3 Ways Journaling Can Be Valuable for Your Thinking

Routine is nice, but routine can make me too settled in my thinking at times. I am a linear thinker and I enjoy processes. I appreciate practices that help move me to successful thinking or profitable action.

I like systems that work once and then keep working thereafter.

But I never want my thinking to go stale. Regardless of your vocation, stale thinking does not promote God-glorifying action. I believe that is one reason that God gave us creativity – to push the fences of typical thinking to new possibilities and fresh outcomes.

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The small-thinking life

For my vocation, my laptop is just an extension of my brain. I am a big Mac user (though I do not diss you Windows users!) and love the ability to sync my Mac Pro, iPhone, and iPad together. It’s geeky, but it helps facilitate my various roles as husband, father, son, friend, and employee. Several of my functions in life overlap and my technology allows me to stay on top of things.

If you are like me, I will have my email accounts up, web browser, texting app, as well as apps such as Wunderlist to keep track of all of my commitments in each of those areas of my life.

What I have begun noticing, though, is that in my attempts to multitask and stay connected, I am becoming more disconnected from me, meaning my own thinking. When there are multiple inputs into my life at any given time, all available attention is getting utilized.

I am not saying, necessarily, that this disposition is wrong, but what I am saying is that this tendency to occupy all available “bandwidth” is manifesting itself in other areas, mainly my own thinking.

And by thinking I am referring to my creativity, those thoughts of what can be, those ideas or abstract concepts that move me from thinking small to thinking big.

And in my noble endeavors of getting things done, I am realizing that I am overlooking that sharpening of my own mental saw that allows me to be more effective in my work environment, at home, or with relationships in general.

In other words, I have settled into small thinking. And I do not want to stay here.

I was listening to a podcast recently titled “Why You Should Keep a Notebook.” It was a relatively brief podcast, but it stoked some embers of new thinking that quickly caught ablaze.

I enjoy writing, and I enjoy writing digitally. But there is something with physically transferring thoughts to paper via pen that has become somewhat of a lost art.

And out of this podcast, I realized I needed to carve out time each week just for pure, uninterrupted thinking. I realized that in my efforts to desire effectiveness in my life, I was not setting myself up well to actually be effective.

Hard-copy journaling 

I really saw what was happening to me as being on a path that I no longer desired to be on. And so I went and out researched some personal journals.

There are two that I would suggest.

If you are looking for a well-made, budget-conscious journal I would highly recommend something in the Moleskine family. My preference is the Classic, with blank pages and a hard cover. It feels sturdy, has paper that is thicker than your standard notebook, is cost effective, and is plain but eye-catching.

I have had varying options of Moleskines over the years, but for this new venture I wanted something with a little more substance. And so I went out onto Etsy and found a handmade, leather journal made by a small company called A Cheery Blossom.

The one I ended up getting is at the top of this post.

I love it. It just feels worthy of writing in and has excellent craftsmanship. It is a classy piece of work for sure. I call it my journal of big ideas.

What is a big idea?

Simply, a big idea for me is just non-plain, out-of-the-rut, no-fences, quit-constraining-a-big-God type of thought. I have settled into small thinking.

With all of the time many of us spend throughout the day attached to some form of technology, I want to offer you three benefits as to why I have decided to go this route with a physical journal. 

And let me add that perhaps you personally may be able to get the same output from an electronic journal. My goal is to throw a new idea out to you.

As I started using this journal, I came away with such a great experience, and as I reflected upon it, came away with three motivations why.

Noise noise noise

If you have ever watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” there is a line that I can always see in my mind that makes me chuckle:

And then…all the noise!  All the noise, noise, noise, noise!
If there’s one thing I hate…all the noise, noise, noise, noise!
And they’ll shriek, squeak, and squeal racing round on their wheels,
Then dance with jin-tinglers tied onto their heels!

The first benefit relates to living in a high-distraction culture.

I enjoyed the fact that with my journal it is…just my journal. It does not have any options for notifications or buzz where there is something new on the page. It is just static paper.

Refreshing .

I love writing with my laptop (as I am doing now to write this post!) and though I have shut down my notifications, there is still data being pushed at me to view, read over, listen to, or make a decision on. In other words, many temptations.

And I think that was one reason that I even considered a physical journal – I have a constant stream of data coming at me that I feel I have to engage with, so there seems less and less available space for thinking.

As I was sitting in my weekly coffee shop appointment recently, corner table by the window, I realized how free I felt. A blank sheet of paper before me, a pen, only constrained by my thoughts. It was uncomplicated, but to be honest, it was invigorating. I had room to mentally breathe.

The intentionality of actual writing

I love the fact that, with my word processor, I can change the font, font size, color, or make it bolded, underlined, or italicized. Or I can delete it. It’s fluid.

The second benefit is that, as I write in my journal, there is something intentional and deliberate about thoughts flowing out of my mind through my pen to a written page. I feel more of an ownership between me and my thoughts. 

With my journal, I do not have the option of “undo” available to me. And so I found myself being more mindful with my words because once on the page, they had a permanency to them that digital writing does not for me.

It made me less careless with my thoughts and gave more of a “these thoughts matter” type of mentality.

Getting recalibrated

I read a quote last week that said,

Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.

For my third and final benefit, as I read over my first reflections in my journal, I would not say they are life-changing, but they are changing my life. I need big ideas from God in all areas of my life: family, relationships, and work. But if I am not allowing time for God to push thoughts into my mind, I am likely to stay in status quo mode and be busy but possibly not impactful.

In my writing from pen to page, I found clarity being introduced with each new paragraph. Priorities became more clear and secondary items became just that…secondary items.

And of all the thoughts that I have each day, this physical journal is a type of “these thoughts contained in this journal are going to allow me to be a better…(fill in the blank). It is a time for me to ask, “God, what am I missing? Where do I need a bigger vision? What fences am I putting up that are not necessarily of you? Where do you want me to go farther?”

And in conclusion

You might be one of those “I hate physically writing.” and I hear you. It is more work than typing or audibly recording your thoughts. But for me, it is that concept of hard work in writing that forces me through lazy thinking and into a more clarified purpose.

I hope to prod some new ideas for you. If you do not go out and purchase a journal, my hope is that, at the very least, you will begin to segment off time each week, or larger blocks each month, that is purely for thinking. 

I can say for myself that it is breathing new life into me. It is simple, but I found myself thinking, “I really have missed this.” and it also made me realize how my lack of thinking could potentially negatively impact those around me whom I care about most.

My challenge is to just try it. Try it for 30 days where you are carving out even 30 minutes per week for your big ideas. See if it does not begin to clear foggy thinking. See if it does not expand your borders of what could be. See if it does not recharge you.

I’d love to hear from you — please leave a reply below if you have any thoughts to add to the conversation.

And if you know someone who would be helped by reading this, you can share using one of the social media links below. Thank you for doing this! It is so appreciated.

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