How to journal effectively: journaling is a cathartic and rewarding process, offering many benefits. Learn how to journal and and turn it into a valuable ritual of calm, joy, and inner peace.
How to Journal: What is Journaling and How Do You Do It?
Journaling is keeping a written record of one or multiple elements of your life.
It’s also much more than that.
What Can I Use Journaling For?
It can be a practical tool for organisation. Or it can be a creative outlet. Or it can be the therapy you turn to when you’re feeling anxious or down or uncertain.
Best of all, it can be any combination of these things.
This post is designed for anyone wanting to start a journal and to (mostly!) keep it up in order to enjoy all the benefits journaling can offer. I share the tips I’ve picked up along the way, which may not always mirror the more traditional or generally accepted ‘rules’.
I strongly believe that while some structure is helpful, too much can be stifling, both in terms of creativity and also inclination. Journaling is an amazing hobby, it should never become a chore.
I also link out to lots of studies supporting because my personal interest and passion for journaling stems from the psychological benefits it provides, and this is a vital element of every self-improvement technique I advocate.
How to Write a Journal: What Do You Put in a Journal?
If you look online for inspiration you’ll find an abundance of stunning and stylish examples of journals, and these are perfect for those who take pleasure in beautifying their journals. But that’s just one kind of journaling, and certainly not something you have to do in order to enjoy the associated benefits.
You can – obviously – write in a journal, but you could also fill it with, or have specific sections you dedicate to using for:
- Beautiful fonts and headers;
- Art and doodles;
- Other kinds of creativity, such as poetry or creative writing;
- Ticket stubs.
Essentially, journaling is whatever you need or want it to be. And it can and almost certainly will evolve with you.
How to Start a Journal That Will Really Benefit You
So now you have a few ideas of what your journal could include, but it’s important to refine them down to what resonates with you. How do you do that?
Find your why.
You could choose to make this your very first journaling exercise! Consider it practice for your new hobby – an important entry point. You could do this in the inside of your journal, or simply on a piece of paper before you start your journal proper.
Write down the following questions:
- Why does journaling interest me?
- What do I hope to gain from journaling?
- How much time do I have to journal each day/week?
- What kinds of journals inspire me?
- What do I want my journal to look like?
Spend some time thinking over the answers to these questions – and go deep. Get to the heart of the reasons you’re curious about or fascinated by journaling, because this information will be really helpful for you later on.
Save this list and if at any point you feel you’re losing your way, you can come back to it to remind yourself of exactly why you chose to make journaling an important part of your life.
Of course it’s also fine to update your list, as your lifestyle and priorities change. But writing this information down and keeping it somewhere safe is an effective act of accountability, to – and for – yourself.
Is it Healthy to Write in a Journal?
Journaling has proven benefits for mental health. There are many ways in which journaling can be used as an effective therapeutic tool for improving wellbeing, especially when combined with specific techniques such as exercises to heal the inner child or shadow work journaling.
What Are the Benefits of Writing in a Journal?
The myriad of benefits journaling offers include:
- Providing calming and reflective time;
- Encouraging self-awareness;
- Exploring, identifying, and analysing difficult thoughts and feelings;
- Observing feelings feelings without judgement;
- Opportunities to process thoughts, experiences, and feelings;
- Increasing awareness of emotional triggers;
- Stress and anxiety relief;
- Laying the foundations for greater empathy;
- Improving communication skills;
- Exercising self-compassion;
- Practicing gratitude;
- Increasing positivity and a more optimistic mindset.
As you can see, the advantages journaling can offer are invaluable!
What to Write in a Journal & How Do I Start Writing a Journal?
Think about you objective or goals for keeping a journal: if you’re reasons are compelling, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get started with journaling.
If you’re looking for practical guidance, keep reading for my tips below. Or, if it’s direction or inspiration you’re looking for, I highly recommend reading my post with 400+ journal prompts which are perfect for this purpose.
What’s the Best Way to Journal?
