This post can be found in Spanish in my website Ensimismadas.com.
Daily journal writing is a powerful tool for those wanting to implement changes in their lives and understand themselves a bit better. This is why it’s part of this Find Your Wellness challenge of Spring 2020. It is something I have been doing since I was little (I’m one of those people who are never without a journal… What am I saying, I’m one of those people who have at least 10 notebooks in different sizes so they can take them anywhere!), maybe not journaling every single day, but every week or every time there was something massive happening in my life (whether it was good or bad).
If like me you follow personal development blogs, YouTube channels (by the way, if you can speak Spanish, I recently created a YouTube channel called Wonder Sophie, where I basically just say nonsense, I’m not going to lie haha) or read books about personal growth, you’ve probably found yourself reading about how journaling can change your life. But why is journaling beneficial for you?
Why write a journal diary?
Writing a journal is a fantastic way to reflect on everything that happened to you, whether today, during the week, or even in the past few months (I usually try to do that when I spend more than a month without journaling… which can easily happen and is not a big deal!). It helps us understand the things that we have done, why we have done them, and how they did affect our lives in general.
It’s a way of reflecting on ourselves and our behaviours, as well as the world that surrounds us and how we interact with it. But this may sound too scientific… I will just go on saying that is a great tool for self-awareness and self-management!
It’s not only a way of recording everything that happens to you in your life, and although it can be seen as a hobby, it offers you so much more than that…
Journaling helps you achieve your goals
If you are a person with lots of goals (like me!), daily journal writing (or weekly journaling, if you prefer it) is a great way to keep track of them. In fact, just the act of sitting down and jotting your ideas about what you want to achieve and how is already a pretty good start. You will have your aims and objectives, as well your method of reaching them, at hand at all times to check them out when you feel a bit lost.
It’s also a great help to see how you progress in the achievement of your goals. Day after day, week after week, you will be logging in your accomplishments, which will be an amazing source of motivation!
At the same time, whenever you are having a bad day or you feel like you haven’t performed as well as you intended to, writing it down will help you understand where you failed. Next time, you will know more about the things that lead you away from your path to success.
Read more about how to achieve your goals in my post Tips for Successful New Year’s Resolutions. They can also help you achieve your Spring resolutions, Summer resolutions or Autumn resolutions!
Journaling helps you feel grateful
One of the keys to happiness is without doubt gratitude. But in our daily lives, when we are rushing from bed to work to the gym to have dinner to bed again, sometimes it’s hard finding a moment to think about all of the things we feel grateful for. You might want to do it in bed, once the day is over, but when you’re too tired… you might just fall asleep straight away!
It’s true: we are busy. And when we are not that busy, the habit of being busy makes occupy yourself on something important again. In these circumstances, gratitude can just slip away… without us realising how many beautiful things we have in our lives.
When you create the habit of journaling, you’re giving space to not only think about all of those things but to make them (somewhat) physical. And there is something really powerful in the act of giving a thought a physical space in the world, even if it’s just in a piece of paper only you will read.
Why is being grateful important for your wellness? Well, according to the Harvard Medical School blog, “gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships“. It also “helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power” as they recognise that part of the goodness in their lives partially comes from something outside of them.
Journaling helps you learn about yourself
Besides learning about how you get on with your life goals, daily journal writing is a beautiful tool for self-discovery and self-improvement.
Just think about it. How many behaviours do you engage with without acknowledging it? How do others’ actions affect you emotionally? Do you happen to be subject to cycles? And how does all of this impact your life? Is there a way to improve these factors so that you live a more fulfilling life?
Getting to know your patterns and behaviours, as well as those of the people around you, is a powerful tool for self-improvement. Furthermore, it makes you aware of who you are and what you are capable of, which can serve you as a starting point to grow bigger and better, becoming who you want to be.
Although I have to say, you might find out that you are already who you want to be. And that’s amazing too!
The key to self-love, I may add, is getting to know who you are. Without that, there’s no room for improvement, there’s no room for love, there’s no room for bigger things.
