So you want to start but don’t really know how to journal or what you are meant to do?
In this article I’ll talk through what it is. What benefits you can get from journaling and more importantly how to do it.
You will learn about the different ways you can journal and some of the prompts you can use to get started.
Be assured you can’t go wrong. Once you learn how to journal and the methods that work best for you, it can be a great personal growth and development tool for all areas of your life.
Why do people use journaling?
In brief, Journaling is the practice of regularly writing down personal thoughts, reflections, and experiences to increase self-awareness and facilitate personal growth.
The very act of writing something down and getting your thoughts out of your head can be very beneficial.
Firstly, it helps to declutter your mind, freeing up mental space for more critical thinking and creativity. Keeping our thoughts swirling in our minds can lead to mental overwhelm and difficulty focusing on essential tasks.
Secondly, the act of writing allows you to gain clarity and structure your thoughts. As you put pen to paper, you are forced to put your thoughts into coherent sentences and logical sequences, making it easier to understand and analyse your own thinking. This is one reason it can help you identify the thoughts and beliefs you have that are hindering your success or achieving your goals in life.
Additionally, writing serves as a form of emotional release. Putting your feelings into words helps you process your emotions, which can reduce stress. Journaling provides a safe and private space to vent frustrations, fears, and anxieties, which can open the way for clearer thinking on a situation.
Finally, writing things down creates a record of your thoughts and experiences. This becomes a place you can look back to and reflect on your growth, accomplishments, and lessons learned over time.
The magic of learning how to journal
Do you feel like you are getting in your own way in life, never quite reaching your goals or repeating the same mistakes and bad choices?
If so, no doubt someone at some point has mentioned mindset. The importance of what you think and say to yourself on a daily basis and how that influences your success. This is the key to unblocking the things that cause you frustration and struggle in life. After all your subconscious mind, where your beliefs and self-talk come from, is in control 95% of the time.
Finding out what those beliefs are can be a struggle though. In our eBook ‘Create the life you desire‘, we talk about observing your thoughts, catching the things that you say to yourself or how you react and respond to the stuff that shows up in your life. Sometimes friends are more aware than you are of the common phrases you use so it can be helpful to ask a trusted pal. Sometimes you can catch yourself during the day if you set the intention to observe your thoughts and reactions. But that can be hard, especially if you find your mind is always racing.
If you’ve tried mindful thinking, meditation or just catching your thoughts during the day and still struggle to get to the bottom of your thinking, journaling may be the answer for you.
So let’s get started on some different ways to journal.
How to journal – 7 different ways to get you started.
There are several different ways that you can work with journaling. I’ll give a summary of each one so you can try them out and see which works for you. Sometimes using a different method can bring out different insights and awareness so don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit.
You may also find using plain paper allows your brain to be more open and creative. Lined paper often conjures up memories of school and all the rigidity, structure and rules for writing. These attachments to writing can stifle the creative part of you, the very part you want to access when journaling.
So grab some blank paper, even coloured if you fancy it, and let your mind go wherever it wants without censoring it.
Here are some methods to try:
1 - Stream Of Consciousness
This is the classic mind dump. You start with a blank page and just start writing. Allow the mind to wander wherever it likes and keep the writing flowing. If you don’t know where to begin, you can start by writing about what you are doing and what’s around you and then let the thoughts bubble up.
So something like this – “I’m sitting here with a pen in my hand having a go at the stream of consciousness writing and wondering where it will take me, the sun is shining on the paper and it makes me smile to think how lovely a day it is and how warm it might be outside, I do like being outside it makes me feel…..”
Don’t worry about correcting spelling or grammar as you go just write. If you start correcting things as you go you often break the flow of your thoughts and become analytical. The key is to let the mind wander and capture your thoughts as they come to the surface.
This way of writing can allow the thoughts that can often be fleeting during your busy day, to finally land on the page where you can finally notice them. Have a read-through afterwards or the next day and see what insights you get.