There are many different kinds of journaling, which is a whole other post. They include:
- Gratitude journaling
- Using prompts
- Making lists
- Free writing
- Unsent letter
- Bullet journaling
- Dream journaling
- Reflective journaling
This list is not exhaustive, but gives you an idea of the many different uses a journal can have and how it can be used.
Do You Need to Write in a Journal Regularly?
To enjoy al the advantages of journaling, it’s a good idea to journal regularly, though that doesn’t necessarily mean every day.
Well, journaling is a process. It’s not something that you can do once and experience all of the benefits it offers. But, again, it goes back to your objectives for journaling in the first place.
If your main goal is to find a creative outlet, then it’s totally fine to pick up your journal as and when the mood strikes. Of course this does leave room for the habit to slide, so it’s still a good idea to commit to journaling a set number of times each week or month, just to keep you engaged.
On the other hand, if you’re journaling specifically for mental health, I’d definitely encourage you to try to journal every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.
You’ll likely find that over time, you’ll want to set aside time for your journal, and that you’ll end up spending far longer on the activity than you’ve committed to simply because you feel its benefit and find the process liberating and satisfying.
How Often Should I Write in My Journal?
We’ve established the answer is ‘regularly’, but what does that actually mean?
It will be different for everyone, depending upon your reason/s for journaling, and how busy your lifestyle is.
Ultimately, if you can, it’s worth promising yourself that you’ll dedicate a set amount of time to journaling consistently, whether that’s daily, every other day, or weekly.
The aim should be to find a balance where you’re journaling regularly and often enough, but without it feeling like a duty. As soon as it becomes too much effort and unenjoyable, it’s defeating the object: you’ll be less likely to keep it up and you won’t get so much out of it.
I won’t claim to be perfect when it comes to journaling – I’m not. Do I wish I was better? Of course – but being perfect is not the goal.
Journaling is a huge part of my life in spite of me not being perfect – because I fundamentally believe in its power and value. It has changed my mindset from a negative bias (which we all have naturally – more on this later), to a positive one.
Journaling has the potential to improve your wellbeing enormously, and that’s why I remain committed to keeping it up, as best I can.
Spending time around negative people increases your likelihood of adopting a negative outlook yourself; because as well as being natural, it’s also contagious.
Journaling provides an antidote.
In the same way that exposure to negativity can influence us, consistently focusing on positivity can also impact our outlook for the better.
Actively spending time on exercises to combat negativity works.
How to Write in a Journal Consistently: 5 Tips For Creating a Journal Writing Ritual
If you’re committed to a consistent journaling schedule but are unsure how to keep up the motivation, I’m going to share some of the best tips to help you stick to your practice.
1. Make it a part of your self-care routine
The easiest way to journal consistently is when you look forward to it because it’s a joy, then it’s not difficult at all! Here are a few self-care tips to help:
- When you very first begin it may not be worth spending lots of money on journaling, but over time perhaps you could treat yourself to some beautiful stationery?
- Create a little haven for when you journal; make a cup of your favourite hot drink, perhaps a couple of squares of chocolate, light a candle, snuggle in a warm blanket. Whatever makes the experience a positive one.
- Be sure to spend at least some of your journaling time on an element that brings you pleasure. So if you’re doing shadow work which can be very intense, perhaps end with a short gratitude list or creating some fancy headers.
2. Commit to a journaling schedule
Decide when you’re going to journal, and stick to it.
It’s so easy to put off a vague idea and then never get around to it, whereas if you have a set time blocked out for a specific purpose, you’re more likely to follow through.
3. Don’t wait to feel motivated
I read a really good piece of advice once, which can be applied to just about anything:
Do it even if you’re not motivated.
Essentially, don’t buy into the idea of motivating yourself being more important than just getting on with it, because that won’t always work. If it does, that’s great – but there will be times when you just cannot find the motivation no matter what you do.
And that’s a pivotal moment because it could be the one you quit.
Instead of using your energy to find motivation, use your energy to simply open the page, and start. My recommendation on a day like this would simply be to write three things you’re grateful for.
