Journaling has been on the rise in the self-improvement scene for a few years now. But what exactly are the benefits? How does one journal properly?
This article tries to answer those questions and give the reasons for why you should at least try it!
Benefits of journaling
Journaling can affect you in the same way venting or talking about a problem is sometimes all it takes to feel a lot better.
Writing about problems and struggles requires you to reconstruct them and helps you identify the cause of stress. It can also give you the opportunity to see and reevaluate your feelings.
For me, realizing that the journal is for me and that I am journaling for myself and no one else has been great. I don’t have to write in it like a diary, I don’t have to write every day. It’s my journal, I can write about whatever I am feeling that day.
To write about something, you will need to find a way of articulating it. By regularly thinking about how you are feeling or what happened you will develop an awareness for the things going on in and around you.
As this awareness develops, it will become gradually easier for you to articulate your feelings and find the root causes of them. Where you felt stressed out for no reason before you might then be able to tell from which exact things the stress is coming from.
There are different ways and methods for time management, but I like to keep it simple in my journal. Every evening, I make a simple to-do list for the next day, which is divided into work and life.
Then, I make simple bullet points for different things that come to mind. When I am done, I sort them by value/importance so I can get the important things done as early as possible.
The next morning, all I have to do is check my journal and I know exactly what I have to do.
It has been a massive help against my procrastination habit. If you want to read more about procrastination, I wrote an in-depth 3 part series on it. You can find part 1 here.
“What did you do this weekend?“
“Eh, nothing much, how about you?“
We’re great at forgetting positive things we did and only slightly better at remembering negative and awkward stuff that happened to us.
Not only did we sometimes to cool stuff on the weekend and somehow seem to forget it the moment someone asks, but we’re also sabotaging possibly great conversations.
The simple act of taking 5 minutes to write down the major things that happened each day will help tremendously with remembering what you did. Not only that, but it’s also going to remind you of the things you’re doing in the times where you feel like life is just passing by in a blur.
Meditation doesn’t need to be sitting down on the floor and clearing your mind.
In my experience, meditation can take many forms. For example, working out can be a meditative practice. Stepping into the gym, putting your headphones in and just getting an hour to focus on nothing but yourself and your workout is a freeing experience.
Journaling has been very similar. You can be wherever you want, but when you’re writing it’s just you, your thoughts and your journal.
Sometimes, it can be hard to see the positives in life.
Writing about the things you could be grateful for, even if you can’t actively feel gratitude for them at the moment, is a great start.
When I started writing about things I am grateful for in my journal, I stuck to general things:
“Today, I am grateful for the good weather and the fact I am not sick.”-My first gratitude journal entry
I didn’t really feel anything in relation to those words. Of course, I was grateful in the regard that those things aren’t for granted, but there was no emotional connection.
After the first few days, I didn’t want to repeat myself, so I had to think of something else I was grateful for. Over time, the exercise went from being a chore to something that just flows.
Now, I sometimes fill multiple pages just with things I am grateful for. I have also noticed that often times those things aren’t even affecting me, they are things that happened to other people.
I can’t attribute this change solely to journaling, but I am certain it played a part in it.
Writing prompts for your journal
- What am I grateful for today?
- What am I feeling?
- What happened today?
- What do I wish for others?
- To-do lists for the next day, week or month
- A creative outlet; draw, write, cut, glue, express yourself
- Inspirational things, like quotes you can relate to
Perfectionism can turn journaling into a stressful, frustrating, and expensive experience.
Especially online you’ll see those amazing journals, filled with beautiful penmanship and drawings. You’ll hear stories about people spending thousands of dollars on new fountain pens and supplies. People ripping out pages as soon as there’s a mistake in a word or just because they don’t look nice.
It’s easy to fall into this trap. For some people, this way of journaling can be great. Maybe they love creating beautiful pieces of art with their journal and don’t mind starting over when it doesn’t look good.
But for lots of people, this can turn journaling into a stressful thing, causing frustration and making them feel bad for not being able to stick to journaling.
I can relate to that. Sometimes I feel like my journal is trash. There are mistakes on every page, I draw like a 6-year-old, my texts follow no structure and sometimes don’t fit the heading at all. I flip through my older pages and feel like I should start over because I can do it “better” now.
But that’s not what I journal for. I journal to sit down and write. To articulate my feelings. I’m not creating art and no one is ever going to read it.
To me, journaling is about not limiting myself in any way. If a page is full but I still want to say 3 words then that’s okay. If I make a spelling mistake that’s okay. And if I look back in 5 years and want to burn my journal then that’ll be alright, too.
Focus on the negatives
Some days, weeks, or months just suck. If you write your feelings down every day during those times and then look back you might feel worse.
That’s why it is important to have positives in every entry. Even if your life isn’t great, find something you could be grateful for, write down a cool event that happened somewhere in the world, a fact you learned, or something the people around you achieved.
Try not to feel jealousy while you write those things down, but be happy with and for those people who are affected.
If some deep part of you is afraid of someone reading your journal, you’ll probably never really be honest in it. Getting that freedom is a core part of the journaling process to me, so getting rid of that fear is important.
You can try buying a journal with a lock, encrypt your journaling files on your pc or even burn the pages after you wrote them. It’s oftentimes more about the process of writing everything down than about the memory when you read the pages later on.
Writing itself and the process of that is not for everyone. If you struggle with it, you could try finding other ways of “journaling”. Express yourself in art, draw your feelings, journal in your mind, talk to a good friend, record your voice. There are lots of options and no right or wrong way.
Some journaling tips
Make journaling part of your morning or evening routine
Every morning and every evening, I have a set amount of steps I do. I try to do them in the same order every day. Journaling has become part of my evening routine.
Chaining multiple steps together is great for building habits. Writing every day can be hard, but I don’t have to get started on writing anymore. I just start my routine at a set time and go through the list I have prepared for it. Journaling is part of that list, so it’s just another step and not a whole new process.
It’s alright if it feels fake at the start
Like I said in the gratitude section, not everything I was writing down felt real at the start. Writing down words felt like I was writing for the sake of having written something, not for getting any emotional release from it.
This is perfectly normal and usually fades as you continue journaling.
It’s supposed to be something you do for yourself, not a chore
If you’ve tried journaling for a week or two and dislike it in every way, it might simply not be for you. Different methods work for different people.
Also, keep in mind that you are doing it for yourself and no one else. It is not about testing your willpower or anything like that (unless that’s what you do it for). It’s about you.
If you only feel like journaling in stressful times or only like it when you have some creative thoughts, go ahead, do that.
You’re not lazy for not journaling every day, you don’t owe it to anyone.
I have gaps in my journal. I don’t apologize for them and I do not beat myself up over them. It happens, I am human.
Journaling is not a magic cure for your problems
Journaling has many benefits and I believe everyone should at least try it, but after all, it is not more than you writing about your feelings in a book.
It can change the way you see things, calm you down, make you more mindful and aware, enhance your memory, but it won’t get you out of debt, find you your dream job or the perfect relationship.
Your actions influence those things. But your actions are influenced by the way you think, so journaling can help there.
Physical vs digital journaling
I, personally, didn’t manage to stick to journaling until I bought a physical journal I can write in with a pen. Digital journals didn’t have the same value for me and felt less real. For another person, the convenience and safety of a digital journal might be what keeps them going.
There’s no answer to this debate, try both and see what works best for you.
Give journaling a try!
That’s it for this article. I can only recommend journaling. Give it a try, see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, you’ll still be wiser than before!
As always, let me know what you thought of this article. There are more personal anecdotes than usual, but I really wanted to showcase my experiences with journaling. Have a great day!