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A Beginner's Guide to Journaling

By Brianne Sorensen, Editor in Chief

Last week, I wrote a post about the benefits of journaling. This week, I wanted to share some tips, tricks, and techniques to maintain a good journaling practice. Here are five tips to help you keep a journal, whatever your reasons may be:

Write every day if you can. Even if you only write five minutes a day, you will have a sense of accomplishment. Maintaining a sort of journaling routine, no matter how small, will help you stay on track with your journaling goals. When I first began journaling, I set a timer for ten minutes to keep myself on track, and I often found myself wanting to write longer than that!

Make it accessible to yourself at all times. Do your best to keep some sort of journaling device or a pen and paper around during the day. I write thoughts and ideas I have in my notes app on my phone if I am not around my journal. That way, when I do have time to sit down and journal, I can continue my thought process.

Write what feels right. There is no such thing as the “journal police.” Nobody should be digging around your journal and reading it if you don’t want them to, so see your journal as your space. Write or doodle whatever feels good in the space you have created for yourself.

Find the way to write that works best for you. I enjoy journaling with a pen on paper in a fun journal I buy from the bookstore or at street markets. I know some who prefer to type on a keyboard. My friend journals on rocks then throws them into rivers. Whatever format of journaling works for you, give it a try. If you are just beginning to journal, open yourself up to non-conventional ways of journaling if you see fit.

Enjoy yourself. Journaling may not be for you every day, and it is okay to skip a day and go on a walk or make a nice meal for yourself instead (remember, there are no journaling police). It is okay to not write down every thought that comes to you to write about later. And it is okay to have a journaling session where you simply write the same sentence over and over. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you are most likely not reaping all the benefits journaling has to offer you. If you find yourself struggling, take a step back, forgive yourself, and re-evaluate your journaling routine.

If you are struggling getting started, here are some different techniques to try:

Think back on specific experiences. If you are having difficulty starting to get words down on the page, think of an experience and describe all of the emotions that experience brought on. Writing everything down may help you start to organize your thoughts. Layer on more experiences and more emotions if that feels right.

Try expressive writing. Expressive writing is a type of writing therapy used all over the world to help people overcome emotional challenges, or even just to connect with themselves again. When you take part in expressive writing, you write about your deepest thoughts. You pay no attention to spelling, grammar, or a storyline. It is simply free-flowing and almost a sort of unconscious writing that greatly benefits your body on several mental levels. This study found taking part in expressive writing may even help you do better on math tests.

To practice expressive writing, open your journal and start to write. Write about anything that comes to your brain first. If nothing seems to come, just start writing a sentence, such as “Today it was sunny outside,” to get your body moving and your brain warming up. Once something comes to your mind, stop writing that basic sentence over and over and write what comes to you. Either set a timer or write until you feel emotionally cleared.

Write anything down on the page. If after some trial and error you are still struggling, write down what you did during your day. Researchers from Harvard Business School found that when you write small, seemingly insignificant facts (like what you ate for breakfast this morning) you will be happy you did, even just seven months later. This “time capsule” you have created is satisfying because you completed a project and you are able to see the progress you have made since then.

Happy journaling!

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