In these crazy times release all the built-up stress
Thankfully, you don’t have to be particularly good at writing to benefit from journaling. Not only that, but you don’t even have to worry about things like grammar or spelling – none of those fussy details matter at all. What does matter is the attitude and intention you bring to journaling.
“Are you interested in growing and learning more about yourself? Great! ”
Therefore, as long as you’re sincere about discovering more about yourself, you’ve already succeeded!
When it comes to journaling, there’s nothing to master but your own ability to be self-aware.
What is Journaling?
Journaling is the practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings for the purposes of self-analysis, self-discovery, and self-reflection. As one of the oldest forms of self-help in the world, journaling is about exploring one’s own thoughts, feelings, impulses, memories, goals, and hidden desires through the written word. As such, journaling is often prescribed by therapists, counsellors, and spiritual mentors as a powerful way of developing more self-understanding and compassion.
Primarily, journaling is about exploration: exploring who you are, what you think, how you feel, and the way in which you process life’s daily events. As a byproduct, more clarity and insight is gained about your mind and emotions, leading to heightened self-awareness. The more self-aware a person is, the more well-adjusted, grounded and balanced they will feel, despite what is going on around them. Therefore, journaling helps us to find inner stability and gives us the ability to untangle ourselves from self-destructive forms of behaviour and negative thought patterns.
Benefits of Journaling
Strengthens your immune system and leads to better physical health (source)
Improves emotional intelligence (the ability to perceive and understand emotions)
Soothes anxiety and increases feelings of calmness (source)
Promotes individuation (the maturing of the self/identity)
Enhances mental health (source)
Helps you to deal better with depression (source)
Encourages spiritual growth and integration
Reduces symptoms related to panic, PTSD, and addiction
Increased self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-compassion
Improves your ability to communicate with others (source)
Increases happiness (source)
Promotes mental clarity and problem-solving skills
Helps you to deal with stress and intrusive thoughts more effectively (source)
Improves your work efficiency (source)
Can help to improve your IQ (source)
Speeds up emotional recovery after romantic breakups (source)
Promotes emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual healing
How to Start Journaling
1. Don’t worry about the medium
Many people wonder whether paper diaries or digital diaries are better. My response is that none of them are superior: it all depends on the person. If you like to cogitate over your thoughts and go slowly, writing in a traditional paper diary might be the best for you. However, if you prefer the convenience of typing and if you like to move quickly with your thoughts, you might like to try an online diary or note-taking app such as Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Penzu or another password secure website. Try exploring both and see what you like better.
2. Keep your diary private
Your diary should be for your eyes only – it isn’t to be shared on your Facebook page, Instagram account, Youtube channel, or other social media platform. It shouldn’t even be shared with your friends, partner or family members. Why? Because when we share thoughts and feelings with others, we tend to screen them for acceptability. Your journal should be a place where you can write freely without the fear of judgement or scrutiny – this is why it’s better to keep it private. No one is saying that you can’t share some of your private reflections verbally with others, but just try to keep what you have written to yourself.
You might also like to find a way of keeping your diary secure. You could use a password protected website like Evernote or, if you are using a physical diary, get a lock and key (or hide it really well)! The more confident you are that your thoughts will stay private, the easier it will be for you to write without inhibition.
3. Don’t bother with spelling, grammar, and punctuation
As a perfectionist, it took me many years to stop editing my journal entries for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Yes, I know that might sound silly, but for us precisionists, it can be hard to just let go and write “without abandon.” Eventually, I realised that editing my journal entries actually stopped my flow of thoughts and feelings because I was too busy trying to “play by the rules.” Try to avoid being anal-retentive about writing: just let it all out – it feels so much better! I don’t even play by the capitalisation or sentence structure rules anymore when it comes to writing in my journal (and for me, that’s saying a lot!).
4. Forget about being a “good writer”
The purpose of journaling isn’t to write a literary masterpiece, it is to self-reflect and record the thoughts and feelings you’ve been having for self-growth. Simply write whatever comes to mind and don’t worry about whether it sounds poetic or eloquent.