Usually, that will be enough to get you in the right frame of mind to continue journaling; if after five minutes you’re still not feeling it, then stop. But at least you’ve done something.
4. Accountability is helpful
If you still don’t trust yourself to follow a schedule but this is something you really want to make into a healthy habit, get some accountability. You could:
- Join a journaling group
- Find a friend who also journals
- Start a social media account sharing ideas and inspiration
- Get involved with a writing challenge
Having a community to for mutual support and to bounce ideas off of is hugely beneficial for keeping you motivated!
5. Get inspired!
Sometimes you just need some inspiration to keep things fresh.
You could try one of the journaling techniques mentioned above, or follow some new journaling accounts on Instagram. There are some truly stunning accounts with so much inspiration to be found.
How to Start Journaling: 16 More Journaling Tips For Beginners
Here are some more general tips for journaling to get the very most out of it so it will hopefully become a positive and healthy new hobby…
6. Do not compare
Comparison is the thief of joy.
They say this for good reason: inspiration is good, but comparison is bad.
Remember, the super popular accounts are probably very established and give you an idea of what is possible with time, practice, dedication. But nobody can create a fabulous bounce font using a brush pen on their very first go.
7. Start small and manage your expectations
The above point leads nicely onto this one…
While having all of the equipment is helpful for diehard journalers and can make specific areas of journaling much easier to accomplish with a more polished finish, the fact is that all of those products add up.
Purchasing items over time is a great way to keep yourself engaged and enthusiastic about journaling, but remember they’re not all necessary. And some people will journal religiously with nothing more than a notebook and a pen.
All forms of consistent journaling are equally valid and equally beneficial.
8. Personalise your journal
Putting aside some time to make your journal your own is a really great way to foster a deep connection with your journaling practice.
When you spend time making your journal visually appealing – based upon your personal preferences and not what is currently in vogue! – you’ll likely be more inclined to take it out and continue returning to it.
Plus breaking up your journaling time between writing exercises and more creative and artistic ones can help to hold your interest and enthusiasm.
9. Make time for gratitude lists often
If you’re anything like me, you’ll believe in the power of gratitude and how, over time, it can change your mindset to a more positive outlook. If you’re not yet convinced, check out this study showing the effects of gratitude on mental health.
With the above in mind, writing gratitude lists regularly as part of your journaling is a really worthwhile activity and one I highly recommend prioritising.
10. Try journaling prompts when you have writer’s block
Sometimes, especially if you’re feeling anxious, the words just won’t come.
This is when prompts can be really helpful. Continuing the theme above, why not try these 50 gratitude journal prompts?
11. Try different journaling techniques
If you’ve only ever journaled daily entries, why not try writing an unsent letter? Or, if you’ve only ever tried gratitude lists, why not look into bullet journaling?
After the fantastic benefits of journaling, my favourite thing about it is the versatility!
If you’re feeling apathetic about journaling, maybe you simply need to switch up how you’re doing it. Either try being more creative, or perhaps you need a break from that and the opposite could be true for you.
The point is, just because you’ve always done it a certain way, doesn’t mean you can’t have a major change. You can always come back to your regular journaling. If you’re really not comfortable with making a big change midway through your journal, perhaps consider starting a second one that you can use in a different way.
The beauty is that week to week or month to month, you can try new styles and aesthetics to keep your journal fresh and interesting, if you want to!
12. Treat yourself occasionally
From time to time, to keep things fresh and hold your interest, consider treating yourself to some good quality new pens, some beautiful wash tape, or perhaps some stickers or stencils.
If journaling is a hobby that you’re committed to and you’re able to afford it, then there’s no harm in budgeting to add to your collection of supplies if it will enable you to better enjoy the activity, and achieve better results.
13. Take the pressure off
While journaling regularly is vital to make the most of the mental health benefits, it shouldn’t become a chore.
If you have the occasional day when you have other commitments and you prioritise them, that’s totally fine, so long as it doesn’t become a pattern which results in your journaling sliding completely.
