How to write in a journal

meditation personal growth Feb 23, 2021
how to write in a journal

Journal writing is possibly one of the best things you can do for your spiritual, emotional, and even physical wellbeing, yet few people put pen to paper. Perhaps it’s because many of us aren’t sure how to write in a journal or where to start. You may also think you don’t have time, but the truth is, if you make time to write in a journal, the benefits are endless. 

Benefits of writing in a journal

One study published in the journal JMIR Mental Health found that a 12-week positive affect journaling workshop, (an emotion-focused, self-regulation technique) helped to alleviate mental distress, while increasing well-being and enhancing physical functioning among medical patients with various medical conditions. The participants also experienced less depression and anxiety overall, as well as a greater resilience to handle their situations.

Journal writing is also good for:

  • Reducing stress which is good for mental health and personal growth.
  • Ordering thoughts - keeping you on track and on point
  • Learning faster

Here are a few more benefits of writing in a journal

More clarity

Thinking something is one thing, but writing it down or speaking it out loud completely changes the context. The concept can seem simple or clear in your head, but it expresses differently when you write it down. I often think something is really simple, then when I write it down it takes on a completely different level of complexity, and I’m able to gain or shift my perspective on something.

A concept can sound or feel good in your head but writing it down can reveal both the positives and negatives – right there on paper. Writing thoughts down gives them energy and power too. It manifests or makes real in the physical world what is in our heads. Writing about the past may also help you to learn from previous experiences, noting your progress and failures along your journey – in a non-judgemental way.

Regulate emotions

Writing your emotions down on paper will help you to process them better. It’s like talking with your best friend over coffee. Writing in a journal also increases your self-awareness and self-actualization and can feel like a therapy session. I love that journal writing helps me make sense of my emotions and I feel empowered to become the captain of my own ship and master my destiny, rather than feeling like a victim – in any situation.

ALSO WATCH: This simple video on how to breath out when you're feeling anxious

Boost memory and creativity

There’s no doubt that writing in a journal can help you map things out better. The art of writing can lead to a whole set of new ideas or concepts you may not even be consciously aware of, until you see it on paper. Consider adding mind maps to your journal entries as this helps to improve memory and builds a database of ideas. You’ll get to learn so much about yourself when you read and write uninhibited.

Find your why

Before you start writing in a journal, think about these concepts:

  • It should be private and personal, not for others.
  • Consider different journals. For instance, you could have a daily personal/private journal as well as an important thoughts and learning journal.
  • You should be able to express things in your journal that you’d never say to others and probably don’t know about yourself.
  • Before sharing emotional thoughts and ideas with people, consider writing it down in your journal first. By ordering your thoughts first, you’ll open yourself up to less criticism and debate with others.
  • Journaling helps you realise the intrinsic reward and validation or motivation that comes from within. You don’t find this from seeking attention or affirmation from others.
  • Don't spend too much time journaling, keep it simple and to the point, and most importantly, sustainable.
  • Do things for yourself and not for others validation. If you're prone to getting sucked into unhealthy competition, take a break from Strava and start a running journal. Also think how much better a journal is versus gaining Facebook or Instagram likes.

Some ideas on how to start:

  • Choose a journal and pen you love (writing on paper is better than typing)
  • Find your personal why or passion
  • Choose a sustainable time each day to write. It needs to set you up for success!
  • Reinforce your how
  • Refine your understanding and strategy
  • Make it a routine and then a habit.

When you write, think about:

  1. Writing in the first person to make it real and relatable. For example, you could say, “I’m grateful for the abundance in my life.”
  2. Don't worry about grammar and spelling. Let your thoughts flow. It’s hard enough to journal, don’t make it harder, do it the easy way, your spelling and grammar will improve with the journey.
  3. Use symbolism, draw a picture or an image, attach a sensation to something, feel what it will feel like when you’ve achieved a goal or made progress. Make it real.
  4. Don’t worry about how little or how much you write, don’t judge, done compare, just write something down daily, at the same time and in the same place, make it a habit and routine, the best journal is one that gets written in.
  5. Try use themes to inspire you such as, “Dry January” “Journal daily February” “Mobility March”
  6. Keep your journal where you write or in a convenient place. My music journal is next to my guitar.

