Back in March, I set out with the intention of making a journaling habit. It was something I’d done on and off as a kid and something I really wanted to pick back up again. Every self-help book and inspiring talk I watched screamed about the benefits of journaling, so eventually, I took the advice. But, despite my flirtations with it as a kid, I didn’t really know how to write a journal ‘properly’ or what I should include.
Nevertheless, a month has gone by and I’ve maintained the habit of journaling almost every day. So, I’d like to share with you what I learned throughout the process and how you can get started.
“This pouring thoughts out on paper has relieved me. I feel better and full of confidence and resolution.” – Diet Eman
How to start a journal
Starting out with any habit is the hardest part. Especially with something like journaling, where the first few times you do it, it’s not going to few completely natural and you might even feel a little silly writing about your feelings in a notebook. But I promise you, it gets easier.
Even as a writer, I found myself with less than a page for my first couple of tries, but as the days went on, I found myself opening up more. I even started to look forward to it, and felt inclined to whip out my pen spontaneously, excited to spill new thoughts and ideas onto the page.
When it comes to how to write a journal, there’s a couple of things I recommend you keep in mind.
Rule #1: There are no rules
This is a big idea to start out with. There are zero rules for how you do this. This blog includes a few of my personal suggestions, but take them or leave them as you’d like. It’s completely up to you.
I like to try and journal everyday, but I don’t kick myself if I don’t get around to it or don’t feel like I have anything to say (although I’ve come to realise I always have something to say). We’ll go into more detail about what you could include later on, but really it’s not too important. Say whatever’s on your mind, regardless of whether it’s your latest eureka moment or a short description of what you had for lunch.
#2 Try to make it a habit
Setting a new goal is tricky. Especially when that new goal involves you sitting down and taking time to reflect on your life. If you’re anything like me, reflection might not come naturally to you unless it’s in the ‘Damn, I wish I’d said…’ form.
Reflecting on your day and your feelings might be a new skill you need to develop, but that’s why journaling as often as possible is so important. So set aside a chunk of time everyday, I chose the half an hour before I went to bed, and try to keep the habit alive.
#3 Just start writing
Like we said earlier, what you include isn’t important. The silly things you think mean nothing may bring a nostalgic smile to your face when you reread it in years to come. The thought you can’t understand that’s been hovering over your head might make a lot more sense next week. Your journal is living and breathing, with you, so put down anything that comes to mind. To start ingraining the habit and practising opening up, writing something is the first step.
What are the benefits of journaling?
So we’ve looked at how to journal, and that’s great and all, but why should you bother? Well friends, I’m a month in and I’ve got a pretty good idea of why you should.
#1 A peaceful mind (especially before bed!)
Your mind goes through a lot in one day. Everything from little decisions and thoughts to the massive influx of information that we take on. Your mind has a lot to process. But during the day, we have things to do and that doesn’t always allow us time to dedicate to simply thinking and reflecting.
If you’ve ever laid down in bed only to find that your mind continues to whir like an overheated computer or woken up feeling intensely irritable for no immediate reason, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Journaling helps to recognise and process those thoughts and feelings, so you can be more understanding and more compassionate with yourself.
This is why I’d recommend journaling at the end of your day, so you’re clear of thoughts before you go to sleep. Although doing it just after you’ve woken up, still in that dream-like sleepy haze can be wonderful too.
Whatever time of day you decide to do it, learning how to write a journal will leave you feeling more peaceful, more mindful and will really help to improve your concentration.
#2 Learn to open up
Journaling is an excellent opportunity to practice opening up. Although you’re essentially just talking to yourself (or your future-self, at least), as you learn how to write a journal, you’ll start to open a dialogue and to process your thoughts into words – an invaluable skill. I never realised quite how much I had to say about my thoughts and the things going on in my life.
And eventually, this skill will go past journaling. It’ll begin to apply to people. As you teach yourself to feel, recognise and comment on whatever you have going on, you’ll find that skill translates to being able to discuss similarly with other people (something I did, quite painfully, suck at).
#3 You’ll learn to love it
Maybe it’s just my love for writing, but sitting down and telling the story of my day, spilling my feelings onto a page with a cup of herbal tea in hand has become quite an enjoyable part of my day. A tea date with myself – how very British of me.
So make your journal time comfy. Make it so enjoyable that you look forward to it. It’ll help build the habit and it will become a quiet pocket of your day, just for you.
#4 It’s nice to look back on (like, so nice)
Not only is journaling enjoyable in the moment, but it’s rather enjoyable to look back on later in life. I, having started this only a month ago, can only speak from the personal experience of leafing through my childhood journals, but it’s a comment made by every person who’s ever recommended journaling to me too.
This is your own little time capsule. When you read this back, you’ll might have forgotten that event you went to, your newfound love for volleyball or what your anthem of the summer was. These little details are nostalgic gold and you’ll thank yourself for recording them later.
What to include in a journal (besides thoughts and feelings):
- What you’re loving: food, music, hobbies, styles, what you’re eating, new things you’ve bought or found, new things you’re interested in
- Who you’re hanging out with
- Notes about what you’ve done, record lunch dates, birthday events, small hangouts and big parties
- Little notes on the world: what’s going on in the world? What’s the latest trend?
Not to mention how interesting and helpful it is for self-development. If you’re trying to grow or going through a tough time, having a long record of your thoughts, feelings and experiences can be really insightful to look back on later down the line.
So now you know how to write a journal, I challenge you to try journaling everyday for a month. Just to see if it helps, see if you benefit, see if you feel a little more confident, or see if you simply just enjoy it. It’s made a noticeable difference to my life, my ways of thinking and communicating. And I hope it will to yours.
Happy journalling! Love, Ella-Rose xx