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How to Journal

How to Journal

If you sometimes wonder why you feel the way you do, then creating a daily journal is a good way to learn about yourself. Writing a journal diary will let you keep track of your emotional reactions to life's problems as they happen. Journaling is an insightful way to record your thoughts while they are happening. Writing your thoughts down lets you deal with issues as they arise. But the main advantage is that it gives you a time to reflect. Self reflection is the key to changing how you feel and how you cope. Physically writing things out forces you to focus on what is important. The suggestions below will help you to get the most from your writing exercise.


Getting started

Buy hardbound lined paper book. It doesn't really matter what size it is but most people like to have a large format to reflect its importance. Other people like to have a small intimate diary so that they can carry it with them or write in it in private moments. If you get into the habit then you can buy a different color each year.

Some people like to write it online, a bit like private blog. This will work if you are a good typist, but if you are not your thoughts will outpace your typing speed and you will find that by the time you have typed the first thought, the second thought has gone. It might be better to stick to writing on paper.


When to Journal

Writing can be done daily or only when you feel you need to express yourself fully. They are both good. Most people like to set aside a fixed time of day, such as before getting ready for bed. Other people don't have the luxury of fixed routine and wait until they feel in the mood. Or you can just read over your journal from time to time and something will engage with your emotions and you can write your reaction to that. It really doesn't matter if there are gaps of days or even months between entries. There is no right or wrong way to do it.


What to Journal

You can write your journal as a series of daily observations for nobody in particular. Or you can write them as emails to yourself. Or you can write open questions without answers. Like 'why do I always feel inadequate when I visit my Dad?' Leave the question, and then some time in the future, when you re-read that question, you will be in a different frame of mind, and you might get an insight into it. Or some people think of a question to write down each night, and then use that as their starting point for writing the next entry. For example your question could be 'What do I want to accomplish tomorrow?' or 'What am I going to do different tomorrow?'.

Some people prefer to take a structured approach to their journal. They start with the same questions every day, for example 'What three good thing happened to me today?', 'How could I have handled some situation better today', 'What did I do really well today?' and so on. Looking back on your successes is a great antidote to depression.

Another method is to read something that you can reflect on, a religious or philosophical work perhaps, a poem or a biography, and find some sentence, some phrase that speaks to your heart. Allow that to guide what you write. Copy out the sentence, and then explain to yourself why it spoke to you.

Or you can not write anything at all. You can draw a picture that expresses how you feel right now. Or you can cut out articles from the newspaper that mean something special to you, or glue in a ticket or a bit or wool that that has a some special meaning that you can't express. Or you can use a mixture of all of these.

Some journallers like to turn their thoughts into affirmations, to use something from what they have written to plan how they will improve something tomorrow.


Getting into the mood

To use the journal effectively you need to be able to connect to your own emotional energy centers when you write. You need to find a quiet spot where you can be undisturbed for ten to twenty minutes. Then close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Just notice your breathing, and on each breath out allow your muscles to relax. Continue breathing quietly and then let your mind drift over the events of the day. Let your mind wander where it will, and get in touch with your feelings. When you get a feeling, any kind of feeling, just notice it and acknowledge it. then start describing to yourself what that feeling is like, what it reminds you of, how it affects you, what you want to have happen. This will only take a few minutes. Then you are ready to start writing your journal.


Writing it out

When you feel the need to express something about your thoughts and emotions, just start writing. Just start. Do not worry about grammar or spelling or correct sentences, just let your thoughts flow and focus on getting them down before they vanish. Tell yourself that you can always go back and rewrite it if you need to. It is private to you and not going to get graded so you can use whatever form suits you best. You can use words and pictures and abbreviations and shorthand and lists or leave gaps or anything else you want. No one is going to judge what you right, or criticize it, and you can down your most private thoughts without shame.

Each thought will lead to more thoughts and go off in the most unexpected directions. Don't worry about it. Just keep writing. If your thoughts are racing away from you, just make little notes and pictures and then use these to remind you of what you need to write about.

While you are writing, even though you are not aware of it, your mind is working, examining each word, thinking about each phrase, and finding other examples that are themselves reminders and set off another mental search.

When you think you are done, read over what you have written. That will likely spark off more thoughts and just follow that wherever it leads.



Journaling is simple but very effective.

The act of writing is therapeutic. By describing a situation you are forced to really notice all aspects of it. Journaling gives you a non-threatening way of identifying your feelings about the situation. Journalling gives you the space and time to reflect.

Reading back in your journal can help you put things into perspective. Keeping a journal will remind you that things always get better, and can help to identify patterns in how you feel. Going over an old journal will remind you how you have changed, how things that used to be an issue just don't figure in your life anymore. Reading over your journals will give you a unique sense of who you are.

Be honest with yourself. Make a pledge that your journal will only be read by you. That way your unconscious mind will feel free to let you express your deepest desires. Putting your thoughts down on paper can be liberating. Your journal doesn't talk back. If you want to you can scream and shout in your journal, get back at the person who humiliated you, vent your anger or your frustration. Externalizing how you feel helps to manage those feelings. Many therapists ask their client to keep a journal precisely because it does help 'get it off your chest'.

Although your journals are private, you never know, they could turn into treasured heirlooms for your grandchildren's children.


Using it to set goals

Your journal does not have to be about now, or just looking back. You can set aside the back of the journal for long term goals. And then check on them from time to time. For example write down the answers to :

What I want to achieve in the next twelve months?

What I want my life to be like in ten years time?

What things about myself am I most proud of?

What are my greatest strengths?

What weaknesses can I work on to eliminate?

What is holding me back right now?


It can be interesting to write the same list out every year and notice how they answers change year to year.


Special types

Gratitude Journals

You set aside part of your journal to record all the good things that happen every day, all the ways that you are blessed, all the random kindnesses of strangers. This will build in to a life affirming collection.

Ideas Journals

As you write in your journal your unconscious mind is working hard, and you will find that you come up with ideas and insights and new ways of doing things. As they occur to you, jot them down in a special section. Don't worry about how good they are or if you have the resources to do them. Just note them down and go back to your journalling. Later on you can revisit the section. It will build up into a resource of ideas that might spark other ideas.

Project Journals

If you are working on some unique project, like changing your job, or getting a house, you can create a separate section that has to do with that project. Put down ideas, resources, name and addresses, web sites - anything and everything whenever something occurs to you about it. It will build up over time to a useful reference and resource.

Commonplace books

These were very popular in Victorian times. A commonplace book is simply a book where you paste in printed texts you come across that you want to keep. These often include poems, obituaries, paragraphs from novels, pages from religious manuals - whatever interests you, or that you feel might be of some use to you in years to come. It is more than a scrap book, it is usually for things of more than fleeting interest.