Journaling has incredible benefits. It’s a form of therapy that you can do entirely on your own, and it’s practically free. It improves your memory and self-awareness. It can even increase your productivity. No wonder why many successful people are known journal writers.
But how do you actually start journaling? When you are not a born introspective person, it can feel weird and unnatural to sit down and write down your thoughts in a journal.
This article will show you how to get started with journaling so that you can enjoy its many benefits right away!
A long time ago, when I was 17, I started my first-ever journal. It wasn’t a nice journal, it wasn’t pretty, my handwriting sucked, and it had water stains all over it (I hadn’t started drinking coffee yet, or else they’d be coffee stains).
I eventually lost that journal when I left my backpack on a bus.
It really stings to write about this. There’s a lot I would like to know about the 17-year-old version of me.
That ugly little notebook contained things that I’ve already forgotten by now:
- Thoughts about family members.
- Events that happened at school.
- What went through my mind as I choose to study Civil Engineering at uni (WHYYY?)
- How I could barely run 5k.
- How I was a little chubby back then.
- So much more.
I have almost no recollection of that time, and it sucks. If only I had not lost that stupid journal.
This brings me to the first step of starting a journal.
1. Start writing!
This quote is one of my favorite quotes in the world.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.Chinese proverb
And it applies to journaling as well.
The act of journaling becomes more and more powerful over time. You will find the biggest benefits of journaling once it has turned into a habit.
What to write in your journal?
You just took a big step in the right direction. But what do you write about?
That fresh blank page can be daunting. As humans, we assign a lot of importance to beginnings, so you may not be quite sure how to start.
But since this is your first journal entry, we’re not going to worry about any of that.
Here’s a phrase that might help you get started:
- Done is better than perfect.
This is your first entry, and you can write about whatever you want.
If you don’t know how to start writing, my advice is to look around you and write about whatever piques your interest.
While this may not directly produce the most insightful journal entry, it does help get my brain moving.
Oftentimes, it’s much easier to write down something worthwhile when you already started with something insignificant.
Remember, the best time to start journaling is right now.
If you’re looking for more tips, here’s our article that goes into things you can write in your journal.
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2. Know where to hide your journal
Here’s a tip that not many others talk about, but it’s really important!
The number one thing that keeps people from journaling is the fear that people will find their journal and use it against them.
It’s one of the biggest reasons why journaling can actually be harmful sometimes.
If you want to turn journaling into a habit, you should not be afraid of writing down your thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it’s important to know where to hide your journal.
Here are some tips to help you keep your journal safe.
- Be assertive to those who know where to find your journal and make it clear that this is your personal journal.
It took a long time before I personally told my girlfriend where I hid my journal, and when I did, I tried to make it very clear that this journal was not supposed to be read by others.
I told her that my journal is just that and that it shows me at my best and worst. In other words, some parts can be interpreted as hurtful and as such can be emotionally damaging.
Be assertive and set clear boundaries with those you trust. And if you don’t trust anyone at all, simply don’t tell anyone that you keep a journal in the first place!
Here’s a guide we wrote about how to be assertive if that helps.
- Only tell the people you trust
I told my girlfriend about my journal because I fully trust her not to dig around whenever she’s bored. She knows where I store my journals, and I feel no anxiety about it.
To be fair, though, when I started journaling, I was extremely scared that someone would stumble upon my journals. That brings me to the next tip:
- Hide your journals and don’t tell anyone about them
When I started journaling (link), I hid my journals inside the casing of my computer. One of the side panels was movable, so I crammed in my journal every time I was done writing. I’m 100% sure that nobody ever found it there.
While not the ideal solution, this can prevent others from reading your journal while still enjoying the many benefits of emptying your mind on paper.
- Use an app that requires a password
This solution is unfortunately not applicable to actual hard-copy journals, but there are journaling apps out there that are protected by password or fingerprint unlocking. I’ve tested Diaro myself, and know that this one allows the option to protect your journal against insecure intruders!
3. Turn journaling into a habit
Turning your journaling practice into a habit is arguably the most important step. The value of your journal increases with every written entry, so if you stop after your first entry, you won’t experience many benefits.
Luckily, there are some proven methods that will make it easier for you to turn something into a habit. So how do you turn journaling into a habit?
- Start small
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
This is an ancient Chinese proverb that is undoubtedly true for journaling.
The key to turning an activity into a habit is to start small.
You don’t need to fill out pages each time you write in your journal. You don’t even need to fill one page. Journaling is about self-expression; if you don’t have much to say, don’t say much. It’s as easy as that.
- Make it so easy that you can’t say no
I’ve been journaling for years now. So for me, journaling has become part of my bedtime ritual.
But at first, when I started, I often forgot to write. This often happened when I was too occupied, physically or mentally, to simply open up my journal and write down my thoughts.
A crucial tip for habit forming is to make your habit so easy that you can’t say no.
By doing so, you don’t have to rely on willpower or motivation. Both willpower and motivation are energy sources that are not always readily available.
The solution to this problem is to make your journaling habit as easy as possible.
Here are some examples of how you can do so:
If you journal in an actual hard-copy book, make sure it’s always located in the same place, where you can reach it with ease.
It also helps to place your journal in a place where you’re more likely to be in the proper mindset. For example, don’t keep your journal in your home office if you’re only ever there when you’re busy at work.
If you’re a digital journaler (like me!), it’s a good idea to be able to access your journal from multiple devices. I can access my journal from my smartphone, personal laptop, and work laptop.
My devices are already logged-in, so I can simply take my device, open the app, and start writing.
- Make it fun!
Turning journaling into a habit doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, according to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit.
So if you’re not having fun journaling, chances are you’re going to quit before it has turned into a habit.
So to make journaling as much fun as possible, you need to know what kind of journaling style fits you best.
If you hate dwelling on your thought processes of the day, then simply don’t.
If you hate goal-setting in your journal, then simply don’t.
If you don’t have the time to write down all your thoughts, then simply don’t and write down keywords instead (or just write down your happiness rating).
Sure, there are some benefits of journaling that you’ll only get when you journal in a specific way. But any type of journaling is better than no journaling at all.
In order to turn journaling into a habit, make it as fun and easy as possible for yourself!
- Be patient
Learning to be patient is a crucial skill for habit forming. You can make incredible progress if you are consistent and patient.
For example, if you want to do pushups every day and want to turn it into a habit, you shouldn’t expect yourself to do 200 pushups on your first day.
You need to set your targets realistically and realize that the journey to a lifelong habit is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
It’s the same for journaling.
This way, you’re more likely to have better expectations, which reduces your odds of being disappointed.
Do things in a way you can easily sustain.
If you go too fast, your new habit will soon start to feel like work instead of easy and fun. And that’s when you’ll burn out and quit.
Instead, keep it light and easy, be patient, and stay consistent.
New habits should feel easy, especially in the beginning. If you stay consistent and continue increasing your habit it will get hard enough, fast enough. It always does.
Reasons to start journaling
Over the years, I’ve heard of many different reasons why people start journaling.
Here’s an interesting reason to start journaling:
I guess I just use my journals as proof of my existence. No one will remember my husband and I after we pass… At least if there are physical journals someone will know my name. I don’t know what to do with them when I’m dead though.
Here’s another one:
I grew up with parents who undermined my memories. I was told I said things I hadn’t said (or hadn’t said things that I had said), did things I didn’t do (or didn’t do things I had done), and it really fucked with me.
Journaling helped me realize that things did actually happen the way I remembered them, and that was my first step in recovering from their abuse. I am not as regular in my journaling as I used to be, but it is still an important part of my therapy.
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What’s your favorite tip to get started with journaling? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!