I first started journaling about 15 years ago, with a Lisa Frank padlocked writing pad. I swore up and down to Mom that if she bought it for me, I’d fill it. My entries were doodles and quick recaps of the day, which I recorded diligently before that journal started collecting dust on my bookshelf. I went through so many journals in this pattern. It would always start with some wonderful, dramatic, or troubling event I felt I needed to write into my own history. Then, after weeks or even months of complete devotion, I’d forget about it and half of the pages would remain forever empty.
What broke this pattern? For me, it was expanding my journal beyond the parameters I believed existed. I always thought journaling was supposed to be a practice to end the day with, to chart out little recaps of my day and give my feelings a place to reside outside of my head. My journals still serve these purposes, sure! But they do so much more. I wanted my journal to be an expression of myself, something that would benefit me now and be around for me to reflect on in 5, 10, or 20 years time. Here’s how to start a journal you’ll actually keep:
Firstly, ask yourself what you need from the journal. I needed increased organization, a private space to reflect, a record for my future self, and a doodle zone. Specifically, I was embarking on two new paths; veganism and spirituality. My head was buzzing with new thoughts and ideas and I needed a place to make sense of them. I used Bullet Journal posts on Pinterest to inspire ideas like a mood tracker and a “highlights of the month” page. I also made a page to track what books I’ve read, designing it to look like a bookshelf! Set an intention. What do you, personally, need from your journal? And don’t worry about keeping it the traditional way. If your whole journal is lists, great! If your whole journal is pressed plants you picked up on adventures out, great! Journals grow with us. It’s your memoir, so own it! #NoRules
Secondly, don’t hold yourself to a standard. This always tripped me up. If I did an art piece in my journal I didn’t like, or I didn’t write in it for 3 months, I’d want to quit and start a new one entirely. Resist this urge. It’s okay to forget about your journal. Just remember it’s there when you need it. It’s okay if it doesn’t look as aesthetic as you might have hoped. Again, our journals grow with us. When I was 14 or 15, I found a bunch of my journals from ages 10-12 that were just plain embarrassing to me, and I threw them out! It’s a huge regret of mine. I was holding my journals to a standard. I only wanted them if they reflected what I wanted to see at the time. Let your journal be what it’s going to be and go with it. If you really want, some day, you can pick and choose your favorite pages from years passed and compile an anthology of sorts. It’ll be as pretty as you please and a fantastic craft project to share with your kids, and maybe their kids! And you can choose whether or not you want to include the pages detailing unspeakable embarrassment 😉
So now that you’ve got a journal started, what to put in it!? I‘ll be posting a compilation of prompts soon for those of us inclined to creative writing, or those who need a jumping point for introspection. Until then, here are 6 reasons to keep a journal that might inspire you!
- Journaling is therapeutic. Your journal is your confidant. It will never judge you
or break your trust. You can tell your journal things that are nagging at your mind or troubling your soul. Releasing those things onto paper can be so relieving. Nerve-wracking thoughts won’t be ping-ponging around your mind all day; once you get them on paper, they become concrete, and more manageable! Organize your thoughts, de-clutter your psyche.
- It’s an affordable way to improve your mental and physical health. We try a lot of things to grapple with our health. Therapy, meditation, medication, whatever it may be; pair your current practices with journaling. It’s a low-cost act of self love. A study published in The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology concluded that writing about your emotions sets off a cascade of positive effects. It helps people process trauma, improve memory, and even become more comfortable building new relationships. Additionally, they schedule fewer doctor’s appointments!
- Get creative! Want to dabble more in poetry? Drawing? Creative writing? Great. Your journal is your new art class! If you’re in an artist’s block or don’t know where to start, search the internet for fun writing or drawing prompts. Some of the greatest writers in history encouraged journaling. Virginia Woolf wrote: “But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice.” Henry David Thoreau once said: “Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he, the actual hero, lived from day to day.” Who knows what creativity will leap from the pages of your journal?
- Record what matters to you. For some, keeping a record of exercise habits or daily routines matters most. I know that for me, keeping a record of my month’s “highlights”, to-do lists, and songs I’ve learned on the ukulele are important. I give these “primary pages” their own sections in my journals. I recommend looking up Bullet Journal ideas for inspiration! It’s YOUR JOURNAL so do it YOUR WAY!
- Work through tough decisions. It can be hard to make sense of difficult situations and choices we have to make when we’re trying to organize our thoughts in our mind. Get them out onto paper! Approach a hard conversation by writing talking points down. Have an ultimatum? Make a pro-con list. You’ll also be creating a powerful record of your personal thoughts which could help to inform you later in life.
- Imprint your past selves and see your progress. We don’t stay the same people forever. Looking back on who we used to be can bring back happy memories, make us proud of all we’ve overcome, and help us track our self-improvement. It also gives us the opportunity to take note of behavior patterns. One day, you’re really going to want to remember who you were on prom night, when you met your partner, or the day you graduated college. It’s one thing to look at a picture. It’s another experience entirely to give new life to old words.
So there you have it! Journaling is an act of self-love for my present self, and a gift to my future self. What will you do with yours?
*Cover photo credit to Ariana Bunker