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How to Journal and Why It's So Good For You

Do you remember writing a diary as a teenager, sharing your deepest thoughts and innermost secrets only with yours truly? It was a way of navigating the teenage mind through a confusing mental maze. It was the friend who always listened and never judged. It felt safe. 

So why did we stop? I guess we grew up and felt we knew what life was all about. We were too busy exploring our newfound freedom. We then got properly grown up and realised we may still have a few things to learn. 

Journalling is essentially a grown-up diary. It helps us process our ever-changing emotions as we capture our thoughts right in the moment. We continuously evolve. We are faced with new challenges throughout our lives. We never know how we’re going to deal with them until we get there. But if we take some time to understand ourselves in the process, we should be able to hold on tight through hard times and feel grateful when life is good. 

I’ve dipped in and out of journaling for years. I would like to say I religiously practise this form of self-healing on a daily basis. But I’m human. Life gets in the way. Routines change. Good habits slip. I need to keep reminding myself how nourishing it is for my mind. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Make journaling work for you

It shouldn’t feel like a chore. We have enough to do without adding another task to the day. The most important thing is to find a way that makes it enjoyable for you. I love apps, but I also love putting pen to paper. I’m more creative with my thoughts when handwriting, but sometimes I want the convenience of spontaneously recording how I feel on my phone. So I switch between the two. 

If (like me) you love stationery, spend a little time finding something aesthetically joyful. And a new pen that you save for these precious moments. There are plenty of journals out there that give you prompts to help channel your thoughts and/or double up as a daily planner. But a simple notebook is really all you need.  

Likewise, the App Store isn’t short of digital journals. I use a basic diary app. But you might prefer something full of features, helping you to identify your feelings, set goals and find gratitude in the everyday. 

Set realistic expectations

I have this idealised vision that I’ll wake up half an hour early each morning to collect my thoughts and journal before the day starts. But who am I kidding? I love sleep. I go through phases, depending on what’s going on, and that’s OK. Right now, I don’t journal every day, but I journal regularly.  

You can journal any time of day, wherever you are, for as little as five minutes. If you’re likely to forget and get out of the habit completely, set a reminder on your phone, or keep your paper journal on your desk/by your bed. 

You don’t need to stick to one format

I started journalling when I was going through a particularly tough time. I would write pages of muddled thoughts, that would only make sense to me, and I always felt a huge sense of relief when I put the pen down. It helped me accept how I was feeling and understand that however I felt in that moment, it would pass. I could then let go.  

As I began to come through the other side, I started a gratitude journal. This really opened my then closed mind and allowed me to gain perspective by finding small moments of joy each day. Over time, it enabled me to look at the world differently.  

I’m pretty good at checking in with my emotions now – read more about this in How to manage your emotions – and I know when I need to get something off my chest or remind myself to be grateful.  

'The most important thing is to find a way that makes it enjoyable for you.'

Why it's so good for you...

Understand yourself better 

Understanding ourselves helps us map out how we want to live our lives. What do you really like doing? Who do you like spending time with? You may see patterns in your thought cycles when you look back. There may be people and places that always make you feel a certain way; good or bad. You can then decide what to do more/less of.  

Remind yourself how great life is 

Take notice when life is going your way. Enjoy the highs. We all know that gratitude is brilliant at keeping us positive, so when you’re on a roll, write down how it makes you feel. It’s easy to take things for granted, and recording these times will help you appreciate them as they’re happening. 

Regain perspective during hard times 

When times are tough, we might struggle to see the positives. Sometimes you have to dig deep. So look at what’s in front of you. It could be your first cup of tea in the morning, the sound of birds singing, the smell of your favourite scented candle. Writing down these small and simple pleasures can help lighten your load. 

Stop negative thoughts in their tracks 

I’m an overthinker. I can allow thoughts to swirl around in my head like a whirlwind. Writing them down breaks the cycle. As I write, I can often feel them offload. I may come to a conclusion at the end, or I may feel lighter for just letting them go. Either way, it frees me to move forward and get on with my day. 

Feel a sense of achievement 

We don’t often realise how much we achieve day-to-day. It’s only when we look back to where we were that we see how far we’ve come. Setting goals, writing down progress and then looking back in a year’s time can be incredibly rewarding.  

I believe that everyone can find a way to journal that works for them. You can make your own rules, or you can ditch any rules completely. Just write it down, good or bad, an essay or a sentence, when you can. Give your mind a workout. See what clarity it brings you.  

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