Benjamin Franklin used to begin each day by asking himself “What can I do well today?”. He then wrote those things down in a diary. Come the end of that day, he would then review each of his goals, making a note of how he could improve on the things he didn’t do so well.
It seems that he was ahead of the curve, with scientific research since confirming what he knew; that writing a diary had many psychological benefits. Here are a just a few of them:
1. IMPROVES SELF-AWARENESS
Keeping a diary offers the chance to improve self-awareness. Getting to know yourself in this way provides an opportunity to communicate your feelings in a tangible way. Current research looking into diary keeping has shown that the act of writing provides a tool that can unlock the thoughts and feelings you might be disregarding.
2. MANAGES YOUR NERVES
Keeping a diary has the ability to reduce our anxieties and settle our nerves in potentially stressful situations. To keep a diary of your thoughts and emotions surrounding situations you feel uncomfortable with, enables you to develop a sense of control and therefore reduce your anxiety.
3. IMPROVES METACOGNITION
Metacognition is the ability to critically analyse how you think. This means evaluating how well you performed and what caused your successes and failures. Research has shown that people who keep diaries experience greater metacognition through the development of self-regulatory strategies such as effective preparation, monitoring and self-questioning. This is a key part of developing metacognition (and if you’re not sure what that is still... this blog explains it).
4. REDUCES PROCRASTINATION
Diaries have the ability to improve an individual’s time management. There is a well-known thinking bias called planning fallacy, which states that we underestimate the time it will take to complete a future task. By using a diary, we can evaluate our past experiences in order to better plan for tasks ahead. You can find more tips on how to help students manage procrastination here.
5. IMPROVES MEMORY
Diaries have been shown to improve our working memory by allowing us to retain information for greater periods of time. The American Psychology Association state that although effects were modest, expressive writing frees up space in the working memory by removing intrusive and avoidant thoughts. For more depth and detail, our blog on 15 Ways to Maximise Memory is a great starting point.
6. IMPROVES WELL-BEING
Evidence has indicated that keeping a diary can make you happier. Whilst it seems like a trivial task, diary keeping has shown to reduce depressive thoughts and behaviours by providing the writer with increased control. This useful intervention has also been seen to have long-lasting effects on mental health. It’s not just a quick fix.
We have discussed the scientific benefits of keeping a diary. Diary keeping helps people in all walks of life and it’s a really easy way to improve your well-being. Just as Benjamin Franklin did, by writing down your targets, reflecting on how well they went or consciously trying to improve them for the next day, you give yourself the best chance of success.
We have lots more information on how to improve metacognition available, including free resources and blogs.