Journaling is a simple and very affordable therapy exercise that consists of writing your thoughts, ideas, dreams, wishes, and basically anything that crosses your mind.
It’s one of the most effective forms of therapy I’ve practiced.
This doesn’t mean a journal can replace a therapist or psychologist when you need professional help, but the truth is it can help you know yourself better and understand your feelings, actions, and choices.
I love journaling because it has so many benefits for my mental health, my creativity, my mood, and even my relationships.
Before we dive into the guide, I want to share with you how my journaling journey (ha!) started. Maybe it resonates with you!
How And Why I Started Journaling
I started journaling in June 2019.
When I started, I was in a very dark space in my life and I resorted to journaling as a last resource in a moment of desperation.
But the truth is, I had heard of journaling a long time before that. However, I found the idea of writing on a journal very ridiculous, cheesy, and even childish.
Yet, I was feeling so low in 2019 and I was being so bombarded with journaling (seriously, it was everywhere, maybe it was a sign from the Universe or something), I just had to give it a try.
So I grabbed a blank notebook I had laying around and registered my first entry.
It felt weird and uncomfortable.
The idea of someone finding it and reading it terrified me. Maybe because my mother used to read my journals when I was a teenager, which was traumatic for me at the moment…
Anyways, I started writing and made a little challenge for me to journal for at least 5 minutes a day, for a week.
And wow, I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude, seriously.
Ever since I started journaling, my anxiety levels have dropped significantly because I feel more in tune with my purpose and what I want to do.
Journaling saved my life because it helped me see the nasty parts of me I didn’t like and was ignoring, and it motivated me to take action and start improving.
Journaling taught me a lot of things about myself. Practicing journaling helped me see that I:
- used to be very negative and resentful;
- didn’t see how much value I’m able to offer;
- hadn’t realized how lost and confused I really was when I first started;
- care about what people think about me more than I liked to admit;
- used to feel guilty about almost everything I did and didn’t do;
- didn’t take as much responsibility for myself as I should have;
- and so much more.
So, enough about me.
I told you this story so you know it’s completely normal to feel reluctant to try it and even uncomfortable at first, but once you make it a habit, oh, boy, do things change in your mind and in your life.
So, in this post, I’m going to be honest and share what I’ve learned so far so you can start your journaling journey too.
What Is Journaling?
As I said before, journaling consists of writing your thoughts, ideas, dreams, wishes, and basically anything that crosses your mind.
Don’t get discouraged by stunning bullet journals or art journals you may see on Pinterest or Instagram.
There are many types of journals and in this post, you’ll learn about the written journal. Which is the most simple one!
In this type of journal the first rule you need to know is: there are no rules.
If you’re journaling on paper, know you can make mistakes, misspell words, write grammatically incorrect sentences, strike things out, write crooked lines, put cero effort in your handwriting or put all the effort if you feel like it.
There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but certainly, there are “optimal” ways to do it.
That means, ways in which you squeeze all those journaling sessions so you make the most out of the exercise.
And that’s what my pro tips are all about: teaching you how to turn your journaling into a fantastic exercise you’ll actually want to do every day.
What are the benefits of journaling?
Since journaling consists of writing your thoughts, it means you’re literally getting your thoughts out of your head and into something physical.
Once you’ve done that, it’s easier to see through everything that comes to your mind, which, in turn, makes it easier for you to organize your thoughts and feelings.
Just like it’s beneficial for your health to organize your space, imagine the benefits of being able to organize what’s inside your head.
[bctt tweet=”Just like it’s beneficial for your health to organize your space, imagine the benefits of being able to organize what’s inside your head.” username=”aimlief”]
- improve your mental health;
- keep you grounded;
- help you know yourself;
- help you improve your relationships with others because it makes you see where you can improve in that area;
- help you uncover your passions and merge your skills in unique ways;
- is an excellent tool for soul-searching;
- help you understand yourself and your motives;
- help you spot behavior patterns;
- help you practice and cultivate gratitude on a daily basis;
- make you feel happier;
- help free up space in your mind so you can focus on the things that really matter.
More posts you’ll love:
- Benefits of journaling: 13 reasons why you need to start journaling right now
- 16 Easy & Smart Ways To Improve Your Daily Life Massively
Possible Reasons Why You’ll Want To Start Journaling
Maybe you’ll want to start journaling because you:
- feel lost and don’t know how to find your way,
- don’t like your life and don’t know exactly why,
- know what your dreams are, but don’t know how to get there,
- don’t like your life, know exactly why but don’t know where to start,
- feel satisfied and happy and want to acknowledge how well things are going,
- don’t know what your biggest dreams and aspirations are,
- know you’re capable of greatness, but don’t know what exactly you want to achieve,
- don’t feel satisfied nor happy with what you’re doing.
