What do grunge rocker Courtney Love, the late South African President Nelson Mandela, and explorer Marco Polo have in common? You may be surprised to learn that they are among the millions of people around the world and throughout history who have kept journals.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, journaling is simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. While a diary is intended to look back on where you’ve been, a journal helps you analyze the past with a purpose: to look forward to where you’re going.
If it seems unusual that a medical center promotes journaling, consider this: Journaling has been proven to help people improve physical health—immune system, sleep, and even wound care—in large part because it affects mental and emotional health. Those benefits may include enhanced mindfulness, better memory, more self-confidence, higher emotional intelligence, and, of course, stronger communication skills.
The mental and emotional benefits in particular make journaling a highly effective contribution to the savvy communicator’s or leader’s toolbox. In fact, “Understanding Emotional Intelligence (EI),” a Level 3 project in the Motivational Strategies path of Pathways, requires that you keep a journal about your emotions and how they impact you and others, and then speak to your club about what you’ve written. EI is the ability to understand and manage your feelings and to self-motivate, as well as to understand the feelings of others and respond appropriately.
In addition, claims Toronto, Ontario, Canada, freelance writer Hayley Phelan, writing is “fundamentally an organizational system.” So keeping a journal helps organize and process a particular event in our mind, she explains. That’s one reason why our working memory improves when we journal. Our brains are freed from the work it takes to process the experience.
Look for Patterns
Recording and reviewing your feelings and responses on a regular basis can also help you recognize patterns in your behavior and interactions. That kind of self-awareness can in turn make you a better leader and better communicator, which is one of the reasons it can have a direct effect on Toastmasters activities. There are others, as well.
“Journaling helps me to come up with speech ideas,” explains longtime member Basha McCrumb, DTM, Past District 38 Director. “It also helps me to see my growth if I go back and reread where I was when I started on various paths or leadership roles and compare that to where I am currently.”
The benefits of journaling may include enhanced mindfulness, better memory, more self-confidence, higher emotional intelligence, and, of course, stronger communication skills.
For example, she recently looked back at journal entries corresponding to the beginning of her leadership journey in Toastmasters, when she became President of a newly chartered club.
“I saw how naïve and hesitant I was! Then I scrolled on to [entries marking] the beginning of other leadership roles and was amazed at the growth I have seen in myself since then,” recalls McCrumb, a resident of Delaware who belongs to five clubs. “I still have questions and concerns with each new role, of course, but they are changing as I grow.”
Many people simply use whatever they have on hand for their journals, but Emmet Naughton, of the Berkeley Square Speakers Toastmasters Club in London and the online club Firebirds Collective, went much further. In order to excel as speakers and leaders and help others do the same, he and his partner, Valeria Crespo, created The Speaker’s Journal, a guided journal chockfull of motivational ideas (“Passion. Purpose. When was the last time you spoke with either of these?”); quotes (From Steve Jobs: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”); and useful content (“Key benefits of humor in public speaking: Humor can put a tense room of listeners at ease. Being funny for a moment will also put you at ease”) that complement the Toastmasters experience.
“I needed a central point from which to build. I needed room to expand my ideas and to explore the important conversations in my life [both personal and professional] on paper,” explains Naughton. “The journal is also there to empower the user with smart, simple, and repeatable routines that range from preparation to reflection.
“From my own experience and those of others, I can tell you that it’s worked.”
Tips for Your Journaling Journey
Just do it:
Five minutes. One sentence. No censoring. Maybe you want to start writing after your next meeting or speech—or before.
Keep it simple:
If you decide to go the pen and paper route, pick up a notebook or ready-made journal that calls out to you, either in style, size, or number of pages. (The Toastmasters online store has a few notebooks that could meet the need.)
To be digital, or not to be digital:
Although McCrumb, the longtime member from Delaware, prefers to use a written journal, she suffers from a common condition: terrible handwriting.
“Currently I am journaling in a Word document,” she says. “However, I print it out and put it in a physical journal, as I also include mementos or other items as well. Those may be pictures or a napkin from an airplane, or confetti from a play, etc.”
Typing on a phone or computer can yield the same outcome as paper, especially if it’s easier for you. You could even use a voice recorder. Until journaling becomes a habit, you might want to use some type of reminder until you automatically remember to pull up the file.
Make it a habit:
“I find consistency is a very powerful tool in journaling,” says Catalina Rozo, of Berkeley Square Speakers and Early Bird Speakers in London. “It makes it easier to commit to daily goals, and it helps me set an intention before starting the day. Then when I end the day, I check my goals and see how I did.”
Your journal is a guide to your personal journey. You don’t need to share its contents with anyone, including club members, unless you choose to. That said, sharing bits and pieces might open up good conversations and connections with other leaders. (And as we’ve seen, a journal can be a gold mine for speech material.)
From time to time, turn back the pages of your journal to review the thoughts and behaviors you find there. Are there any you want to capitalize on, or others you want to overcome?
“I write down my emotions and thoughts before and after events and then look back at those perceptions from time to time to see how things have evolved,” says Andrew P. Bennett, DTM, another member in the Berkeley Square Speakers and Firebirds Collective.
Finally, as if you needed any more motivation to give journaling a try, remember; The kind of skills that journaling promotes has benefits far beyond the club meeting.
“Journaling and targeted reflective practices like it actually hold the keys to making you a better person,” says Andrew Ben-Salem of Berkeley Square Speakers. “They help you become not only someone who is more aware of how you communicate with others, but also someone who is constantly learning about the way you are showing up, and making improvements so that you can connect better with others in general.”
All this, of course, is on top of the physical and emotional benefits. Now that’s what I’d call a tool for success. Wouldn’t you?
Caren S. Neile, Ph.D. has written for this magazine for 20 years and has presented at three Toastmasters International conventions, including a session on storytelling at the August 2022 convention. Learn more at carenneile.com.