Do you ever feel stuck?
Or, like you have pent-up feelings that you can’t quite name or put a finger on?
Me too! In those moments, I turn to my journal.
Journaling is one of the most transformative practices in my life. I use my journal to plan my day, create calendars, write goals, and process my thoughts. But how do you even start journaling? Here are my top journaling tips to get you started.
7 Important Journaling Tips for Beginners
1. Determine if journaling is right for you. I journal because writing has always been an authentic form of self-expression and as an enneagram 2 and INFJ, I have a tendency to stay in my head.
If the idea of sitting down to write out your thoughts and feelings or to brain dump is intimidating or dreadful, it may not work for you.
2. Decide what you want to achieve through journaling. Many start journaling for mental health. Others journal for personal growth. I journal for both. Your journal can be for anything you want or need it to be.
3. Choose a journaling method. You may prefer actually writing in a notebook of your choice. Or, you can use your computer or the notes app on your phone to journal. Do what fits your learning style and what you’re more likely to keep up with.
4. Pick your journaling style. Along the lines of making it your own, you can use your journal to do more than write. You can write songs, pen prayers, sketch, doodle, write poems, brain dump, make lists, create charts or graphs, practice calligraphy, or anything that enhances your experience and meets your goals for journaling.
5. Set up your journal. There’s lots of ideas on how to set up a journal. You can create an index page. Number the pages. Create sections and use divider tabs. Use stickers. Or not. Do what you’re most likely to keep up with and what actually serves your needs.
6. Create space, both in your schedule and your home, for journaling. Having a welcoming spot where you can sit and journal helps you to stick to your routine. As far as what time, you can journal first thing in the morning, after work, at night before bed, or some combination of these. Also know you don’t have to journal every day. It shouldn’t become a chore. Instead, let it be a tool you can turn to when you need sort through your thoughts, process emotions, unwind, or even practice gratitude.
7. Write Freely – There’s no right or wrong way to journal. Just let yourself write, or whatever you choose to do in your journal, without editing or censoring. I highly suggest writing until you feel there’s nothing left to say. You’ll be amazed at what flows from within. If free writing is difficult, you can start by scribbling, or you can follow predetermined journal prompts.
My Daily Journal Writing Sample
Since so many people struggle with what to write in a journal, I thought I’d share two old journal entries, completely unedited, to illustrate my thought process as I goes from stuck to personal revelation.
September 8, 2018
First, I can’t believe it’s September…feels surreal. And, I’m not quite ready to let go of Summer. My heart is slowly turning toward the idea of Fall, but it’s just so hard to let go of a season where I flourish, where I feel the most alive. The heat, the sun, reading books, seeing movies, vacations, everything feels vibrant..in motion, but not in a hurry. It’s all very go with the flow.
Maybe I finally feel like I have permission to be me, because the rest of society is on board. I feel welcomed, accepted, like I can spread my wings. So, how do I carry the heart and soul of Summer with me into Fall?
September 10, 2018
I’m feeling emotional, especially when I think of Hannah’s birthday and the changing season. I seem to need time to stand still. It’s like I think I need to catch up. With what, I’m not sure.
- House Projects?
- Daily Yoga?
I think that’s it! I take note each day of the things I didn’t get to, like writing, chores, yoga, cooking…and I feel behind, like there’s a tally for each thing I miss.
Miss out on! That’s what I feel like is happening…that I’m missing out on my life…my ideal life. And instead of seeing each day as a new day, a new chance, I see it as needing to catch up, like I have make-up work from the day before.
Journaling for Mental Health and Personal Growth
I’m always amazed at how I can start a journal entry with no idea of what I’m going to say, other than knowing I need to get out what I’m feeling, then, by the time I put down my pen, discover a solution or realize a new truth.
Often when I journal, like with the two examples above, I’ll uncover an anxiety trigger. In this case, it was transitions. I was able to create a list of things to look forward to in the Fall to help me transition more easily into a new season.
Sometimes I’ll recognize a destructive behavior pattern, like not communicating my needs in relationships. I cannot tell you how many times I sat down to journal about how frustrating my husband is only to realize he’s not at fault; but that I routinely struggle with masking and bottling my feelings.
Other times I write every single word swirling around in my brain until there are no words left. A good old fashioned brain dump is so good for clearing mental clutter.
As someone who struggles with seasonal affective disorder, journaling really helps lighten my mood.
Another effective way to journal for mental health is to write a gratitude list. There’s something about focusing on the positive that is very uplifting.
The Undeniable Benefits of Journaling
Journaling is a mindfulness practice. It’s self care. It’s transformative. Some of the benefits I’ve gained from journaling are:
- reconnecting with myself as a person, beyond roles and responsibilities
- strengthening my marriage
- increased self-worth
- identifying and breaking free from habits that don’t serve me
- finding and using my voice
and ultimately, finding personal freedom.
As you’ll soon discover, the benefits to journaling are endless.
For more mindfulness and self-care practices to try, read: