Mindspace is Handcrafted
Exercising our fine motor skills by using our hands for writing, drawing, knitting and so on, engages the mind in a very special way. It boosts cognition induces a relaxed flow-state in our mind and body. It’s why such activities play such a prominent role in the socialised wellbeing movement. People are rediscovering the simple joy of making, not in their garages or sitting rooms, but in clubs and hubs across the land. People, it would seem, know the calm-state induced by mindful handwork is also the basic fuel that powers of social engagement.
We tend to engage more meaningfully when we’re feeling calm and safe. Writing by hand (as opposed to using a keyboard or other automated device) has an even deeper impact on our mind and body because of the direct link between thought, memory and physical expression. It stimulates and activates the parts of the brain that govern our analytical and rational faculties as well as our ability to create, intuit and feel. You could say in terms of brain function. It simultaneously fires up the left and right hemispheres.
Good Old Fashioned Sense-Making
Whereas other hand-based activities can be experienced and enjoyed almost in auto-pilot (think of say a potter at a wheel), writing by and large relies on that direct, conscious link between ideation and action. It’s true you can write in a stream of consciousness and go where the pen takes you. However, here we’re talking about connecting with the data in your immediate environment. The word “journal’ comes from the Latin “diurnalis” for “day”. That’s where sense-making comes in. Through this process, we are generally sorting through data, rearranging it meaningfully and outputting it into various formats; that is to say, making sense of it.
Regular practice increases the mind’s capacity to power through mental inertia and focus on the operation of the creative process and the content being created by it at the same time. This is the unique benefit of journaling; you are in fact doing the synergistic actions of thinking and doing at the same time. This combination of skill and state-of-mind is in fact highly transferrable once mastered. This “think-do” cognitive dynamic allows us to better focus on present actuality and notice, others and the surrounding environment. Journaling in this respect is one of the oldest sense-making tools available to us and nowadays is recognised for it’s many pseudo-therapeutic benefits to our mental and physical health.
“Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”Émile Coué
Beyond the science, more people are practising journaling without necessarily seeing it as such. Whether it be a pattern of behaviour with their favourite social media platform, jotting down tasting notes of a favourite wine, or providing on-line reviews of a purchase or restaurant visit, they are contemporaneously documenting a personal experience. You can think of journaling, in this sense, as a conversation with oneself which may or may not be shared more widely. That’s as a good a definition of journaling as any other you’ll find.
Effect on the Immune System
It’s a simple fact that reflective journaling can aid sleep. It decreases overthinking and soothes the restive mind. Reflective on the day’s events through a lens of gratitude and introspection puts the lived experience into perspective. Expressing gratitude is also known to improve levels of perceived happiness by reprogramming the brain to take more notice of the positive aspects of a situation. If you acknowledge what’s good in your life, it will help you more balanced about the challenging emotions that come from difficult situations. It is just that, a sense of equilibrium amid the ups and downs.
As far back as the 1870s, the Coué Method promoted the idea of small but regular “prompts” that had a tangible benefit on the healing process. Repeatedly practising this kind of affirmation is not about ignoring the things we don’t like. It’s about finding the calm state. By inducing this calm, relaxed state, regular journaling promotes the growth of immune cells, called T and B-lymphocytes. Research indicates that journaling eases the symptoms of conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis (James Pennebaker). Even outside the therapeutic frame, creative expression is a fundamental component of wellbeing. It’s an instinct we’re all born with and then .. well, in short, life happens.