Journaling has been scientifically proven to help improve both physical and mental health. Experts have stated that expressive writing can help manage stress, improve our immune systems, improve self-esteem, and even help improve relationships. The benefits of journaling are truly numerous. It’s no wonder it has been used in therapeutic practices for pretty much all of time. But, how do you get started?
We know how it goes. You got the perfect journal. You opened it and filled the first few blank pages with all your thoughts and dreams. The next morning, you forgot. Then, for the next 364 days, you continued to forget, as your pretty journal gathered dust on the nightstand. We get it. Truth is, there are very few people who have the self-discipline and will to just open up a journal and write every day. Most of us need a more organized program. We need rules, goals, a reason to keep writing in this thing. We need help! There is a better way. Let’s find it.
The Perfect Travel Journal For Beginners
Journaling is wonderful, but staring at a blank page can be intimidating if you’re a beginner! The Let’s Roam Travel Adventure Journal is designed to guide you through putting together the perfect trip, coming up with ideas to improve your experience, and recording your memories. With photo prompts, streamlined tips, suggested adventures, engaging writing prompts, and more, it’s the perfect journaling tool and travel companion!
Benefits of Journaling
Before we get to the tips, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of journaling, for those of you who are still on the fence.
- Journaling Helps Manage Stress – Journaling has been shown to help manage difficult emotions. “Getting it out,” on paper, is cathartic. Sometimes once the raging thoughts are organized on paper, the solution to the problem presents itself. Sometimes, you find that you no longer care about that situation so much, or you reread it and decide it needs to be discussed with someone. Whatever the outcome, getting out the negative emotions or detailing what you are grateful for can decrease the chaos in the brain and help lower stress. According to Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm’s article in Cambridge University Press, journaling has been shown to help with the stress of PTSD, eating disorders, and natural disasters.
- Journaling Helps Improve Immune Health – Stress causes increased cortisone levels in the body, which can wreak havoc on everything from blood pressure to wound healing. Studies show that when stress levels are in check, the brain has more time to deal with physical health. Research by Dr. James Pennebaker has shown that journaling indirectly leads to increased production of healthy T-lymphocytes (the cells responsible for chasing down diseases in the body). His studies showed improvement in postoperative wound healing, rheumatoid arthritis, and even certain cancers.
- Journaling Helps Improve Sleep – According to this study, creating a detailed to-do list for five minutes before bed lead to increased ease falling asleep. Better sleep quality leads to clearer thinking, better control of emotions, healthier immune systems, and a plethora of other medical benefits.
- Journaling Helps Improve Productivity – A little organization never hurt anyone. Productivity planners, like the Bullet Journal, can help organize your day, week, and month, keeping you on track. When those of us who are procrastinators or have a bit of ADD can strike things off a list, we tend to stay more focused and productive. Journaling allows you to make and accomplish goals, keeping you on track.
- Journaling Helps Improve Creativity – In a private journal, you have complete creative control. No one else will see it, so it isn’t hampered by what others will think. You can be completely free to explore your wildest dreams and biggest ideas, with no fear of being shot down.
- Journaling Helps Improve Memory – The act of writing down information activates the Reticular Activating System, the part of your nervous system responsible for connecting the unconscious with the conscious. In short, writing something brings it to the forefront and lets the brain know it is important.
- Journaling Helps Improve All Forms of Communication – Writing out your thoughts and feelings allows you to organize them in a way that is difficult to do in your head. This allows you to process difficult situations before you have that conversation, which usually results in a more balanced and level-headed convo. Not only that, but you will also find that writing daily encourages you to search for new words and phrases, increasing your vocabulary and technical writing skills.
- Journaling Helps Document Memories – Journaling not only helps you remember all those moments you never want to forget, but it can also serve as your legacy too. Your kids and grandkids will love reading about the amazing trips you took, the people you met, and the life you lived. Plus, when you are older, you can look back and remember, in detail, the events of your life, as you saw them in the moment.
Top Tips for Beginning Journalers
Assuming you are convinced to journal now, how in the world do you get started? How do you ensure that it will stick this time? Let’s take a look at some of the advice from seasoned journalers on how to build a successful, consistent journaling practice.
