My tips for journaling: what I have learnt

my journey

I was one of those. Hundreds of journals, all of which were left unfinished.

What changed? I did.

I realised I did not want to be a person who started something and did not finish. I didn’t want to use journaling to talk about my day; diarise mundane and tedious events. I wanted to use my time journaling to work through challenges; witness my insecurities and understand what was driving them.

My tips for daily journaling and sticking to it

  1. Work to your own rhythms: If you’re an early bird and motivated in the morning then try to journal as soon as you wake up and see how it feels. If you’re a night owl then find a time in the evening that serves you. Maybe it’s the moment you finish work or perhaps it’s before bed once you’ve had time to reflect. I like to have a session first thing to “brain dump” and help me focus. I use the technique Morning Pages from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I have another session in the evening before bed when I’m feeling more magical and prone to daydreaming.
  2. Start small: set a timer for ten minutes and only journal for that time. If you still have stuff to say that’s great, it’ll make you excited to journal again.
  3. Make it a moment you look forward to: I like to burn incense, make a cup of tea, turn on softer “mood” lighting and play gentle music in the background. This might not work for you and that’s fine. Perhaps it’s sitting in the garden or a park. Try journaling in different locations and see what inspires you. I’m a huge fan of writing in the bath or on the loo.
  4. Work with prompts: there are HUNDREDS online. Find one that’s in line with what you’re going through. Prompts I tend to use a lot; what I’m grateful for, how I’m feeling, what I’m proud of. Don’t judge yourself, just write. If you go off on a tangent, that’s awesome.
  5. Invest in nice stationery: it’s a way of committing to your journaling as well as making you look forward to the practice.

Mistakes I made when journaling…

  1. Spending too much time writing every tedious detail about my day. Things people said, what I ate for lunch. It if doesn’t serve you, do not feel pressure to write it down. This is not a historical document, these are your private thoughts. Your internal monologue is far more compelling than your morning commute, I promise!
  2. Using my journal to vent and reinforce my anger. I’m not saying not to do this, your journal is there to give you a safe space to put your thoughts to paper and clear your mind, however it’s important not to allow your sessions to only serve as reinforcement for your anger and resentment. A good tip is to get out everything that has upset you and then interrogate why you might be experiencing those feelings. If someone has hurt you either intentionally or unintentionally, delve into your own perceptions of the situation. Has that person merely shone a light on your shame and insecurities? Just remember that all these feelings are ok and natural and to be kind to yourself. Put a cap on your inner critic and let a nurturing voice take over and look after you. Try to leave your journal in a more positive place then when you sat down. Even if that’s ending with a simple: “it’ll be ok, you’re doing great, I’m proud of you” or forgiving a particular person and, more importantly, forgiving yourself. I’m a big fan of Amie McNee who recommends using a “mothering” voice when journaling through difficult topics like shame and jealousy. Always go easy, always be gentle and take it slow.
  3. Forcing myself to journal. This sounds super basic and it is. Journaling is a habit and I do recommend following my tips for making it a daily one. HOWEVER, saying that I think by forcing yourself you’re unwittingly turning it into a chore and will probably decide to give it up eventually. I try to think about journaling like brushing my teeth or eating lunch. You don’t really have to force yourself to do any of those things, they’re just habits instilled in you over your lifetime. I recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear on how to break bad habits and make new ones by creating small goals. But just as skipping lunch or forgetting to brush your teeth before bed is not recommended it is also not the end of the world. There will be days when you cannot find time to journal and that is ok! Or perhaps you go on a romantic weekend with a new lover and it’s not appropriate to journal. Whatever the reasons, life gets in the way sometimes. On busy days or occasions when I really feel like I have nothing to write, I just show up to the pages. I set a 5 minute timer and if I’m not into it within that time then I stop. No. Big. Deal. In all honesty, this hasn’t happened since I tried the techniques I included on this page. It’s part of my routine and I actually miss it when it doesn’t happen and look forward to the next session.

Type of journals: ideas and inspiration

Firstly, there is no right way to journal. Whatever serves you, that’s the right way. I believe journaling should be about cultivating self love, appreciating and getting to know yourself as a person and working through your challenges to help you reach your goals. Never judge yourself. Be gentle and kind to yourself and never go to bed angry.

This list is not exhaustive and you certainly don’t have to follow it. These are just ideas to get you started, mix em’, match em’, play around with em’. You will find your own way and your own voice.

  • Fitness journal: your goals, your progress, your ambitions, your achievements, your insecurities.
  • Mindfulness and wellbeing: your goals, your inspiration, your progress, your intentions, teachers that inspire you and why.
  • Food journal: great meals, restaurants to remember, recipes, inspiration, favourite chefs.
  • Career: goals, ambitions, insecurities, limiting beliefs, progress, achievements, where do you see yourself in 5 years time.
  • Gratitude: 3-5 things you are grateful for each day, small things that make you happy, life’s little miracles.
  • Travel journal: previous destinations, future destinations, desires, dream locations, best and worst travel buddies.
  • Creative journal: painting, illustrations, collage, creative goals and ambitions, progress, creative insecurities, poems, stories.
  • Ideas journal: brain dump, stream of consciousness, making a mess, clearing your mind.
  • Intentions and achievements: what you have done, what you would like to get done.
  • Therapy and healing: what challenges are you facing, how can you be kinder to yourself, what are you proudest of, what demons are you facing, how can you be there for yourself.

Prompts to help you get you started

  • How do I feel?
  • What have I achieved today?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What am I looking forward to?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • How has the change of season made me feel?
  • If I could have anything what would it be?
  • What scares me?
  • What do I admire about myself?
  • What are my five core values?
  • How can I apply my core values to my job/career/daily life?
  • What do I admire in other people?
  • What do I want and what’s holding me back?
  • What are my limiting beliefs about myself?
  • What am I most proud of?
  • What five things am I grateful for?
  • What is a small goal I could set myself to gain a new and positive habit?
  • What am I doing now that will serve me in five years, ten years?
  • What experiences (positive and negative) from my childhood have impacted me most?
  • What are some examples of self-care and how can I apply them for myself?
  • What have I always wanted to do but been too afraid?
  • List ten things that you love about yourself.

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