So, you’ve heard about the many benefits of having a regular journal-writing practice and you’re journal-curious! Or perhaps you’ve tried to create a regular journaling practice in the past, but the habit never stuck. In this blog, we offer tips for how to get started on journal writing and stick with it.
(For regular journal writers looking for inspiration, read our blog about new ideas to re-invigorate your practice.)
How to Get Started with Journaling
Start journaling with prompts
One of the best ways to start any new habit is to approach it as an experiment. A true experiment cannot fail because it’s an exploration. Go into with a curious mind ready to learn things and have the mindset of hoping to learn something unexpected.
Do it daily for a month.
Plan your journaling start-up to include one session a day for one month. It’s fun to start on Day 1 of a month. It doesn’t need to take up a lot of time—10 minutes a day is a good start.
Reward consistency over volume.
To get started, it’s more important to do the practice daily than it is to do it for a particular length of time or number of words. There’s no need to time yourself, either. Just write at least a paragraph every day for a month.
Test different factors.
As part of the experiment, change one element every few days to see what works best for you. Try different locations (where you sit or stand to write), and experiment with the time of day you journal (first thing in the morning; mid-day; before bed; or “in-between moments”, such as transitioning from work to leisure time, or from one type of project to another).
Write your journal longhand (not by text or on a keyboard). Longhand writing slows you down and connects body to brain—important factors in achieving many of the benefits of a journaling practice.
Use constraints, not rules.
Rules stifle the free-flow of ideas that journal writing is meant to tap—that’s why we advise treating this as an experiment, not having a specific idea of what “success” or “failure” looks like, and not using a timer.
That said, staring at a blank page can be intimidating, in which case constraints can be helpful. A constraint is boundary that you can put on your journal writing. Here are a few examples of constraints to try IF you find that the blank page causes you to freeze:
- Start each journal entry with a phrase, such as “It surprises me that…”
- Decide that you will write about anything BUT what you did/will do today.
- Start with the same kind of statement each day, such as a statement of gratitude.
- Write your journal entries as letters—you can address them to your past or future self, to a loved one, or to an imaginary entity.
- Use a prompted journal, because prompts are essentially built-in constraints.
How to Stick with Journaling
If your initial one-month journal-writing experiment is beneficial to you then you’ll want to continue the practice. Still, a month isn’t that long and old habits and distractions may take you away from journaling even if you have a real desire to keep up the practice.
These tips will help you keep up the good habit:
Blank lined journal books
Make your journal-writing experience as personal as possible through your choice of writing instrument, location, journal book, ink colour, and style. If you’re artistic or physical, incorporate drawing or movement into your practice.
Make it fun.
Habits stick when they are enjoyable. You can make journal writing more enjoyable by doing it in a location you like (inside or outdoors), using a pen you like, choosing an ink colour that brings you happiness, playing music, or doing it with a friend.
Recognize small wins.
You might miss a day or two; some days you may only write a couple of sentences. Some days you might write nothing more than, “I don’t feel inspired to write anything today. Not sure why, so I’m going for a walk instead.” Rather than chastising yourself for under-performing, look for ways to be proud of what you have done. Perhaps some days you’ll spend re-reading old journal entries instead of writing new ones.
Create associated habits.
By creating a web of associated habits around journaling, you’ll be more likely to fall easily into doing it daily. We’ve already mentioned several associated habits, such as using a special location, journal book, pen, or music. You can also pair journal writing with something else you enjoy, like tea or coffee.
Build in rewards.
Another way to ensure journaling becomes part of your daily routine is to “reward” yourself for doing it. For example, journal before going for a walk or taking your morning shower. Or, reward yourself with a beautiful new journal book each month.
Review the benefits.
If all else fails, remind yourself of WHY you started journaling. Reviewing the proven benefits of longhand journal writing may help:
The Benefits of a Regular Journaling Practice
Give voice to demons.
Our minds are often full of doubts, fears, shame, negative memories and other mental gremlins that hold us back. By giving those demons some space to express themselves, their power dissipates.
Clear out your mental closet.
We are often distracted by emotions and complex thoughts, whether it’s dealing with difficult people, decisions, or situations. Writing about these distractions in a journal helps clear them out of the mind so we can give our energy to more productive things.
Connect with your true voice.
Life is often cluttered with the voices of other people—their opinions, ideas, fears, and dreams for us. It’s easy to lose our own truth in that noise. A dedicated journaling practice is a place to focus on or even discover your voice, first by clearing out the demons and distractions, then by making room for the real you to express.
Generate creative new ideas.
If you approach journaling with no rules and no definition of success or failure, new and interesting ideas will emerge. Look for creative clues in your past journal entries, and use your journal to free-write about ideas you have, no matter how outlandish they may seem.
Capture your brilliance.
Have you noticed that your best ideas come when you’re not trying to have a good idea? A regular journal writing practice increases the chances that you’ll capture and keep those brilliant ideas.