Making a Start. How to Journal.

As I have recently given you a few reasons why to journal (see here for those), I wanted to follow up on that with how to journal today. Actually, that premise is a little misleading because—spoiler alert!—anything goes. There is no right or wrong way to journal; there’s only journaling that works for you, or not.

The first time I started a diary (some time back in middle school I think), I did what I was told this was about: I dutifully recorded what had happened during the day, with a few thoughts thrown in for good measure. It’s very entertaining today to read about my drama-queen teen self, but that style of diary—while there’s nothing wrong with it—wouldn’t work for me anymore. Today, I write Morning Pages (a term coined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way) pretty much religiously every morning over my first cup of coffee. On top of that, I have a little notebook on my desk to write down my goals and gratitudes during the day, a fitness/nutrition journal to be completed in the evening (but only when I feel like it), as well as affirmation and gratitude apps (yep, those count!).

Those are possibilities you could try. But first, let’s have a quick look at a few issues you may want to consider before starting out:

What’s the right time of day to journal?
That depends very much on what you want to achieve. I gave up my evening diary and switched to Morning Pages because my intention had changed—from recording my life to self-development. Journaling in the evening is usually more event-focused. Given our present time of constant photo-taking and uploading to platforms that’ll keep your memories safe forever, I felt that recording daily goings-on in my life wasn’t that important anymore. Plus, there is no better time of day than the morning–for me, but according to studies for most people–to do a little heart-and-mind-digging and to even tap my intuition. That’s a magic superpower I seem to lose the moment I’ve said good morning to anyone. So even if you’re not a morning person, you may want to give it a shot and see if it does the trick for you as well.

What’s the right type of journal for you?
Just consider what your focus is right now and take it from there. Besides the types of journals I listed above, there are others: For instance, I know tons of people who have a notebook on their nightstand to write down dreams when they wake up. It’s something I find immensely appealing but I so rarely remember my dreams that a separate journal would seem a bit of a waste. Instead, I may include the occasional dream in my Morning Pages if it still seems relevant over coffee. If you have vivid dreams—and the feeling there’s a message being broadcast that you don’t quite get—try a dream diary for a few weeks and then go back and read your notes. You’ll be surprised how clear correlations may become even after only such a short time.

Do you have to have different journals for different things?
Absolutely not. I do right now (what you see in the picture are a few of my current and recent journals), but I bought some big and very classy notebooks over Christmas and as soon as my current Morning Pages journal is full, I’ll dump all the others too and switch to one of these pretty new ones. I’m planning to use them for my Morning Pages, as well as for anything I want to journal about during the day, plus my goal list or gratitudes or affirmations, all in one place. But if you enjoy pretty notebooks and keeping things neatly separated, different journals may work better for you (it did for me for a long time too).

Oh, one more remark about pretty notebooks: Get one or many—or don’t at all. Do you see these cheap spiral-bound notebooks in the picture? Those are my past six months of Morning Pages. I know, not fancy at all. But I found regular notebooks ideal to start a new routine: no pressure to write ‘important’ stuff, no pressure to have great handwriting, no pressure to fill the whole thing (all of those considerations that have ruined the journaling experience for me at some point in my life). When you start out with a 99-cent notebook, you set the bar really low and that can be a great help. It was for me when I felt skeptical about morning journaling. Now that I’ve established the routine, I decided to splurge on something fancier. But believe me, if I miss more than three days a month, I’ll go straight back to my cheap spiral-bound notebooks!

If you are curious to try out journaling, set the threshold as low as possible: Find your notebook and pen, whether cheap or fancy, and set a time of day when you’re planning to journal. I recommend you tie it in with your morning or nighttime routine, but you could also, say, scribble down your thoughts with your after-lunch coffee if that’s a good, quiet time for you. Experiment and don’t take it too seriously—it’s not a competition, and there’s nothing to lose–only insights to win.

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