Take the pressure off yourself, and try to embrace the mindset of this being something you do for you, as a way of taking care of yourself.
14. Remember your purpose for journaling
Having purpose is so vital to the human condition because it impacts our mental health in a huge way – it’s fundamental to our sense of wellbeing.
If you do find your journaling sliding, keep in mind the reason you started journaling in the first place and double-down on that purpose. Striving towards a goal, whatever it may be, provides meaning and fulfilment in life.
15. Environment is key
Just like with exercising, you’ll likely find that you have a preferred time and place to journal. Experiment.
Try journaling when you wake up, or right before you go to bed – being sure to finish on a positive note.
Likewise, consider your surroundings. You may be more content journaling in your bedroom, on a cosy sofa, or from the garden.
If you’re not comfortable, you’ll be less likely to get into the practice, and you’ll get less out of the activity.
16. Think outside of the box
As we’ve already established, journaling is very versatile.
One of my favourite ways to journal is via blogging. I realise that not everyone would consider it journaling, but a lot of my writing is cathartic, because I spend time researching, and I’m able to apply what I learn to my own situations.
My point is that journaling doesn’t have to look like the traditional notebook and pen kind that’s so popular – though that type of journaling does hold a very special place in my heart.
If you’re more inclined, you could try keeping a digital journal instead.
17. Make notes
I highly recommend keeping journaling notes either on your phone, in a notebook in your bag, or – if it’s not too bulky – carrying your journal around so that you’re able to access it at any time.
There’s nothing more frustrating than the opportunity to journal presenting itself, and not having the tools you need to do so!
Don’t forget to keep a pen handy too!
18. Revisit your goals regularly
Life is dynamic and as we and our situations change, so too will our goals and reasons for journaling.
It’s a good idea to check in regularly to see whether you can adjust anything to make your journaling more relevant or useful in any way.
For example, bujo can be insanely good for organisation. If you start out bullet journaling for creative purposes and mental health, as time goes by you may find that the bujo system becomes more applicable in terms of also helping you to keep with planning and efficiency.
19. Be open and honest
In order to gain the full therapeutic benefits of journaling, it’s a good idea to be brutally honest when writing about how you feel. Keep your journal completely private and write entirely for yourself so you can be frank without the fear of causing offence.
And then, spend time working on exorcising those negative feelings, letting go, and recalibrating.
This is why I personally work hard on forgiveness and I always recommend ending journaling with a short gratitude list, in order to refocus on positivity.
20. Use your journal as a form of free therapy
My absolute favourite reason for journaling is that you can spill out your stresses and frustrations onto the page. My advice is to simply allow the words to flow, don’t hold back.
Sometimes you may find yourself writing things you were not even consciously aware you were thinking or feeling, and this is when journaling truly comes into its own.
I know I keep returning to this point, but once you’ve got it all down, find a fresh page, and note down a few reasons you have to be grateful. If you’re able to relate them to the difficulties you’ve been writing about that’s great, but it’s not necessary. This will ensure you end your time journaling on a positive note.
Then – walk away, and take a break. Do something else to bring you some relief.
Come back a few days later and review your writing, and very often you’ll notice that the thing you were so stressed about seems diminished and less important.
A great piece of advice I once read is to consider whether the issue causing you distress will still be important in five years time. If the answer is no, you can use that to gain some valuable perspective.
So, keep your journal as a powerful, uplifting form of therapy. Exorcise your negative emotions, but be careful not to wallow for too long.
Remember, journaling is supposed to help you to identify, label, and process your feelings so you can embrace a brighter and more positive attitude.
21. Keep your focus towards positivity
Negativity is an intrinsic characteristic, hardwired into us; it’s also very damaging.
The good news is that mindfulness (hello journaling), can counteract the negativity bias we’re all predisposed to.
It’s also worth keeping this in mind when writing about difficult, challenging, or negative thoughts and emotions. It can be cathartic to purge those feelings, but in order to be cleansed and feel liberated it’s important to reach a healthy point of letting go and moving forward positively.