In the first year of the pandemic alone, the World Health Organization reported a 25 percent uptick in the “global prevalence of anxiety and depression.” The WHO cited a variety of reasons for the dramatic increase, such as people’s inability to work, get support from loved ones, and engage with the members of their community. Stigmatism, grief, and quarantine requirements also contributed to the increase in the world’s collective anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
While leading organizations like the Mayo Clinic offered advice like “stay busy” and “focus on positive thoughts” to help people combat the mental health issues the pandemic exacerbated, some people took to journaling to alleviate their distress. If you’re interested in reclaiming your mental well-being by following their lead, you might be eager to research “how to start journaling” online.
Luckily, there’s no need for you to do any research because the team at Let’s Roam has found all the tips, tricks, and advice you need to start journal writing as early as today. Better yet, our in-depth research yielded valid recommendations you can implement right from the start of your journaling journey so that the exercise becomes a permanent part of your daily routine.
Benefits of Journaling
Journaling is an engaging exercise in which people record their thoughts, feelings, goals, and experiences. As a practice, journaling has been around for thousands of years. Although journaling is nothing new, it’s experiencing a surge in popularity thanks to well-known self-care bloggers and respected authors like Deepak Chopra and Julia Cameron. The latter author wrote “The Artist’s Way,” a book that’s described by “The New York Times” as a “quasi-spiritual manual for ‘creative recovery.’”
One of the many reasons journaling has enjoyed such staying power is that the exercise has the proven ability to produce meaningful results. Knowing what some of those benefits are will inspire you to develop your own journaling practice so you can realize them in your own life.
According to Kaiser Permanente, journaling can produce the following benefits:
- Increased likelihood of achieving your goals
- Ability to track your progress and growth
- Greater self-confidence
- Improved writing and communication skills
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Newly found or increased inspiration
- Strengthened memory
Kaiser Permanente’s list of benefits is far from exhaustive, but those mentioned should be enough to motivate you to at least give journaling a try. If you’re doubtful about the benefits of journaling, here are some key historical figures who devoted considerable time to the exercise because they recognized how beneficial it was:
- Frederick Douglass
- Albert Einstein
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Marie Curie
- Frida Kahlo
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that proves journaling can yield significant health benefits. The practice can improve your physical health, mental well-being, and daily life. To manifest the benefits of journaling in your own life and make them last, the key is to journal regularly for the long haul.
Let’s get real for a moment. With the likes of Einstein and da Vinci keeping diaries and with journaling having the ability to be a life-changing exercise, can you really afford to not try your hand at the practice? What’s the worst that can happen, you waste a few scraps of paper and some ink? Oooh.
Kickstarting Your Journey of Self-Discovery
From the moment you prepare your first entry, you’ll have embarked upon a journey of self-discovery that’s only possible through journaling. The level of self-awareness you can achieve by making journaling a daily habit can improve just about every aspect of your life, including your relationships, mental health, and social network. Regular journaling truly is a transformative experience that can have lasting benefits that you’ll wonder how you ever did without.
To start your journey, you’ll need to do a few things. For starters, you’ll need to pick the type of medium you want to work with, the kind of journal you want to keep, and the style of journaling you’ll adopt. Don’t worry! None of today’s choices will lock you into a permanent type of journaling. As time goes by, you may find that another medium, journal, or style may suit your purposes better, and there’s nothing wrong with switching things up as your journey progresses.
Before we start discussing the available mediums, it’s important to point out that there’s no wrong way to go about journaling. While journaling is normally done by putting pen to paper, that’s far from the only way to engage in the exercise.
If you don’t want to use a typical bound diary to record your thoughts, emotions, and experiences, you may want to keep a journal online. People who are good at typing may find that keeping a digital diary allows them to express the things that are on their minds faster and more efficiently. They might also enjoy being able to add new journal entries from anywhere in the world without having to lug the equivalent of a book around with them.
Do you have an artistic bent that allows you to express yourself? If so, you may want to keep a journal that’s filled with your doodles, sketches, and pictures. Are you a self-talker or videographer? If you’re the former, you may want to keep an audio diary while a video journal may suit you better if you fall into the latter category.
Are you completely lost when it comes to the journaling mediums that are available to you? That’s okay! You can start your journey by simply writing your thoughts down on scraps of paper or whatever material is nearby. Yes, cocktail napkins are perfectly acceptable as are bits of toilet paper and paper towels.
Just make sure you have a place to store your loose notes in sequence so you can review what you wrote down the line. In general, it’s advisable for people who are going through difficult times right now to review their entries after they prepare them or later on the same day. Individuals who are striving for improved mental health over the long term should look over their previous entries every three or four months.
Again, there is no wrong way to journal. Whether you scribble notes, express yourself through doodles, or maintain a digital, audio, or video diary, you’re doing things right as long as your chosen journaling medium feels right to you.
Types of Journals
Newbies and veterans of journaling have many types of journals to choose from. No matter which type you initially choose, you can always switch to another one in the future.
Here are some of the journal types you may want to consider to get started with your journaling journey:
- Gratitude journal: This kind of journal is intended to shift your attention away from stressors and onto the positive aspects of your life. To use a gratitude journal, you should write down at least three things you’re grateful for every day and explain why you appreciate each of them. Gratitude journals have a long-standing history of enabling people to achieve their goals and improve their daily life.
- Bullet journal: By comparison, a bullet journal can be a little tricky to use, but it’s well worth the effort. This sort of diary is pre-filled with lists of positive quotes, calendars, suggested refreshing activities, and other helpful tools. A bullet journal is a great choice for anyone who wants to reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their productivity, manage their time better, and enhance their coping skills.
- Guided journal: A guided journal is a smart pick for people who are unsure about what they should write about and those who want to achieve something specific like quitting a bad habit. Guided journals come with pre-scripted writing prompts that can help you overcome writer’s block if it’s inhibiting your journaling. This kind of journal is widely celebrated for making users more reflective and providing them with increased clarity.
- Dream journal: Dreams can provide deep insight into the inner workings of your mind. If you’re a lucid dreamer, you may want to use a dream journal where you write about your nightly dreams first thing in the morning. Keeping this type of diary can allow you to get in touch with your subconscious and better acquaint you with your thought processes. It can also reveal dream patterns and allow you to break through any creative blocks you’re experiencing.
- Morning Pages: Morning pages is an exercise Julia Cameron discusses in her book “The Artist’s Way.” Adopted by heavyweights like Tim Ferriss, Pete Townsend, and Alicia Keys, the practice mandates that people write three pages by hand beginning when they first wake up in the morning. You don’t need to write about anything in particular. You just need to write. Doing morning pages should enhance your creativity, which will be further augmented if you also do the other exercises included in the book.
- Fitness Journal: A fitness journal is exactly what its name implies. It’s a diary you can use to track your workouts. The great thing about this sort of journal is that it allows you to track your progress toward your fitness and physical health goals.
- Food journal: Keeping a food journal is a good idea for anyone who’s struggling with their efforts to lose weight. A food journal is where you can record what you eat each day and when you consume food. As you make a food log, you can explain why you made certain food choices and how each choice made you feel. By keeping such a log, you may identify some unhealthy triggers that result in poor food choices or overeating. That information can help you adjust your unhealthy eating habits.
- Travel journal: Even if you don’t travel far or often, you can still use a travel journal to keep track of your short trips around town. When you make a stop at the grocery store or another local business, make note of the way you feel about the experience and how it engaged your senses. Keeping a travel journey will enable you to lose yourself in happy, pleasant daily exchanges whenever you’re going through difficult times and need a break from the related distress.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of other kinds of journals out there. While some journals are goal-oriented and others are thematic, a lot of people find they’re best served by a plain old notebook or hardcover diary. At least, a lot of beginners are content with those types of diaries until they see the direction their journaling will take them.
Like you have your choice of journaling mediums and journal types, you have multiple styles of journaling to choose from. Although there are other styles available, we’re going to focus on the following three:
- Free Writing
- Expressive Writing
- Stream of Consciousness
Freewriting is extremely easy as it merely requires you to write or express your thoughts as they pop into your head. By doing so, you should be able to recognize patterns and gain greater clarity about your thought processes, the things on your mind, and how you react to various happenings and experiences.
Expressive writing is emotional and personal journaling where you can forget everything you’ve learned about punctuation and grammar like matching nouns with the appropriate verb tense. What drives this style of journaling is the desire to capture your thoughts and emotions in their raw forms. Whether you write out your thoughts and feelings in a manner that would earn you an “A”, “F,” or some grade in between is completely irrelevant.
Unmistakably demonstrated in select works by author James Joyce, stream of consciousness is a journaling technique that attempts to summarize your thoughts and interior monologue as they relate to your actions in real-time. There’s no need to self-edit with this kind of journaling style.
