Updated: Oct 23
I remember the first day I got my own journal. At the time I knew it as a diary and I got it as a birthday present when I turned 13 years old. It was thrilling to write my first entry and I’m sure it was all about how I felt about becoming a teenager! While I can’t really remember what I wrote on that first page, journaling became very much part of my life.
I’ve always loved writing and journaling was a good excuse to put down all my personal stories in words. It was my faithful companion through all the trials and tribulations of getting through my teen years which I assure you were full of emotional dramas!
I continued journaling when I left home to study and to this day, I tap into the power of journaling. There have been gaps in my life when I did stop writing in my journal and I regret those times. I also regret the time I decided to burn my journals after going through a traumatic divorce.
I had been ashamed of all the things I had written in those journals, not realizing at the time, that all my written thoughts did matter.
If you’ve always heard about journaling and you even know a few friends who do it, you may be wondering why you should start this practice. Read on as I talk about journaling, what it is, the benefits of keeping a journal, and some tips on how to get started.
What is Journaling?
There are many different reasons for keeping a journal. Perhaps you’re a traveler of the world and want to keep a record of all the amazing places you go to and capture the memories of a wonderful time. Or, you dream a lot and like to keep a record of them for self-analysis.
I know people who keep gratitude journals and others who like to write down their daily observations of life experiences. I use a journal to capture all the signs and messages I get on a daily basis from my spirit guides.
But, then there’s journaling to help you express yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions. This type of journaling is a powerful and empowering tool for doing inner work. I call it reflective journaling and it’s a reflection of any or all of the following:
Your emotions and moods
Your goals and dreams
Exploration of your beliefs systems
An opportunity to rewrite your “stories” based on reflections of events that are holding you back
Discovering the awesomeness that is YOU and writing it down
Gratitude and successes
Your fears and unpacking them so they no longer hold you back
Your life purpose or meaning in life
Writing in a reflective journal allows you to describe and reflect on both positive and negative events that have an impact on you. What makes this style of journaling different from other types of journaling is that it gives you the privacy, space, and freedom to reflect on your thought processes on a deeper level.
When writing down your current thoughts, you're able to identify where you are right now and what you need to change in order to move forward. Reflective journaling helps you to understand the world you’re operating in and often gives you creative solutions to the problems you’re facing.
The Benefits of Reflective Journaling
Besides helping organize your thought process and coming up with creative solutions, there are many other benefits to reflective journaling. Here are some of them:
Understand what’s going on: Writing down your thoughts and emotions will help you make better sense of what's currently happening. You can speculate and verbalize, in your own words, why something is what it is.
Explore your reactions: Writing about your reactions to events will help you outline them and determine if they align with your personal core values. If they don’t, then you can reflect on how you can respond should similar situations arise in the future.
Manage stress and anxiety: You’ll be ridding yourself of stress and anxiety by writing all your thoughts and emotions down on paper. The very act of writing down your thought processes is known to alleviate many health issues related to stress and anxiety.
Better clarity: You’ll have more clarity around yourself and events that happen in your life. This gives you direction and solutions to handling your own life experiences.
I often journal when I feel out of sorts, upset with someone or something, or trying to understand what is happening to me and why. By the time I’ve finished writing my entry, I feel like a whole burden has been taken off my shoulders. Not only do I have better clarity about the situation but I often find a solution to the problem.
6 Tips to Get You Started With Journaling
If you want to start journaling as part of your inner work journey (and I encourage every client in my coaching program to start their own journal), then here are some tips.
1. Get a Journal
There are so many beautiful journals and diaries to buy. Make sure you get yourself a special journal that talks to you and is comfortable to use.
You can also buy a simple A4 book with lined paper and cover it with beautiful paper. My daughter used to make me wonderful journals with soft, gorgeous fabrics as covers. My own mother made me a beautiful journal with little hand-painted watercolor sketches and quotes on the pages.
One of my clients who had a lot to say and write used a file and examination pad. This way she never ran out of space or pages!
Your journal should be a pleasure to write in and easy to use. Getting a special pen that you only use for journaling is also another lovely way of enjoying the experience of writing in your personal diary.
2. Choose a Time and Place to Write
Decide when is the best time of the day for you to write in your journal. Some people like to do it first thing in the morning, while their mind is fresh. Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way encourages you to write five minutes every morning as soon as you wake up. This method entails writing whatever comes to your mind.
If you’re like me, writing at the end of the day before going to bed is a good time for unpacking and reflecting on the day. And, I know of clients who choose to write during their lunchtime when taking a break from their work duties.
It’s also nice to have a quiet and private space to do your journaling. My Place of Wellness is my sanctuary for all personal inner work so that’s where I journal. But, I’ve done it in bed, in my living room, at my dining table, and even outside when the weather is warm and there’s a full moon.
3. Write Freely
Your journal is your private space. No one should see it and you should feel safe enough to write absolutely everything in it with no holding back. If you can’t do this and don't write freely then you’re not going to get the full benefits of reflective journaling.
Describe an experience, analyze it, and articulate your feelings and opinions about the experience. Don’t let this be a rigid exercise for you. Try and write as freely as possible, knowing that what you write is for your eyes only (unless you feel the need to share it with a close friend or professional therapist, or coach).
You’ll need to describe your experiences in as much detail as possible e.g., what was the reason for the experience, who was there, what your thoughts are about it and what feelings did you have. Write down everything about the experience even if it seems irrelevant at the time – this information may become useful in the future and bring more clarity and understanding to the experience.
4. Get Into the Habit of Journaling and Handwrite Your Entries
Try and write regular entries. This way you can get the benefit of finding creative solutions when facing various problems throughout your life. I always recommend writing every day but even every second or third day is fine.
The more you write the more effective the tool becomes. It’s also essential to try and handwrite your reflections. This has been proven to be the most effective way of linking you to your thoughts and feelings on a deeper level.
You’ll not give your brain a good workout but you’ll become more mindful as you write, be able to come up with great ideas, and work through your feelings. When you’re writing in a reflective manner, you’re forcing your brain to think critically about an experience. And, finding the appropriate words to describe the event, your emotions, and your actions.
5. Write About Both Positive and Negative Experiences
It’s very tempting to only journal when we’ve had a bad day and want to grouch! However, by writing about both the positive and negative experiences you’re acknowledging all of your life experiences.
By acknowledging the positive, not only will you feel good, but you will also see what lessons you can learn from those experiences to help you cope and respond to negative experiences in a more constructive way.
I always encourage my clients to list at least five successes they’ve had in their day. It can be as simple as getting the bank teller to smile when you know she’s exhausted or achieving a milestone in your goal.
6. Review Your Journal Entries Regularly
Review your reflections regularly. See how new experiences, additional knowledge, and time have altered how you think and feel about the experiences you’ve been analyzing and contemplating.
As time goes by, you may start to see how, subconsciously, you have changed your thought processes and behavior in response to certain situations as a result of having written down similar experiences before.
This is extremely valuable in helping you see how you have grown. Reviewing your reflections regularly will also show you how much personal growth has taken place and how far you’ve come on your inner journey.
Journaling is a very personal and wonderful practice to adopt when you want to discover more about yourself and how to make positive changes within yourself. The exercise of writing down your thoughts, emotions, and actions allows you to see where changes need to be made. It also allows you to see how far you’ve come in your life.
Start journaling today and discover an empowering tool that’ll help you navigate your inner world so you can change your outer world to reflect what you want to see and live.
This post was originally published on May 10, 2021, and updated on August 31st, 2022.