Many people struggle to keep a journal, even when it’s something they want to. Some might feel pretentious when they try to write, some think it's too time-consuming and others have no idea where to start. Journaling has been an integral part of my life for many years. Over time, I’ve experienced an undeniable improvement in the quality of my life and have acquired a lot of knowledge about the practice. If you would like to embark on a journey of journaling, continue reading for some tips on getting started.
Journaling has been a daily practice for me since I was 13. I had a little notebook that I called my “Book of Everything”. From school-related notes to daydreams, almost everything I thought of was scribbled down in that little book. At the time, I didn’t realise that I was journaling, as there was little order or structure in the way I used my notebook, but it was the perfect system for me. Initially, the practice was a coping mechanism- something that allowed me to unravel and process the jumbles of thoughts, fears and ideas that existed in my head.
As I became exposed to more knowledge, I encountered a side of journaling that went beyond just helping me cope. It was something that helped me grow as a person, get in touch with my intuition, document my spiritual journey, deal with pain and improve my wellbeing. Today my journaling practice serves as an ever-growing archive of my history of healing, learning and unlearning, and growth. This is the side of journaling that I'll share today. There isn’t a cookie-cutter “right” way of doing it, but these suggestions will start you off on a practice you can make your own.
Make it a habit
Like with anything else, you will only really experience the results of journaling if you make it a regular habit. The easiest way to do this is having a daily set time for journaling. I would suggest either morning or night (or both). This way, you’ll come to feel that journaling has an actual place in your daily routine instead of it being something that you just do sporadically that is easily forgotten. Having a set time doesn’t mean you have to limit your journaling to one specific time, rather it will serve as a checkpoint so that you’re sure to journal at least once a day.
My evening journaling sessions are usually lengthier and include ‘stream of consciousness’ or brain splurge entries, describing highlights or lowlights of my day, planning my goals for my next day and prayers. I start my days with a super quick journaling session that has a set purpose: I write down three things I’m grateful for, three priorities for my day and revise my plans from the night before.
Keep your journal with you at all times
Always having my journal near me has been the key to using it regularly. No matter where I find myself in a day, I am usually able to pull my journal out and write. By doing this, you’ll find that in the lulls of the day- when you might usually turn to your phone for distraction-you can instead turn to your journal. This will also make it easier to stay on track with your practice when you’re starting off.
Don’t filter or judge your entries
Part of what deters some people from getting to experience the cathartic benefits of journaling, is that they try to write the ‘right’ thing. It’s easy to think the practice of journaling or keeping a diary is only valid if you write a ‘Dear Diary…’ entry at the end of every day, or that only passionate and profound thought pieces make a ‘real’ journal.
Consider abandoning this preconceived notion as the first thing you will unlearn as you embark on your journey. At some point in my journaling history, I began to try and copy how other people were journaling because it seemed more correct. This made me lose my spark for a while but it also helped me realize how important it was for me to stay true to myself in all things- including journaling. Your journal is for you and you only. There is no need to hold back or restrict what you write. There is also no need to direct your entries, even if you use prompts. Let your mind lead you naturally. This is a key aspect of tuning into your inner self and intuition.
Start with your Now
Where you are in life now is the most relevant place to start with your practice. Don’t worry yourself by trying to rush and document past moments. If there is a need for that, it will happen organically. A good rule of thumb for journaling beginners is to focus on your current reality: What are your thoughts, dreams, fears, experiences now? What is happening in your daily life? What is changing? What do you want to change?
Make it pretty (optional)
Human beings have an incredible capacity to perceive, pursue and take pleasure in beautiful things. I am no exception to this rule. I try to surround myself with beauty as far as possible and this has translated into my journaling practice. I fill some pages with pressed flowers and leaves, others with drawings and magazine clippings. When I’m not in a hurry, I use colour in my entries and different mediums to make the pages look more interesting. I’ve found that this makes me enjoy journaling that much more.
This tip won’t apply to everyone, but I thought I’d share it nonetheless. You’re more likely to continually engage with things you enjoy and adding beauty to your practice will likely keep you coming back for more. For beginners, a good starting point is having a book that you enjoy looking at. Find something that suits your style, whether that is colourful, plain or textured.
Prompts make it easy to have a sense of direction when you write journaling entries. Below are 7 beginner-friendly prompts, most of which I still use as well.
Check in with yourself:
How are you feeling today? What is the state of your mind and body? Is there anything you can do right now to feel more at ease?
Daily and Weekly Reflections:
What have the highlights and lowlights of your day/week been? What made your heart feel full of joy? How can you incorporate more of that into your life?
Have you made any steps towards your goals? Celebrate them as you write them down- what are they? Do you feel aligned with yourself?
Name one beautiful thing you experienced; the changing colours of the sky, a heart-shaped leaf, a dream come true, an afternoon with people you love etc.
Unravel and process something you’re going through:
Is there anything weighing you down mentally, emotionally? Is it an internal or external issue? How do you feel about it? Where or who can you turn to for help if you need it?
Where are you carrying something you should have let go of a long time ago? Where do you need to forgive myself and/or others?
Addressing fear and anxiety:
Is there a fear that is controlling the way you behave? Name it and acknowledge it. Is it a product of your true reality, a figment of your imagination, or a thought planted by an external source? How can you deal with it?
Is there an anxiety that keeps resurfacing? What triggers it? How can you deal with it?
Write a list of things that you are thankful for and meditate on them. Try to make them specific so that you’re not just spouting off a list.
Prayers or Streams of Consciousness:
Write a prayer or stream of consciousness that is honest, raw and unrestricted. Write about whatever’s in your heart with absolute authenticity, resist the urge to hide the parts that you may feel are wrong or make you feel vulnerable. Write continually for 5-10 minutes or as long as you need.
Write a letter to your younger self. If you loved yourself, how would you live this day? Write down self-love affirmations. What’s a loving commitment you can make to yourself today? Who inspires you? What boundaries do you need to set for yourself? What does your perfect day look like?
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to journaling. Over time, you’ll learn what is authentic and suits you versus what feels forced. You can always adapt your practice accordingly along the way. Hopefully, these tips will make the idea of journaling regularly less daunting and will set you off on a journey of self-love, acceptance, gratitude and peace.