If you're in quarantine and the weather is getting colder and your opportunities to see real-life people are quickly dwindling why not try journaling?
Journaling is a free way to act as if you are talking to a friend when really it's just you; by yourself; all alone. All jokes aside, journaling has helped me so much throughout my life and especially during this weird and unprecedented year.
While there is no wrong way to journal, there were definitely mistakes that I made in the beginning that prevented me from developing a good journaling habit. But once I fixed those mistakes, I really got going and I have since filled up an entire big box of journals.
So, today, we are going to discuss how to start journaling.
How to Begin Journaling ( And What to Write About )
I've discussed my tips and techniques in some small steps. They must not to be followed chronologically, but if you do, it will add an extra benefit, I believe. So, let's right get into the topic!
1. Train Your Brain with Consistency
If you currently don't have a journaling practice at all, I would start with something super super simple. You just want to build that habit.
So, step one: obtain a notebook.
Step two: write a notebook regularly.
For the best chances at success, try to do this at the same time each day. So after you wake up in the morning, or before you go to bed, both work really well because then journaling is just less likely to get pushed aside by the rest of the day's busyness.
Do whatever it takes to remind yourself. So you can set a reminder on your phone; you can leave your notebook on your bedside table so that you can journal as soon as you wake up.
Once you've established the habit and you've learned to really enjoy journaling, then you might not need as much structure because you'll find yourself just kind of naturally drifting over to your journal. But it does really help in the beginning.
2. Pick a Nice Notebook
Speaking of notebooks, I think a nice notebook really helps. It doesn't have to be expensive- just something that you wouldn't normally use for school or for work. That way you get a little bit of enjoyment and you feel expensive whenever you sit down with your journal and your brain will start to connect that particular special notebook with the habit of journaling. So whenever you see it, your brain will think- time to journal.
Now, it's up to you whether you want to bring your journal along with you. If you want to journal on the go, it depends on what you write in there.
So personally I would not feel comfortable bringing my journal out of my house. However, if it is more of just like a daily log and there's nothing super private or sensitive in there, then you might enjoy having it with you throughout the day so that you can write whenever the mood strikes. Or, you can keep it in a safe under lock and key if you have like state secrets in there.
3. Start With Low Expectations
Another thing I would recommend when you're just starting out is to start small and have low expectations.
When you're developing some sort of a new habit it can help to stop yourself before you feel like you're done.
So what I mean by that is for example, when you start meditating maybe you feel like you could meditate for five minutes but stop yourself at three minutes so that you're kind of left wanting for more. You know you don't completely use up all of that initial enthusiasm and you save some of it up for the next day.
So similarly, if you've just started a journaling habit, try to stop before you feel like you've gotten all of your thoughts out.
This might feel kind of counter-intuitive but that way you'll have a loose thread to pick back up on the next time that you journal. And you'll feel more excited to start writing the next day because you didn't quite finish the day before.
Don’t Force Yourself to Write Everything
You also don't need to record everything in your journal. So my biggest stumbling block when I tried to start journaling when I was younger. What I tried that to write a minute by minute narration of all of my daily actions and feelings. It just started to feel like a chore.
And eventually, I started to hate it so much because I felt like if I missed anything I was failing at journaling somehow. I was just losing all of these memories that actually were super boring, anyway.
So what I’ve learned now after many years of journaling is that if you don't feel like writing about an event, don't.
There are probably big events that I’ve hardly written about in my journals because I just didn't feel like writing about them and that's okay.
When I didn't feel the need to relive them or to process them and I simply didn't write about them because I didn't force myself to do that. Therefore, I only wrote what I actually wanted to write about.
And I was able to make journaling a habit.
4. Don’t Worry If It’s Not Deep or Insightful
I feel like another common thing that trips people up when they first start journaling is that they feel like they're doing it wrong, if they're not writing super deep insightful (like, straight from the soul emotional raw) passages.
You're not writing a book here. No one's going to quote your journal. This is purely just for you. I think journaling is kind of a muscle just like meditation, so the more you do it the better at it you become.
But also in meditation, the goal isn't really to attain a perfectly clear mind likewise it's not the goal with journaling to always be writing really insightful stuff.
It's the process that matters. So in the beginning, if you're just starting out, try just writing a couple of sentences about what you did that day. It is just to build that habit and to become more aware of what you're doing and what your thoughts are.
