Journaling is a great hobby. It helps the writer better understand their life issues and how they can best cope with or fix them. Some benefits of expressive writing include better self-reported physical and emotional health, improved immune system, improved memory, reduced blood pressure, fewer stress-related doctor visits, and improved mood and psychological well-being.
It is also incredibly easy and costs nothing. However, one thing it requires is discipline. Here are a few tips on developing and maintaining a journaling habit, especially for people who have either never tried it or struggled to stick with it.
1. Choose Your Medium Carefully
The first step in building a journaling habit is choosing a medium that works for you. Some people prefer the feel of the good old pen and paper — and that’s fine! Others prefer the interactivity, convenience and security of online journals. The new breed of journaling apps allows users to log in seamlessly using their existing social accounts, access the journal across multiple devices, drop multimedia content such as pictures, songs, and videos into journal entries, and use hashtags and labels to categorize and sort information. If you want to know more about the benefits of online journaling, you can read more here.
2. Focus on Building the Habit First
Ever heard the saying, “Learn to walk before you run”? The same principle applies to journaling too. When you’re just starting out with a journal, your focus should be on making a journal entry every single day. It doesn’t matter how short or long the entry is, it doesn’t matter how well written it is, the only thing that matters is that you showed up. Set a recurring timer on your phone for a time you know you won’t be disturbed, find a quiet place, and write your entry. Remember: You’re building a habit, not writing your magnum opus.
3. Resist the Urge to Edit
We all have an inner critic that watches over and judges almost everything we do. You’ll find that voice pop up incessantly, especially in the beginning when you’re still getting used to journaling. “Better not end that sentence with a preposition,” it’ll say. “So you’re just going to leave that split infinitive there?,” it’ll ask. “That’s a double negative!,” it’ll implore. When this happens, it’s important to remind yourself that your aim is not to produce a grammatically correct journal entry, it’s simply to express how you’re feeling.
4. Keep a List of Prompts for Slow Days
After a while, you may notice that some journaling days are easier than others. On a good day, ideas will flow in abundance and it will be easy to express them. On other days, you’ll struggle to squeeze out every single word. Try creating a list of prompts to help you sail through such slow days. The idea is to create a readily available fallback on days when you’re feeling less than inspired, so you don’t have to come up with them on the spot. Here are a few to get you started:
If I could talk to my teenage self, the one thing I would say is …
The words I like to live by are …
Things I wish others knew about me
5. Write at Least One True Sentence
Fact: You’re writing the journal for your own eyes. That means there’s no reason to hold back; in fact, that’s the very idea of journaling … to express things you wouldn’t say in polite conversation with other parties. There’s something cathartic about being able to write the truth about yourself, your experiences and your life. And expressing the truth is also where most of the therapeutic benefits of journaling originate. So, make it your aim to write at least one true sentence in every journal entry.
6. Try Writing in Third Person
Some experiences are too intense or upsetting to write about because it makes you re-live them in your mind. If that happens, try switching the perspective to third person, and write the experience either as a narration or even dialogue between other entities. Not only will this create the psychological distance needed to express such an experience, but by sifting it through an external point of view, you might even gain an entirely new perspective on the situation and learn something about yourself.
7. Set a Mood Score for Each Day
Mental health professionals often ask their patients to score their mood as part of therapy. The reason this little technique is so useful is that it makes people more aware of the factors that might be secretly contributing to their (good or bad) moods. Each day, as you close your journal entry, rate your mood on a scale of 1 to 10. Over time, you might find, for instance, that you experience low mood on overcast days or that exercising seems to help your mood score. These insights can help you better manage your state of mind.
8. Think: What’s the Best Thing That Happened Today?
Expressing gratitude is a powerful and scientifically proven way to improve well-being. No matter how busy, stressful or difficult your day has been, most likely there was at least one thing or person you were thankful for. By expressing your gratitude in your journal, you are essentially re-training your mind to focus on the positive aspects of your life, while keeping the negative in perspective.