1. Figure Out Your Why
To truly have success with journaling, you need to establish why you want to do this in the first place. There’s a multitude of reasons. Some people journal to help assess and control emotions. Some people journal to keep their life organized. Others do it to keep track of accomplishments and goals, like a weight-loss journal. Some journalers write to make sure they have a record of their life and memories. The reasons go on and on. However, determining why YOU want to journal will help you decide what to write, what kind of journal you need to buy, and how much time to allot to your writing. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- What topics interest me?
- What do I hope to accomplish with this journal?
- Which kind of journal do I want to use?
That leads us to our next tip for beginners, deciding what type of journal to use.
2. Find Your Journaling Type
Did you know there are a bazillion types of journals? Well, there are. What journal you use will depend on your personality and the purpose of your journaling. Let’s look at a few of them in brief and who they might work best for.
Free Writing Journals
Freewriting is just what it sounds like. You sit down with blank pages and write whatever comes to mind. Generally, this will be easiest for those who excel in writing, to begin with, or those who easily identify and express feelings. Freewriting is very effective but can be hard for beginners to adhere to.
Morning pages is a writing technique developed by Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist’s Way. It is similar to freewriting, but there are some parameters.
- First of all, in the morning pages program, you must write in the morning, when your mind is the freshest. It is to be done first thing!
- Secondly, you must write three full pages each day.
- Finally, you are to write in a stream of consciousness. This means you write what comes to you, as it comes. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, isn’t fully formed, or isn’t rational. You write what comes.
Bullet Journals are best for people who need a little organization. If your purpose for journaling is setting goals to organize your life or to feel more in control, then a bullet journal might be for you. Bullet journals, or bujo for short, are a series of to-do lists, organized into categories that fit your personal goals. Each bullet journal page has dotted grid paper to help with organization. They often come with date and dot stickers to help you prioritize goals and highlight tasks you wish to remember. For bullet journal ideas, or to buy a Bullet Journal or a book explaining the process, check out the official Bullet Journal website.
If you want to explore expressive writing, but you aren’t good at freewriting, consider a guided journal. Guided journals help by starting your daily writing with a journal prompt. Usually, this is a specially crafted question meant to provoke deep thought or emotional response. Journal entries may start with a writing prompt like, “If you could go anywhere in the world, right now, where would you go and why?” These guides are great when you just start journaling, as they can help you organize ideas and learn to express yourself without having to come up with an original prompt every day on your own. We love this 60 Days, New Mindset Journal for beginners.
Gratitude journaling may be one of the most effective. It is simply listing what you are grateful for and why. Gratitude journaling, according to Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough’s research, has been shown to improve one’s overall outlook on life. According to the study, gratitude journalers report fewer physical ailments and feel more optimistic than those who journal about their anxieties and problems. If you tend to focus on the negative and worry constantly, gratitude journaling may be an easy self-care measure you can add to your day to improve your outlook. If you are not sure how to start this process or aren’t a great writer, grab The Five-Minute Journal. It’s specifically curated to help you craft an effective gratitude journal in just five minutes.
Food and Workout Journals
This type of journaling involves tracking your food and workouts. Writers often set goals, record accomplishments, and discuss how they are feeling about the process. Some include encouraging quotes, healthy tips, and favorite recipes.
Letter journals are a very therapeutic method of self-discovery, especially for those working through relationship issues. They are structured as letters to yourself, your partner, your parents, your 12-year-self, your future self, etc. Letters can be shared, or they can remain private. It’s up to the journaler. Either way, getting feelings out on paper allows you to analyze them and work through them.
Perhaps you don’t write much, but you express yourself best with drawing. Art journals are usually a compilation of scribbles, coloring, or doodles, and they are a simple way to focus the mind and get out some energy. You can make your own DIY journal or try a curated one like the 365 Days of Art, available on Amazon, which has a different artistic endeavor for each day of the year. You could also do a combination. Perhaps a curated one will help you come up with some of your own page ideas.
