How to start journaling? We often hear that we should keep a journal, that a regular practice of journaling has many benefits for our mental health and our well-being. We know we should do it. It seems easy enough to get started, it shouldn’t take much of our time, and it doesn’t require expensive or cumbersome equipment. If you’re reading this, you probably already have an interest for journaling. So how come isn’t keeping a diary a more common practice? When people are asked why they don’t keep a journal, the answer is often that they don’t really know how to do it right. So, let’s go over the basics and get you started with journaling!
Understand your motivations for journaling
Starting a new habit is never easy, at first you have to make space in your busy day for it, and you need to be consistent. It takes on average over 60 days for a new habit to stick. Knowing your “Why” will make it much easier for you to dedicate enough time to this new activity on a regular basis.
The answer will not be the same for everyone. Your interest may be in recording the events happening every day during a particular period of your life, or to explore your thoughts and feelings to know yourself better, to organize your tasks to free your mind and be more productive and achieve your goals, to process difficult events and the emotions associated. You may have multiple reasons at the same time for which you think journaling will help you, and your motivations can evolve over time.
If you’re still unclear about what you expect from journaling, exploring your motivations for starting a journaling habit could be the topic of your first writing sessions!
Find the right notebook, the right time, and the right place
Finding the right moment in the day that works best for you will be a big step forward. The two most common times when people journal are in the morning before starting your day, and in the evening before bed. Having a set time makes it easier to include journaling in your daily routine, that way you’re less likely to forget it or to push it back indefinitely.
It’s not imperative though, and if you manage to write every day without sticking to a schedule, that’s fine. And whether you write in the morning, at night, or during your lunch break is up to you, one is not inherently better than others. The important is that you find a rhythm that works for you and with which you manage to write regularly.
Ideally you would choose a quiet place to write, where you can focus on the task, and you won’t be disturbed. Having a favorite place to write in your journal will help you build visual cues and make it easier to stick with the practice.
Choosing a nice and practical notebook will add to the pleasure of writing. There are applications for journaling and you can also write on your computer, but using a pen and a paper notebook will give you a well appreciated break from screens.
What do I write about?
You’re all set, and ready to start, but now you face a blank page and wonder: what do I write about?
Here are some ideas to get you started: write about your activities of the day, make a list of things you are grateful for, describe the space around you or events happening in your life, investigate your thoughts and how you are feeling, describe what scares you, reflect on your decisions, ask yourself questions and try to answer them.
In the end, what you choose to write about will depend on your objectives and on what you expect to get out of journaling.
How should I write?
Date your entries, it will make it easier to revisit them in the future and observe your thought process over time, or how much you have accomplished without even realizing it. It will also encourage you not to skip a day, although if you do it’s not a big deal, just keep on writing.
Write naturally, don’t censor yourself and don’t worry too much about correct grammar or even with punctuation. You’re writing for yourself, not to be a published author.
If you find it difficult to know what to write about each day, you can give yourself a template to follow, or find a list of journaling prompts that inspire you.
After a couple of minutes, re-read what you wrote, reflect on it, and build on the new thoughts that come to you. Aim for a smart exit at the end of your writing session: draw conclusions from your thoughts or list potential action steps you could follow. It will give you a sense of control over the process.
It is generally better to keep your journal private. If you’re worried someone else will read it, you are likely to censor yourself and this will limit the benefits you’ll get from journaling.
Alternative and fun ways for journaling
Meditate before writing, your mind will be relaxed and alert, it can help you achieve more clarity if you’re trying to process your thoughts and emotions.
Give stream of consciousness journaling a try.
Write on a calendar, what better way to build a regular practice while keeping things short and simple?
Keep a notebook with you during the day and write down your thoughts and ideas as they come, this should help you if creativity is what you’re after.