photo courtesy of toa heftiba via unsplash

I’ve been journaling for most of my life. I was around eight or nine when I first picked up the habit. I don’t remember what prompted me to start back then, but I do know that it quickly became clear that writing down my thoughts was often much better than holding onto them (especially when those thoughts turned to the angsty teenage variety).

I made my way through numerous types of journals. I had a password journal for a time (remember those?), moved onto livejournal (apparently it’s still a thing!) when the internet began to entice me, and there was a period of time when I would type up my journal entries in in individual files on my computer and keep them on a floppy disk (revealing my age here).  Of course, regular notebooks are my favorite and have been the most lasting journal form. Many of them have stuck with me to this day, currently hidden in my closet and pulled out occasionally when I’m feeling nostalgic or wanting to see some evidence of growth.

Journaling has always made me feel better, and that’s why I do it. I consider it one of my “meds” for helping me cope with what’s going on around me and for getting me out of my head, particularly during the times when I find that I’m the one getting in my way. I haven’t always been super consistent with my journaling, but over the past two years I’ve tried to work toward a little more consistency and have found that as I do this, my mental health also seems to improve.

I am a writer, so perhaps journaling has seemed a more of a natural outlet for me than others, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to become someone who journals if you’re not someone who particularly enjoys writing. I won’t say I’ve got journaling down to a daily practice, but over the years I’ve figured out just how to get more serious and disciplined about it. And I want to share that with you. This post will be the first installation of a series of posts about journaling and is intended to help get you started or pick up the habit once again. 🙂

Here are my tips for getting into journaling if you’re someone who wants to journal, perhaps not every day, but daily…ish.

The “Why”

I like to recommend this step for so many new practices because when you know why you want to do something and internalize that reason, it’s much easier to jump back on the habit if you fall off (which we often do when starting new things anyway). So start here. Ask yourself why you want to journal.

Are you hoping to journal for healing, to learn how to cope with trauma? Do you just want to keep a record of your days? Are you hoping journaling will help with idea generation and creativity? Do you want write down your dreams, things you’re grateful for, your successes? It could be one of these, a few of them, all of these or none of them. Whatever it is, find the reason that resonates with you the most.

For me personally, committing to journaling was a way to help me deal with my “mind scribbles.” To say I have an overactive mind is an understatement, and all of the things going on in it at any one time can exhaust and overwhelm me. Journaling helped (and continues to help) me get through all of the noise, suss out the unimportant parts and focus on the core of my thoughts.

The “When”

The next thing to explore is when the best time for you to journal is. I think that a lot of people have this idea that journaling is something you do before bed. And it can be… But if you’re the type to hop into bed and immediately knock out for the night, maybe nighttime journaling isn’t right for you and that’s okay.

I tend to mix it up with my own journaling. Sometimes if I’m awake enough and willing to take the time to journal to unwind I’ll do it before bed. Sometimes I’ll go to it first thing in the morning, especially if I know I won’t be able to concentrate on anything throughout the day before I write. Sometimes, especially if I’m on a trip or something and have some downtime in the middle of the day, I’ll journal in the afternoon. All experiences are different and give me a variety of types of entries.

If you’re just starting out, it’s worth trying to journal at several different times to see what works best for you. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s simply useful to know when you can expect to feel most motivated to journal, especially if you plan on making it a regular practice.

The “How”

The most important thing to know when journaling is that it can look any way you want it to. You don’t have to fit yourself into a box because there’s no right or wrong way to journal. It’s a tool for you, so use it in a way that gives you the benefits. That said, if that blank page feels intimidating to you, there are a few different ways you can approach journaling that might help you figure out what your preferred method is (and I recommend trying them all at least once just to give you an idea of what suits you).

Free-Write: This is exactly what it sounds like it is. Don’t think too hard about what you’re going to write, just let the words flow and write whatever comes to mind. If you’re someone who feels uninspired by prompts and too boxed in with structured writing, the free-writing style of journaling may appeal to you.

Prompt: If you want to take more of a structured approach to your journaling or need a jumping off point, a prompt can help. Remember that even if your answer doesn’t end up being what you thought it might be, there’s nothing wrong with that. Let your words and experiences take you where they will.

Morning Pages: These are similar to a free-write, but a little different in that you do them all in the morning. They’re three pages of stream of consciousness writing aimed at helping you release yourself from any thoughts they may block your creativity throughout the day. Julia Cameron popularized this method and talks about it in her book “The Artist’s Way” which is a worthy read for anyone seeking more creativity in their life.

Reflections: Write about observations you’ve made lately, things you’ve uncovered, discoveries about yourself and your world. Reflect on experiences and ideas you had years ago and how they brought you to where you are now.

Details of the Day: Write about your day and what happened throughout it. What things do you want to remember? How did you feel about what happened? Is there anything you wish had gone differently?

Lists: This is one of my favorites methods when I want to journal but am feeling too uninspired to string together actual sentences. I make lists of things that make me happy, places I want to go, things I want to do, what’s not working lately, what is, etc.

Gratitude: What are you grateful for? What successes have you seen lately? This is a great method if you want to cultivate a more positive or optimistic outlook on life, or need a pick me up.

These are just a few places you can start, and they are by no means a complete list of the types of things you can journal about. But hopefully by exploring some of these you’ll find a style of journaling that will appeal to you and that you can use to help you return to your journal again and again.

Do you journal? Are you new to the practice or have you done it before? What helps you stay consistent with it?