How to Build a Daily Personal Journaling Habit
Have you ever tried to start a journaling habit, only to quit a few days later?
Personally, my problem was always starting and stopping.
I’d get excited about writing a daily journal, and for the first week, everything would go smoothly. Then, I’d get busy one day and decide that “missing one day won’t hurt.” The next time I was busy, one missed day turned into two. Eventually, I wasn’t bothering to write in my journal at all anymore.
I understand how hard it is to make writing in your personal journal part of your everyday routine. It takes time and dedication to turn action into habits, but once you do, journaling is much easier.
That’s why I developed this guide to updating your writing journal every day. It may seem like a minor part of your day, but journaling is more beneficial than you might realize.
What are the Benefits of a Daily Journal?
Journaling has several benefits for your overall health, and particularly your emotional health. It’s relaxing and helps you better understand your thoughts. Sometimes it feels like our minds are going a mile a minute, especially during periods of high stress. Putting those thoughts and emotions down on paper makes them more manageable.
Your personal journal is a permanent record of your thoughts and the events in your life. When you keep a journal, you can look back on important life events to read about how you felt at the time. You may be able to learn from these past experiences, but it’s also just nice to have a record of your past. Our memories become less clear and vivid as they fade farther into the past. Recording our lives helps us better remember them.
During difficult times, journaling is a great way to reduce stress. Both a 1997 study and a 2005 study showed that writing about traumatic events resulted in physical and psychological health benefits. A 2002 University of Iowa study had similar findings, while also indicating that journaling focused on understanding the traumatic events produced better results.
Lucie Fink, who has a Web-series called "Try Living with Lucie" for Refinery29, documented her first five days writing in a daily journal in the appropriately titled "5 Days of Journaling." She tried multiple types of journaling—including writing goals for the day and writing a stream of consciousness—and says she felt immediate benefits after each entry.
Set Aside Time Daily
The most difficult part of journaling isn’t the writing itself, it’s taking the time to do it. Start your daily journal off on the right foot by scheduling your writing for a set time every day.
The time of day doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a time that’s convenient for you. If you find your mind is most active in the morning, wake up 15 to 20 minutes earlier and jot down your thoughts then. This is also a great time to record your dreams from the previous night before you forget them. If you prefer to record everything after the day is over, then make it an evening activity before you go to bed (since it helps you relax, you may also find that you get to sleep easier).
You get far more benefits from your journal when you write in it every day. Personally, I schedule my journal-writing sessions in my ToDoist app on my phone, so I always get a reminder when it’s time to write. Now we all know that life happens from time to time, and you may miss a day. It’s no big deal, but try to never miss more than two days. Once you do, it’s easy to get into the routine of skipping your journaling, and then you have to rebuild the habit all over again.
Use the Right Journaling Tools
There’s the traditional way of journaling with a notebook and a pen or pencil, and then there’s the modern method, where you type your thoughts on a device. Multiple journal apps are available, or you can give blogging a try. With apps, you can password-protect your journal, so it's a bit better at protecting your privacy than a notebook.
How you journal is personal preference—what’s more important is that you choose a method that you can do consistently. Studies have shown that blogging produces some of the same mental and physical benefits as pen-and-paper journaling.
That being said, you should try a handwritten journal first, and give it at least a few weeks. Your personal journal will be more authentic, because you can’t edit your words with a few clicks. Research also shows that writing by hand stimulates the brain’s reticular activating system, which means that whatever you're thinking about is brought to the forefront of your mind, helping you to focus on it.
Create the Right Journaling Environment
Journaling is about you and your thoughts, and the best way to record those thoughts is to minimize distractions. There’s a reason that so many famous writers isolate themselves when they are writing their novels—because you need solitude to focus on your writing.
This doesn’t mean you need to go to a cabin in the woods every time you want to journal, but you do need a quiet part of the room that’s away from other people. In this day and age, separating yourself from technology is also important while you write in your journal.
Here are a few suggestions to set up your environment:
- Turn the TV off
- Power your computer downAvoid your cell phone (or put it on silent mode)
- Find a quiet part of your home where family isn’t around
- Get up early in the morning before anyone else
The key here is to make sure you won’t be distracted if you hear a notification. This will make your journaling about you and your writing, and nothing else.
Protect Your Privacy
Keeping your journal private is important, even if you don’t care whether other people read it or not. You may not mind if someone reads your personal journal, but if you don’t trust that your thoughts are private, then you aren’t going to be completely honest. You may consciously or sub-consciously avoid writing about certain topics for fear of what others could think.
Anytime you start a journal, you don’t know with 100 percent certainty if someone will see it or not. You can take steps to protect your journal as much as possible, though. The easiest way is to keep your journal with you at all times. This is also nice because you can jot down thoughts if something big occurs or if you have a sudden burst of inspiration. You should also avoid letting anyone look at your journal—even just the cover. Tuck it away in your bag. Even people you trust will be more tempted when they see your journal, so keep it out of sight and out of mind.
Date Each Entry
When it comes to your journal entries, if it’s important enough to record, then it’s important enough to date. These are your private thoughts, but you will most likely look back on them later. Having a date above each entry can help you understand your thought process as it relates to important life events. You can also see how you've progressed over time.
As mentioned earlier, memories fade with time. If you don’t date your journal entries, you’ll only have a general idea of when you wrote each entry. Going one step further, let’s say you decide to leave your journal behind for other people to read. If there aren’t any dates, readers will have no idea when anything occurred.
