The Benefits of Journaling for Personal Professional Development

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

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Reflective journals, well known in the form of diaries, have been kept by all sorts of people for many different purposes.

Writers, for example, use them as a means to generate ideas or to experiment with language. In the natural and social sciences, researchers keep notebooks in which details of experiments, interviews and surveys are recorded. Business executives use them to guide, manage and reveal their professional development.

In the mahayana tradition of Buddhism there is a practice known as lojong – ‘training the mind’ (lojong is Tibetan: lo means ‘intelligence’, ‘mind’, ‘that which can perceive things’; jong means ‘training’, or ‘processing’). The purpose is to enhance awareness by catching our first thoughts and ideas as they emerge through the reflective or contemplative process.

The Reflective Journal is a practical tool by which the “mental place” and the “capacity to pause” can be created by anyone. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Nancy J. Adler points out the importance of taking time to reflect in the fast-paced, frenzied lives that we live: “Using a journal regularly will give you the courage to see the world differently, to understand the world differently, and to lead in new and needed ways”.


Journaling is a great space where learning can happen and insight may occur. This ‘space’ supports change in personal thinking which is at the heart of the learning experiences we provide at The Keynes Centre.

The purpose of the Reflective Journal is to facilitate, in a private way, the process of intellectual transformation which accompanies critical reflection on sources of knowledge, i.e. the selected books in the case of our Book Club or selected films in the case of our Film Club, and the faculty for making good judgements. Through the Reflective Journal participants can ‘see’ how their own thinking is progressing over time and how they are making their own contributions to what they think about issues.

The Reflective Journal is an individual forum for reworking information drawn from external sources covers personal observations, questions, and hypotheses and, indeed, digests any matters causing unease, interest and challenge. It is used to contemplate ideas from discussions, own thoughts or any other source of knowledge and to revise thinking by helping to

Sort thoughts
Come to a viewpoint
Watch for confirming indications
Practice using the viewpoint
Maintain awareness of thinking.

This is a great tool for them to record and reflect on their reading and learning processes, revisit or redefine their achievements, chart the thinking process, identify ‘brick walls’ or learning ‘milestones’, and celebrate successes and reassess challenges.

© Mike O'Donnell -

© Mike O’Donnell –

The most important feature of the Reflective Journal is that it is personal and private, allowing the writer the freedom to surface, express, explore and develop ideas without the restrictions, fears, assessments of external observers. It is the place where we can focus and productively engage with the ‘internal dialogue’ always going on inside of us.

Some suggestions for moving beyond the ‘blank page’:

 Record and reflect on your learning process and identifying ‘brick walls’ or learning ‘milestones’;

 Exploring the limiting assumptions held about oneself; facts (objective), possible facts (subjective) and bedrock assumption (subjective);

 Identify and challenge the assumptions underlying your own and/or another’s beliefs and behaviour; and explore and imagine alternatives to your own current ways of thinking, acting, living;

 Explore any number of questions about yourself, for example:

. What have you been doing and why?
. What did you learn from it?
. What did you expect to discover?
. What did you unexpectedly find?
. How will you build on what you discovered?
. What difficulties did you encounter?
. How can you transform difficulties into opportunities?

 If you are reading a book or watching a film, engage in a dialogue with the author/filmmaker, for instance:

. What is the key idea in the book/film?
. What is the context in which book was written/ film was made?
. For whom was the author writing/ filmmaker making the film?
. What question is the author/filmmaker trying to answer? And what answer is given?
. What relationship did you expect to have with the author/filmmaker and idea before reading/watching it?
. What relationship do you have now, after reading/watching I and reflecting on it?
. How does it change your thinking? What questions does it raise for you?

Hannah Arendt tells us that to think with ‘an enlarged mentality’ means that ‘one trains one’s imagination to go visiting’. The journal is a record of one’s visiting the ideas of others. It is, most of all, their own, so it is a powerful device to experiment with different approaches in order to discover one’s own mind and find one’s own ‘voice’.

Human freedom involves the capacity to pause, to choose the one response towards which we wish to throw our weight.

– Rollo May –

The Keynes CentreThe Benefits of Journaling for Personal Professional Development