Tangible tips for making sense of your internal dialogue.
Last week we talked about why journaling can be a really valuable habit, but knowing something is important isn’t the same thing as knowing how to do it, and do it well. I’m still learning how to make the most of my chicken scratch on a page, and here’s some of the tips I’ve discovered. Whether you just started journaling last Tuesday or you started so long ago you’re not sure if your old journals even exist anymore, this one’s for you.
1) Decide when to do it.
As James Clear discusses in Atomic Habits, establishing a process for a habit is half the battle. If you tell yourself “I’ll just journal when I have a free moment during the day,” you won’t have a free moment, and you won’t journal. Decide on a time, or make it part of a sequence. Maybe it’s every night before you brush your teeth, or it’s every morning at 7, or it’s at the coffeeshop on your lunch break. You’re not signing a contract, and you can adjust if you find a certain time works better than another, but you have to make the plan to start the plan.
2) Don’t ever use the excuse “I don’t have anything to write about.”
I’ve found myself going weeks without picking up my journal, and it always starts because there was one day I felt like wasn’t worth writing about, so I skipped it. Once you skip one day, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to skip the second, and the third, and so on and so forth until you realize it’s been a month. There is always something to write about, and we don’t have to fill the page every day. See next point.
3) One sentence is enough.
Sometimes, it feels like too much to write everything we’re thinking about or that happened to us in a day. That’s okay! If it’s overwhelming to write it all, give yourself permission to just write one sentence. It keeps your streak going without making journaling into too much of a chore, and you’ll be more likely to want to write more the next day.
4) Start with what’s easiest, and you can always change later.
Some people I know write pretty biographically, others pick one thing they did in a day and write all about their related feelings, and others follow guided prompts. As long as you’re writing something down from inside your head and doing some reflecting on it, I don’t think it’s that deep. Start with what feels least intimidating, and you can always shift and expand as you go. I used to just outline my day, and now I do more of a hybrid model where I write about the important things I did and then process any emotions I feel are still circulating in my head. The best way to describe how journaling helps me is this: I feel like I’m dumping out my brain so I have fresh space for new thoughts.
5) Add a little gratitude list at the end.
This is something I started doing because a couple years ago I tried to start a gratitude journal, wrote one entry, and then forgot it existed for three months. So, instead of trying to keep a separate journal, I started listing three things at the end of each entry for which I was grateful. It helps bring some extra perspective to my day, and whether you write in the morning or evening, you’ll either go through your day a bit more grateful or go to bed a bit more grateful, and I think both of those things will make your life a better place.
As with most good habits, it doesn’t matter so much how you do it; it matters that you do it. Journaling can help us understand ourselves, process our emotions, and prepare us for what’s next in the days or weeks ahead. Just try it, just start, and see what you learn about yourself. You’ll likely be surprised, but I’m pretty confident it will be a pleasant sort of surprise.
Journal Prompt of the Week
What’s a habit you’ve started in the past that has made you a better person today?
Share with the community
Which of these tips do you feel is most helpful for you? What other journaling tips do you recommend others try out?