First thing is first — you are here because you are not already an active journal writer. If you were, you would not need to know how to get it working for you. If you already journal, you already know the power behind this simple act.
Journaling is a form of reflective writing that enables the writer to gain mental and emotional clarity, validate experiences and come to a deeper understanding of themselves. Journal entries focus on the writer’s internal experiences, thoughts and feelings. Logging these parts of your life can help you work through difficult times and access parts of yourself you might not even have known were there.
ournaling can feel therapeutic or relaxing, it can feel exciting or invigorating. Writing in a journal regularly can enhance your vocabulary and step up your social game. It can reduce anxiety and rumination, as well as open your mind to new ideas and possibilities. Keeping a journal is considered part of self-care.
A journal entry can come in many forms. It isn’t just the standard dear-diary stuff. Journals can be reflective thoughts, they can be a recounting of the day/week/vacation/experience. They can also be lists of items or thoughts. A journal posting could be a letter you never sent, either to someone else or even yourself (ie. “a letter to my younger self”). You can use your journal to test out what you might want to say or do in any given situation, planning ahead or rewriting your own history to what you would’ve rather done/said. A record, reminder, or reminiscence of particular moments that stood out for whatever reason and you just wanted to capture them like a snapshot, but with more than just the visual.
Journaling can happen in a quiet room, where you hear nothing but your thoughts and the pen on paper/fingers on keyboard as you capture your ideas. Or, a journal can be written in while in a loud, boisterous public space and used as a way to find calm — to cancel out the noise and static, and bring thoughts into focus.
Now that you know the WHAT and the WHY of journaling, and you’re sold on the idea itself, lets dive into 5 steps to activate journaling in your life:
1) Medium: You need to start by picking a journal! This seems a little on the nose since we’ve been talking about journaling for a hot minute already. But it’s quite an important step. Will you journal digitally, and if so, will it be public or private? Will you journal physically in a book? Do you want a lined, graphed, dotted or blank book? Do you need a book that lays flat when you write in it, like a spiral-backed notebook, or do you need something with more heft, like a leather-bound journal? If you’re going to journal successfully, the best thing to do to find the physical journal that works for you is to head out to a local book store that carries many options of journaling books.
Flip through them, take a few with you to a table and see what it would be like to write across a page. If yours doesn’t lay flat, will you be able to handle the inside of the backs of pages? Do you want a journal with prompts or suggestions, or partitions of headings or other guides? Or do you just want a book of empty pages. Make an outing of it, grab a coffee and enjoy the aesthetics of choosing the right option for you!
2) Mechanism: WHATEVER WILL YOU WRITE WITH! If you chose to go digital, this is pretty simple. You’re either going to type or speech-to-text your journaling, and that’s pretty simple. You could take this time to sort out the best place to journal, like in a text editor saved to your computer, or an online website that stores it for you, or any other options. But if you’re going to physically write in your journal you’ll need to know if you want it in pencil, so you can erase and correct, or in pen so you just get what you get! And do you need a ballpoint pen, or a felt-tip pen or something else entirely. You’ll again want to practice, likely with what you have on hand, or go out and buy yourself some reasonably priced testing writing utensils. This might seem like overkill, but if you want successful adoption of a new habit, setting yourself up to triumph can’t be overlooked.
3) Method: Ah yes, a method to the madness, now we’re getting somewhere! HOW will you journal. There are lots of different styles, as mentioned in the intro up there. Someone once shared their method as stream of consciousness on the front of every page, and spilling onto the next page but skipping the backs of every page, because they’d come back and write short poems or famous quotes on the backs for later consumption. So, will you write letters or stories or dialogues or just a lot of mental drainage. Will you keep lists or quotes or describe perfect moments in all their detail? The most common choice here is — yes. Yes to all of the above. There’s no right way to journal, no preferred method. There simply is journaling and journaling often!
4) Mode: So there lies the question, how often will you journal? Is this a gratitude journal you’ll keep beside your bed for night-time lists of gratitude? Is this a dream journal you’ll snag bleary-eyed in the morning to scratch out the details of your slumber movies? Will you choose a weekly schedule where you journal every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 5pm because that’s when you have time. Will you journal only after each therapy session, to give yourself more clarity on what you’d just discussed. Or will you carry your journal in your purse/bag/backpack so that you can journal at any given moment, when you’re least expecting it but most desiring it, when you see something that sparks your interest and there’s no one around to share it with except your trusty notebook! These are all valid methods of journaling. Some people do all of them, some people do a few of them, most people usually steer toward one or two that work really well for you. There’s no wrong way to journal, either!
5) Modus Operandi: This step is a culmination of all four previous steps. Yup, you take one through four and you put them all together and that’s how easy it is to become a journal writer. This is your M.O. now. The more you journal the more benefits you’ll find from it. Journaling releases happy chemicals in your brain, turning down the stress hormones and making it easier for you to relax. Over time, journaling regularly will even increase your memory and ability for recall. Habits take time to form, if you’ve never ever journaled before, or haven’t tried since grade school, you probably need to give yourself a couple months of trial and error. Maybe you start with a fancy, heavy, leather-bound book and a liquidous calligraphy-like pen, and you’re carrying this around with you everywhere and never quite able to find enough time to extricate it all from your bag at the right moment and it’s cumbersome and did we mention heavy and gosh this just won’t work! Okay, switch it up! Try only journaling at home, try maybe writing one page, or one paragraph or one sentence or one WORD right before you sleep, and work up from there. Journaling should (eventually!) feel good.
And there it is — all laid out before you. Start at step one, get yourself a book to journal in, then a writing implement, and figure out what kind of journaling you want to do, how often and where… and give it a shot. If this feels overwhelming then by all means, please reach out and I’ll help you every step of the way. Everyone deserves to benefit from a regular journaling practice!