Remember way back at the beginning of January? When you were going to start journaling all the time and become a calmer, more wonderful person? ...how's that working out for you? I mean, yes, we all know that there are myriad benefits to keeping a journal. Writing in a diary or even just jotting down a few bullet points about your day can ease anxiety and help you process your thoughts. Journaling is great for goal setting. It's a lovely way to start your day or unwind for the evening, a perfect introspective alternative to staring at screens every second of every day and watching democracy fall apart in real time on Twitter. And it's also somehow the hardest thing ever. Here are a few tips for starting a journaling practice and actually sticking with it, even six months after New Year's Eve.
And trust me, I know that it's tough to get started. I am a professional writer who writes every day of my life, and I still have trouble sitting down to write about my own thoughts sometimes (surely it's better to just let your thoughts and feelings fester inside your own skull forever and never express them, right?). But whenever I am able to make myself sit down with actual paper and an honest-to-god pen and write about my feelings, life becomes just a little less stressful:
1. Use a real journal
OK, maybe this one sounds obvious. It's all too easy to start up a blog or a Word document and call it a journal, though. I mean, if that's what makes you feel alive, don't let me stop you. But maybe, just maybe, you could peel your poor, bloodshot eyes away from a screen for a whole five minutes and write on literal paper with your very own human hands. Buy yourself a pretty, blank journal, or use that lovely leather-bound one that your aunt gave you in 10th grade. Make journaling something separate from your phone or laptop, and you might find that you actually crave the occasional break from screen-time.
2. Start first thing in the morning
What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you hop out of bed, ready to start your day? Or do you spend a solid ten minutes scrolling through various social media sites, so that you've worked yourself up into a state of elevated panic and despair before your first cup of coffee? If you fall into the second category, try switching out your phone for your journal. Jot down your dreams, or your plans for the day, or even just how you're feeling that morning (spoiler alert: tired), and soon journaling will worm its way into your morning routine.
3. Set reminders on your phone
If you're the sort of person who likes schedules and setting alarms, then schedule time for journaling. Try setting aside five to ten minutes of your lunch break, or maybe a few minutes before bed. Set a timer if you have trouble sticking with it for a whole 10 minutes—you can even start with a minute or two of writing, and increase your time every day. Don't look at your phone until the timer is up. It might feel silly at first, but give yourself a few days and you'll start to appreciate the mandatory breaks.
4. Find fun journal prompts
Sometimes you have your cute journal and your scheduled alarms all set, and you're ready to sit down and do some serious journaling... but you just don't know what to write. Writing about your day can feel tedious or overwhelming. Writing about your feelings might be difficult at first. But lucky for you, there are many, many journal writing prompts out there to help you get those creative juices flowing. Start with a few fun prompts, and see where they take you.
5. Free write
Alternatively, just sit down and write whatever. Trying doing a "free write," which essentially means jotting down your stream of consciousness until you feel like stopping. If it helps you to set a timer or start with a stock phrase, like "Here's what happened today," that's totally fine. But it's also extremely fine to just throw your random thoughts on the paper in the form of disjointed sentence fragments, bullet points, or incoherent scribbles. Turn off your internal editor and go to town.
6. Ask yourself questions
Some people find it helpful to ask themselves the same questions every time they sit down to journal. You could start with the basics, such as "How am I feeling?" or "What did I do today?" Or you could get more specific with questions like "What was the last amazing thing I ate?" or "What's the weirdest fact I learned this week?" or "What was I doing this time last year?" You don't even have to ask questions about yourself, if you'd rather fill your journal up with weird facts and celebrity gossip and reviews of your favorite podcasts.
7. Don’t limit yourself to just writing
Draw! Paint! Doodle! Go multi-media and tape in letters, poems, ticket stubs, loose playing cards, emotionally significant candy wrappers, etc. Unleash your inner Victorian child and press flowers between the pages. You don't need official scrapbooking materials or an art degree to make a journal that's stuffed with art and mementos. Don't worry so much about recording every single event of your day-to-day life. Instead, let your journal be a private place to experiment with different forms of expression.
8. Make lists
List your classes, your goals, your favorite breakfast recipes. List the movies you see and the daydreams you have about that cute barista at the corner coffee shop. List quotes you find inspiring and books you want to read. Don't pressure yourself to write in full sentences, but do break out the multi-colored sharpies. Personally, I like keeping my journal separate from my planner, but you might want to use your journal to organize your life and express your creativity in one fell swoop.
9. Take your journal everywhere
For me, at least, prime journaling time seems to be on the subway in the middle of the day, or at the coffee shop while waiting for a friend, or whenever I'm in public and I need to surreptitiously record a stranger's conversation. You never know when the need to journal will strike, so it's safest to just carry your journal with you wherever you go. If your journal is far too big and fancy to travel, then pick up a pocket-sized notebook just to get in the habit of scribbling down your thoughts while on the road.
10. Write for yourself
Whether you have a desk journal chronicling your daily adventures, or just a loose pile of paper filled with sketches and song lyrics, your journal is for you. You may be used to sharing life updates on social media, or writing posts on a blog, but give yourself permission to keep your journal well and truly private. Allow yourself to write without thinking about who might read it. A journal isn't a place for polished work, after all, it's a place to vomit up all your hopes and dreams after a long day interacting with other people. So find a super secure hiding place and let your journal be just for you.
11. Enjoy it!
Most importantly, you should like to journal. Journaling has all these great, anti-anxiety benefits, yes, but only if you enjoy doing it. If journaling starts to feel like too much of a chore, take a break. Let your journaling time also be the time that you remember to take a few deep breaths and stretch. Pair journaling with tea and your comfiest socks. If one journaling approach doesn't seem to be working, try another. It's not about a perfect end result, it's just about finding a way to jot down your thoughts and/or screaming into the void so you can make it through the day. Don't take it too seriously, and don't forget to have fun.
Author: CHARLOTTE AHLIN