I started to journal in 2017 after I went on an amazing trip to London and Iceland—only to be deeply bummed once it was over. Every day after, I’d write a bulleted list of every single thing I was grateful for, even if the only good things of note were free cheese cubes at work or a dog making eye contact with me on the street.
Determined to never have a blank page, I kept finding new reasons to add. Slowly, I started to realize the things I thought were making me happy—like a surplus of retweets on a dumb meme—were stuff I’d forget to write down. But even the tiniest good moments in my relationships stuck out every time. For instance, I began to notice which friendships genuinely brought me joy (and why) and which ones felt like I was kiiinda lying to myself about.
Other improvements I noticed once I started writing these lists: I stopped having random pangs of jealousy when scrolling through Instagram, my romantic relationship transformed into the best version of itself (so far), and I grew even closer to my good friends.
As Laura Rubin, the founder of AllSwell Creative, a journaling workshop and notebook company, explains, I’m not the only one who has experienced this phenomenon. “Journaling helps strengthen the relationship you have with yourself,” she says.
“Regardless of whether you’re single or in a relationship, you need to have self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love, and nourishing those attributes is going to make you a better partner,” adds Rubin.
I stopped having random pangs of jealousy when scrolling through Instagram, my romantic relationship transformed into the best version of itself (so far), and I grew even closer to my good friends.
Not only can having some undivided “you time” to journal be a great way to do something nice for yourself, it can also help you gradually learn what really matters to you. And this can be especially effective when it comes to your love life.
“When you’re single, you have the incredible opportunity to choose your partner,” Rubin says. “So, the more self-aware you are of the positive and negative attributes you’re looking for in a partner, the more discerning you’ll be about who’s right for you.”
It’s true, especially when you think about how real dating app fatigue can be or consider the countless first dates and swiping you may have been doing lately. It’s kind of impossible to track how you’re actually feeling throughout the dating process, right?
But even taking just five minutes to journal after a date—during which you can honestly reflect on whether it was great or “meh”—can help you stop wasting your time on people who just aren’t right for you.
On the flip side, if you’re with a partner you love, writing down key moments about your relationship can be a serious game changer for your connection.
“When you take a moment to truly appreciate what’s good about your relationship, it can have really positive ripple effects,” says Rubin.
Or if you two keep having the same dumb fight, writing in a journal can help you find a solution. “We all get worked up over something, and sometimes, just blowing off steam on the page can discharge that energy,” Rubin says. “By the end of writing it all out, you might not even care about it anymore, you may see the situation differently, or you can bring it to your partner in a much more levelheaded way.”
There’s actual science to back this up: According to a 2006 study in which people journaled their deepest thoughts (or even just their daily activities), those who logged their thoughts for three days straight were both much more likely to be with their partners in three months AND saw an increase in positive emotions within their relationship. What’s particularly awesome: To see these effects, only one person in the relationship had to journal—so it’s not like this is something you have to force bae to do with you.
Okay, what if this all sounds nice, but you know yourself and you can barely stick to a gym routine or keep a houseplant alive. How are you supposed to stick to writing in a diary? Rubin (who journals twice a day herself) recommends simply committing to journaling three to five times a week—even if it’s only for just a few minutes a day—and seeing if you feel a difference in a month.
She also suggests writing themed entries, like reflecting on a specific topic (travel! fitness! friendships!) or tracking your progress with a career problem. The best part? When it comes to writing down your thoughts, there’s really no wrong way to do it, so long as you feel compelled to keep it up.
Personally, as someone who’s been journaling for almost two years now, the practice has never felt like it’s taken time away from me. If anything, I wish I had started sooner! I just think of all the aimless fourth dates and nitpicky fights I wouldn’t have had to go through. I could’ve been cozy in my bed, scribbling in my diary with a lit candle and playlist, genuinely enjoying my gd life. 12/10 would recommend to my past self.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.