For avid readers or lovers of devotionals, writing about your daily reading can be really cathartic. Whatever you read today, just write down your thoughts and feelings around it.
Photo journals are much like scrapbooks, but with a little extra. Take your favorite photos, one a day, and write the story behind them. Where were you? Who were you with? What happened? When was it taken? How does it make you feel looking back on it?
Topical journals can be kept for anything. We have seen people keep journals on their plants and herbs, periods, film, coffee, travel, bucket lists, meal planning, whatever interests you. There are no limits.
Goal and Dreams Journals
It’s just what it sounds like. A goals and dreams journal is like a vision board, but in writing. You can outline and detail your long-term goals. What do you want life to look like in 5 years? 10 years? You can also make short-term goals to begin accomplishing immediately. It’s a great place to let your mind wander and really dream. If you could have anything, accomplish anything, what would it be? These are great journals for those feeling trapped in life or those who have trouble seeing their worth.
3. Gather Your Materials
Now that you know why you want to keep a journal and what kind you want to do, it’s time to buy the stuff. This will obviously depend on your chosen type of journal and your budget.
There are a few things to consider when buying materials:
- Is your journal going to be stationary at home, or do you want a pocket journal to keep on you at all times? If your journal is going to go with you, make sure you invest in one that is well-made and durable.
- What do you want it to look like aesthetically, simple with clean black writing, or colorful and fun, for instance? Can you write straight, or do you need lines?
- What are you doing to do about errors? Keep them? Scratch through them? Erase them by using a pencil? Or, do you need to purchase some White Out strips for your kit?
- Do you want it to stay bound and all be in one place, or do you want pages that tear out and can be put on the fridge, mirror, or your car?
A few items to grab:
- The journal itself
- Highlighters of different colors, so you can reread and highlight notable feelings or revelations according to a color key. This will help you quickly identify areas you need to work on or areas of accomplishment. For instance, angry in red, sad in blue, happy in yellow, etc.
- Erasers or White Out
- Writing utensils (pens, pencils, colored pencils, or even markers).
4. Set Your Timer
Most of the experts agree that you will need 5-15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. You are not writing a novel. It may take longer for some, but in the beginning, if you can carve out 5 minutes, that’s great! As you get used to the process, you will find your own flow. You may have days where you write for an hour and days where you struggle to get 5 minutes. That’s part of the game, and it’s fine. Don’t beat yourself up about it. However, in the beginning, it’s good to have a goal. So, set a 5 or 10-minute timer to help you get the hang of it.
5. Pick Your Time of Day
While many experts suggest journaling first thing in the morning, when your mind is fresh, that doesn’t work for everyone. If you have chosen to do “morning pages,” then you will write in the morning. However, if you are a night owl, or if you have trouble sleeping, then you may choose to journal at night.
Journaling in the morning is great for art journals, bullet journals, and to-do lists. It can be a great daily habit to start your day with a clear plan and a fresh outlook. Morning can also be a good time to reread old journal entries. You can better assess a difficult situation or complicated emotions with fresh eyes and then write about your feelings on the matter today.
Studies show that those who have trouble getting to sleep at night, fall asleep faster when they make a very detailed to-do list in their journal before bed. Lining out tomorrow’s events allows the brain to rest, knowing that there is a plan and everything can be done in the allotted time. Nighttime is also great if you are keeping a gratitude journal. This allows you to write, in real-time, about all the great things that happened today, and what you felt grateful for, before you forget.
If you have a short attention span or tend to forget things, perhaps you will do best with a pocket journal. This way, you can pull it out multiple times a day, jot down what you need to at the moment, and then move on.
There is no right or wrong way to do it, whatever works for you. In the beginning, you may need to alternate your time of day and see what works best for your schedule and personality. Try one week in the morning and the next week at night and see which is better.
6. Begin Writing
The major hurdle of keeping a journal is just starting! It doesn’t have to be perfect. There is no perfect time or anything you need to do to start. Just start!
