Journaling provides clarity, refuge, and memories. Many psychologists and experts have written on the benefits of journaling many times before. While I may not have a psychology degree I have nearly 10 completely filled journals. These are notebooks filled cover to cover with my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories, and that are now collectively the most priceless things I own. Most of us know that journaling has its benefits, but we just need some help in getting started with it. You can feel vulnerable and sometimes stupid, writing to yourself in a book. But with some practice and effort, you too can create the most priceless thing you own, through your own words and a notebook.
A far more qualified person than I am once said, journaling can:
“draw each person’s life toward wholeness at its own tempo. . . It systematically evokes and strengthens the inner capacities of persons by working from a non-medical vantage point and proceeding without analytic or diagnostic categories”
Therefore, when you need clarity in moments of darkness, you can write what you are feeling on a page, step back, and have a fresh understanding of the situation at hand. Providing yourself with such lucidity is such a priceless gift to yourself. You will never understand someone as much as you will understand yourself, so you ought to make an effort to do that even better.
How do you format your page?
The main thing is to date every page, just for when you read your passages back. You could also write what time you are writing, just in case you write more than once a day. If you’re slightly nomadic you might want to add a little location sign, and where you’re writing at that current time. It’s really lovely to see this when you read it back.
That’s literally it, everything else is up to you. Nice extra touches I like to do is if I’m listening to a song while journalling I write which songs at the bottom of the page. Your music taste evolves so quickly, it’s really rewarding to document it. Especially if when you re-read entries you listen to the same music, it will really take you back.
The first way you can journal is through incorporating thought-provoking prompts to encourage you to write about your perspective on something. I have listed 30 prompts here, which if you ration to once daily, will serve you with one months worth of journaling ideas.
What I would recommend is writing the prompt at the top of your page, popping on a 15-minute timer and writing.
This isn’t an exam, you don’t have to even answer the question. Just use it as it is intended, as a prompt, as a springboard for your ideas. Your final sentence does not necessarily need to connect to the first sentence. Anything you have to say is important.
How much have you changed in say, the last year?
I bet your music taste has changed, maybe your friendship groups, your job, where you live, etc.
You can use journaling to record yourself in any given moment because it is easy to forget that you evolve and change as a person. Write about what your favourite song is today, write a list of your current friends and friendship group. What does a day at work look like for you? Just write unapologetically, and openly about yourself.
Let’s be honest, no one else probably cares, but you will care when you’re reading your journals about the person you used to be.
It can be so easy to get lost and feel like your life is stagnant. But exercises like this will remind you of the power of time and action, and sometimes you just need a little reminder.
What did you do today?
A simple diary entry is a classic for a reason. Because like so many things, what your day looks like will change month on month, year on year.
I imagine that when I have children, I will read back my journals and laugh about a ‘busy’ day at Univerisity. Or having a full-time job vs a part-time job etc.
We can’t rely on our memory to remember how we spent each day, but some simple reflection of your day can serve for both self-improvement and immortalising memories.
What's on your mind?
Sometimes we don’t want to trouble others with our problems. But we should trouble ourselves with our problems.
I know I have spoken about this before, but sometimes you can work through your thoughts far easily if they are presented in a more linear fashion on a page. If you want to rip these pages out of your journal, do it. Not everything has to be creating a memory to read in the future. Sometimes you just need to look after yourself at that moment.
But equally, what is on your mind that you’re excited about? Your journal doesn't have to be this sad place you only write in moments of anger, frustration, or sadness. But write about your happy thoughts and feelings too, any and everything belongs in this journal.
Stream of consciousness
A stream of consciousness is simply writing continuously whatever is on your mind. Writing in this way does have a “relationship to creativity and future planning” but it is largely helpful to just get everything off your chest.
Such creativity may be triggered through the words you see on your page, as opposed to your jumbled thoughts. You’ll find sometimes you’re building and building on your words until you reach an outcome you never even thought would happen. Other times, you’ll stare at the blank page feeling as though you have nothing to say. In those moments, you can write that you are currently staring at a blank page and feel as though you have nothing to say, with the idea that you carry on from there. If not, this is where prompts are great.
Don’t fuss over punctuation or the neatness of your handwriting. Just write and write until your 15-minute timer runs out. Which leads me to…
The 15-minute timer
I find this time works best to encourage thoughtful writing without getting tired, bored, or giving you a reason to not journal at all.
I would really recommend pushing yourself to write for the full 15 minutes, that way you can really dig around and think of something to say to fill the time. This is likely where you’ll be the most vulnerable, thought-provoking, and creative.
Just like when running, it is when you push yourself for those last 5 minutes where you gain fitness, the same can be said for writing. When you push yourself in your journal to write when you think you’re done, you’ll strike gold. Not every time of course, but more often than you think, in my experience.
Journaling effectively is down to doing it little and often, just 15 minutes a day every other day or so. Simply date your page, and go to town. Use journal prompts, talk about your day, or just do a stream of consciousness. The aim is to create a little book, that is filled cover to cover with your memories. This way your journal, like mine, may become one of your most prized possessions.