How to Journal

journaling in bed

Do you keep a journal? A written collection of your thoughts and ideas? Journaling is something I’m asked about a lot, and it’s been one of my daily rituals for years. As an introvert, getting my thoughts out on paper comes much more easily than speaking them out loud. This form of expression also gives me a chance to read back and consider the significance of what I’ve written before making important decisions.

That’s what makes it such a valuable self-care practice.

But while talking with a member of the Lifestyle Design Studio recently, I realized that journaling doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Some people struggle with the writing process itself, while others are hesitant to document their innermost thoughts for fear that someone else might read them.

And that’s what prompted me to write this blog.

Health Benefits of Journaling

Journaling has been associated with many health benefits, including reduced symptoms of depression, enhanced immune function, and better problem-solving.

Being able to express your thoughts, fears, and emotions freely can help you get to the heart of what’s really going on, and make more grounded decisions. Journaling also helps reduce rumination, the unhealthy practice of replaying painful events over and over again in your mind. Using the pages of your journal to “dump” negative emotional energy helps diffuse its intensity.

Another benefit of jouraling is that it helps you identify patterns. When you write frequently about a particular person, situation or worry, it’s a clue that you may need to investigate the matter a bit further. As those themes become clearer, you’ll have a better idea where to invest your energy to optimize your self-care strategies.

Journaling Styles

The great thing about journaling is that there isn’t a wrong way to do it. However you choose to get your thoughts out of your head is up to you. But if you’ve been hesitant to get started because you just don’t know where or how to begin, here are a few methods you may want to experiment with:

Freestyling

This kind of narrative writing is open-ended, which means there’s no real structure involved. Freestyling is simply writing about anything that’s on your mind without having to worry that your high school English teacher will have a conniption fit. You can jump from topic to topic, use run on sentences, make spelling errors, ignore proper grammar, and write illegibly. There are no rules.

List-Making

If you struggle to come up with something to write about, list-making is a great way to get started with journaling. Here are a few list ideas:

  • Things to do
  • Things you’re grateful for
  • Things you’re good at
  • Things other people compliment you on
  • Places on your bucket list
  • Things to get rid of (or the reverse: things you want to keep)
  • Things you love
  • Activities you enjoy doing
  • Places you feel your best
  • People you feel your best around
  • Things you would do if you had unlimited resources

Writing Prompts

Prompts give direction and focus to your writing. Generally, they come in the form of questions or fill-in-the-blank exercises that help you explore the various dimensions of your life. Here are a few examples of prompts:

  • What do you want to learn?
  • What do you really want?
  • What do you want to come of this situation?
  • Who do you most admire and why?
  • What was your biggest win this week?
  • What scares you?

Making Art

There are many forms of emotional expression, and journals don’t have to be filled in with just words. Consider other mediums, like sketching, drawing, painting, or doodling. Bullet journals are a great way to get started with this. You could also make a scrapbook of photos or mementos and use them as writing inspiration.

Types of Journals

Just as there are many styles of journaling, there are also many types of journals available. Here are some examples:

Notebooks

Journals don’t have to be fancy. You could use a spiral notebook or 3-ring binder, or some pieces of scrap paper tucked inside a folder. My favorite journals* are super thin notebooks from the Rifle Paper Company because they slip right inside my Self-Care Planner, making them easy to carry with me wherever I go.

Gratitude Journals

Gratitude journals* are specifically designed to help you focus on what’s good in your life. From people to experiences to possessions, these journals will lift your spirits even when life feels heavy.

Log Journals

It’s fun to look back on your life and see how far you’ve come. The Happiness Journal* is one example of a log journal, which is a collection of your life events and experiences. My grandmother used simple calendars to jot down where she was and what she was doing on any given day. Then, every evening she’d look back one month and one year to remember those experiences. A word of caution though: re-reading memories can stir up both positive AND negative emotions.

Letters

If the focus of your journaling is to work through something that involves other people, it may be helpful to write letters to those people. In most cases, you’ll probably never actually send those letters. (I’ve burned many of mine—both to ensure they would never be read by anyone, and also as a cleansing exercise to remove the negative charge of the words I wrote.) You may want to consider working with a therapist to help unravel all the things that come up during your writing process.

Online Journals

I’ve never personally used an online journal (with the exception of keeping a running shopping list), but if you prefer to store your thoughts in digital format, it might be worth taking a peek at some options.

Where to Keep Your Journal

I typically carry my journal with me because I never know when an idea or thought will pop into my head, and I like being able to jot down a few lines here and there if I’m waiting longer than expected for an appointment. But if you’re worried that someone might find and read your journal, here are a few hiding places you might want to store it:

  • Behind some dusty books on a bookshelf
  • Gym bag
  • A diary or journal with a lock
  • Password-protected app
  • Small, lockable fire safe*
  • Laundry room (who would think to look there, right?!)
  • Your car
  • A flash drive that you carry with you

Journaling Tips

Be Consistent. Set aside time each day to write in your journal, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. You may also want to set aside time to read back previous entries. I like to schedule a few days at the end of the year to read back over my journals and reflect on the year.

Be clear about your purpose. Know why you are journaling and what you hope to gain from it. Is it to download your thoughts and get them out of your head? Is it to brainstorm possible solutions to a challenge? Is it to help untangle an event or situation before having a difficult conversation? Is it to express your gratitude and lift your spirits when life feels overwhelming?

Be honest. Be open and honest about your feelings and do your best to write without judging what you’ve written. Trust your truth.

Be in love with your journal. Finding the right journal is personal. I absolutely LOVE the feeling of cracking open a new journal. There’s just something magical about the fresh start that comes with blank pages. That’s why I prefer smaller journals with fewer pages…so I get to start a new one every few weeks.

Is journaling part of your daily ritual? If not, try out some different types of journaling and consider adding it to your daily self-care practice.

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