All right, I’ll admit it. I’m not the best journaler. In fact, I don’t use quite as often as I probably should but I use it when I need it and when I feel comfortable using it. I think most of us could find some form of relaxation, stress relief, and/or help processing emotions because of journals.
But it’s daunting.
So, how do we journal correctly? What’s the right way to do it?
Let’s start with this, there is no right or wrong way to do it. You don’t have to open up to blank pages every single day. Maybe not every single week. Maybe you don’t plan it at all, like me. You also don’t have to write about everything that happened, or you can. You can write about what stressed you or what made you happy.
You can write in full sentences, bullet points, or even have little drawings. Pen and paper, typewriter and paper, camera and you, computer or fingers there are a bunch of different kinds of ways you can journal and each one can be tailored to your preferences.
How I like to journal is whenever I want. So if something good, bad, or big happens, I’ll pick up my journal though I’m eager about trying a once a week journal. I write with a fountain pen, in a special journal that is set aside for the express use of journaling.
And I always make sure that when I journal, the act of journaling is not a chore. It should be something I want to do and feel ready to do. I also make sure I write more positive than negative. So, while I might mention that I am agitated by someone or something, I will write down the good things that make me happy about that person or thing. This helps me let go of agitation more easily.
I don’t like going to a journal just to write down everything bad that’s happened because in a way, it doesn’t let me let go of it. For me, I choose to talk about and immortalize the positive things.
That aside there are some important “rules” to consider when starting a journal practice.
It should not make you feel bad.
Writing in a journal should not make you feel worse. Sometimes, when we bring up things from the past we will feel a little yuckier. But sometimes we start to use our journal as a way to keep ourselves stuck in the same patterns. We feel bad, we write (and we aren’t nice or positive), we feel worse. We recognize this pattern.
Then keep it up.
It should be a positive experience.
We should be walking away from our journal with a sigh. A little more relaxed, a little more clear, less stressed. It should feel like finishing a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. This is why a little bit of a pause before writing to think and relax can do you some good.
With journal writing, we might want to make more than there is. We might want to keep going even though there’s nothing left to say. Or there might be more to say but we aren’t emotionally ready for it. We’re drained, in a way, like after a good cry. Know your limits.
Do express emotions.
Instead of trying to write too much, focus on a few moments and the depth behind them. We can talk about how happy a walk made us feel. Or a moment of real clarity. Or maybe we’ve been depressed for awhile and we saw the light shine through a tree and we felt genuinely okay. Focusing in on those small (or big) moments of emotion is really important in a journal.
Do not engage in negative self talk.
This was my biggest problem with journaling for a very long time. I kept thinking it didn’t work for me but that was because I was not being nice. I wasn’t playing by the rules. I was using the journal as a way to make myself more miserable. It’s a tool to recover and process emotions.
When writing, be kind to yourself. If you can’t say anything nice about yourself, explore why rather than exploring your perceived flaws.
Do engage in exploration.
You don’t always have to write about the day’s events. Something that I do before I journal is let my mind wander a little bit. The things it keeps coming back to or the things I know I keep thinking about I’ll explore in my journal. Things like, “I keep thinking about so and so” or, “I keep stressing about blank”, or “I keep remembering the time” and other things like that.
And that’s about it.
Some other things I like to do is set the scene. I take my phone away. I take away distractions. I’ll put on some gentle jazz or piano music. I’ll light a candle or some incense. And I get comfortable.
Journaling is a tool. But that doesn’t mean that it has to feel robotic. Today I did this. I felt like this. It was a good day. The end. You know?
Make it human. Make it you! Personalize it. Write it in your non dominant hand sometimes. Use pink pen. Glitter pen. Why not? There are rules every else in the world, give yourself a place that doesn’t have any. That’s kind. That’s welcoming.
The most important part of a stable, consistent journal practice is that you like doing it. Just like anything else, if you don’t enjoy you have no reason to return to it.
So figure something out. Be open to changing. If you start one way you don’t have to stick with it. Not at all! In fact, I’d say even if you like how it’s going you should mix it up. It’s good for our brain to try new things. We’ll either appreciate our original practice better or find something we like even more to incorporate into our lives. A win, win!
Enjoy your journal! Enjoy your life. Manage your stress.