressure and you don’t need to impress anyone. You’re simply expressing your most authentic desires, emotions, and thoughts. Many people get so caught up in the social rat races of lies, deception, and trying to “out-do” each other, that they forget to use the authentic voice buried inside.
Mood monitoring: It’s sometimes difficult to know exactly how you feel today compared to how you felt last week. Your brain is powerful, but subjective recall of your emotional state can be difficult. You may have felt happy a year ago, but today feel depressed. By writing in a journal, you may be able to determine what caused your mood to change from a happy state to a depressed one.
In addition to just monitoring your mood for future comparison, you can learn more specifics about the mood. For example, if you’re feeling happy, you could document the specific level of happiness on a scale of 1 to 10, and get more descriptive such as to say you were experiencing an “adrenaline-infused happiness” in 2012 or a “serotonergic-induced happiness” in 2015 – you get the idea.
The ways we describe our mood in our own head are often more descriptive than we are able to recall after the day passes. Getting the descriptive specifics written down in a journal will help us understand what we were dealing with and/or going through.
Nostalgia: Some people like reflecting on the “good ole days” of the past. If you document all of the best times with a brief description in a journal, you’re able to feel the nostalgia associated with positive past experiences. There is scientific evidence that thinking about happy times in the past will increase serotonin in certain parts of the brain.
Searching through your journal for times when you felt genuinely happy may therefore be good for your mental health. It may inspire you to engage in a similar activity to make your current day or week better than it is. Reminiscing the good times, and in some cases even the bad times, can help us get a bigger picture of life. By reflecting on the tough times may help us realize how great the good times are by comparison.
Problem solving: One of the most underrated ways to use a journal is to solve difficult problems. Many people get stuck in their own head trying to think of ways to overcome a particular dilemma. Sometimes continuously thinking about it doesn’t help – in fact it may even create more stress than necessary.
By writing your problem down in a journal, you not only express it and get it out of your head, but you know you can revisit it at any time in the future. This means you could revisit the problem in a few months and read the entry about your problem. In some cases, reading the journal entry at a future date almost seems as if you’re reading it from a third-person perspective.
Many times problem solving is ineffective when attempted from the first-person. Upon later examination, you discover a solution that you would’ve never come up with had you let the problem stay pent up in your head. It’s sometimes best to get your thoughts out on paper, let them sit for awhile, and revisit them from a different (seemingly third-person), futuristic perspective.
Static snapshot: Another great benefit of journaling is that it allows you to take a “static snapshot” of how you feel at an exact moment in time. If yesterday you felt “raging mad” because you’re going through a drug withdrawal and a driver cut you off on the highway, you can document it in your journal. If you’re feeling “on top of the world” because you got engaged to your girlfriend and got a raise at work, you can also document that.
While some people may find no benefit in taking a static snapshot of their progress, their emotions, or cognition – this is something that I find tremendously beneficial. A series of these static snapshots can help me determine whether I’m headed in the right direction with a particular exercise program, supplement, or relationship.
Tracking changes: Let’s say you’re attempting to overcome depression and you’ve been taking a drug that’s making you feel worse. This could be an antidepressant that’s increasing your depression and suicidality as a result of neurotransmitter alterations. You’ve given this drug a trial for several months, but feel as if it’s actually doing more harm than good.
If you’ve tracked this in your journal, you’ll know that you’re headed in the wrong direction. If you don’t track your progress in your journal, you may be unsure as to what your next move should be. A journal helps put things in perspective regarding whether you’re headed in the right direction, are headed down a dead end (e.g. antidepressant stops working), or are about to drive off a cliff.
The changes that you track don’t need to be related to medications, that’s just one specific example. You could track your financial progress at work, relationship progress, or other goals that you’re working on such as losing weight. By charting your progression within a journal, you’ll be able to track how close you are to a specific goal.
Writing skills: For anyone that enjoys writing, journaling can help you find your “voice.” Many writers don’t have a natural voice that aligns with how they speak and/or how they think. They may try to write like a prestigious brain surgeon in attempt to impress others, but most people are able to see through this person’s facade.
By writing in a journal, there’s no pressure to impress a professor, write the perfect book, or try to sound smarter than necessary. You’re able to find your authentic voice and capture it on paper. I personally believe that this has carryover to other writing projects that are a bit more technical such as a research project or university paper.
I’m also a believer in that the more you write, the easier it becomes to connect with your authentic voice. I also believe that the more you write, the easier it becomes to write. Most people dread writing, but keeping a simple journal each day enhances preexisting abilities.
How you could use The Journal…
There are many different ways in which you could use this software. These include: clearing your head of unnecessary thoughts, as a digital therapist, as a way to track your emotions, as a way to express gratitude, as well as problem solving and discovering personal insights.
Clearing your head: This software will allow you to release all pent up concerns, thoughts, and worries that are cycling throughout your brain. These worries can affect decision making, work-performance, and ability to get things done. By writing them all down in a journal, you are essentially unloading or “dumping” them into a digital document for later storage. This frees up some cognitive horsepower or mental RAM for other tasks.
Digital therapist: Though this software cannot replace a trained professional such as a psychotherapist, it will allow you to express your thoughts and emotions without inhibitions. Some people may actually get more benefit from using this software consistently than they would from a therapist. If you do see a psychotherapist or psychologist, it may help to review the contents of your journal entries to address any concerns that you documented.
Emotional tracking: If you want to track your emotions, using this software is an easy way to do it. You could create a custom template strictly for tracking a specific emotion such as depression, anxiety, or happiness. Then you could compare how you felt this week vs. how you felt a month ago or vs. how you felt a year ago.
