Journaling for beginners

I love journaling.  I’ve kept a diary since grade 2 (and recently threw away three BOXES of old diaries when I finally realized if I haven’t read them in 20 years, I’m never going to read them…). Maybe that’s one reason I’m just loving the Bible study group I’m in – the we are constantly being given journaling homework and I just love it.

But I’m one of the only ladies who does, and I’ve been pondering this: if journaling isn’t “your thing,” does it matter?  Do you need a pretty notebook and written-out prayers?  Is it at all helpful even if it’s a chore?

So I thought I’d do some research.  And I’m finding out… YES.  Journaling matters.  To everyone.  Not just us who thought English class was better than recess – to everyone.

The act of journaling – no matter if you love it or hate it – gets attention because it works.

Benefits of journaling

Journaling, according to the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, helps:

  • Manage anxiety
  • Reduce stress
  • Cope with depression
  • Prioritize problems, fears or concerns
  • Identify triggers
  • Track your progress
  • Let go of negative self-talk
  • Establish a feeling of control or order when life is chaotic
  • Improve your working memory

That’s a pretty impressive list.

It’s not the only one.  

Journaling has also been known to

  • Improve cognitive functioning
  • Be used in therapeutic settings
  • Strengthen immune systems
  • Promote action
  • Help with decision-making
  • Reduce physical symptoms, health problems and anxiety in women
  • Help overcome addiction

For real, this is a big deal.  So whether you love it or hate it, it’s worth 5 minutes of your time.

Journaling for beginners

So how do you get started?

  • Get yourself a notebook.  Part of the value of a notebook (beyond it looking nice) is to have a place where your thoughts are kept so you can mark your progress.  It’s meaningful to look back and see where you’ve been, or find patterns and triggers throughout the journey, and scrap pieces of paper just don’t cut it in that regard.  It’s worth your while to get a notebook that inspires you but it doesn’t have to be a big deal.  I find I like notebooks that lay flat, are not coil-bound, come in cheerful colours & are lined.  You might want something different.  I generally pay $3 for mine at the dollarstore, so it doesn’t have to break the bank.  Avoid using tablets or computers for this practice – go old fashioned with paper & pen.  
  • Set a time and a time limit.  Whether just before going to bed, on your lunch break or with your morning coffee, pick a time to journal.  Assuming you’ll find a time never works (remember that exercise routine you meant to start?). Don’t hesitate to actually set a timer and commit to 5 minutes, and only 5 minutes, to spend journaling.  
  • Keep it private.  The primary benefit of journaling is to help you process.  Once you’ve processed something, it’s up to you what you choose to share with others, but let the journal itself stay for your eyes only.
  • Date every entry.  It’s a little thing, but it becomes meaningful when you’ve done it for a while.
  • Be authentic.  The freedom of transparent honesty is so important in journaling.  Don’t worry about messy writing or spelling mistakes – just show up.  Whether you are responding to journaling prompts or free-flow writing, let yourself be real.
  • End with reflection.  Writing is often gut-level, and sometimes your head needs a moment to catch up.  Let yourself consider what you’ve written before rushing off to the next thing.

What to write?

Some of us (me) never run out of things to write about.  Others don’t even know where to start.  Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Do the homework for what you already have going on in our life.  Because journaling is so impactful, I’m finding more and more devotional, self-help, Bible studies and even business books have reflective questions built into them.  Why not choose one of those questions from something you’re already doing to answer each day?  Podcasts, online courses and blog series also often have these prompts.  If you’ve already got something going, it’s an easy place to start.
  2. Track your goals.  Many success gurus use their journals simply as a place to state their goal daily (make $1000 in sales.  Lose 10 lbs.  Not. yell at my kids), ask how it went that day, list 1-3 things you’re proud of and 1-3 things you could do better the next day.
  3. Use it for gratitude.  Write out 3-5 things daily that you are thankful for (no repeats!)
  4. Write out your prayers.  Nothing focuses me on God better than the limited pace of hand-writing out my prayers. Plus, I can go back later and mark up answers as they come!

Now it’s your turn: set that timer for 5 minutes, and write something down!

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