Here’s one final reason to date all your entries: It’s easy and takes just seconds. All you have to do is write five or six numbers, depending on the month. If you want to get creative with how you date your daily journal, you can include dated items such as receipts with certain entries.
What Should You Write in Your Personal Journal?
There are three types of journals, each with its own purpose:
Type of Journal
The Freedom Journal is goal oriented, as it’s designed to help you achieve one goal within 100 days. For this type of journal, you can record your progress as you work towards that goal, and your thoughts in relation to the goal. This type of journal works well when you have something specific you want to accomplish.
The Moleskin Journal is whatever you want it to be, as you write whatever is on your mind. You could do a bullet-style list of tasks for the day, or write morning pages, which is when you write three pages without stopping. This type of journal is versatile and excellent for sorting through your thoughts.
The Five-Minute Journal focuses on gratitude. With this type of journal, you take five minutes every day to write about the good things in your life. This simple task leads to a more positive mindset and increased happiness.
If you're really stumped on what to write, try starting your entry off with a lyric or quote that you enjoy, especially if one has been stuck in your head. Analyzing these lines or simply using them for inspiration can be an excellent jumping-off point to begin a journal entry.
Be Honest with Yourself
Remember that this is your own private, personal journal. It’s a reflection of your thoughts and emotions, so treat it that way and don’t limit what you write. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling, because if you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t be honest with anyone. Record how you really feel, not how you think you should feel.
Not sure what to write? Share the first thought that comes to mind, as the first thing you think about is typically what’s most important to you at that moment. Of course, if you have something in particular that’s been bothering you, use your journal as an opportunity to explore the topic from multiple angles.
Writing about a problem can often help you see it from a different perspective. You may see a situation from someone else’s viewpoint, or writing about an issue could help you realize that it’s actually not such a big deal after all.
Focus on Simplicity
One of my biggest problems when I started journaling (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) was that I would spend too much time trying to find the perfect way to phrase what I wanted to write. When you do that, you don’t get nearly as many thoughts down on paper as you could have, your journaling takes longer, it feels like a chore instead of a cathartic activity, and, worst of all, you still probably won’t be completely satisfied with how you wrote your entry.
Perfection is unattainable, and chasing it is an exercise in futility. Just get your honest thoughts down on paper as they come to you. Remember that you’re not writing a college term paper or a novel, so the quality and depth of your writing isn’t important.
Keep your thoughts short to start as you write them down. After you write one down, expand on it or write another. This helps you put more thoughts into each entry.
Avoid Censoring Yourself
You wouldn’t censor the thoughts in your head, so why would you censor what you write in your journal? This is one of the reasons why it’s good to avoid sharing your journal with anyone. When you know your journal is for your eyes only, you have the freedom to write whatever you want without worrying about anyone else’s thoughts or judgments.
As you write, don’t worry about your grammar or spelling—no matter how good or bad they are. If you can understand what you wrote in each entry, then the grammar and spelling are fine. One of the benefits of a handwritten journal entry is that you can make mistakes without having a red squiggly line show up beneath the word like it does if you type your entries into a word processor.
Write by Hand
I’ve always preferred typing, as I have the worst handwriting in the world (maybe not officially, but trust me, it’s the truth). If someone with handwriting as bad as mine recommends that you write your journal entries by hand, that’s a sign that it must be pretty important.
I can easily type 50 to 60 words per minute, and you would think that makes it smarter to type journal entries. After all, more words equal more thoughts that I can capture. However, the slowness of writing by hand is actually better for connecting with your thoughts as you write them.
Since it takes longer to write everything, you end up thinking deeper thoughts and really considering how you feel about what you’re writing. You’re not just blasting words onto the page as quickly as possible.
If you’re still not convinced about why you should write by hand, check out “Why Write? Penmanship for the 21st Century,” a TED Talk by Jake Weidmann. As a master penman, Weidmann breaks down the benefits and importance of writing far better than I ever could.
Sticking with the Journaling Habit
Life would be much easier if you could start any habit you wanted overnight, but it takes time and effort. It might take you awhile to make journaling stick, and that’s why it’s smart to use a multi-step process to turn it into a habit.
Make sure you don’t try to start multiple habits at the same time. Everyone has a limited amount of willpower, and dividing it among multiple new habits reduces your odds of success for all of them. That’s why so many people fail at their New Year’s resolutions.
When you start your journaling habit, make that your main priority, commit to it for at least 30 days, and, to get the best results, tie it to another pre-existing habit of yours. For example, if you start your day with a cup of coffee, you could decide to journal every morning while you drink your coffee.
If writing for 20 minutes per day seems like a daunting task, start out with a mini-habit of only one paragraph per day. This makes your goal easier to achieve, and in time you will naturally start to write more.
So, did you enjoy this tutorial? I wrote this guide because journaling is an important part of my life, and it benefits me every time that I do it.
I know how hard it can be to build new habits, as I’ve gone through it myself, and that’s why I want to help others write in a personal journal every day.
Trust me when I tell you that it’s well worth the 5-, 10-, or 20-minute commitment. You’ll learn more about yourself, you’ll reduce your stress, and you’ll have a record of your life to look at in future years.
Let me know what you thought of the article in the comments. I’d love to hear your opinions, and any personal stories of how journaling has been beneficial for you. If you enjoyed the article, please share it so more people can get started on their own journals.
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