Mom Brain is Real — 5 ways a journal can help you survive it

Does having children make you more forgetful? Do you find things harder to process?

Have you ever felt a sense of overwhelm from things you previously navigated with ease?

If so, you wouldn’t be the first to blame it on “mom brain.”

And while that’s an excuse over which your mom friends will share an empathetic laugh, would it freak you out to learn that “mom brain” is real?

There is evidence for the neuroscience behind this, but there are also other more practical reasons. Forget that you are exhausted — ALL THE TIME. The sheer volume of information you have to keep track of once you have kids is daunting.

Because being a mom can be a logistical nightmare:

If you’ve said the phrase “mom brain” in the past month, here’s some good news: starting a journaling practice can really, really help.

Here are 5 ways a journal can help you survive:

A journal gets things out of your head and in front of your eyes.

Ninety percent of the information that goes to our brains is visual. In fact, large amounts of brain real estate is uniquely tailored to process visual information.

The moment you take what is overwhelming you and get it onto paper, you shift from sorting things in your head (without visuals) to working with the problem visually. You’ve probably done this already by making a list or scribbling down a quick action plan to get everyone on the same page. That thing is that writing things down with intention as a regular practice gives you a better sense of control in your life.

Having a single place where you can explore all your thoughts — and then look at them — allows you to prioritize. After all, there is no way you can do all the things that every human who depends on you wants you to do in only 24 hours. Once everything is out of your head and in front of your eyes, you can see the landscape of the tasks before you and make smart decisions. You can decide what you are (and what you are not) going to get to by crossing things off or by starring the key things for the day.

Writing things down also helps you see correlations. Drawing arrows between things that are connected will help you grasp the efficiency of combining them.

Do this daily, and you will get back a radical sense of control — because you are deciding what you will do, rather than just reacting to what is asked of you.

Sticky notes are not your friend.

I used to be the queen of the sticky notes. The great thing about sticky notes is that they are fast to grab, and you can post them at eye level, so you’ll notice them.

The problem is that they also can go invisible — because you see them all the time.

Moms have to make split decisions all the time about what is urgent and what is not. Most of the time, sticky notes “can wait” and so they just “disappear” — especially if you use a lot of them.

Using a journal — over time — creates a place your mind trusts because you are keeping everything in one place. Every time you see the contents, you will be in a frame of mind to process information. Whatever you’ve written or drawn can’t become invisible — because when you open the journal, you are there to work with the content.

There is a great story in Ryder Carroll’s book, The Bullet Journal Method, about a mom who kept her son’s medical history in the back of her journal — a journal she carried with her everywhere. One day, when volunteering at her son’s school, he had a seizure. When the paramedics came, she ripped the pages out and handed them to the EMT. It contained medications and important history. History which helped save her son’s life.

You may never need your journal to save your child’s life, but there is a lot of mental peace in having information on paper, so you don’t have to rely on recall in emergencies.

You are project planning all the time (whether you think about that way or not).

Moms are project managers. Depending on your personal family dynamics, you are often responsible for the planning and execution of everything from birthday parties to daily meals. And if you have a career outside your home (or run your own business within it), your projects include your day job as well.

Journals are a wonderful asset when it comes to project planning. Keeping task lists, flow charts, inventory lists, schedules, and contacts in a single place can help you see and arrange what needs to be done. It prevents you from becoming overwhelmed with the details, and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you chart your progress.

Using your journal for project management helps you quantify your workload, and plan out when things need to get done.

(For more on this, minimal.plan has a great article on using your journal for project management, leveraging a Kanban board.)

Moms who forget their dreams lose part of themselves.

No matter how much you love your family, a lot of the mom “job description” requires putting other people’s needs above your own. The problem is that a lifetime of that can make you incredibly unhappy. (We all probably know of at least one mom who has left their family “to find themselves.”)

A journal can keep you from losing yourself in the first place.

Living in a world of demands is survivable when you keep focus on the unique and precious things that make you…well, you. It matters that we don’t lose our sense of self. That we write down our thoughts, remember what we want, and take some time to dream on paper.

Vision boards are popular because they work. I’m not talking about the kind of vision boards where you paste a photo of the yacht you want (though if that’s your dream, go for it). I’m talking about the kind that remind you of your talents and how you want to grow. The ones that capture where you want to be in 5 years (which probably includes your family all around you.)

Having a couple of pages in your journal to write down the heart of what you want and referring to it regularly) can shape the way you make decisions. After all, moms make hundreds of decisions in real time each day. Having a clear vision of where you want to be refines what you say yes to — and what you say no to.

You can’t do everything. (Even though I’m pretty sure you are actually super-mom.)

A journal keeps you from asking: “What did I do today?”

When you spend all day solving problems in real-time, you can go to bed feeling like you were busy, but got nothing done.

It’s discouraging.

Taking a few moments before bed to recall and capture the moments that mattered to you helps you notice the meaning in your days. This isn’t a checklist of accomplishments; this is about noticing the things that stand out to you when you start to reflect.

The practice itself should be simple and quick: a few notes; whatever jumps into your head when you sit down with your journal.

But here’s the truth: follow this practice of daily reflection long enough and major themes will start to appear. This practice can reveal to you what you most enjoy — or what you are avoiding. It can help you uncover how you feel, and what has (or hasn’t) significance.

With this information, you will gain more agency over your life. Personal reflection can help you deal with things as they are and make wise choices going forward.

A journaling practice can shift you from “mom brain” back to “your brain.”

Imagine what it will be like being able to defeat that sense of “overwhelm,” just by sitting down with a pen and a journal for short time each day.

To get the free How to Journal ebook, click here.

Suddenly everything from practice schedules, shoe sizes, birthday parties, to the amount of milk you have in your fridge will become a non-issue because it’s all being tracked in the one place you go every day.

The emotional drain of “MOMMY, MOMMY, MOMMY” will regain its proper perspective in the bigger context of your life.

And most of all, you will rediscover that beautiful sense of control that comes with getting things out of your head, as you “think” on paper.

So the next time you are hanging out with your friends and one of them complains about mom-brain, just smile to yourself.

You’ve got this covered.

Want tips on how to journal? Get the free How to Journal ebook with 28 ways to journal and hundreds of resources so you can find the method that is right for you.

Deeply curious on why and how people engage together. Visual journal enthusiast. Get her QuickStart Guide to Visual Journaling:

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