So you want to start journaling. But where to begin?
Journaling can be a hugely beneficial activity when practiced regularly and consistently, but what are some of the techniques to bear in mind?
We asked a selected group of experts to deliver their best advice and tips when it comes to journaling techniques.
Here’s what they said.
Journaling Should Be An Adventure
Joe Kraus, Professor and Chair of the Department of English & Theatre at the University of Scranton
Schedule your journaling, but don’t let it become routine. You have to know when you’re going to sit down, but each time you start has to be an adventure.
You have to plan to do it, but if you don’t surprise yourself with what you write, you won’t keep going. No single recipe keeps journaling fresh. You need a cookbook.
Write sometimes about what you’ve read or seen. Write sometimes about current events or family news. Write sometimes in response to prompts you see on-line, and write sometimes by reacting to something you wrote months or years before.
If you have to, write about how frustrating it is to write.
Challenge yourself not just to say something new but about how you’ll say it, how you’ll push against the form of what you’ve become accustomed to writing.
Start By Writing When You Feel Things
Cassandra Fay LeClair, PhD, Communication Studies Professor at Texas State University and Author
Don’t wait until you feel like journaling. We often look at it as a chore and then don’t know what to write.
Start by writing when you feel things. If you don’t feel anything at the moment, start writing about your day and what has happened.
Choose a time that is most convenient for you and write whatever is on your mind. If you don’t find that productive, try infusing journaling as you go throughout your day.
If you find yourself having recurring thoughts about a topic, write that down. Keep notes on your phone, carry a notebook, or make voice recordings for yourself.
Think of journaling as a way to learn more about your own feelings, emotions, and thoughts.
Understanding your patterns and habits can help you process and make sense of what you are experiencing.
Use Journaling To Hone In On Your Goals And Practice Gratitude
Tanya Dalton, Productivity Expert and Founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co
The first thing is to use it to set your intentions for the day. Intentions are similar to affirmations in that you’re setting yourself up for success and setting the tone for your day.
You can begin each statement if you wanted to with something like, ‘I intend to’. Or, ‘I want to’ and then start writing that out using that sentence as your start and just let your thoughts go from there.
It’s not necessarily planning, it’s almost like visioning. It’s using visualization in the form of writing to really think about where you want your day to go.
The second way to use a journal is use it as a way to decompress from the day when you leave work. Writing what you’ve done for that day and how it made you feel or how you moved closer to your big goals.
I do this exercise every day because it allows me to close up the work compartment of my life and then I open my personal compartment.
I find that it allows me to be more centered on my family when I don’t have all of those work thoughts swirling around in my head. It also helps me sleep better at night.
The third way is to use it for clarity. When we write, we move through ideas that we often can’t or don’t want to express verbally.
Journaling allows us to clarify thoughts that occupy our minds all day long. Taking the time to write them out helps us make sense of where we’ve been, what we’ve done and where we’re going.
It helps to promote an increase in focus and gives you that sense of stability that we all really crave. It can be a touchstone for your day. It’s a great way to release your thoughts and emotions, allowing you to detach and let go of the things that might be hindering you.
The fourth way to use a journal is to use it to hone in on your goals. Studies have shown that writing down our goals makes us 42 per cent more likely to achieve them.
When we reflect on our goals in a written form, it’s a continual reminder to make those necessary steps in order to attain them. Doing this helps us identify our priorities, track our progress and keep our motivation going as we move towards our goals.
The fifth way is to use it to express gratitude. As you know, it’s not just about doing things. It’s about doing what matters most and expressing gratitude really allows us to see what it is that matters most to us.
Expressing gratitude makes us happier and healthier. It promotes optimism and reduces materialism. Making note of the things for which we’re grateful helps us really scan our environment for the positive.
Use Journal Prompts
Andrea Travillian, Certified Life Coach
One of my favorite journaling techniques, especially for beginners, is to use journal prompts.
Prompts are a great way to look at problems and begin to write about them without staring at a blank page.
Look for journal prompts that help you dig into learning more about yourself and whatever problems you may be facing, not simple ones such as ‘list my favorite books.’
You can find prompts a couple ways that I recommend.
1) Google journal prompts and then add the topic you want to focus on. Such as ‘journal prompts for emotional healing’.
2) Buy a journal prompt book then flip to a random page.
Understand Your Journaling Style – And Make Space For It In Your Schedule
Marisa Donnelly, Founder Of Be A Light Collective
As a writer and business owner, I’ve found that journaling is an essential part of both my personal and professional lives.
Over the years, I’ve adopted many different techniques, a few of which have helped me to really craft with creativity and purpose.
