Write it Down: Journaling Has Been Shown to Support Memory
One way to remember something is by writing it down. After all, you’re less likely to forget the milk if it’s on your grocery list. But studies have suggested that writing in a journal may also support one’s memory.
A small study conducted in 2001 found that expressive writing was associated with increasing an individual’s working memory. Working memory is a form of memory that allows a person to temporarily hold information for immediate use, and may also help to organize new information for long-term storage.
In the study, researchers assigned a group of college freshmen to write expressively about their thoughts and feelings of coming to college. Another control group was assigned to write about a trivial topic. Students who expressed their feelings and emotions showed larger working memory gains nearly two months later compared with the control group.
According to the study, the expressive group’s increased use of cause and insight words was associated with greater working memory improvements.
In another study of college students, participants were randomized into one of three writing conditions: (1) traditional expressive writing, (2) specific expressive writing, or (3) control writing. Researchers found that students assigned to the expressive writing conditions demonstrated significantly greater autobiographical memory specificity at a six-months follow-up period, compared with the control group.
Keeping a regular journal has many benefits, other experts note.
For one thing, research has suggested the physical act of writing something down allows it to stick more firmly in your memory. In addition, the mental focus required to write something down makes it more likely you’ll remember that thought later on.
Others note that journaling, like mindfulness, requires the writer to think deeply about their experiences, which can clarify thoughts and feelings. This can create a sense of self awareness and understanding that reduces worry and stress.
Similarly, journaling can help you work through daily challenges , which allows you to prioritize concerns and clear your mind. Writing regularly in a journal also allows you to track your thoughts and emotions, creating opportunities to see patterns and possibilities to tackle negative thoughts.
How to get started?
Pharmacists can recommend journaling as one activity to help their clients optimize mindfulness and brain health.
Tips include being as expressive as possible (don’t just factually recount the day); taking time to do it right, don’t rush to finish your daily entry; being consistent in keeping up your journal; finding a writing spot that is relaxing with few distractions; and letting words and thoughts flow freely so you don’t worry about grammar and spelling.
Remember, journaling can be for you and you alone.