There are many other reasons!
Now that you know all the benefits of journaling and all the possible reasons why you may want to start, think:
Why do I want to start journaling?
It’s important that you identify your reason because, as with practically everything else in life, remembering why you started in the first place is what gets you through when you don’t feel like doing it.
[bctt tweet=”Remembering why you started in the first place is what gets you through when you don’t feel like doing it.” username=”aimlief”]
Supplies You’ll Need
When it comes to journaling, you can write on a napkin if you want.
There are no rules, remember?
However, I highly recommend you get a notebook or journal specifically to do your journaling sessions if you want to journal on paper instead of using journaling apps.
That way you’ll treasure your sessions even more. Besides, having the right supplies can help you feel inspired.
Because sure, you can write in any paper and with any pen, but there’s nothing like letting your thoughts flow through a comfortable pen that slides on a smooth paper.
Plus, you’ll want to keep your entries in a single place so you can review them later.
When I started journaling I went with pen and paper right away because I didn’t like jotting down things on note-taking apps. However, I recently discovered there are apps specifically for journaling and I’ve been enjoying those A LOT!
I’m trying them all and I’ll write a post with my favorite ones later 🙂
While we’re at it, here are the supplies you need if you want to journal in a physical journal instead of an app.
The Perfect Pen
You need pens that slide smoothly through the page like they kiss the paper.
Having pens that write like this is perfect for journaling because you can write almost at the same speed in which you’re thinking, which, of course, is key to capture everything that comes to your mind.
Now, let’s talk about journals.
If you like to use fancy stuff, you can totally get a fancy journal made of beautiful materials and thick paper, like Moleskine’s.
Yes, some of them are a little bit expensive, but you can find affordable models too if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on journals.
However, Moleskine isn’t the only option.
There are so many cute journals with soft or hard cover, with and without an elastic, with a wide range of paper quality and in many different, beautiful colors.
They’re “cheap” but also of great quality and they look gorgeous!
There are guided journals out there that people swear by.
They’re basically journals that come with prompts you can use to dig deeper when you’re writing.
I personally haven’t used those because I find it more practical to just get a blank notebook and then find good prompts.
However, consider that guided journals may be your thing.
[bctt tweet=”Check out this journaling guide for total newbies!” username=”aimlief”]
2 Journaling Techniques That Are Perfect For Beginners
There are many journaling techniques, some more advance than others. Each one of them has its own benefits and I recommend you try them all.
But, if you’re a total beginner and are just starting out, it’s possible that you encounter some good old writer’s block (ugh…), especially if you don’t write on a daily basis.
That’s why I recommend these two journaling techniques for beginners:
1. Journaling with prompts
I like to do stream-of-consciousness journaling every morning before work, but that wasn’t easy to do when I was a newbie journaled.
It’s hard to look at a blank page knowing you have to write something!
If you’re a beginner, your mind will probably go blank every time you sit down to write.
So, to get started, use prompts.
Journaling prompts are questions and fill-in-the-blank type of exercises that make you think and help you elaborate.
When using these prompts, try to continue writing once you’ve answered the specific question.
This will help you explore your mind more and will help you practice free-form journaling.
2. Lists (Gratitude journaling, Happiness Journal)
Make lists of:
- things you’re grateful for;
- things that make you smile;
- activities that make you lose track of time;
- your favorite memories;
- things you like about yourself;
- people you’d like to have in your life forever;
- goals you want to achieve;
- your favorite foods;
- your ultimate wishes or bucket list;
- and any other list you can think of!
But don’t stop there; explain your reasons as well.
Every time you list something, simply ask yourself: “Why am I listing this here?” and elaborate from there.
If you feel like writing more than a simple list, then write more and use that momentum!
Pro Tips To Make The Most Out Of Your Journaling Sessions
Some of these will sound repetitive if you read the whole post, but these are the things I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out with journaling!
- Write about your feelings, but don’t dwell on negativity for too long. Yes, you need to be honest. Yes, you need to write about your thoughts and feelings. But, if you’re experiencing guilt, regret, resentment, anger, sadness… just let it out and then let it go. Don’t go on and on about all the reasons why you’re mad and why you’ll never get over it. Explain what you’re feeling and move on.
- Think about why you want to start journaling and remember it every time you sit down to write. This will help you stay consistent in your practice. If you haven’t, check the list of reasons why you’ll want to start journaling, above in this same post.