Steer clear of negativity

Avoid writing negative thoughts about other people. Only write about yourself and how you can make a situation better or improve it, work on yourself first. The second you assign blame or focus on the opinion on others, you’ve passed judgement and taken the responsibility away from yourself.

You are where you are in life as a result of your thoughts, words and deeds. Extrinsic things beyond your control will happen to you, but how you deal with them is up to you.

Consider the types of journals you want to keep

Here are a few:

  • Personal
  • Running
  • Gratitude
  • Music
  • Emotions and feelings
  • Diary, best friend
  • Therapy
  • Art
  • Record dreams
  • Stream of consciousness diary

What to write about…

Your fears

Ask yourself what’s currently making you feel uncomfortable? Often, to grow, you have to lean into your fears. Cognitive dissonance can make you unwilling to do what you need to, but writing those fears and concerns down can make them shrink and seem more trivial and surmountable. Often your greatest fears will never even be realized.

Your inspirations

Think about what’s truly important in your life and what isn’t. Consider what’s noise, versus what’s real and valuable. This will help to shift your focus on where it needs to be.

Your goals

We often overestimate what we can achieve in a year, and underestimate what can be achieved in 10 years. It’s more about a little bit at a time, focusing on progress, not perfection and staying the course.

Start by writing down three things you want to accomplish today or make three decisions. It’s important to get the concrete steps done. Keep on the journey one step at a time.

Write down your goals, make them specific, detailed, and as if they’ve already happened. dreams are just that, but writing them down is the first step to creating a reality. This is why I journal with a fountain pen on paper. For me, it’s a sacred action of turning my thoughts into reality and ultimately my future.

Your activities

You could write about what you’ve done, or can keep a separate journal as a training log, running diary, music journal, cooking journal etc.

For example, if you've tried some of my running cues from my 10 Cues To Transform Your Running Program, you may notice small, but significant changes in how you feel when you run. It's important to note these and write them down in a journal. 

Your big decisions

When you’re trying to make a decision about the course your life should take, list all the pros and cons of various scenarios. Your head is a terrible place to make decisions and get caught up in. Write it down and you will see it.

Because the truth is, deep down you often know the answer, but you’re distracted by the noise and thick of things, which prevents you from getting to the source. Try journal out your ideas to see them. Zoom out and gain perspective and power!

Your innermost feelings

Use your journal to express your thoughts and feelings that you would otherwise not. Listen to yourself.  Sooner or later we all realize we have to learn to love and live with ourselves, be kind to ourselves, get to know ourselves. This can be frightening and daunting for most, so do it slowly and gradually.

Never judge yourself, be kind to yourself and treat your journal as a gentle exploration. You’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.

What if you hit a blank?

As Vincent van Gogh says, “If you hear a voice inside you saying that you cannot paint, by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”. 

There’ll always be a period of cognitive dissonance when you journal, that will never go away, it’s the price you pay for self-improvement and clear thinking. I like to think of it as the steps to a great view. It makes it worthwhile.

The discomfort I feel before I journal, or the frustration I feel before and while I write in the beginning will always be there, I think of it as steps up the wizard tower, which is where the magic happens. Just start writing and soon the discomfort disappears. You’re already doing what 99% of people will never do.

Change your environment

Environment is one of the most important things that could affect your life and happiness.

We understand that if a polar bear is taken from the north pole it can never be happy, even less so in a zoo in California. No amount of health food, diet or exercise can make the polar bear happy and healthy if it’s in the wrong environment.

When it comes to happiness, we want to change our emotion, but the emotion is a product of our environment. We need to change our environment to change the experience. We need to crevasse the environment that leads to a positive experience, not try harder to be happy.

Journaling will help you figure out how to change your environment so that you can thrive simply and effectively. Just a shift in perspective can radically change your environment. That’s also why gratitude is so healthy and necessary. If you have a roof over your head, clean running water and food every day, you’re “above average” blessed.

Did you know?

Many famous people have kept journals… some include:

  • Anne Frank
  • Maya Angelou
  • Robin S. Sharma
  • John Steinbeck
  • Ryan Holliday
  • Albert Einstein
  • Marie Curie
  • Mark Twain
  • Charles Darwin
  • Thomas Edison
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • The earliest known example is the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius

 I leave you with these inspiring quotes:

“The act of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” David Hare

“You think you are thinking your own thoughts, you are not, you are thinking your cultures thoughts.” Jiddu Krishnamurti.


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