I am in love with my journal. Journaling has been an invaluable tool for guiding my path, shaping my life and healing my wounds. I don't know what I'd do without it.
I never really thought of myself as the journaling type of person. Growing up, “keeping a journal” commonly meant having one of those pretty little hardcover diaries with a lock and key and starting every entry with the words “Dear Diary…” I was never that excited about documenting my life. I had better things to do.
But in my early twenties I found myself drawn to journaling for very concrete reasons. To complain about my life.
My writing at this time was sporadic, with long stretches of time in-between entries. But when I did write, it was in intense bursts of inspiration. (And with “inspiration”, I mean desperation and despair.)
I used my notebooks to lament and to ruminate. Usually on relationship related, “why does he not answer my texts”-kind of topics. I poured all of my angst onto the pages and it felt really good, like seeing a therapist. Some days, if in a particularly dark place, I would write for hours and hours. I wrote until a shift happened in me. Another voice took over my pen and this voice always had very clear-headed advice to offer.
I would start off by dumping all my worries onto the page, but after a while I would start writing to myself, as myself, using the words “you” instead of “I”. I did this instinctually, never reflecting over where the voice came from. Some people might call this voice “God”, others “your spirit guide”. I like to think it's a higher, more wise part of myself. But frankly, I don’t care what the voice is or where it comes from. It seems to know its stuff. And sometimes it cracks funny jokes.
I've learned that, no matter how lost I felt, I could always find myself on the page. I could always find solace, guidance and inspiration by turning to my journal.
Over the years, my relationship with my journal has broadened and deepened. I write more often, and about a wider array of topics than just relationship issues.
I write to ground myself in the here and now.
I write to connect to my intuition and find the best way forward.
I write my desires and goals, willing them into being by putting them in ink.
I write when my mind is bursting with painfully intense inspiration, to help me direct that energy towards something creative.
I write to plot a step-by-step course towards a goal.
I write to comfort myself when I’m feeling sad and hopeless.
I write to express gratitude for the many blessings in my life.
And sometimes I write just to spend quality time with myself.
As I wrote in my New Year’s chronicle, I’m in the midst of the Artist’s Way program - a self-paced course in healing your inner artist and re-awaken your creativity. One of the obligatory practices of this program is what’s called “morning pages”. These are 3 pages of longhand free-writing, written first thing in the morning.
There are no rules for morning pages, you can write whatever comes to you. Some days I'll write plain nonsense just to fill the pages. Other days I've had deep philosophical debates with myself. One day I just wrote a bunch of silly rhymes.
No matter what I write, just resting with my thoughts on the page is relaxing. I feel like the more time I spend with my journal, the better access I get to my subconscious - the place where my intuition and creativity resides. So if, like me, you wish to develop these qualities in yourself, a journal is an immensely valuable tool.
And there are of course many more reasons to keep a journal...
7 more ways a journal will make your life better
Apart from finding inner guidance and letting your creative right brain out to play, here are 7 more ways a journal can help you:
- Document your life for future reflection. (I’m thinking more and more about what a treasure it will be to go though all these notebooks when I’m older. And laugh at myself.)
- Find and develop your writing voice.
- Comfort yourself when life is shit and you feel like a nervous wreck.
- Practice gratitude and relentless optimism.
- State your desires and ask that they be manifested.
- Strategize and plan your way forward in life.
- Track your progress towards your goals.
You can probably come up with even more creative and productive uses for a journal. I recommend dipping your toe into the world of Bullet Journaling, for inspiration. There really are no limits to what a plain notebook can do for you..
And by the way, I highly recommend keeping an actual, physical notebook. I used to keep a digital journal for several years but it just never really did it for me. So much else in our lives are done through screens that I think it’s important to maintain some connection to the physical world. Writing by hand, on paper, is a sensuous experience. It simply feels more real. And it’s offline and can’t be accidentally deleted or hacked.
How to establish a journaling practice
1. Find yourself a really beautiful, inspiring notebook to write in.
Whether you're the artsy type, or prefer a more minimalistic aesthetic, it's important that your journal looks inviting to you. So don't get too cheap on yourself. 😊
2. Decide on the purpose of your journal.
Will you write freely whenever you feel like it, or will you take a more Bullet Journal inspired approach, with page numbering, table of contents and specific “spreads” for specific goals? The choice is yours.
More importantly, decide why you want to keep a journal. Remind yourself of the benefits and the purpose your journal will serve in your life. Writing shouldn't feel like a chore, like it used to for me in the beginning when I hadn't yet found my own compelling reasons to do it.
3. Decide on a routine.
If you intend to make journaling a regular part of your self-care routine, go easy on yourself in the beginning. Especially if you’re not used to journaling. Writing this way might feel weird or even silly at first. Journaling is a way to get to know your deeper self, and if you haven't spent much time with yourself in this way, it might feel awkward. But it'll pass.
As with any habit, starting small is key. Don’t set out to write 3 pages a day, or even to write daily, when you’ve never even kept a journal before. This is what I did wrong at the beginning. I didn’t have a compelling purpose with my journaling and I was overly ambitious. Start with just a few lines once a week and build from there. With time, you'll start to look forward to the writing. It'll become as natural as brushing your teeth.
Also, forming a new habit is easier if you latch it onto already established habits. For instance, I do my journaling after I’ve completed my usual morning routine of dry brushing and body oiling, and before I do my breakfast reading. It fits naturally into this slot of time, making it easier to stick with.
4. Put your journal somewhere visible.
I keep my journal on the kitchen table, since that’s where I do my morning writing. This makes it really hard for me to forget to write. Also, just seeing my journal is a comfort on its own, like a loyal friend assuring me it’s there whenever I need it.
5. Don't try to be too fancy
As a recovering perfectionist, I've really struggled with this part. I want everything I do to turn out professional, so naturally I also wanted my journal pages to look pretty and consistent. I was afraid of misspelling or putting my thoughts in the "wrong order". I was so used to writing digitally, always being able to delete and re-arrange my paragraphs, that analog writing felt crude and uncomfortable.
But I had to let all of that go. Really, who's gonna read your journal and judge you? No one. Your journal is for your eyes only. So what if it's a little messy here and there. Don't hold yourself back. Let yourself loose.
What I've found as I deal with my perfection issues in my journaling is that it helps me relax more in my other pursuits as well. I'm less critical when I write other kinds of text. And dare to be more creative, and I end up getting more stuff done.
Go get started on your journal today. Make it your sanctuary, your war room and your most trusted confidante. Tell it your darkest secrets, your wildest dreams and your weirdest ideas. Hopefully, your journal will serve you as good as mine serves me.