How to get started journaling

According to Dr. Elizabeth Gilbert, the Head of Research at PsychologyCompass, “decades of research” back up the benefits of journaling when it comes to reducing anxiety, easing depression, working through trauma, and setting goals. “If there are stressful things happening in your life, journaling trains you to stop, react, and make sense of it all,” Gilbert says. “Even just make a narrative about it. Tell it in a story in a way that makes sense.”

In life, overthinking an activity or task can lead to not doing it. This can be the case when you are thinking about starting a journal. It’s important to remember there are no rules in journaling – only suggestions based on what you’d like journaling to be for you. This means there is no wrong way to journal.

Many people are under the impression that journaling means having to write daily or often; then, they feel guilty when they don’t achieve this rhythm. The practise of keeping a journal is meant to be guilt-free. Journaling is journaling, no matter how often you want to do it – even if it’s once a year.

It’s also important to know that journaling isn’t just for when you’re feeling sad, depressed, or troubled; journaling is a way for you to express yourself and your feelings any time in your life journey. For example, you can use an entry in your journal to share what you’re happy about and express gratitude.

Getting started is as easy as picking up a pen (or opening an app, a voice recorder, or sitting down in front of your computer) and jotting down or speaking whatever thoughts happen to be in your mind at the moment.

There are therapeutic benefits to journaling, no matter how often you do it. The key is to get started!

Suggestions to help you begin

Here are some suggestions you can use if you’re interested in starting your own journaling process.

Select a journaling method
There are several ways to keep a journal. These include:

  • Writing by hand in a notebook or journal,
  • Typing on a computer or tablet
  • Using an online journaling app for writing or voice recording. Use your phone or tablet to search for an app that is right for you. Please remember that some apps have free or freemium features and others require payment
  • Using a tape recorder
Try to avoid expectations
Don’t set journaling goals that may end up being unrealistic. It’s important to give yourself time to understand journaling and find the right rhythm for you.

You also shouldn’t expect yourself to write in full sentences or even in a straight line. Use bullet points, make random notes all over the page, draw or doodle, and forget correct spelling and punctuation. None of those things are as important as the act of journaling.

Choose a time to journal
When you’re first beginning, it’s a good idea to journal first thing in the morning or  before you go to sleep. Things can come up during other times in the day that may keep you from journaling.

Even if you schedule a regular time to journal, stay flexible and forgiving. Life happens, and schedules and circumstances change. What matters is to journal when you have the time and when you need it.

Set a time frame that’s not overwhelming
Begin each journaling session with the goal of writing/talking for five minutes. It’s surprising how much you can write/speak in that amount of time. And if you want to continue past those first five minutes, you can. This helps ensure journaling never feels overwhelming.
What to journal
This is one of the biggest concerns for some beginners. Some ideas to get you started include:

  • Thoughts that have been on your mind recently
  • What you’ve been feeling lately – physically, emotionally, or mentally
  • How you would like to feel – physically, emotionally, or mentally
  • Things you can do to think and feel the way you want
  • What it is that you need right now
  • A decision you need to make
  • Something you’d like to change and something you’d like to stay the same
  • Your opinion on the weather, a favourite TV show, a movie you watched, a book you read, something you just experienced, current events, or a person you met or already know
  • Good things and frustrating things that happened today
  • Things for which you are grateful

You can also use more formal journaling prompts. They are excellent when you’re stuck for a topic but still want to journal.  We have a few journaling prompts you can use to help get you started. You can also find more journaling prompts on the internet or in books.

Journaling can be anything from a fun hobby to a form of meaningful therapy. But make sure you don’t get stuck in negativity or wallow continuously in problems or self-blame. It’s important to use journaling to release pent-up emotions and to rant, but eventually, you need to move forward, find solutions, and include the positives — and journaling will help you with that too.

Lastly, remember to be patient. Experiment with different types of journaling until you find what works for you.