2 - Free Writing
Similar to a stream of consciousness, but this way you start with an intention for the writing. That could be a topic, feeling, question or situation you want to explore.
Again, begin by setting the intention for the mind to think about and just see what thoughts and musings come out of the page. You may begin with something like:
“Today I am writing about my habit of procrastination and why I always put off what I know I need to do in order to move my business forward but ….”
If you feel stuck and any stage, try repeatedly writing the word ‘and’ until the flow comes back. The word ‘and’ asks your brain to continue the dialogue, which can be a great way to help new thoughts or ideas pop up.
“And, and, and, I realise now that I always….
3 - Letters
You can try writing a letter. This can be to yourself in past present or future, to someone else, a part of your body, a feeling or a situation. Anything really.
Putting something down in a letter makes it one step removed from yourself like you are giving your best advice or observations to a close friend. It allows your mind to look at things from an outsider’s perspective, again allowing new realisations to come to the surface.
For example, you may focus on a recurring pain you can’t get to the bottom of. So the letter may start:
“Dear right knee, I notice that you seem to be struggling and the moment, whenever we try and do some exercise to help my body lose weight you seem to get injured. Getting around generally is fine but as soon as …..”
4 - Dialoguing
In the same vein as a letter, try writing a script between you and someone or something else. Don’t overthink this or try to plan it out. Just start a conversation on paper.
You may have a topic or situation you want to focus on and a person, part of your body or situation you want to have that conversation with. Begin the dialogue as yourself opening the conversation, maybe asking a question and writing the reply as it comes to you. Continue writing as both sides of the conversation and see where it takes you.
If your focus for the day is related to a business challenge you may begin with:
Me: Hi business I notice that you never quite attract the right kind of customers that I enjoy working with. Is there something we can do to solve that?
Business: It’s interesting that you should mention that as….
5 - Images
If you struggle with free writing, try using drawing or stick images as a prompt. Or use an image you are drawn to and see where that takes you.
So either start by doing your own drawing or stick image that represents what you want to explore and then either see if the image you’ve created brings any light to the matter. Or use that image to start journaling. What have you drawn? What do you notice in the image or about it? What emotions, thoughts or feelings does it bring up?
You can do the same with an image or picture you are drawn to from a book, magazine, or postcard.
6 - Reflective Journaling
You can use this style with any of the methods mentioned above. Focus on an event, situation or experience from your past and contemplate the lessons learned or insights gained. Again, allow the mind to wonder and let the thoughts and observations come to the surface. You may gain insight into what you were thinking or saying to yourself before, during or after that time. Things that have become a pattern for you now that you want to change.
7 - Mind Mapping
For those of you that find you can’t write quickly enough, you can try mind mapping. This is a completely different concept that can help to flesh out an idea or situation.
You have the topic you want to focus on in the middle of a page and then put everything that relates to that or comes to mind, and you think about that issue around the outside of it. You can then repeat the process for each of those thoughts. This can help delve deeper and deeper into a situation.
How do you know where to begin with journaling?
There are no strict rules, you can mix and match different methods and use journaling in a way that best suits your preferences.
Have a go at each and you will likely find one or two that work well for you. You may find one method works best for a certain objective and a different one for a different type of issue.
If you get stuck or aren’t sure how to begin you can create a question about the area you want to journal on to get things rolling. Here are some examples:
- What is the impact of…
- What is important about…
- What matters about…
- What do I need now?
- What am I avoiding?
- What do I gain from this situation as it is?
- How is … showing up in my life right now?
- I have this issue because….?
Just remember the key here is to allow the writing to flow. If you try and think too much, read as you go or correct your spelling it may not work as well as you will be stopping the flow of information coming up from your subconscious.
Have a play with this and have fun. I hope it helps give you some ideas on how to journal and that you gain more clarity into your habitual thinking and self-talk. It can be surprising what comes up, the thoughts you didn’t realise you had or the instant reactions you have that may be the key to what’s holding you back.