Journaling for Beginners
The alternative title for this was “Journaling for People Who’ve Never Stuck To It”, because I’ve never managed to before and so I’m a beginner. Having always loved the idea of journaling, but never really loving the process, a chance encounter changed my mind on what journaling actually is. Bringing it into my life as a tool of mindfulness has helped me so much and I’ve been going back to it for months now. Here’s how to start!
Keeping a diary or journal to observe thoughts and explore feelings can help with stress management, gaining clarity and self-reflection. It can become a great mindfulness tool when done with a positive outlook and gratitude. Journaling can help with letting go of negative emotions, reducing anxiety, helping notice patterns of behaviour and even assist with problem-solving.
One scientific study showed that participants with Major Depressive Disorder who journaled showed significantly decreased depression scores, which persisted from week one of the study through week 4. One group was asked to use expressive journaling techniques- deep, meaningful writing about traumatic or troubling events- and the other group wrote about trivial or non-traumatic daily happenings. Both showed improvements in this study but the expressive writing group showed higher levels (Krpan et al, 2013). Other studies on expressive writing have shown reduced medical visits (Pennebaker and Francis, 1996), better immune function (Pennebaker et al, 1998) and an increase in psychological wellbeing (Lepore, 1997).
How to start
Starting a journaling practice can be intimidating. Since I was a kid, I’d start a diary and write in it for a few days but then it would fizzle out and I’d forget about it altogether. At a Mindfulness Afternoon held by Wellness Warehouse last year, we had the opportunity to journal as one of the techniques taught by Tasia of The Mindful Movement. Many of the lessons she taught that afternoon were little nuggets of gold that have stayed with me and helped me turn this tool into a habit for wellbeing.
Turn it into a ritual
Rituals are often thought of as religious ceremonies or rites, but you can chose your own. Now rituals can be any solemn set of actions performed in a prescribed order- you can make your own ritual up. Set aside time for yourself in a space that is serene, uncluttered and peaceful. If your room could use a tidy so it’s not distracting, take 10 minutes to do that before you start. If you can hear noises from the street in your living area, try another space. Lighting a candle or burning essentials oils, putting on some music that will help you relax and focus and making yourself comfortable all count as a ritual.
On the evening of a full moon like to smudge my home, place my crystals under the moon, sit down journal with a cup of herbal tea then stretch on my bed before going to sleep.* In 2018 I made a habit of writing down intentions for the next month, during the last week of the month . It’s something I haven’t done for a while and want to get back while 2019 is still fresh.
Different Styles of Journaling
When I mentioned the benefits of journaling, I spoke about expressive writing vs writing about trivial tasks or daily activities. There are so many types of journaling outside of these two, including bullet journaling, a stream of consciousness, goal or intention setting, or even list writing… These are all very different in purpose and may suit you at different times in your life.
Expressive writing: writing deep and meaningfully about traumatic events or experiences
Stream of consciousness: transcribing thoughts and emotions without stopping to correct, in a continuous flow.
Bullet journaling: A DIY Planner, where you fill in whatever is useful to you.
Intention setting: defining a singular (or a set of) positive purpose(s) to move forward with (these are different to goals)
Daily: personal, in-depth analysis on a daily basis.
Make a Date
Setting aside time to journal regularly will take it from a mindfulness tool, to a habitual activity that gives you results. Some say that journaling daily is the way to go but to start, I’d suggest trying once a week or even once every two weeks. I started twice a week and now I make weekly ‘appointments’ with myself to journal. By turning it into a ritual, you have to set aside enough time for your ritual. Look at your schedule for the week and see when you can fit in 10, 15 or 30 minutes of time. Also note when you’ll be relaxed and won’t have a to-do list for work or chores on your mind. When the time comes, honour yourself by giving yourself that time.
I love journal prompts! Sometimes you don’t know how to start writing on a blank page. How many writers can attest to that? There are books of journaling prompts out there with pages that aren’t blank but rather have a question or statement to start you going. Tasia gave me one called Made Out of Stars by Meera Lee Patel. Prompts take the pressure off and help you gain insight if you answer the questions honestly and openly. Here are few that I enjoy
What are three things that scare you the most?
What does your ideal life look like?
Write about a difficult time in your life and how you overcame it
Write about three things you can be proud of
And here are some highly recommended prompt books if you do want to invest in yourself
Make it judgement free
I told Tasia about my history of picking up my old diaries, flicking through them and then thinking about how silly the things I wrote were. Her response changed things for me. She said, “Try not to judge who you were in the past and how you reacted”. That simple concept changed my whole perception on journaling. It’s about being understanding and compassionate towards yourself. Being clear and transparent with yourself at that moment. Hopefully, you can carry that forward into your future, not judging your past self for transgressions can take a weight off of your shoulders.
*If you are going to experiment with or use actions or rites that are from another religion or culture, please be respectful of that culture or religion in its entirety. Researching and learning about where things come from and the meaning behind them are crucial to understanding what you are doing. Learn from someone who is well versed in the tradition and acknowledge that every time you perform it.