Future comparison: Many people like comparing past versions of themselves to their current selves. These comparisons can be helpful to let you know whether you are making progress in a certain area or have regressed. For example, if in the past you had a rich social life, but you currently have no friends, you may discover some insights as to what you did in the past that got you the relationships.
Gratitude journal: One exercise that is tremendously helpful for improving your level of happiness is by expressing gratitude. Each day you could write about 3 things that you’re grateful for such as: events, experiences, emotions, or accomplishments. By expressing your gratitude each day, you stay focused on the positive in your life and aren’t overly consumed by the negatives.
Medication tracking: I’ve written in the past about antidepressant roulette, cycling on and off medications, going through simultaneous withdrawals, etc. If there’s one tool I wish I could take back in time with me, it’s The Journal software. Everyone wants to compare their experience on medications to experiences of others. The problem with comparisons to others is that they usually aren’t as beneficial as self-comparisons.
Just like you wouldn’t compare how you are progressing at the gym to how another person is progressing, the same should go for medications. We each have different genetics, traits, and environments, resulting in different outcomes. You can track how long you’ve been on a medication, whether it worked or stopped working, the side effects, and tribulations associated with withdrawals.
Problem solving: If you have a challenging personal problem that you haven’t been able to solve, a journal helps you flush it from your brain, and revisit the problem at a later date. Revisiting problems at a later date can help provide fresh, often third-person perspective. This differs from the inherent first-person perspective associated with trying to solve a problem by keeping it trapped in your head.
Static snapshots: If you want to learn how you felt at a certain day in the past, you’ll have it recorded in your journal. Assuming you take the time to write for a few minutes each day, it’ll become a habit. As years pass, you may become interested in what you were doing 3 years ago on this particular day – like a backward “time hop” of sorts.
Why I’ve been journaling for years…
As I mentioned before, in the past I was extremely anti-journaling, but now I find that a short-journaling session of 5 to 10 minutes each morning is incredibly therapeutic. It provides me with perspective, allows me to track my progress in certain areas of life, and the best of all – it allows me to “vent” and rid my brain of any pent up thoughts and concerns that I’ve recently dealt with, or anxieties related to the future.
- 5 minutes per day: For me, the key to journaling is keeping my entries short and simple. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I set some water on the stove to boil, and sit down to write in The Journal for just 5 minutes. I don’t like to get too long-winded, but sometimes my entry will end up 10 minutes if there’s a lot on my mind.
- Venting: I get all the concerns and anxieties flushed out of my consciousness so I can handle the day without dwelling on the past. If I got into an argument with someone the previous day, I write about it, and move on with my day. It’s almost like I’m unloading all worries and pent-up emotions to a digitally safe haven.
- Therapeutic: The unloading or “cognitive dumping” of all these worries is extremely therapeutic. It helps me express certain concerns without worrying about them at a later date. Just like for productivity it helps to write tasks down to decrease the cognitive burden of the uncompleted task, I believe the same concept applies to emotions and anxieties.
- Tracking changes: It’s always nice to track changes in a certain area of life such as diet, exercise, and progress towards building a particular skill. Writing down how I’m progressing in certain areas of life has been an enormous benefit. If the changes aren’t occurring at a quick enough rate, I may realize that my methodologies may be flawed; this allows me to make adjustments.
- Making comparisons: I love comparing my current self to my past self as well as making predictions for my future self. It’s interesting to compare myself now to myself in 2012. While 3 years may not seem like a very long time, I’ve changed a lot from then to now. In 2012 I felt as if I had no purpose and nothing to contribute to the world. Now I’m focused and on a mission – two totally different states of consciousness experienced by me, the same person.
- Insight analysis: In many cases when I’m stuck, it helps me to review what I was doing in the past when I wasn’t “stuck.” This may mean some form of exercise, pharmaceutical substance, supplement, etc. Sometimes it can be difficult to get ourselves “unstuck” until we utilize methods that worked in the past.
It helps to review these past insights because sometimes they may slip our mind or we may totally forget them. Having a journal around to search for these insights can help remind us of activities that will get us back on the right track.
Is journaling right for you?
If you don’t know whether journaling is right for you, give it a shot for 30 days and see what you think. The software is available as a free trial, so if you don’t like it or have problems using it, there’s no need to buy it. Additionally, there’s nothing wrong with using “notepad” or “Microsoft Word” documents, but saving and organizing the entries can be a hassle and a total waste of time.
In addition, they aren’t password-protected and very difficult to sift through if you want to find an old entry. The Journal software allows you to quickly search (like you do with Google) through all past entries for specific keywords. The Journal software also provides you with a 30-day money back guarantee. This means that if you aren’t 100% satisfied with the software, you can claim a full refund of the purchase price.
Bottom line: The Journal is the Best Digital Diary
On this website, I only share products that I think could be of benefit to most of the readers. My goal isn’t to guide you to a bunch of junk for the sake of making money. My goal is to help people make use of valuable tools that have the potential to improve their mental health. Journaling may not be right for everyone, and in fact may not even help some people.
The nice thing about The Journal is that it’s the best software out for journaling. If you’re going to try journaling or think that journaling could be beneficial for your mental health, this software is a small price to pay. If you’re paying for medications and/or therapy, the associated costs are exponentially greater than that of a software that you could potentially use for the rest of your life.
I would highly encourage anyone interested in maintaining a journal to give this software a legitimate chance for 30 days. You not only will get a free trial period for the software spanning over a full month (45 days), but you’ll also get a full 30 days of a 100% money back guarantee. For tracking changes within your life, there’s nothing better than The Journal.