The Power of Journaling

Mona Khalil
6 min readJun 13, 2022
Bernal Heights Hill, San Francisco
Bernal Heights Hill, San Francisco

What do Frida Kahlo, Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, Oprah, and Andy Warhol all have in common?

Each of them kept a journal to record their experiences throughout their life.

I will walk you through:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • What is Journaling?
  • Writing Does Not Replace Therapy
  • What Are the Benefits of Journaling?
  • How to Get Started
  • Importance of Reflection

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The basis of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that we are motivated by our needs as human beings. Additionally, if some of our most important needs are unmet, we may be unable to progress and meet our other needs. This can help explain why we might feel stuck or unmotivated. It’s possible that our most critical needs aren’t being met, preventing us from being the best version of ourselves. Changing this requires looking at what we need and working towards getting it.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology

Maslow believed that people have an inborn desire to be self-actualized, that is, to be all they can be. To achieve this ultimate goal, however, a number of more basic needs must be met. This includes the need for food, safety, love, and self-esteem.

Journaling is an opportunity for me to look at what I need and work towards getting it. Many folks are born and raised in survival mode. I often journal(ed) about my basic and psychological needs being unmet. The yellow brick road to self-actualization has been a long path. When I am asked what my why is, I say it is to know the best version of myself.

What Is Journaling?

Journaling is a form of investing in yourself and investigating yourself. Finding purpose in understanding who you are and finding the stories you want to tell. Journaling could be the first step revisited to writing the story. Journaling is for nobody but you. There isn’t one way to journal.

Pen to paper is a healthy coping tool. It’s cost-effective. Easily accessible for many. Writing is a way to process feelings, emotional discomfort, and trauma. Self-reflecting and documenting events allows you to create a coherent narrative and shifting perspective. Journaling can be a way to acknowledge your inner child, heal from abuse, process experiences, etc.

Journaling is the act of informal writing as a regular practice. Journaling takes on many forms and serves different purposes, some creative others personal. Writers keep journals as a place to record thoughts, practice their craft, and document ideas as they occur to them. Some people respond better to journaling prompts and guided journaling. Unstructured free writing changed my life. In 6th grade, I was introduced to free writing. Today, I do various forms of journaling: writing about my day, processing my feelings, creative writing, poetry, etc.

A popular form of journaling is a gratitude journal. Gratitude journaling (or downloading a gratitude journaling app) is a journaling experience meant to boost your self-esteem and improve your overall well-being. There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of gratitude. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting blessings can help people sleep better, lower stress, and improve interpersonal relationships. No matter what type of journal you keep, it’s a great way to enable yourself to start writing and engage in a process of self-improvement.

Journaling is a time to investigate my questions. Journaling has been a safe space for me since the age of 12. I started with pain, love, and hope and mapped the complexity of my youthful emotions. During my two years in Morocco, I embraced writing. It provided a home to continue to process my thoughts, and feelings, and discover myself as my new best friend. Poetry became a creative outlet for expression while inviting healing, transformation, and a confrontation with the past. Since my return to the United States, pen and paper have continued to be my refuge.

Poetry can make someone fall in love with you. Poetry can make you fall in love with yourself. — Joy Harjo, 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate and First Native U.S. Poet Laureate

Journals take many different forms but no matter what type of journal you keep or how regularly you choose to write, the benefits of writing in a journal are many and layered. Keeping up a consistent journaling practice can help you improve your writing (reading a lot also helps you improve your writing) and potentially change your life.

Writing Does Not Replace Therapy

James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin is considered the pioneer of writing therapy. “It’s a whole cascade of things that occur,” he said. Dr. Pennebaker speaks about labeling emotions and acknowledging traumatic events — both natural outcomes of journaling — have a known positive effect on people. At the same time, writing is fundamentally an organizational system. Keeping a journal, according to Dr. Pennebaker, helps to organize an event in our mind, and make sense of trauma. When we do that, our working memory improves, since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience, and we sleep better. Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found that journaling about traumatic or disturbing experiences specifically has the most measurable impact on our overall well-being. Writing is a technique to move you through your feelings and not to stay in them.

Experiment using different methods to process your experiences. Some people like journaling and others prefer recording themselves with a voice note. Figure out what works best for you. You can use your writings or recordings to aid you in therapy sessions. Your overall well-being increases as you work through healthy ways to release what your body is holding on to.

What Are the Benefits of Journaling?

The best part about writing is the surprise discoveries. You might call them epiphanies or as Oprah says, ‘Aha!’ moments. Personal growth, improved communication skills, and increased self-awareness are a few benefits of journaling. Developing a journaling practice can help you deal with negative thoughts and stress management by engaging in a daily practice of self-reflection and self-discovery.

The benefits of journaling are especially profound:

  • Forces you to practice the art of writing
  • Allows you to explore new ideas
  • Enables you to break through writer’s block
  • Allows you to practice stream-of-consciousness writing
  • Provides a space to practice expressive writing without pressure

How to Get Started

While some can write for hours at a time, researchers say that journaling for at least 15 minutes a day three to five times a week can significantly improve your physical and mental health.

If you’re new to journaling, the easiest way to begin is to find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed and just start writing. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar; you’re writing for yourself and no one else.

If you don’t know what to write about, here are some ideas:

  • Write about something (or someone) extremely important to you.
  • Write about three things you’re grateful for today — and why.
  • Write about what advice you’d give to your younger self.

Importance of Reflection

Reading your own writings hits differently. Over the years, I randomly scan pages from various journal entries I’ve written. Recently, I started a tradition to read and summarize my journals over a 12-month period. It’s fitting because my birthday is in December. I write about my takeaways from the previous year and outline my goals going into the new year. Reading my voice gives me an opportunity to pause and deeply reflect. I am committed to examining what I need and doing my best to achieve it.

I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it. — Beyoncé

🇪🇬🥭🇬🇾 Name dipped in mango | | منى خليل | #iwritelettersinmythoughts | | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook @iammonakhalil



Mona Khalil

Name Dipped In Mango | Transformational Leadership Coach & Consultant | Peace Corps, Tesla, LinkedIn Alum | Author of #iwritelettersinmythoughts 🇬🇾🥭🇪🇬