Four Experts Share Their Best Advice On How To Journal

Do you want to start a journaling practice, but feel unsure about how to begin? When it comes to journaling, a few questions come to mind: Many people often wonder what to write about, how to start a journal entry, and how to bullet journal.

Journaling is a powerful tool for personal growth with a long list of proven benefits. Aside from helping you take control of your thoughts, it reduces stress, brings you back to the present and allows you to dive deeper into your motivations.

To put it simply, writing in a journal helps you get to know yourself better. And once you raise your self-awareness, you’re better able to make decisions, solve problems and feel happy in your daily life. Long story short: Journaling comes with a tremendous slew of benefits. Want to get started? Here's everything you need to know. 

 

How to Journal

The first step is deciding where to write. Notebook or laptop? Some people prefer going old school with pen and paper — any Silk + Sonder subscribers can certainly relate to this — while others enjoy a more modern approach. Both are equally effective, so go with your personal preference on this one. 

“The line from Hamilton says it best: ‘Pick up a pen, start writing’ says Lanta Carroll, LPC, psychotherapist and calligrapher based out of Atlanta, Georgia. “You really don't have to have a specific agenda to journal! The mental health benefits like emotional release, mental clarity, self-reflection, reduced stress and improved self-awareness make journaling a tangible, simple way to put pen to paper and express your thoughts and feelings.”

There's something powerful about the combination of your handwriting and reflective journaling that helps your brain focus more on the stuff that matters (and less on the things that don't), Carroll adds.  

Looking for something more structured? Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before 40 recommends this 3-step process for how to journal:

1. Find the right template for you

Whether hand-written in a beautiful blank book or typed on your computer, a journal is one of the best ways to examine and sort out your feelings. 

Make sure the pages are big enough for you to write freely and that there’s room to draw or paste in pictures if you want to. Use your journal and the following chapters to create a record of your thoughts and decisions.

2. Create a title page

Think of your title page as your intention for what you hope to get out of your journaling practice.

Feel free to use your sense of humor. Here’s an example: “What I want to be when I grow up.” Take a phrase from a favorite poem or book: “What I might have been.” Or, just name it after yourself: "Rose’s Journal.” Use fancy lettering, by hand or on your computer, draw (or cut and paste) pictures or use your own designs on your title page. Make it as beautiful, joyous, funny, or formal as you wish.

3. Start writing

Your journal is a dialogue with yourself. You can write yourself letters, record memories, add photos, and draw pictures. Express your mood and feelings with your words, quotations, poetry, or song lyrics. Think of it as the workbook for creating the life you want.

If you like to draw or doodle, include your art.  If you see a picture that inspires you, include it in the journal.  Profound events, such as the death of someone close to you, an illness, or a family drug problem or other crisis, can make it very difficult to understand your own feelings about decisions that you need to make. No matter how difficult the problem, taking the time to write it out will help you to know what you think and feel, and in turn will help to guide you to a smart decision.

How to bullet journal

This type of journaling is excellent for creating mindful intentions to help improve your daily life. Carroll recommends bullet journaling whether you’re trying to drink more water, track your mood, or pay more attention to your health habits.

“Bullet journaling can be the perfect way to customize your unique path to wellness,” Carroll explains. “Start by creating your own table of contents that fit your unique style and goals.”

She suggests building out templates for any habit trackers, goal development, affirmations or weekly calendars. It’s important to keep in mind that freedom is the goal so be creative and have fun! It’s also helpful to set aside a time each day or week to update your bullet journal to feel the grounding effects of this practice.

If you’re unsure what to write but need to put thoughts on paper, bullet journaling is excellent.

“It’s part journal, part planner, and part inspiration page,” says Danielle Massi, licensed family therapist. “When you use bullets to log your thoughts you get to see them in a clear, concise, organized way, which is excellent for anyone who wants to use journaling to alleviate feelings of anxiety and overwhelm."

How to start a journal entry

 Massi suggests stream of consciousness writing. “One of my favorite ways to journal is to free write,” says Massi. “What I do is just close my eyes, allow my mind to clear, and when I open them I just let my pen move. I don't overthink or over complicate it. The end product beautiful, eclectic mix of thoughts, inspirations, and musings, and you'll feel light and free when you're done.”

 

Another useful tip is writing in a conversational tone, as if you’re speaking to someone you know.

“When you write in your journal imagine talking to a friend,” says Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus. “You can talk about anything ranging from what caused you pain to what you love. If you are stressed about something you can benefit from writing about it in your journal.”

In terms of time, 30 minutes each day is more than enough, but you can write more if you feel the need to, she explains.

The beauty of journaling is that everyone can benefit, whether you’re trying to self-reflect, manage your emotions, heal from a traumatic life experience or boost your creativity. The sky's the limit. 

What's your experience with journaling been like so far? Let us know in the comments. And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today. 

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