I've been writing in a journal ever since I could write at all. I can honestly say that journaling has truly become part of me and how I continue to learn about myself. And it's interesting because I even mentioned journaling as my go-to self-care ritual in the Meet the Women Behind LILAS post a while back. I wish I could say that I wrote in my journal daily, which is my goal. That said, I do write in it as consistently as possible because when I fall out of the habit, I can feel something shift inside me. Tension builds up in my core if I try to go for too long without doing it. I start to lose track of myself. My journal has become a sacred space where I can reflect on where I’ve been and lean into who I’m becoming.
In an everyday sense, I’ve always found journaling extremely therapeutic, so it doesn’t even remotely surprise me that there is actually something called journal therapy, a realm of psychotherapy akin to music and art therapy. More specifically, something called the Intensive Journal method was championed by a psychologist named Dr. Ira Progoff in the 1960s. The method was in fact quite intensive, with very specific color-coded tabs and whatnot, so more adaptable iterations emerged in subsequent decades. Strangely, journal therapy is not the same thing as using a journal while in therapy. The distinction warrants an additional round of instruction for therapists. With that said, the patients’ use of journals throughout the course of treatment works for a variety of physical and mental issues like asthma, anxiety, and even work stress management. Journaling at-large seems to have a multiple of holistic health benefits.
Of course, a journal doesn’t have to coincide with psychotherapy or medical treatment at all. You can use a journal for more or less whatever you want. You just need to give yourself the time and the space to make the journal an outlet for your thoughts. Since I’ve been journaling for a long time, you may think that I can’t relate to the struggle of trying to start journaling. That, my dear friend, is far from the case. I’d imagine that many people’s desire to journal is similar to my desire to do yoga. It’s hard to grasp the habit. Hopefully, some of these bits of journaling advice can help you incorporate the practice into your wellness routine:
Start out with a timer.
Something about seeing like a blank page and having a whole bunch of thoughts swarming around in your head can be daunting. How do you fight against inertia and press your pen to the paper or your finger to the keyboard? I’d recommend setting a timer, blocking out a brief period of your day for reflection. Start out with 5 or 10 minutes and gently build your way out to 15 or 20 minutes. Let your consciousness stream until you hear the beep or until you complete what you want to say. The timer isn’t a rule. It’s more of a push. Having one less variable to think about in the all-encompassing effort of journal writing might just be the nudge you need.
Privacy is key.
Your journal should be for your eyes only. I cannot emphasize that enough. Privacy will help hold your journal as sacred. I mean, what can be more precious and vulnerable than externalizing your interiority? So, if you have people in your household who might be tempted to take a look, like my nosy siblings, I highly recommend getting a notebook or app with a lock or password. I guess I’m somewhat of a hypocrite when I say this since my journal only has very intimidating, but unlocked laches. I do try to hide it though, which I would also suggest.
Consistency is crucial.
Without consistency, you can’t start any kind of habit, let alone journaling. So how does one maximize consistency? By minimizing variables. As I mentioned before, it could be helpful to set the amount of time you journal since it’ll be one less thing to think about. But even beyond that, you could try to maintain journaling at the same time of day (mornings, afternoons, evenings, etc.), same days of the week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, etc.), or amount times per week (once, twice, daily). The more guidelines you establish, the easier it will be to weave journaling into your life. You don’t have to make the parameters too strict for yourself either. Allow for spontaneity and spur of the moment entries too. Remember that setting these clear and attainable goals will make the habit forming process less strenuous.
Pick the format that’s best for you.
Express yourself in the way and on the medium that’s easiest for you. I personally prefer the feel of pen and paper. I have always loved, you know, picking out really nice journals, writing, getting to see how my handwriting changes when I'm in different moods, and things like that. But that's just me. My younger sister, on the other hand, is basically a cyborg, so everything that she does is completely digital. She keeps her journal on a locked app on her phone. Could not be me, but again, to each their own. Don't try to change what works best for you just for the sake of matching some sort of aesthetic. Just lean into which format makes you the most comfortable in expressing yourself.
Do NOT self-edit.
Again, as somebody who likes to write all the time and reworks a lot of what she writes, I'm very thankful for the fact that my journal is the one space I have where I'm not constantly editing myself. I'm just allowing myself to have unfiltered thoughts, even if it results in a bunch of gibberish. This is a huge part of why journaling is so important. It’s a judgment-free zone, so why judge yourself in the moment of writing? It can be helpful, enlightening, and even fun to read back over some of your old entries to see how you’ve grown, but don’t try to memorialize a false version of yourself. Write about releasing your inhibitions. Write about feeling the rain on your skin. No one else can. (I really hope you know what song I just referenced lol.)
So, that was just a bit about journaling. Do you automatically have to order a nice notebook or download a journal app now? Not at all. But at the very least, I hope that this gave you the opportunity to consider the potential of a mundane task in enhancing your wellness journey at-large. That’s what’s most important.