Heck, you don’t even need to write in complete or coherent sentences. If you end up with what seems to be nonsensical jibber-jabber, it’s okay. Just let your emotions and thoughts out, and let the chips er, words fall where they may. As you jot down whatever springs to mind, a theme will emerge although it may take several journal entries for it to become apparent.
How to Start Journaling and Keep at It
Whether you want to start journaling to improve your mental health, achieve a goal, heighten your happiness from day to day, or for some other reason, you may find that you need some helpful tips to get going when you open your first journal and see a blank page staring back at you. You’ve come to the right place to get some actionable journaling tips that will make the practice enjoyable from your first page to your last.
Dedicate a set time to journaling.
It’s wise to dedicate a specific time that’s reserved for crafting journal entries every single day. You should consider the time you devote to daily journaling as a standing appointment that’s just as if not more important than all your other commitments. Journaling at the same time every day will make the exercise a daily habit quickly.
Use a timer.
Highly respected authorities like Mental Health America and the Center for Journal Therapy suggest you use a timer to time your journaling sessions. Beginners should start with brief periods like five or 20 minutes so they don’t feel overwhelmed. No matter how much time you dedicate to a journaling session, your goal should be to write until that time has elapsed at least.
Before you start journaling, write down your start and end times. Set your timer to account for the minutes between those two points. When the timer goes off, you can either stop writing or continue adding to your journal. Regardless of which action you choose to take, you’ll have accomplished your journaling goal in the context of time.
Track your mood.
As you journal, you should be mindful of your mood. In fact, you should make note of how you’re feeling every time you prepare an entry. Some common moods you may experience as you add to your journal include:
- Bummed out
- Content or satisfied
Identifying your mood isn’t enough, however. You should rate how strongly you’re feeling the way you do by using a numeric scale of 1–5 or 1–10. When it’s time for you to review your previous entries down the line, you may notice some trends or swings in your mood. You may also be able to identify stressors or successes that make you experience certain emotions more strongly or often than others.
Use journaling prompts.
When you’re staring at a blank page you’re supposed to fill with your words or sketches, it can be hard to pick something to write about. In instances like that, you should use some journaling prompts to get your juices flowing.
Finding writing prompts online is a breeze. Depending on the root cause of your writer’s block, you may find some prompts “speak” to you more readily than others.
Here are some journaling prompts that may prevent a temporary block from interrupting your critical journaling habit:
- Create a list of people and things you’re grateful to have in your life
- Describe how you taught your pet a new trick
- Draft a letter you wish you’d sent to someone when you were younger
- Make a list of your favorite childhood activities
- Think of your favorite song and change the lyrics so they relay what you’re feeling or thinking about
- Write a poem about one of your most memorable life moments
- Name three challenges you’re grappling with and explain how you’ll overcome them
- Identify a bad habit and your plan to give it up
- List the 10 best moments of your life thus far
- Discuss your one-, five-, and 10-year goals and how you’ll make them realities
- Describe the person you’d like to become
- Write about what happened when you changed your child’s first diaper
Some people find what they write upsetting. Maybe they’re not happy with their writing skills or style or they’re disappointed with the way they feel about a sensitive topic. In either case, you shouldn’t judge your writing, feelings, viewpoints, or anything else that’s included in your journal. And you most certainly should not feel guilty about anything that’s in there.
For many, journaling is the one activity that allows people to be totally honest and free with their words. You have the right to express yourself however you see fit and you have nothing to feel guilty about if your emotions or opinions aren’t what someone else might consider to be politically correct or, to use more timely jargon, “woke.”
Keep your journal private.
Journaling is the practice of self-awareness and discovery. The exercise isn’t meant to inform others about your thoughts, emotions, aspirations, and experiences. What you put in your journal is intended for your eyes alone, not anybody else’s.
If you agree to share your journal with a loved one or your therapist, you might discover that your entries aren’t as honest or authentic as they used to be. When you’re not honest or genuine in your entries, journaling loses a lot if not all of its effectiveness as a potentially life-changing tool.
To prevent that from happening, keep your journal private. Label it “My Journal” and write your name in clear letters underneath the title. Store your journal in a secure place that others don’t have access to. Even if it was your therapist’s idea for you to start journaling, resist entreaties that seek to get you to turn over your journal. It’s fine to share the nature of an entry or its subject matter, but the entry itself should only be seen by you unless it discusses potential harm to your person or someone else.
Allow for spontaneous entries.