And then deeper more introspective writing will come naturally if you give yourself the time and you give yourself the practice. So then after you've laid the foundations of the habit.
5. Add Structure with Lists or Daily Questions
Let's move on to extra credit advanced options for you overachievers out there. This really isn't that advanced but i think another fun thing to do in your journaling is to add some structure to it.
So personally in my journal, I like to make a lot of lists. I'll tell you about my lists and then you can tailor them to your preferences.
So in the morning, I like to write down three things that I'm excited for that day. Today, I was excited to write this article and put together some beautiful content for my blog, listen to a podcast during breakfast, and go to a seminar with my friend in the evening and then when I’m journaling before bed I write down three things that I accomplished that day.
Three wins, for example, yesterday, I wrote that I went on an outdoor run in the rain. I took care of an accounting spreadsheet that was a big hairy task that I was putting off for a long time and I ate healthfully.
Finally, I make a list of three things I was grateful for yesterday. My new kindle arrived. I had some exciting opportunities in my email and a friend sent me a funny meme.
So as you can see, even if yesterday was stressful in some ways and it was by focusing on all of the good things that happen. I’m almost like editing the snapshot of the day that I have in my brain to be a positive one and I just think it's a really nice way to start the day and end the day.
You can also have some sort of a daily question that you answer based on whatever it is that you're working on in your life at the moment.
So for me this month I was focusing on feeling better and working on my mental health and trying to achieve that by making small good decisions that gave me momentum but also didn't make me feel overwhelmed.
So I already put away my journal but I forgot I need to do this part each morning. I have been writing what are three good decisions that I can make today.
And then before I go to bed I review that list and I check off everything that I actually did so today. This morning I wrote I can wash the dishes and start the laundry, meditate after lunch and work on reading our book club book.
So maybe you decide to do a self-care-focused month and every morning you write what is something that you can do for yourself.
Today maybe you want to focus on some specific relationship in your life. So you start each day by writing what is one thing you can do today to improve your relationship with this person. Perhaps, you can send them an encouraging message, make a meal for them, and schedule a call with them.
6. Use Separate Journals
You might find it helpful to separate a daily journal from more of like a deep-thinking journal.
So I did this because I have my daily journal for mornings and evenings and my daily questions. And the journal is quite frankly filled with lots of repetitive mundane rambling because that's just what my everyday life is like.
Okay, so I wanted to create a separate special journal that is for special journaling occasions only. I started this after a couple of therapy sessions and I decided that I wanted a dedicated place where I could write more in-depth about the stuff that I discussed with my therapist.
I also think a journal like mine could be a good place to write in, if you have some big decision to make. I don't have any to make at the moment but I could do that.
So just like how we talked about a fancy notebook can encourage you to sit down and journal. I think that if you have a separate notebook for those deeper thoughts then it can inspire you to think deeper when you're writing in it.
7. Write Letters to Yourself or Others
Something else you can do is write letters in your journal. This is definitely a bit more time-intensive but it can reveal some very interesting insights and make you more empathetic and understanding.
You can write a letter to your past self like how can you view your past differently now that you have more knowledge and more self-awareness.
Moreover, you can write a letter to your future self and write about what you plan to accomplish by the time. You get there you can even write a letter to someone you know and you never have to send it. Maybe it's a letter of appreciation or maybe it's a letter of anger that helps you to release some pent-up feelings and understand the situation better. I all tried to mean, it is whatever you need to get off your chest.
8. Make a Journaling Jar
Finally, a fun thing to do that I did recently is to make a journaling jar.
You can find so many journaling proms out there and I think it's really good to collect ones that you especially like all in one place for the times when you're needing inspiration.
So I had been collecting some journaling ideas in a document and I thought making a journaling jar out of it would be a fun way to make it kind of more tangible.
I also think it pushes you to write more about different topics because if you just like scan a list of prompts you'll probably drift to ones that feel kind of safe and comfortable to you whereas if you draw one at random it's a little more spontaneous and maybe a little bit more of a challenge.
So I hope these tips helped you. I also think aside from checking in with yourself on a daily basis and clearing your thoughts having this sort of sustained conversation with yourself can be really helpful in focusing your overall life efforts.
However, when you're just starting out you don't have to think super long term big picture like that. Just focus on developing that habit and see where it takes you.
If you do have any further question on how to start journaling and being consistent on it, you can read how to journal daily.