Journaling for Better Living

Although we live in a digital age where refrigerators send shopping lists to smartphones, the “old-fashioned” habit of writing down thoughts, experiences, and observations is – ironically – growing in popularity.

For good reason. Science and psychologists tell us that journaling is good for the brain and the soul – capable of boosting our IQ, EQ, memory, and self-discipline, while helping to lower stress. That alone makes it worth doing, since nearly 80 percent of Americans report being seriously stressed-out, especially about finances.

Journaling helps clarify your thinking about what’s important in your life, and there are three innovative approaches – gratitude, bullet, and financial – that can be particularly useful in improving your financial confidence.

Gratitude Journaling

Our research shows that the most financially-confident Americans – Confident Planners – place above-average emphasis on maintaining a good work/life balance, staying fit and healthy, and living within their means.

Gratitude journaling touches all those habits. In short, it’s about making time to deliberately appreciate all the positive aspects of your life. You write about anything for which your grateful, from a shorter-than-normal line at Starbucks, to a beautiful sunset shared with friends, to a job that you enjoy going to in the morning.

Focusing on the good people and experiences in your life may even help you live within your means. Rather than yearning for what they don’t have (and acquiring it via a credit card), gratitude journalists seem to be more inclined to feel satisfied with what they already possess. It goes back to the glass of water: it is more likely to appear half full when taking stock of all you have, rather than all you don’t.

Gratitude journaling also helps increase discipline. In one study, college undergraduates who kept weekly gratitude journals felt better about their lives, exercised more regularly, were more optimistic, and were more likely to make progress toward important personal goals.1 That can, of course, apply directly to building savings and planning for retirement.

Bullet Journaling

A bullet journal is the Swiss Army knife of organizational readiness: a planner, calendar, and journal in one notebook. More structured than a gratitude journal, its format aligns to the principles of financial planning (and the habits of Confident Planners): write down goals, determine the steps to achieve them, and measure progress.

Bullet journals are organized around three categories: a future log for long-term planning, and monthly and daily logs to set up near-term goals and tasks. You can customize sections any way that works best for you. For example, you can establish a financial goal (have a down payment for a house in two years), set tasks aligned to that goal (deposit $200 each month to your savings account and pack your lunch three times a week to save money), and monitor your progress along daily, monthly, and long-term timelines.

A bullet journal can help you identify what matters most to you, prioritize your tasks, and build accountability. Plus, writing down your financial game plan, in detail, will make you feel like you have more control because it’s all laid out in front of you. And, because it’s on paper, you won’t have the digital distraction of Instagram in the background.

Financial Journaling

A financial journal connects directly to the emotional side of money management. It helps you become more mindful of how and why you spend money. For example, you can use it to write down your major purchases – and the reasons you bought them.

Over time, such a record can help you see spending patterns and identify life-triggers that may lead to spur-of-the-moment decisions that derail your long-term financial objectives. The goal is greater financial awareness, because that self-knowledge can lead to better budgeting and spending habits. Speaking of budgeting, here are a few tips to complement your journaling efforts, whatever they may be.

Those who practice journaling say it’s the “write” way to become mindful and in control of their goals and financial futures. To take it to the next level, and build true financial and emotional confidence, talk with a financial professional who can guide you in committing a plan to paper and sticking with it.

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