How To Start Journaling? [With Actual Stories Of Others]
Updated 14 August 2019
by Hugo: Founder of Tracking Happiness, marathon runner, data junkie and happiness tracker for almost 6 years.
You have probably read about the many positive aspects of keeping a journal. Journaling is a very good tool for achieving clarity, self-awareness, and general happiness. Not only that, it allows you to read back on events that happened to you waaaaay back, which is certainly awesome. Wouldn't it be great if you could re-read your entries from 10+ years ago? If you agree with all of the above but still haven't started journaling yet, then look no further.
If you're wondering how to start journaling, then here are the steps I think you should take:
- Start right now, don't wait any longer (the best time to plant a tree is today).
- Buy a cheap journal, or create a simple text document on your phone or computer
- Write down whatever is on your mind. Don't filter your thoughts!
- Add a date and time to every single journal entry.
- Find a good hiding place for your journal if you're worried about people finding it (more about that later).
- Be amazed at how much you can learn about yourself from journaling!
This article covers exactly when, why and how to start journaling. I've included actual stories of when and how different people started their diaries, and while at it, I've gone ahead and added my personal story as well!
Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection. What do all these things have in common? It's that they're all significantly correlated to your happiness. Find out more about how you can learn from this in Chapter 4 of the biggest (freely available) guide on how to be happy.
Let's answer the biggest question of this article right off the bat.
When do you start journaling?
Short answer? ASAP. As soon as possible.
You see, journaling has many positive aspects. One of these is that by journaling, you are indirectly creating an autobiography of yourself.
Yes, even if all you write about is just your typical day in class or your never-ending frustrations with the daily commute, it's still exactly what's going on in your life. And by writing about it, you mitigate the risk of ever losing those memories. No matter how insignificant they might seem, you will still enjoy reading back about how you dealt with such situations when you are years older.
So what are you waiting for?
If you're still wondering how to start journaling, then the simple answer is: just start!
The longer you have been journaling, the more fun it actually gets.
What if you're already past your teens or twenties? Screw it and just start! There is a beautiful quote that explains it much better than I ever could.
"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now."
If you ever want to be in a situation where you can pull out one of your old dusty journals and have a laugh, then you should not wait a single day and start journaling right away!
How To Start Journaling? My Personal Story!
Let me tell you my personal story of how I started journaling.
I'm going to show you my first ever official journal entry. Its dated from the 1st of December 2013. That's more than 4,5 years ago at the moment I'm writing this. I started tracking my happiness in that same journal.
This is what I wrote in my first ever journal entry.
This is my first ever page. My reasons for buying/writing in this book:
- Writing down my thoughts and tracking happiness
- Writing about an interesting period of my life (?)
- Becoming more self aware
- Gain inspiration
- When I write about my thoughts in this book, I might be able to better project them outside of this book
- A personal friend for when I'm in New Zealand
Oh, and by the way, nobody can ever read this, except for ME!
My personal bucket list as it looks right now:
- Visit every continent (except for maybe Antarctica)
- Visit >50 countries
- Run a marathon
- Get married
- Have kid(s)
- Become a millionaire
- Record a new album
- Get one of my songs played on the radio
- Be worthy of what I have (I want to have a net positive balance on the world, my friends and family)
Anyway, let's talk about how my day was!
Went to a party with some friends yesterday, although I mostly spent time with my girlfriend and one of my friends. Had a fun night. I slept awful again (WHY?), so I feel wrecked right now. I'll skip the running for tomorrow... Spent the whole day at my girlfriend's home, and I've bought this book. I told my girlfriend I'm using this book for school work. Yeah, right. I've got no idea yet what exactly I'm going to be writing about, but I do hope I can keep this up! Especially since this book cost me 3 Euros!
My grandmother had a car accident today. It's not as bad as it sounds, but the car is economically wrecked. The situation with my grandparents is becoming worse, which sucks.
I have to learn how to write in this book, I have to find my twist. Going to spend the rest of the evening on my guitar.
ps: It's my sister's birthday today. And of course, I forgot... My dad is now driving back from the UK, and he gets to sleep a full 4 hours tonight... He's way too busy.
What in God's name did I just read?
Is that what you're thinking right now? GOOD!
The thing about journaling is, the topic doesn't really matter. As long as you speak your mind!
I didn't know how to start journaling at the time, but I did it anyway. I bought a nice leather journal in a thrift store one day, and here we are now, four and a half years later and I can already laugh about my first entry.
That's a WIN in my book.
That's exactly why I started journaling in the first place.
What makes this even funnier is that I could have never written this article back in the day. How to start journaling? I didn't have a clue! The important thing is that I started. There's no right or wrong way. Really, the only wrong way of journaling is not journaling at all!
How and why do others start journaling?
And I got some VERY interesting answers. If you didn't feel connected to my personal story of why I started journaling, then these other stories might inspire you!
(I asked the quoted Redditors for permission prior to publishing this post. :))
One of the answers I got was from Erica, who writes about all things related to journaling over at her very own corner on the internet:
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.
Isn't this awesome? Imagine stumbling upon some dusty journal of your great-grandfather? Think of the history that is captured through the very eyes of the person in the journal?
In my opinion, writing a journal ensures that you will leave something behind, sort of as a legacy. Except for when you're really good at hiding your journal (like me, but I'll get to that later). To me, journaling is a form of immortality. It's a way for me to make sure that my thoughts, character, and inner-dialogue get to live on after I leave this earth.
Another very interesting - yet totally different - reason came from another Redditor:
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.
This one took me by surprise, actually. I always looked at journaling like it was something we did purely for fun. But this Redditor shows there are more serious and urgent reasons as well.
I can't imagine what it's like to be "gaslighted" (Google it if you're unfamiliar with this term) by your own family. In this case, the reasons for keeping a diary suddenly become more important. Journaling was the first step in recovery for this Redditor, who eventually realized what was happening to her.
This also touches a couple of reasons why I started writing down my memories in a separate journal. I don't ever want to lose access to my precious memories from my young life.
Different types of journals
If you look at my first ever journal entry, you might see that it is preeetty long. I like to sit down and just empty my mind on a piece of paper. Like, really put it all out there without any filter whatsoever.
However, I know that not everybody thinks of a journal as an endless amount of pages filled with walls of writings.
Some people prefer to do it differently. The thing about journaling is, that there's no right or wrong way about it.
You have to find out what works for you. Just like this other Redditor did:
I have always had anxiety, depression, and some self harm issues. Every therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist recommended journaling to "deal" with overwhelming emotions. Ha. It would just spiral down into a pit of despair. I could write a few good things, but once I went to vent it would just keep going. I could write in circles about all the bad stuff. So from 12 - 28 I would buy journals that would never be used past page 50, if that. In 2015 I read about a new organization method called the bullet journal and rapid logging opened up a whole new world of journaling. I've filled an entire A5 leuchtturm and half filled a few test journals in the beginning.
You might have heard about bullet journaling before. It's a form of journaling that is not just based on simple text, but more around structured lists, graphs, schemes, and illustrations. I can devote an entirely separate post to bullet journaling, so I will leave the awesome details for now.
Anyway, this Redditor continues about how she found a style that works for her in the form of bullet journaling. She continues:
Well, I can't long form journal, so short concise notes in my dailies are my journal entries. I have a mental health spread every month that covers how much and how well I sleep, a mood graph that I update at noon, 5pm, and before bed, and a symptom log that covers good things and bad; such as, productive, content, self harm, cry, panic, 30 minutes self care, and argument.
I applaud that kind of devotion. Especially since the positive effects of keeping a journal are clear as day.
Anyway, I can continue like this for-ev-er. There is an endless list of reasons why journaling could be good for you.
What's still stopping you?
I can think of a handful of reasons why people don't start journaling, but the main reason I have come across is that they are afraid that others might find their journal!
To be honest, I was actually quite paranoid about people finding my journal, which is why I made sure to hide it as much as possible.
How to hide your journal?
If you are like me back in the day, then you are constantly worried about people finding your journal. You don't want people to have access to your deepest thoughts and inner-dialogue. Think of all the damage that could be done, right?!
When I first started, I didn't actually know where to hide my journal. So I just kept it under my bed.
Yes, I kept my journal in the single most obvious place on earth. Rookie mistake.
My girlfriend was the first (and only person so far) to find my journal. She just saw something laying under my bed and decided to have a peek. I think everybody would take a look in that situation, right?
Luckily, I was there when she did so I quickly stole it back from her and awkwardly ran off without saying a word.
She knew, though... My biggest fear became a reality.
Back in the day, I was living at my parent's place, where I had built out my old bedroom to a small home studio so I could record my music. I had built these DIY acoustic panels that hung from the walls and ceiling, in order to balance the sound of the room. These big white mattress-looking things? Yup, that's them.
For the next couple of years, I hid my journal in one of those acoustic panels! And it worked. My girlfriend (or anybody else) never saw one of my journals again. I had found the perfect hiding spot. 🙂
But it was still not enough.
At the time, I occasionally had to leave on short trips abroad for work. I had already completed my first journal by this time, so I wanted to find an even safer hiding place for my beloved secrets. Even though nobody would ever realistically dig through my acoustic panels, I still feared that somehow somebody would find them. You know, maybe, just maybe, someday during a rare blue moon, my mom would decide to deep-clean my little studio and take everything out. Oh, think of the horror. I could not bear that thought, so I had to find a better hiding place...
So every time before I left for my trips, I unscrewed the inside of my desktop computer and found a little space inside that could perfectly fit my journals. Yes, I hid them in my computer. That's how paranoid I was at the time... It worked, though. Nobody ever found my journals again.
Where do I hide my journal now?
I don't anymore. Or at least, not really.
I am now journaling digitally, as you can read about on my method page. My thoughts and memories are safely stored on the cloud, with multiple backups at different locations. I now no longer have to fear something terrible happening to my hard-copy journals (think of theft or a fire).
I still have my old hard-copy journals though. Now that I'm living together with my girlfriend, I just hide them somewhere in a closet. She knows that I have them. She also knows that I don't want anyone to read them, and I trust her enough to respect that. I don't worry about it these days.
If I told 20-year-old me that I didn't really hide my journals, I would have freaked out. Remember, I initially wrote this about the privacy of my journals:
Oh, and by the way, nobody can ever read this, except for ME!
Thinking about it already makes me chuckle.
And that is exactly why I started journaling in the first place. I wanted to be able to look back and re-read my quirky and awkward entries.
I find happiness in knowing that I've written a shitload of VERY awkward journal entries, that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Who runs Tracking Happiness?
My name is Hugo, and I'm from the Netherlands. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering, a passion for data and statistical analysis and am an expert in happiness.
I've tracked my happiness every day for 5 years in a row. And I'm now using my knowledge to inspire you to prioritize your happiness. You see, I'm a strong believer in what gets measured gets managed. I want to show you what I - and many others - have learned while tracking your happiness.
My Happiness Essays have reached thousands of people around the world and have been shared in many places.
With my data, I have inspired hundreds of others to also track their happiness. And I'm hoping this number will only grow more!
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