What do Warren Buffett, Lady Gaga, and Oprah all have in common? First, the obvious: They are all highly successful individuals who loom large in our culture. But these go-getters also share a simple daily habit that centers and motivates them: They keep a journal.
Keeping a journal is one of the easiest ways to be more in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Many of us internalize our experiences without ever writing them down. But writing about your daily life can have a significant effect on your well-being, self-perception, and ability to empathize, among other benefits.
As Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” To truly know ourselves, we have to participate in self-examination, which can be achieved through activities such as journaling, meditation, and therapy. This practice requires vulnerability and openness, but once it’s a part of your life, it can lead to wondrous personal growth.
Thinking about starting a journal of your own? Let’s explore the topic of journal writing in more detail.
What is journaling?
Journaling is the act of writing down your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories. While some people might use their phone’s note-taking app as a place to journal, most would consider true journaling to involve using a pen and paper.
How to write in a journal: Journal writing is the practice of taking time for yourself to write down and reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Start by choosing a notebook, setting a writing schedule, and trying your hand at freewriting. Be open and honest with your thoughts, and let your ideas flow onto the page.
The key thing to remember about journaling is that whatever you write is right. There’s no correct way to keep a journal, and two entries may look completely different depending on the day. With each new page, you can write freely, quickly, and without worrying about grammar or spelling.
For instance, one day your journaling could take the form of a diary entry, focusing solely on the way your partner made you feel when they surprised you with a weekend trip to Montauk. The next day, you might write down a list of book recommendations your colleague mentioned.
People journal about anything and everything: their goals, to-do lists, secrets, ideas, dreams, frustrations, reminders, mementos, loves, losses, highs, lows, and so on. This type of intentional self-examination is known to bring clarity to notions that may otherwise exist as rolling tumbleweeds in your head!
Types of journals
Perhaps the best part about journaling is that you can tailor it to your individual preferences and needs. Without any set structure, time limit, or rules, you can turn your journal into a creative cacophony of dreamy doodles or a formal digest of your five-year plan.
Whatever style you go for, here are some of the most popular types of journals people keep:
- Gratitude journal: A gratitude journal is a log or list of things you are grateful for. This can include simple pleasures (like good coffee) or bigger life events (like being promoted). The main purpose of this type of journal is to be more thankful and shift your focus away from negative thinking.
- Bullet journal: The core concept behind bullet journals is to use a system of bullet points or symbols to manage tasks, events, notes, and reflections. It combines elements of a planner and a diary, creating a single space for personal organization.
- Freewriting journal: Also known as automatic or stream-of-consciousness writing, freewriting involves writing continuously without any self-censoring, structure, or rules. It is mainly used for generating ideas or encouraging self-expression. The purpose of freewriting is to bypass your inner critic and allow any emerging thoughts to flow freely onto the page.
- Visual journal: A visual journal, or an art journal, combines various forms of media (drawings, paintings, collages, photographs) with written words. This type of journaling offers a creative and interactive approach to document your experiences in a visually captivating way.
How is journaling beneficial?
While the act of writing your thoughts down on paper may seem simplistic, the benefits of journaling are surprisingly powerful. Here are a few:
- Practicing mindfulness: Journaling offers a dedicated space for self-reflection. By being mindful and getting in touch with your inner voice, you can experience a deeper understanding of your emotions and identify behavioral patterns as well as strengths and weaknesses.
- Dealing with challenges: A journal can also be used as a tool for problem-solving and decision-making. Writing down the challenges you’re facing can help you explore different perspectives, gain clarity, and come up with solutions more easily.
- Processing feelings: Writing in a journal can be a therapeutic activity that supports emotional well-being. It offers a safe outlet for processing and expressing emotions, which can lead to lower stress levels.
- Setting goals: Another benefit of journaling is that it allows you to document your goals. By making your aspirations and action plans visible, you can create a framework for tracking progress and holding yourself accountable.
4 tips for starting a journal
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to starting a journal, but there are many tips that can inspire your daily writing habit. These four steps can help you start and keep a journal:
Make a habit/routine
It’s easy to write on days when you feel motivated. On other days, however, it may be a different story (and usually no story at all). You can stay on track by scheduling a specific amount of time for journaling and working it into your routine. Start small, maybe five to ten minutes before bed.
Write without expectations
At first, you probably won’t be writing pages upon pages of deep, insightful thoughts every night. Having unrealistic expectations can discourage the habit. Rather, keep things free and light. Praise yourself for any writing that gets completed, no matter if it’s twelve words or three pages.
Practice stream-of-consciousness writing
One of the easiest ways to access your rawest thoughts and feelings is to partake in automatic or free writing. This means writing down any thought that comes to mind without hesitation. Whatever you are thinking—no matter how outlandish, infuriating, or comical—is part of your stream of consciousness and should be included.
Consistency will help form a habit and make journaling a part of your everyday life. Part of this consistency is the amount of time you spend writing. Though you can start small, if you don’t devote more than a few minutes to journaling, you won’t be able to engage in the level of reflection needed to reach any breakthroughs. Set a timer on your phone and strive to add minutes to the timer as you become more comfortable.
Ideas for what to write in a journal
As you sit down to write your first journal entry, the blank page may appear quite menacing. Where to begin? What’s worth writing about?
Remember: Whatever you write is right! Whether it’s a grocery list or a quick review of a film you just finished, no topic is off-limits. After all, your journal is meant for your eyes only.
If you’re stuck, here are some ideas for what to write about in your journal:
- Goals (personal/professional): Write down goals you’ve set for yourself this year or come up with brand-new ones. Include your aspirations as well as goals for the short and long term. Break them down into actionable steps.
- Gratitude: Cultivate a sense of appreciation by writing down things you’re thankful for. This can help you foster a positive mindset and boost your mood.
- Frustrations/emotions: Capture the details of things you’ve experienced by writing about any emotions, good or bad, that you’re feeling after the fact. By letting it all out, you’ll likely understand your emotions more intimately.
- Reflections on the day: Write about your day-to-day interactions, events, or activities. What did you eat for dinner? Who made you smile? Describe everything that stood out to you today, like a highlight reel.
- Inspirational quotes: Jot down any inspiring quotes, book passages, or other thoughts that resonate with you. Reflect on these concepts and how you can apply them to your life.
Keeping a journal is one of the most intentional ways to self-reflect and stimulate personal growth. As you begin your own journal, the key is to start where you are. Experiment with different styles and structures until you find the best formula for a daily journaling habit that brings you joy.