Until recently, my journal and I were nothing more than acquaintances who would give an obligatory nod or “hello” when we happened to cross paths. It would go from sitting on my desk to my nightstand to the kitchen countertop (my attempt to see if its location would make a difference), always staring back at me, nagging at me to fill its pages. When I did put pen to paper, it was often out of guilt and my entries were surface level and not consistent by any means. But that all changed when I learned (and wrote) about manifestation journaling. Now it’s the anchor to my day—a part of my daily routine to ground me and work through any anxiety.
For me, buying a shiny new journal helps reignite my journaling habit when it starts to feel mundane. After all, it’s a blank canvas with endless possibilities. But if you’re new to journaling, it can be daunting and leave you asking, “Where do I start?” and “What do I write about?” The good news is that there’s no right or wrong way to journal. Finding what works best for you to start and stick with the practice on a regular basis is all it takes. Keep reading for a beginner’s guide to journaling. Welcome to Journaling 101. You’re going to want to take notes.
How to start
1. Determine your “why”
ICYMI, journaling is having a renaissance, and for good reason. From alleviating stress to managing anxiety, I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has tried it and would not recommend it for its many benefits and uses. Maybe you’re on the hunt for a new creative outlet or looking to switch up your self-care routine. Or perhaps you need a resource to work through limiting thoughts or explore your feelings. Knowing why you’re jumping on the journaling train will help motivate you and stay committed to it. And once you’ve dialed in your purpose, your journaling experience will have a much more clear path.
2. Choose your vehicle
There’s something about the power of writing by hand that helps us learn and retain facts, process emotions, and hold ourselves accountable to achieving our goals. That said, there’s no rule that says a journal has to be in the form of a notebook. Let’s be real: We all live on our laptops and phones and could type and text our thoughts in our sleep. In other words, if using a digital medium, like a journaling app, Google Docs, or the recording feature on your phone, is more convenient and effective for your writing practice, go with it. If using a pen and paper is your choice, find a prompted journal or a pretty blank journal you’d want to see out on your desk. Bottom line: Pick a means of journaling that you find most conducive for you and your lifestyle.
What to journal
Throw out any preconceived notions that what you write has to sound good—let alone be profound—and check your inner critic at the door (she’s not welcomed here!). Just put your chosen pen in hand, turn your editing mode off, and let the thoughts flow. And remember, journaling is a personal journey free of judgments. Easier said than done, right? Here are five prompts to help get you started, along with five types of journaling methods they go hand-in-hand with:
1. Gratitude journaling: “What are three things you’re grateful for today?”
It’s no surprise that expressing gratitude has been shown to heighten overall well-being, and gratitude journaling is an easy and effective way to make it part of your daily regimen. Don’t overthink it: Jot down the first three things that come to mind, no matter how seemingly trivial they may be. It can be the matcha latte you treated yourself to, your partner for surprising you with flowers just ’cause, the stranger at the grocery store who paid you a compliment, or your dog who never left your side when you were in bed all day with a cold.
2. Future-self journaling: “In five years, I am…”
Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about what your future holds? Whether or not you realized it, you were connecting to your future self. Reflecting on who you are today while setting goals to become the best version of yourself is the foundation of future-self journaling. When taking note of your life five years from now, be realistic about who you would be and what you would achieve. What are you doing? What are you wearing? Where are you? Who are you with? To get you one step closer to becoming your future self, start showing up as the person you envision today.
3. Manifestation journaling: “What is no longer serving you?”
Whether we intend to or not, we hold onto people, possessions, places, circumstances, thoughts, or behaviors (I could go on and on) that can be getting in the way of us reaching our goals. By putting down what’s no longer serving you on a page, you’re identifying areas of your life that are draining your energy, making a conscious decision to let them go, and releasing their hold on you and your life. When you actively let go of your attachments, you make room for new relationships, opportunities, and beliefs that provide value to you and that are aligned with what you want to manifest.
4. Bullet journaling: “List actions or habits you can start committing to next month for a happier and fuller life”
One of the best parts of journaling is that it’s a personal experience and you can make it what you want. Bullet journaling takes it to another level—the sky is the limit. Whether it’s daily habits, financial goals, body positive affirmations, people you want to connect with, meal planning, sleep, or mood, your journal is for tracking what’s important to you and you alone. So if it’s working out four times a week that you want to crush in June (anyone else in an exercise funk?), commit it to paper. Writing down your desired habit will not only help you follow your progress but also keep you accountable.
5. Mood journaling: “What are you feeling and why?”
Being in touch with your emotions is a powerful attribute to be proud of. Enter: mood journaling. When you name and make note of your emotions (i.e. angry, sad, happy, or a mixed bag), you identify your feelings, give yourself space to process them, and either embrace them or devise a plan for how to manage them. Trying to understand where your emotions stem from requires you to look inward and be honest with yourself. Not every negative emotion is going to need or have a solution, but writing it out can help you realize productive ways to respond to it that you can add to your arsenal.
How to make it a habit
Every year, we make resolutions and are reminded that sticking to them requires repetition. According to a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes on average 66 days to solidify a new habit. With that in mind, consider writing entries regularly, whether that’s every day, every other day, or once a week. As for what time of day is best to sit down and journal? That’s for you to experiment with and decide. Try putting your thoughts down on paper first thing in the morning for a few days. If that doesn’t feel right, crack open your journal at night or any time you feel compelled to.
Whatever consistency or time of day you set, create a goal for your journal routine that you can realistically keep up with. But don’t beat yourself up if you miss a few days or weeks (life happens). And if sticking to a strict schedule makes journaling feel like just another task to add to your already long list of to-dos, write when you feel excited or have nagging thoughts instead. Journaling should not feel forced or like a burden.