How to start a journal
I know journaling can seem daunting when you don’t usually write for yourself. You could even think that you are terrible at writing, so why bother? But the truth is, you don’t have to be good at writing to start journaling! In fact, no one apart from you would usually be reading your entries so you can ramble as much as you want and develop your own style. And who knows? Maybe you will love writing, develop your skills, and become the next Agatha Christie. Or E. L. James… In this case, it might be better to become E. L. James: I wouldn’t like you to start writing about crimes out of your own experience!
But how to start a journal? Let’s dive into it.
Set up a schedule
It doesn’t have to be a very strict schedule, but make sure you save some time, either at the beginning of your day or before going to bed to write for like half an hour (or more, if you’d like to). When I was working in the restaurant, I used to use one hour of my two-hour break to jump into a nearby Starbucks to write and unwind from the craze of lunch-time.
Before it becomes natural for you, though, you might need to put some more effort into reminding yourself to write. Scheduling the days of the week and hours you will want to write and setting up an alarm on your phone will help you remember to sit down and journal. Before you realise, it will have become a (very good) habit.
Finding the right space to write
Some will say it’s easier to focus in a quiet place, where you have everything at hand, like an office. And of course, this is always a great option. But you might not have space for even the smallest office in your home or you find it easier just to write when thoughts come to you (as you start writing more and more often, you will find that this happens constantly). You could also find that you link your office to a work-place, and maybe you won’t feel comfortable letting your feelings out in such a place.
So I always suggest finding out what works for you, even if it takes a little experimenting. As I just said, I love writing in coffee shops, because of the background music and noise, and because everybody is minding their own business (also, CAKE at hand). For yourself, the kitchen table might be a great place to write, as it’s a space where people don’t usually spend a lot of time (out of eating hours, of course) and where you might have plenty of space or light. In fact, I usually work in the kitchen when I’m back at my parent’s in Spain (my kitchen here is a bit of nightmare but theirs is so big and bright, and beautiful!).
Just find the space that works for you. Maybe that space is a little corner in your bedroom where you can set up a few cushions and a fluffy rug, the quietest table in your favourite coffee shop or under a big tree in a nearby park.
Buy something you can write on!
Guess what! The only thing you need to start a journal, besides the willingness to do it, is… a journal!! Yasss!
Whether this is a physical journal, an app on your phone, or a document on Word or Google Docs, you’ll need something to capture your thoughts in.
I love to write on paper, although when it’s late at night and I don’t want to wake up anybody, I have no choice to write on the notes of my phone. I find that writing on paper makes your thoughts more physical (if that makes sense), more real: after all, they will always be on that piece of paper, whilst if you keep your journal on your laptop or your phone, it kind of still lives in the subjective, in the World of the Ideas (as Plato would say). I like knowing that it can’t be erased, that those thoughts and feelings are always going to be on that piece of paper and that I will have to destroy it to get rid of them… If they were on Word, for example, I could always go back and erase what I didn’t like from my previous experience. I don’t know what would be the point, but I’m sure I would do it!
Besides, journals are SOOOOOO BEAUTIFUL! You don’t have to write your memories and thoughts on a plain, black diary anymore. There are lots of options out there, some of which even include journal ideas to write about, space to draw and colour, etc. I was given Wreck this journal years ago for my birthday and it was super fun! A bit hard to do, I can’t play that hard on books, but it was really creative and I loved it. So, if you think you’ll need some inspiration, why not get yourself a beautiful, inspirational journal?
Write naturally, quickly and without constraints
So if you haven’t ever written a journal before, you may feel like you don’t know where to start from. Even when you have already bought your journal, set up your writing schedule, and designed the perfect spot, the hardest (and most fun) part is yet to come. You might feel like you need to write perfectly, think about every single sentence, be grammatically correct… but the truth is, NO. No, you don’t have to!
In fact, you will make the most of your journaling if you don’t think too much about what you’re writing. Of course, grammar is always important (I studied languages and I’m a nerd, so obviously grammar is important for me!) but if no one else is going to read it, you could not use a single full stop throughout the whole of your diary and it would still be fine… As long as you understand yourself, that is!
There’s not a right or wrong way to journal. I would even advice not to follow any rules, but yours. Try not to adapt your writing to anything you’ve read or seen before, and don’t let the writer’s block get you! (Although, as my Creative Writing teacher said, writer’s block is for people who made a living out of their writings, so it probably doesn’t apply to you and me… yet! But you know what I mean).