When it comes to journaling, before starting, I would try to commit to two things: understanding your journaling style and creating a space for journaling to happen within your schedule.
Understanding who you are is important because some techniques will work for you, and some will feel more like a chore than a positive exercise.
If you’re a highly visual person, you may want to use a photograph or image to inspire your journaling. Go back through an old photo album (print or digital) and try to think back to that specific moment or emotions.
If you’re someone who’s driven by music or sounds, try playing different soundtracks while you write and see where this leads you inspiration-wise.
Once you’ve identified areas that feel right based on your personality and style, carve out the time to practice journaling.
Many people will say journaling is easy but the truth is that it’s not unless you give yourself time and space to really work at it.
We are all busy. Journaling, despite its many benefits, can (unfortunately) seem like just another item on the list.
To avoid associating this self-reflective practice with stress, create time each day or week where you are solely dedicated to it (and nothing else).
What works for me is carving out the hour of 4am to 5am each day for my personal writing and journaling. This is a time where I am not interrupted, where I can focus, and where I can look back on the last twenty-four hours with calm and introspection.
Journaling, when done effectively, is one of the best mindset and awareness practices we have at our (literal) fingertips.
I would suggest finding places to be alone, writing with a preferred utensil, using journals that make you feel encouraged rather than overwhelmed, and putting less pressure on yourself to be perfect and simply write.
Focus On What Went Right Today
Ariel Upton, Co-creator of Today I Did It Right
My favorite journaling technique is focusing on one right thing each day and reflecting on it.
This question is flexible yet guided, and helps you focus on something right – something you want more of every day. This practice only takes a few minutes, so writers can stick with the practice daily without getting overwhelmed or bored.
I often hear that people only use journaling as a tool when they’re processing something challenging or a difficult transition in their life. They associate journaling with pain and hardship, and feel it brings them down.
If you can flip the narrative, and start to reflect and recognize the right things, the good things, you can develop the muscle of creating more right and good things in your daily life.
How to start? Reflect on the day you just had, or a recent day, and ask yourself: What felt right? Pay attention and be a noticer to how you feel.
Allow yourself to write in whatever direction you need to go but be specific about the one right thing. What were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you? How did you feel? Set your phone alarm for five minutes when you’re getting started and don’t stop writing until the alarm goes off.
Once you’re done, go back and reread what you wrote. What was your one right thing?
New journalers can succeed in creating and maintaining their practice by seeking out journaling prompts.
Prompts can help writers maintain creativity and not feel stagnant in their journaling practice. The goal is to avoid getting in a situation where you feel uninspired or like you have nothing to say.
You do have something to say! Journaling prompts can give you the direction you need when you need it.
Have Your Prompts Ready Before You Start
Emma Sothern, Founder of Lady Alopecia
Journaling can seem like an overwhelming task. We don’t know where to start, we want to self-edit as we go along and, while there is great merit in things like gratitude lists, they may not inspire in us the kind of creative outlook that can be hugely therapeutic.
I started using 10-minute prompts when I joined a Writer’s Group – and they’ve made a huge difference in my mood, my energy and my day!
I have a list of writing prompts at the back of an A4 pad (you can Google writing prompts and find plenty online).
Every morning, I randomly pick one of these, set a 10-minute timer and write without stopping or self-editing until the bell goes.
What’s great about this technique is you can’t overthink it – just let what wants to come out spill onto your page.
It’s also great if you suffer from writer’s block – or if you’re feeling overwhelmed but can’t articulate it. A simple sensory-based writing prompt like a childhood smell can unleash feelings and emotions you had long forgotten.
Have your prompts ready in advance so you don’t overthink them. Just pick one from your page at random, even close your eyes and allow your finger to fall on one.
Don’t stop writing in your allocated 10 minutes. Even if it takes you a while to get into it, just keep writing!
Come up with new prompts yourself. One trick is to choose a letter of the alphabet, write down all the words you can think of associated with that letter (in 30 seconds)… then pick one of those words and write for 10 minutes.
Another fun way of finding a prompt is to divide your page into quadrants, writing in each box: 1) 4 things I saw today 2) 4 things I did today 3) 2 things I smelled today 4) 2 things I heard today.
Pick one of these short descriptions (for example, the sound of my neighbour singing) and write for 10 minutes.
Remember, this is just for you! You don’t need to show it to anyone so don’t worry how silly or deeply personal you get.
The aim is to flex your creativity muscle, to get into the practice of writing in a very practical way and to make it easier, when you’re ready, to begin a more intuitive daily journaling practice.
I’ve experienced writing as a form of therapy first-hand… and I hope you can enjoy its benefits, too!