I'd Never Been Able to Keep a Diary—Then I Started "Snap Journaling"

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Self-care is a term that's infiltrated American culture with gusto over the past few years. The combination of a contentious political climate and increased mental health awareness has inspired folks to try new wellness habits from grown-up coloring to sound bathing. Personally, I'll admit that I'm skeptical of many of the self-care "trends" that have found a place within the saturated wellness marketplace (I don't know how much faith I have in the ability of a skin sticker to cure your anxiety, for example). But I do have a great deal of confidence in a few choice self-care habits, not least of which is daily journaling.

I've heard enough psychologists sing its praises and have spoken to enough habitual diary keepers to feel certain that putting your thoughts and feelings in writing at the end of each day can have major mental health benefits. As social worker Maud Purcell, LCSW, told PsychCentral.com, journaling is a tradition that dates back to at least 10th-century Japan and that some of history's most successful figures, from presidents to writers, have sworn by it. (As Oscar Wilde once said, "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.") According to Purcell, journaling can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, know yourself better, reduce stress, and resolve disagreements with others. There is truly no downside to the practice.

And yet… I have never been able to make a habit out of it. Every time I've caught a bout of inspiration and resolved to start writing in a journal regularly, the routine has lasted about three days. It might be because the last thing I want to do at the end of a day of writing for work is write more, or it might be just because journaling with a pen and paper feels too formal and awkward. Either way, I've never been able to stick with it.

A few months ago, however, I met a Los Angeles–based software engineer named Matt Schwarz, who helped launch an app this past March aimed at turning millennial non-journalers like me onto keeping a diary once and for all. The free app is called Maslo, and it features a delightfully simple AI robot—a "digital companion," it's called—that invites users to record voice journal entries up to 60 seconds in length at a time. The app listens to whatever you had to share, and about a minute later, it spits out a word cloud based on your entry, displaying linguistic patterns that reflect where your feelings were in the moment, as well as an emoji representing its interpretation of your emotional state.

You can record whatever you like, from long, aimless rants to small observations—no entry is too minimal. If you get stuck on what to talk about, you can even choose to answer some of Maslo's preset prompts such as "What type of pizza would you be?" and "Tell me about the things that slow you down." Schwarz has labeled the practice "snap journaling," and though it's not as traditional as a pen and paper, that's what I love most about it: It makes journaling as quick and accessible as every other technology-focused activity in my life but offers the same sort of venue for self-reflection and emotional management.