If you feel like you can’t tell anything, like you are not inspired today, just ramble. Just start writing about your day and something will come up eventually. Set up a timing (somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes should be enough) and write anything that comes to your mind. Draw if you want to. Just keep moving that pen, so you don’t lose the habit. Next time it will be easier!
Ideas for journal writing
So now that you know where to start from and how to prepare yourself for daily journal writing, you might ask yourself:
OK, but wait a minute… What do you write about in a journal?
So I’ve thought you might find it useful if I gave you some ideas for journal writing.
Journal about your activities
Writing about what’s going on in your life is probably the most common way of journaling. It can be interesting when you’re trying to develop the habit of writing, or if you’re looking to discover any patterns on your behaviour.
If you are unsure about where to start from, you can ask yourself questions such as:
- What time did I get up?
- What did I have for breakfast?
- Did something happen on my way to work?
- Who did I talk to today?
- How did I feel throughout the day?
- What am I currently working on? Am I enjoying it or I’d rather be doing something else?
They’re simple questions, where you are not trying to get deep into the answers. Although of course, you could if you’d like!
Journal about what makes you happy
As I previously said, journaling is a wonderful help for feeling grateful. In times when you might need some extra support, when you are a bit down or indecisive, you can always write an entry about the things that make you happy or come back to old entries where you are talking about them.
Check out some inspiring journaling prompts:
- Make a list of 10 (or more!) things that make you smile
- Write about the people who always make you feel good
- What made you last laugh?
- How would a dream-day look to you? Is there a way you can make tomorrow somewhat similar to this dream-day?
- Write about your favourite childhood memory. How did you feel at the time?
Journal about what scares you
Things are usually scarier in your head than in reality
Writing about your fears or worries helps us see the big picture by turning us into narrators instead of victims. When you write about what scares you, it becomes clearer what could be the root of the problem and how you could fix it. It kind of brings the problem to the Earth and materialises it. Which makes it easier to handle!
Plus, it’s a very good way of venting about something you might not feel comfortable with telling a friend.
These are some of the questions you could ask yourself when writing about what worries you:
- What is EXACTLY making you uncomfortable now? By naming it, you’re addressing the problem per se, not just the feelings, which you might not be able to change
- Why is it bothering you?
- Is this a regular worry that comes to you from time to time or is it a new friend of your anxiety?
- What are you currently struggling with? List 3 things that scare you (no more than 3, we don’t want you to feel overwhelmed!)
- What will you do to address your worries?
Journal about your goals
Writing a journal helps you achieve your goals!
This could make for a whole new post, but journaling about your goals, your achievements, and your struggles is a great way to keep moving forward. It’s perfect to stay motivated, work harder on your weaknesses, and enhance your strengths. It helps you understand where you are in the path to your dream life and what your next steps should be.
Some of the things you could reflect on when writing about your goals are:
- What does your dream life look like?
- Are you moving towards your life goals? What are they?
- What habits do you have that support your dream life?
- Could you implement new habits that would support your dream life?
- What have you achieved today/this week with regards to your top goals?
- Think about your future-self. What do they look like? What are they doing? How did they get to where they are now? Do you think they would have some advice for your present-self?
Journal about your decisions
So making decisions is hard. I know that, you know that, everybody and their cat knows that! But writing a journal can give you clarity about those questions that you find hard to answer.
It works like the Socratic method (you know, Greek philosopher Socrates, who used to walk around Athens questioning everybody about their values and decisions in life). But you won’t need a wise, old, Greek man to ask you the questions here: it will be you who is asking (and answering) them!
So, this is how it could go:
- Write down the question: Should I quit my job? Should I call that guy again? Should I eat brown or white bread tonight?
- You can then:
- Write a list of pros and cons or
- Write down what you think would be the outcome of your decisions or
- Ask more questions: why do I really want to quit my job? Is there something I could do about my job not to leave it yet? Is there another guy I could call instead? Maybe I don’t want bread at all?
This will definitely help you see the matter from different angles, which hopefully will help you decide wisely!
Now you know how to start a journal!
Do you write a journal? How has it helped achieve some of your goals? Let me know in the comments below!