While it’s advisable to have a standing daily appointment for journaling, it’s equally wise to journal at other times of the day if you feel the need or desire to do so. With that in mind, don’t limit your journaling to your scheduled time. If you want or need to journal at another time, allow yourself to.
The further you get in your journaling journey, the more you may realize that you enjoy writing at odd hours of the day, like the wee hours of the morning or late at night. The key is to let yourself journal whenever the mood strikes in addition to journaling during the time you usually allot to the exercise.
If you notice that you’re journaling outside the “appointed hour” more and more, you may want to start bringing your journal with you wherever you go. By doing so, your journal will be readily available in the event you want to prepare an unexpected entry.
Yes, it would be great if you could journal every single day of the week, month, or year. Unless you live a life of utter leisure, that may not be a realistic goal. It’s okay to make an appointment to journal just three or four days per week. If Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are the only days of the week you can set aside time to journal, you don’t need to journal any longer on those days to “make up” for the other days of the week.
For journaling to provide the benefits we discussed earlier, the exercise should be a regular practice over the long haul. While that’s true, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an activity you need to engage in every day.
Remember, one of the points of journaling is to relieve stress and anxiety. When you devote too much time to the practice and it becomes burdensome, it may have the reverse of the intended effects on your mental health and become something you dread rather than looking forward to. To stop those things from happening, be realistic right from the start of your journaling journey.
Hold yourself accountable.
Journaling is a singular activity that lacks oversight of any kind. That is, only you can hold yourself accountable when it comes to preparing entries when you’re scheduled to. If you miss a session, make sure you reschedule one just like you would if you missed a doctor’s appointment.
Do you struggle with self-accountability? If so, you may want to get a journal that’s pre-filled with prompts. For example, a typical guided journal will tell you how often you should add an entry. The guidelines that are included in that type of diary make it a cinch to hold yourself accountable.
The place you choose to journal should allow you to write uninterrupted. That doesn’t mean you need to lock yourself in the closet or a bathroom to draft a journal entry. You may find it easy to concentrate in a busy café or at a local park. Wherever you journal, just make sure you won’t get distracted until your journaling session is set to expire at least.
Don’t hesitate to switch things up.
As we explained earlier, you may find that you change your journaling style or your medium as the exercise more firmly implants itself into your daily routine. Just like you shouldn’t hesitate to switch those things up, you shouldn’t pause when it comes to changing other things, such as where you journal.
If you feel as if your journey has stalled, journaling in a new, perhaps unfamiliar location may be all you need to do to get back on track. Have your previous entries focused on a traumatic event that you’re tired of writing about? Write about something else for a change.
Make journaling a pleasant indulgence.
By associating journaling with some of your favorite things, you’ll increase the likelihood that the exercise will become an everyday or nearly everyday habit. As you’re journaling, listen to your favorite playlist, sip on your preferred herbal tea, and enjoy snacks you wouldn’t normally consume. If you’re going to handwrite your entries, treat yourself to a nicely weighted fountain pen and a high-quality journal that will be treasured keepsakes.
When you spoil yourself just a little bit as you journal, the activity itself will become a pleasant indulgence. And it’ll be one you want to experience over and over again.
Get inspired by Let’s Roam!
Let’s Roam is all about seeking adventure, seeing the world, and connecting with people and places around us. We encourage participation in activities that are a blast to journal about and it offers inspiring ideas about travel and all sorts of different lifestyles and adventures.
The Adventures From Scratch books offer over 50 suggestions (each!) for tasks you can share with family members or your significant other. Each book includes space to journal about your experiences, so you can come back to the book at any time and review how the activities made you feel, what you discovered, and how much you enjoyed yourself!
There’s no reason for you to even leave home for Let’s Roam to provide some inspiration you can infuse into your entries. Let’s Roam has plenty of engaging activities you can be a part of from your home or office. Whether you want to embark on an indoor scavenger hunt, host a virtual party or cooking class, or play a group game, you can do them all and a whole lot more with Let’s Roam.
Frequently Asked Questions
Wondering how to start journaling? Don’t overthink it! You can start simply by writing about your day or creating a to-do list for tomorrow. Over time, it should come easier.
When you start journaling, write about anything that comes to mind. This book is yours, so there’s no wrong way to write in it. You’ll likely develop your own process as you journal more frequently.
Not everyone feels comfortable putting pen to paper. Luckily, there are several apps that can help you start journaling, including Reflectly, Daylio, and Happyfeed.