7. Keep it Private
There is debate out there on whether your journal should be private or something you share. It really depends on you. We suggest, in the beginning, you keep it private. This will allow you to truly explore your feelings and creativity without the limitations we place on ourselves when we know others are watching. If you are using your journal to explore difficult emotions, thoughts, and current problems in your life, keep it to yourself. At some point, you may go back and reread your entries and decide to share them with someone you trust, a partner, friend, or therapist. That’s fine too. It’s all up to you.
8. Form a Daily Habit
The old adage says it takes about 21 days to form a habit. According to Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, a new task can take on average, 66 days to become automatic. So, know that it might take some time. Set a reminder alarm on your phone for the first couple of months until you get in the groove. Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day or two, just pick it back up and keep going!
9. Find Accountability
Like we have stated before, it is very easy for most of us to start a journal and quickly leave it in the dust. There is something very comforting about having a group of like-minded people, or just one person, who is also devoted to the cause. It’s never a bad thing to have a partner or mentor in any aspect of life. Find a friend who wants to journal too, or even better, find someone who is already an avid journaler. Ask them to help keep you accountable by asking once a week if you have been journaling. It’s that simple. You may choose to share bits from your journals with each other. Or, it can be a simple question once a week, just to keep you on track. Just knowing that your accountability partner is going to ask is sometimes enough to keep you on track.
10. Keep Your Expectations Low
Okay, we are at the point in the article where some of you are starting to feel overwhelmed. Remember, this is your journal. You are not Hemmingway. You are most likely not a poet. You are not going to sit down with your perfect moleskin and quill pen, in the first months of writing, and produce beautiful manuscripts that will go down in posterity. That isn’t realistic for most of us. Nor is it very therapeutic. The time you have is the time you have. What you are feeling is what you are feeling. What you have to say is what you have to say. Whether that is paragraphs of emotions or one line that says, “Today I am grateful for …”
That is not to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself to complete something. Set goals and try to stick to them, but don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t Pulitzer-worthy. It isn’t supposed to be.
11. Stop the Block
Writer’s block is a real thing. Somedays, you just can’t think of the words. You try and try but nothing comes. Don’t give up. Here are a few ideas for beginners to get the creative juices flowing on a dry day.
- Try a new environment. Most of us are positively or negatively influenced by the physical environment we are in. If you are feeling unmotivated by your current situation, try going out on the porch or to your favorite cafe. The great thing about journals is they are portable.
- When you are stumped for words. Write about gratitude. Not only is this one of the most beneficial forms of journaling, but it’s easy to do too. “Today, I am thankful for …” You might find this method of positive thinking reinvigorates your writing and frees your block.
- Try a different journaling technique. Just because you don’t have ample words today, doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say. Perhaps today, you collect an object for your journal and write a sentence about it (a leaf, sticker, something pretty), or maybe you just draw a picture or color the page in geometric shapes today. It’s all good.
- Turn to your prompts. In the beginning for sure, we suggest you keep a list of journaling prompts to help you on a stale day!
12. Keep a Prompt List
As mentioned, having a list of prompts can help you when you get writer’s block, but it also can keep you from rambling on and on about the same old stuff. Part of forming a habit that sticks is to keep it interesting. You don’t want your mind to get bored. So, keep a list of a few prompts around for a day when you need to change it up. Pinterest is full of writing prompts, and there are also several curated journals out there with daily prompts. Here are a few good ones:
- What happened today that made me feel anxious? Why?
- What made me happy today?
- I feel the most alive when …
- What have I learned about myself recently, and what can I do about it?
- If I could travel anywhere in the world, it would be where, and why?
- Who am I harboring bitterness towards? Who do I need to forgive?
- Who can I bless with a good deed today?
- What relationship do I have that needs mending? What is my part in it?
- What are 5 goals that I can accomplish this week?
- What keeps me up at night?
- What do I believe spiritually?
- What do I want in a perfect partner?
- What is my happiest memory?
- What can I do today to make the world a better place?
Use one of these, or make up your own. We also find that inspirational quotes make for great prompts! Just write your favorite quote and then expound on it. Why do you love it? What does it mean to you? How can you live it out?
