When it comes to self-improvement tools, it’s hard to top journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings allows you to process them in a healthy and productive way. It’s like a cleanse for a soul—a way to release limiting beliefs, rewire negative thinking patterns and elevate our mental well being.
If you’re new to the world of journaling, don’t worry. We’ve compiled a list from 17 therapists for advice on how to keep a journal.
Do it your own way
“A journal is somewhere you can share your successes and struggles without judgment. It can be a place where you can write and 'think out loud' to resolve life problems. It can be a place where you share your hurts and heartaches. And, it can be a place of inspiration where you try out new thoughts, ideas, and explore future goals. Whatever the place is for you, make it your own.” - Jason Drake, LCSW
Don't edit yourself
“Often people have a hard time getting started because they are worried so much about what to say but judge those ideas before even writing them down. This is only for you. No one else is going to see it. Write away.” - Caroline Madden, PhD, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Make it accessible
“Keep it with you in an easily accessible place so you can retrieve it quickly when the spirit moves you.” - Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW
Don’t write in complete sentences
“If you get bogged down in grammatical structure when journaling, the content can become emotionally deadened and you might become hyperaware of an imagined reader and their judgement of your work. Instead, let your words flow organically, which will allow you access to the most poignant aspects of your thoughts. Stream of consciousness can be done in single run-on paragraphs, or in lines similar to a free-form poem, with natural breaks where the rhythm of your thoughts dictate. Don't be afraid to cross out lines and add in the margins as you read back through, highlighting the most insightful pebbles of phrases." - Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT, CST
Make journaling part of your daily routine
"Write in it each morning or evening before you go to bed, or do both and see which time of day works best for you. Don’t pressure yourself, write as much or as little as you want each time. If you forget to make an entry one day, don’t give up, just pick it back up the following day.” - Gabrielle Schreyer-Hoffman, Ph.D.
Reread your entries
“If you’ve been journaling for a while, reread your entries now and then. Sure, there will be a few cringe-worthy moments but for the most part it’s a great way to see where you’ve been and how far you’ve come.” - Chris Lemig, CHT
Find the right format
“Figure out the type of journaling that works best for you. If you have a lot on your mind or need to vent, just write whatever comes to mind for as long as you need. Short on time? Try a bullet point lists, where you simply note your mood or something you are grateful for or struggling with each day. Need more structure, try a guided journal that provides you with writing prompts.” - Dr. Elena Welsh
Write when you’re feeling stressed
“Every time you notice yourself feeling stressed, make a note of it by writing down:
a) Situation: what you were doing and with whom;
b) Thoughts: what thoughts were going through your mind;
c) Feelings: what emotions and physical sensations emerged for you;
d) Behaviours: what you did in response to it.” - Dr. Raffaello Antonino
Make it visually appealing
“Use different color inks, stickers and washi tape to decorate different days and sections. Making it pretty is a mindful activity in and of itself. Additionally, when your journal is visually appealing you'll want to use it more.” - Dr. Catherine Jackson
Write down what you’re grateful for
“Use your daily journal as a way of capturing the three-to-ten things you’re grateful for that day. You will be feeding your system with positive feel-good hormones — serotonin and dopamine — with everything you capture. And, in the process, you’ll be reflecting on your day and processing your experiences.” – Andrea Dindinger, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
But make sure to be specific with your gratitude
"One of the benefits of journaling regards gratitude journaling. Many people find it life changing. Over time as you continue to write about what you are grateful for, your brain starts to look for moments of gratitude, which can change your life significantly. An important thing to remember is to be very specific with your gratitude. Avoid writing “I’m thankful for my family” but write things like, “I appreciate and am grateful for cuddling on the couch with my partner." - Dian Grier, LCSW
View it as an emotional release
“If keeping a journal long-term makes you anxious, there's no rule stating you have to keep it forever. It's your journal, just throw away the page, burn it, or delete it. Helpful effects of journaling don't just happen because you keep it, the process of moving thoughts from your brain out into the world (be it typing or writing) can be very beneficial." - Elizabeth Marston, MSW, LCSW
Before writing, connect with your inner wisdom through meditation
“Taking even a minute or two to connect with your breath and your senses through mindfulness practices such as deep breathing or meditation will help you tap into your deeper levels of awareness and the wisdom of the body. This will help you get out of your head and shift your focus from your mind chatter to your intuition. This type of journaling practice helps us reveal the answers to life challenges that our highest self, or essence, already knows.” - Psychotherapist Joyce Marter, author of the upcoming The Financial Mindset Fix
Think of journaling like exercise
"People would do well to address journaling like exercise. Starting too intensely and too frequently will leave the person feeling frustrated and demotivated. Instead, start slowly with a few words or sentences a few times per week. Let the process build and grow into something meaningful over time." - Eric Patterson, LPC
Write a journal purpose statement
“It can be very helpful to start your journal with a purpose statement. What do you want to accomplish with your journal? Do you plan to track specific information on a regular basis? Here's an example – 'I am committing to keeping a journal to document milestones in my children’s lives, list three things per day I am grateful for, and express daily thoughts, ideas, and motivational quotes.' Another example – 'I am committed to keeping a journal to document progress in my weight loss journal. I will reflect on progress and moments of discouragement to keep focus on my goal. I will track my weekly weigh in information as well as measurements.” - Lori Ryland, Ph.D., LP, CAADC, CCS, BCBA-D, a licensed clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers
Throw out the rules and enjoy yourself
“Throw out all rules. This is YOUR experience. There are over seven and a half billion people on the planet, so about seven and a half billion ways to journal. And most importantly, enjoy yourself! This is something you choose to do, so keep it enjoyable. Use a favorite notebook or purchase a journal that speaks to you, pour a favorite (healthy) beverage, and snuggle into a comfortable space (that could be a worn-out couch, your bed, a swing, a park bench…)” - Tanya J. Peterson
"When keeping a journal, it is good to be consistent and try to write everyday. Even if it is just a bulleted list of what you did or who you saw, getting in the habit will make journaling feel more like part of your routine. Treat yourself to a really nice pen, personally I think it's fun to have a few colors so you can switch it up." - Sonia Martin, therapist
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.