- Do it constantly. A single journaling session won’t save you. Yes, you can start seeing results in a short amount of time, but that doesn’t mean you’re enjoying all the benefits journaling can bring into your life.
- Review your journal constantly. It can feel weird and even embarrassing at first, but if you get past that, you’ll see how much you’ve grown and changed with time. For me, reviewing my journal makes me feel as if I were going through old photographs I love.
- Protect your privacy. It’s important because if you know for sure nobody’s going to read your journal, you’ll feel freer to be yourself, write what’s really on your mind and squeeze all those journaling benefits.
- Be honest. Don’t censor yourself. And if it’s possible, don’t edit yourself either. Seriously. There’s nothing you can’t write about in your journal. If you feel embarrassed by your own thoughts, don’t be. If you keep them inside, it’ll be worst. So, suck it up, let them out, and if they make you feel uncomfortable, simply mark that entry and don’t read it ever again. Or burn the page…
- Don’t judge yourself. Let that to the unhappy people who love to judge others. If you’re one of those people who tend to judge a lot, even yourself, I recommend taking the courage to write whatever is on your mind. You’ll judge yourself at first, but, with time, journaling itself will increase your levels of self-love and empathy, because you start understanding yourself better!
- Be raw and vulnerable. This is more than being honest. Being honest in journaling means explaining how you really feel, but being raw and vulnerable is at a whole other level. It means writing about nasty things you can’t even admit you think. Being vulnerable is the only way to make progress. Don’t write just things like “I went to the grocery store today”.
- Try journaling apps and see if they’re your thing. Writing on a keyboard can be way easier than handwriting for some because we’re so used to writing digitally these days. That’s why, when writing with a pen over paper, you have to think more about the things you want to say, which helps you analyze them. Besides, erasing things on your computer is easier than on paper. Plus, your journal is way safer if it’s physical! But journaling apps offer practicality and the amazing benefit of not taking any space. If you keep journaling for years, you’ll know that’s a huge advantage. Try both methods and see what you like more!
- Do it first thing in the morning. Seriously. Journaling first thing in the morning can give your day a boost and it’ll help you face the day with a fresh mind, which is priceless. If mornings don’t work for you, I still recommend you pick a specific time of the day to sit and write. If you don’t, you’ll end up forgetting about it eventually.
- Date your entries. I know there are people out there who might forget, but dating your entries is key to take advantage of all the benefits journaling has to offer. If you date your entries, you’ll be able to go back and see exactly what you were doing and thinking on any given day, which gives context to the entry and helps you understand yourself better.
- Keep in mind it won’t sound/look pretty all the time. You’re just human and this journal is not a book you’ll end up publishing someday just as it is. Feel free to write dramatically incorrect sentences, to let it go if you misspell words, to cross out things if you feel like it. So, take the pressure off. This is a representation of your own mind and feeling, and trust me, those aren’t as organized and perfect. Remember: this is your journal, not your autobiography!
- Get the right supplies. Yes, you can write on a napkin if you want, but if you want to make this a habit, you’ll need a notebook specifically for journaling, so you can have all your entries in a single place. I also recommend getting a pen that’s comfortable to use. There’s no need to spend a lot of money on fancy pens; there are many affordable pens that’ll do the job perfectly! Having the right supplies can make the experience more enjoyable for you 🙂
- Use prompts all the time. Free-form and stream of consciousness journaling is great, but we can run out of ideas sooner or later because we get accustomed to our own voice and processes. Use prompts and questions that wake your creativity up so you can always go deeper and deeper. Using prompts will also help you avoid writer’s block at all times.
- Write for specific amounts of time. Set a timer and just write, write, write. I like to set mine at 10 minutes, I’ve found it’s an optimal amount of time, but you can try with different ones and see what works. Doing things will help you keep writing even when you feel you’ve run out of things to write! So, when setting your timer, don’t set an amount of time you feel comfortable with. Instead, increase that number a little so you keep exploring for a little longer. Who knows? Doing this may bring out things you never thought you’d write about 🙂
- Experiment with different kinds of sounds and music. As I’ve mentioned before, I love synthwave. I feel on a different planet and that helps me focus a lot. Others like to journal while listening to white noise or nature sounds. Experiment and find which sounds put you in the perfect mental state to write.
Journaling is not about sounding or being perfect.
However, the old saying still applies: Practice makes perfect.
In this context, it’s not about having a journal that looks “perfect”, but practicing constantly so you can find the journaling system that works for you. Or coming out with your own, why not?
Something that helps maintain your mental wellness, that helps you build an intentional life full of purpose and with a crystal clear vision should be considered a must-have for every single human.
Particularly if you want to use your whole potential and make every day count!
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle