Create a Journaling Habit that Works for You

Putting our feelings down on paper can seem intimidating, or even daunting. Here's how to incorporate the art of journaling into your routine—in a way that feels right for you.

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Paying attention is a powerful practice, the key to presence, and the foundation for mindfulness. As we slow down and tune our senses to what we see, hear, taste, touch, or smell, we release thought and find the spaciousness to relax and deepen into the present moment. Combined with the benefits of mindfulness, a journaling practice can make an impact on your mental health and overall well-being.

Journaling is not about being a good writer, or even a prolific one. Whether it’s gratitude journaling, bullet journaling, mindful journaling, creative or expressive journaling, stream of consciousness journaling, or keeping a diary, journaling has been recognized to provide multiple mental, physical, and emotional benefits. Research has suggested that the benefits of journal writing include:

In addition to these benefits, journaling can be a tool to enhance your state of awareness, increase personal wisdom and insight, encourage feelings of gratitude, assist in self-reflection, and boost your creativity. You can journal for three minutes or for 15 minutes, every day or once a week, use pen and paper, or type on a device. For many, journaling serves as a healing practice, a private sanctuary. It’s also a mental compost bin, processing your experiences without judgment, obligation, or expectation. 

Starting on the Right Page

To start a journaling practice, you need four things: 

  1. Your “why
  2. Your “how” 
  3. Your “when” 
  4. Your willingness to let go of perfectionism

Your “why” consists of your goal or purpose with journaling. What do you hope to create or change with a journaling practice? What do you need or want? Do you want more gratitude in your life? More mindfulness? Peace? A mental compost bin? A creative outlet? Do you want to have more personal insight and reflection? A place to jot down personal lists or goals? Paying attention to your “why” will help you keep your practice going. 

Your “how” is also important. How will you keep yourself accountable? Do you even need accountability? Maybe you decide to carry a pen and journal with you everywhere, Or maybe  setting up a schedule on your smartphone with reminders works well for you. A journaling group or partner can be helpful, so you can check in with each other. For accessibility and portability, you can buy a smaller notebook that fits easily in a purse or backpack to let you jot down thoughts and ideas on the go. Regardless, have a plan, and this includes your “when”.

One of the biggest hindrances to starting and keeping a journaling practice is the idea that it’s a huge time and energy commitment. It doesn’t have to be. Some journals offer more structure, such as prompts, to keep things simple and quick. Or, if you want more time and space for stream-of-thought journaling or self-reflection, choose a time of day that allows that freedom without interruption, such as before bed, during a lunch break, or first thing in the morning. Set a timer if you are limited in time. Decide if you want to make it a daily practice, once a week, or three times a week. Whatever you decide, make sure it works for you and allows for some consistency. Check in with your “why” and your “how” to make sure you are still receiving what you need and that the practice flows in your schedule. 

Lastly, the fourth and perhaps the most important, let yourself not “get it right.” Let’s just toss perfection out the window. You don’t need to journal profusely, or even every day. Sticking to your “why,” “how” and “when” only works when you allow yourself to fall off the consistency wagon now and then. Make adjustments where needed, and get back on if the practice is serving you.

One more thing to consider: Is journaling with pen and paper better than typing on the computer? That depends. Some argue yes, especially with regard to mindfulness. Writing on paper allows for unplugging from screens and slowing the senses down. Writing can also take on a meditative feeling.  Engaging in the repetitive, kinesthetic, and complex movements of handwriting allows for better retention and memory recall. So, it could be said that by handwriting in a journal, we can make a mindful moment more memorable and last a little bit longer. With that said, the convenience factor of typing may allow for greater consistency. Try both to see which better supports your practice.

Journaling, like mindfulness, can tap into a rewarding state of self-awareness, self-care, self-soothing, and even self-healing. By adding journaling to our arsenal of mindful practices, we increase our chances of slowing down and unplugging, especially in challenging times. Journaling, in all its varieties, offers freedom and opportunity to explore what helps you tune in, pay attention, notice, and take a deep breath. So, go ahead and grab a pen, clear your mind, freely express, and journal your way to wellness.