Journaling Makes You Smarter—I Did the Math

The compound effect and optimizing your thinking

Phil Rosen
Jun 10, 2019 · 4 min read

Tim Ferris said it best,

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish… It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.”

Journaling doesn’t necessarily entail a ‘dear diary’ entry (though it could if you want). It provides a place to put your thoughts down. It provides an organizational shelf for the cluttered ideas floating about inside your head.

A journal can be a place to word-vomit. A landscape for catharsis. A place to write about your ailments and stresses.

Unlike every other playing field in life, a journal requires no filter. A spew of explicit thoughts is part of the intimacy of a journal. It’s a platform for vulnerability because there is no audience.

No judgment awaits. No ridicule will pounce upon your words.

Rarely do we get a chance to express our innermost self, untamed and bare. Social restraints, public expectations, self-respect — these things all regulate our public behavior. A journal opens up a world of lawlessness, a proving ground for words to run amok without consequence.

A New Perspective

A journal allows you to view your own life with a bird’s eye view.

Writing down your thoughts, reflections, and inhibitions creates a conversation with yourself. You are the one who talks, and the one who listens.

A journal becomes an additional lens with which to view your life.

Without a journal, you must rely on memory to form your perspective. Memories are fallible. Details are misplaced and remembered incorrectly. Journaling helps minimize our mental shortcomings by outsourcing the information we will inevitably lose.

A journal can provide a consistent account based on first-hand, immediate recall. A more reliable perspective awaits creation with every page.

The Compound Effect

As much as we celebrate landmark accomplishments in our life, we are comprised of daily habits. Our routines work in the shadows to create the successes that take the public stage. Journaling is no different.

Writing a page in a journal takes anywhere between 10–15 minutes. It’s a short span of time.

If you think it’s too much time to dedicate on a daily basis, ask yourself these two questions:

1. How many minutes (or hours) do you spend on social media or Netflix per day?

2. If you reduced that number by 10–15 minutes per day in lieu of journaling, would your life get better, or would your life get worse?

Fifteen minutes a day is 105 minutes per week, 420 minutes per month, and 5040 minutes per year.

Most people would say they don’t have time to write an additional 84 hours per year. Small habits compound. 84 hours a year of daily journaling is 84 additional hours to think, to be alone and have a conversation with your thoughts.

Writing is the process of articulating and clarifying your thoughts. Hence, writing is the practice of thinking clearly.

Imagine spending an additional 84 hours per year thinking clearly. Where would you be at the end of the year, compared to if you hadn’t started journaling?

Would you have more ideas or fewer ideas? A deeper perspective or shallower? Would you be more articulate or less articulate?

Change Your Life

If you allow it to, a journal can change your life. It can be the foundation for your thoughts and ideas. It can be the catalyst for mindfulness, clear thinking, and a deeper understanding of yourself.

Small, daily contributions into a journal don’t require structure. They can be free-flowing and non-sequential. The process of journaling everyday in itself is reflective, despite what the written words betray.

Rather than viewing a journal as a cheap life-hack, it should be considered a tool to become a more mindful and better thinker. It’s a portal to introspection.

Gain a new perspective. Take advantage of the compound effect. Practice thinking clearly. Hone your words and become more articulate.

Let journaling change your life.

Phil is a travel writer and editor. He currently lives and works in Hong Kong. If you liked this article, you can see more of his ideas on his travel blog and Instagram.

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Phil Rosen

Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Phil Rosen

Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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