13. Keep Track of Your Habit
In the beginning, it can be helpful to have a calendar on your fridge or phone. Some people like to use an app, like Habit Tracker. Check off each day that you complete your journal and write a few details. It’s not to punish yourself or cause guilt. It’s just for tracking. You may find that you do better on certain days of the week, or that you do better when you journal outside, or inside. You may find that you do better in the morning, or at night. Keep little notes on your calendar until you formulate a solid routine. This will help you stay motivated and figure out what works best for you!
14. Go Against The Grain
So, the research says it works better if you write by hand. However, some days you won’t want to. Maybe it hurts your hands or takes you too long. The truth is writing is still therapeutic and useful if you do it on your phone or on your laptop, especially if you still reread and analyze it. If typing it makes it easier for you to start, then do that. You most likely always have your phone in your pocket. Grab it. Type or speak what you need to say, in the moment. You can review it later and analyze it just like you would your handwritten notes.
15. Write to Someone Else
The most pragmatic individuals may find that they feel quite silly sitting around writing to themselves. Though they know the practical benefits, they just can’t seem to make themselves do it. If you are one of these folks, don’t write to yourself. Write to someone else. Structure your journal as a letter to a friend, enemy, partner, or even your past or future self. Write to someone you admire or someone you are upset with. Write to someone who could use some advice or to a loved one that has passed. Structuring your journal in this way gives you a clear recipient of information. However, since it is private, you can say whatever you want to them, unhindered by social constructs or the necessity to be polite.
16. Be Brutally Honest
The whole purpose of the journal, for many, is to deal with unwanted and difficult stuff. If you guard what you say, restructure it to sound politically correct, or let your mind be hindered by what you or others think, you will not get to the truth of what is going on in that head. Successful journaling requires getting real with yourself and being a bit vulnerable. Be gritty. Get raw. Write what you feel: the good, bad, and the ugly. Remember, no one ever has to see it but you.
17. Make It Your Own
Your journal might be perfectly aligned, in ink color-coded for each emotion, have measured margins, and get A+ marks for handwriting. If that is you, go you! Your journal might be all over the place, written in whatever pen you could find, with scratch-throughs and extra notes jotted in. It might be sideways or have drawings in the middle. Whatever! Do you. This is your creative space.
18. Keep Your Journal With You
You may choose to keep your journal in your purse or bag. Most of us have pretty short memories, and feelings are the most authentic when they are happening. Jotting down a few sentences, in the moment, can be really beneficial for managing emotions and for enhancing memory! You can go back and elaborate later.
18. Enjoy The Process
The final journaling tip for beginners is to enjoy your time. Make your 5-15 minutes of journaling a time you look forward to. Make your favorite coffee. Grab your favorite snack. Turn on some music that inspires you or sit at the window with the best view. Get in a quiet place, that is comfortable, and just enjoy the process!
19. Celebrate Your Victories
It might sound a little childish, but people like rewards. We all do. Set yourself a goal, then when you accomplish it, treat yourself to a little something you love. For instance, let’s say your goal is to write in your journal, every day, for thirty days. Once you achieve your thirty days, treat yourself to ice cream, a fancy coffee, or even better, a new beautiful journal! It can be as small or large as you want, as long as it’s something you love! Invite your accountability partner along to celebrate with you!
Keeping a journal can be a fruitful and enjoyable experience. It can help improve physical health, decrease stress, and help us manage difficult emotions. It may seem like a daunting task. Maybe, you have tried several times and failed. It is possible to build a successful habit of journaling though. You just need to find the right path for you and most importantly, get started!
Did you find any useful tips here? Let us know in the comments what you want to implement into your journaling routine!
Are you still not sure? If you want a more in-depth look at the benefits of journaling, check out “Why You Should Journal,” our article on the benefits of journaling. This guide explores in detail and cites research to all the benefits of keeping a personal journal.
Want a place to store all your travel memories? Consider starting a travel journal. Our list of the most inspirational adventure travel quotes can help. These quotes serve as great writing prompts for your journal entries!
Frequently Asked Questions
One of the best tips for new journalers is to just get to it! Find a quiet place, grab a pen and paper, and start writing. Write about what you’re grateful for, how you feel, or what made you happy today.