5. Set a regular time of day
Making journaling into a habit requires you to set aside time every day. I like to personally write at the end of the day, but you might be different. Pick one period of the day and try to stick to it. For example, you might like to write first thing in the morning, after morning tea, after lunch time, or last thing at night. If you feel inspired to write at a time of the day you’re not accustomed to writing, just flow with it. There are no set-in-stone rules here.
6. Write your deepest thoughts and feelings
Journaling is an intuitive activity because it requires you to tune into your feelings and blurt all of that out on paper. For me, and many others, journaling is the most effective when it is a space where our deepest thoughts and feelings can be shared and mulled over. For instance, I love exploring my latest emotional insights, problems, and existential epiphanies in my journal. Sometimes I will write for a minute, and at other times I will write for up to an hour: it all depends on how I am feeling. So don’t be afraid to delve deeply into your mind and heart.
7. There’s no need for time restrictions
Try to avoid setting rigid time limits: it’s best just to allow your writing to flow. Of course, in an ideal world, we’d all have plenty of time to journal, but that’s often not possible. So sometimes time restrictions are necessary (i.e. if you have an extremely busy life). But if you have a bit of spare time, enjoy the feeling of letting your inner self materialise on paper. There’s no need to “set aside ten minutes a day” as many people recommend – I find that time restrictions tend to make journaling into a chore rather than an enjoyable self-growth activity. But, as I said, if you have limited time available, time restrictions can come in handy.
8. If you’re struggling, ask these questions …
Sometimes we just don’t feel “in the flow” of writing, and sharing our thoughts doesn’t come naturally. As an author and blogger, I get this frequently: it’s just part of the natural ebb and flow of life. If you ever feel this way, here are some useful question you can ask yourself which will stimulate thought:
How am I feeling today?
What is an issue I’m facing?
What can I do about my most recent problem?
What spiritual lesson is hidden in a difficult situation I’m facing?
What thoughts are triggering my current feelings?
Why do I keep having these thoughts?
What was the message hidden in last night’s dream?
What do I feel the need to change or improve about myself? (And why?)
Am I being self-compassionate?
Am I seeing the entire picture?
How am I being dishonest with myself or others?
In what ways can I be more mindful?
What mistaken beliefs am I buying into?
What is my plan of action to achieve my goals?
What setbacks and obstacles am I facing?
These are only a few of the many potential questions you can ask yourself. Some people prefer to just allow thoughts and feelings “vomit” out onto the page (it’s part of shadow work practice) – other people prefer a more structured approach. So, if you’re one of those people, you might like to keep a list of questions like the one above, close by.
9. Don’t be afraid to explore traumatic experiences
Journaling is about growth, and growth often includes digesting past experiences. Sometimes the experiences we went through in the past were disturbing, traumatic or upsetting. Don’t be afraid to explore these experiences – but just remember not to wallow in self-pity. It’s OK to express your feelings loud and clear on paper; this is a terrific form of catharsis. But once you start ruminating and obsessing over these past experiences, then it’s time to switch to your left hemisphere brain and start thinking about how you can overcome the pain inside of you practically.
10. Reflect on what you’ve written
After you’ve finished your journal entry, you might like to read back over what you’ve written with the intention of gaining clarity. As I mentioned previously, try not to nitpick your writing – spelling and all the rules of writing are irrelevant here. What matters is that you gain a big picture perspective on how you think and feel. If any thoughts, feelings or realisations stand out to you, try highlighting them. You might like to create a table of contents at the end of the notebook (if it is physical) and write down the page numbers that correspond to your mental breakthroughs. If you’re using a digital diary, try to tag your entry with something like “epiphanies” or “important realisations” so that you can easily access these thoughts later.
Personally, reflection on what I wrote was one of the best ways to emotionally and mentally metabolise the most difficult experiences in my life. Reflection is what allows you to integrate your thoughts into knowledge, understanding, and inner transformation.
11. Write for the joy of it
Don’t journal out of duty or obligation, do it because you enjoy doing it! Journaling isn’t for everyone, so if you don’t resonate with it, that’s OK. There’s probably something else out there equally as beneficial. But if you do enjoy and benefit from this practice, pay attention to the benefits! Don’t just make journaling into something else to check off your “to-do” list. I like to notice how much mental and emotional clarity I have after journaling, and it is those feelings and discoveries that keep me going.
Love & light,