It's no secret that I am a fan of journaling, and a long-time keeper of a journal, and yet one of the most common questions I receive is “How can I get into journaling?”
Journaling is a simple practice with potentially profound effects. When we keep a journal or take to writing, we are having a relationship with our own mind, and it can become a place we begin to process our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Journaling has been linked to better mood, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhanced emotional regulation, and overall improved quality of life.
As a therapist, I have also found that journaling is a place to write and re-write our story. It is a powerful tool to shift outdated beliefs about oneself, including shame, insecurities, and stories we were given that are not our own. In writing to ourselves, we begin to become more aware of self, and other factors that went into how and why we are how we are, and how we came to see the world (and ourselves) in a certain way.
Below are a few tips and thoughts if you’d like to explore journaling for yourself. Remember, the biggest thing is to write like no one will ever see it. Free yourself from having to be “right” or “appropriate.”
Choose Your Medium or Use Many
The image of a journal might be a trusty notebook and pen, which is a wonderful grounding option. The use of putting pen to paper has been linked to deeper contextual understanding, and for many of us, it will be the only time we are not typing on a computer or phone.
A journal is but one option. I would encourage you to use whatever feels the best for you. Think any mixed medium if you’d like, from sketch pads with no lines, the use of colorful pens or colored pencils, torn clips from magazines or a newspaper or drawing in addition to writing sometimes.
You can use digital platforms as well. Our phones are equipped with notes functions, so we can have a quick place to chat with ourselves. Others might want to utilize a secure platform for journaling such as a website or app that can be locked. Privacy is paramount, and I would never want anyone to compromise their safety with journaling.
Or, use all these options in different ways.
Choose to be Consistent
A big part of therapeutic work is that we keep showing up. Journaling might become easier and may feel more natural when we add it into our routines every day, or almost every day. I am a night journaling person. I like to hang out with myself and write as a way to settle up the day and settle into falling asleep. You might find a morning journaling routine helps you to set up your day, create a focus or intention, or move your thoughts to gratitude before the realities of our day begin.
Consistency is more important than time of day. Do what works best for you.
Utilize Prompts but Be Willing to Freestyle
Journaling prompts are a great way to get the mind going. There are many lists of prompts, along with different prompts for any given focus. I’ve included a short list below. However, a prompt does not have to be a rigid protocol.
Part of the beauty of journaling is you are allowed to go wherever your mind and spirit would like to go. I have found that many who struggle with journaling also struggle with perfection, a need to do things “the right way,” and a judgment of self combined with a fear of what others might think or say regarding what they are writing. The gift here would be in the practice. Granting oneself the space to write freely can be more empowering than anything that comes up contextually.
Focus on the meaning versus emotions or rumination
One caveat to journaling: for those who struggle with rumination, a fixation on the negative aspects of an event, or are easily triggered as they write about or tell certain stories, journaling can actually make things worse. Getting lost in a sea of painful memories with no way to catch ourselves is not a place I’d like anyone to be stuck. For those instances, and if someone is not connecting with journaling, I would advise to not journal. There are many other tools that can be more helpful to you and your healing journey.
As you journal about different experiences, reflect more about the meaning you made of what happened or how you felt. For example, ____ happened, and it meant I am ____ or it meant I was ____. Meaning gets at core beliefs. Awareness of beliefs starts the path to unlearning or changing them. Unlearning negative beliefs frees us.
- Discuss your day: what is currently happening, and how you are currently feeling? Think informal and as if someone had said, “what’s up?” and you answered it genuinely. No splicing words, say whatever you’d like.
- Talk to you.
- Write a letter to yourself, or someone else (that we are not sending). What would you like to say? These can be letters to family, people who hurt us, people we love, older or younger versions of ourselves, god, the universe, our children, friends, peers, etc.
- Write down fears, goals, dreams, memories (good and bad.)
- Write as if you are you in 1 year from today, 3 years from today, 5 years from today, 10 years from today. How old are you, what are you wearing, hearing, thinking, doing, feeling? Who is there, etc.
Starting something new can often feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable, especially if we allow judgment and negative self-talk to run our day. The irony is that journaling can actually help those very things – it can help us shift our inner dialogue, identify patterns of thinking and feeling, and allow us to reconnect with our most authentic selves. The practice of journaling is an act of self-care, and self-prioritizing.
Claire Fountain (@cbquality) is the wellness culture of tomorrow. A writer, therapist, and celebrity yoga instructor whose globally recognized TrillYoga continues to influence the fitness industry. Claire inspires with her unorthodox and realistic approach to yoga and mental health, while promoting a conscious lifestyle through insight and education. Her work focuses on the intersection of women, well being, mind body integration, self worth and the stories we tell ourselves with experience ranging from over half a dozen e-books and articles to international classes and speaking engagements.