If you’re reading this here and now, chances are that journaling has seeped its way into your life. Maybe a friend told you about it, or maybe you read my article about the five major benefits of journaling.
Either way, you came to the right place with the right motive. You want to start journaling; at least I hope that’s your objective.
That was me a couple of years ago. Truthfully, I was misguided and made it into way more of a spectacle than it needed to be. I’m here to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.
It’s ambiguous, this journaling thing. What the hell are you supposed to write? Is your writing supposed to be a diary entry filled with your deepest, darkest fears? Just a simple recap of the day?
Take it from me: it doesn’t matter. What does matter, however, is that you do start journaling even though you’re unsure of what to write.
The following tips are to help you get started; this means figuring out what to write about, how to turn journaling into a habit, and more.
Grab your notebook, iPad, or whatever you use to take notes and pay attention. This is a game-changer.
Tip #1: Turn journaling into a habit through the Atomic Habits framework.
Before you can concern yourself with what to write in your journal, you need to get in front of the journal.
That’s what Tip #1 focuses on. The goal is to turn journaling into an everyday habit so that you don’t even have to think twice about it.
The best way to create habits, from my experience, is to use the Atomic Habits framework. If you’re unaware of what this means, I’ll give you the gist of it.
There are four “laws” to building habits: make them obvious, make them attractive, make them easy, and make them satisfying. Each law corresponds to one of the four stages in the habit loop. To ingrain a habit into your life, your habit should meet all four criteria.
Arguably, making journaling obvious is the most important factor in creating a journaling habit. If you only journal when you feel like it, you may not get much down on the paper.
Instead, schedule time to journal. Choose a specific activity to do it before or after. If you want to journal in the morning, journal after you brush your teeth. If you want to journal at night, journal before you turn your lights out.
By making it obvious, you’re sure to journal every day.
Making journaling attractive is inherent in the act itself; journaling provides many benefits you reap through writing.
Making journaling easy is, in my opinion, almost as important as making it obvious. The best way to ease into journaling is through creating an optimal environment, which I will elaborate on in a later tip.
Lastly, make journaling satisfying. When you journal, check it off a to-do list or something of the sort. The satisfaction is unmatched.
By combining the four laws of habit-forming, journaling can seamlessly find its way into your daily routine.
Tip #2: Create an optimal environment.
Often I hear it’s bad practice to romanticize things. Contrary to that, I think romanticizing the act of journaling makes it easier to start.
Creating an environment that is conducive to journaling is essential to having an enjoyable experience. Writing is inherently a hard thing to do, much less writing about your unfiltered personal life. I nor anybody else expects you to take that lightly.
So, journal where you feel comfortable. Maybe this is a coffee shop, maybe it’s within the comfort of your bedroom. This portion is individual; do what works for yourself.
After finding a comfortable location, I like to jazz things up a bit. The more fun journaling is, the more likely you’ll be to journal. Makes sense, right?
This ties back into Law #3 of habit-forming, which is to make journaling easy. I recommend you begin by setting your journal out wherever you intend to write.
With your journal out in the open, you can’t ignore it. It’s calling your name.
Once you get writing, light a candle or listen to your preferred choice of music. It’ll help slow things down and get those creative juices flowing. Trust me.
In an optimal environment, journaling isn’t a hassle: it’s enjoyable! But that probably leaves you wondering, “Well, what do I write?” Lucky for you, I have the answer.
Tip #3: Use journaling prompts to start writing.
When in doubt, turn to journal prompts. Prompts help get the ball rolling, and then you can go off on whatever tangent you like.
I use prompts fairly frequently, typically whenever I had an uneventful day that has left me with nothing to write about. I didn’t start using them until recently, but I wish I had known about them earlier!
As you sift through long lists of journal prompts, you’ll find more than you know what to do with. This can make it a challenge to choose one and write. You end up expending more energy picking a prompt than writing.
Upon this realization, I decided to curate and sort the prompts myself. You can read my list of 40 journaling prompts if you need inspiration!
I recommend taking a look through the list and using a prompt whenever you experience writer’s block with journaling. The answer to the prompt isn’t even wholly important; the fact that you opened the journal and wrote is a massive victory in itself.
Tip #4: Forget your filter.
Journaling becomes so much easier when you realize you aren’t writing for anybody else. Nobody will ever read what you write, and the quality of the writing is irrelevant. Write whatever the hell you want.
After surveying friends at different universities, I discovered many uses for journaling outside of what I use it for. The more you’re aware of, the better.
Whatever gets you inspired, drags you down, or overwhelms you, use that as subject matter to write about.
Write down your ideas so you don’t forget them.
Slow down your thoughts by articulating and rationalizing them in your journal.
Write your goals so you can reflect.
Write your daily encounters so you can later reminisce.
Be free with your emotions.
Write down all the crazy thoughts you’d never dare to share.
Forget your filter and use the journal as needed. When you begin to journal, your awareness improves immensely. It’s perpetual; once you start, you have even more to write about.
I’m urging you to just write. If there’s one thing you should take from this entire blog post, if there’s only one thing that sticks with you, let it be this: journaling is whatever you need it to be.
There’s no obligation to write any one thing or to be “correct.” Just journal for your own purpose.
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