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So you're thinking about starting a journal?

Let me just say...

That's one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and your life.

Okay, so I'm a little biased.

Being a journaler myself I find it hard trying not force to gently encourage my friends and family to start journaling. 

So, I decided to put my energy into writing an ultimate guide to journaling.

This guide is comprehensive and super beginner-friendly. It'll help you navigate your own journaling journey - from how to get started, to what to write, and how to keep your journaling practice alive.

Plus a bunch of other useful tips.

If you're feeling a little unsure about how to start a journal, let's baby step through this process together.

What is Journaling?

Journaling isn't just about putting words on the page.

It's about expressive writing.

In simple terms, it's a way for us to make sense of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences.

And in writing this way, we get to know ourselves on a deeper level, find clarity in the chaos, and learn to appreciate the moments that might otherwise be lost.

What's the difference between a diary and a journal?

It's easy to see why the two often get confused because essentially they're both notebooks that you write stuff in.

How you use them, is where the difference lies.

Writing about what you ate for dinner, or when you did some laundry would be considered a diary entry.

While it's an accurate account of things that happened throughout your day, there's no self-exploration going on there. It's just a log of events.

But, if you're writing an honest reflection on why you decided to drink six margaritas last night, and you're pouring out your feelings, thoughts, and emotions around your drinking habits, then that's journaling.

That said, there's no reason why a diary can't be used as a more personal journal, or vice versa - if your preference is to co-mingle your entries.

It's your notebook. You decide how you want to use it.

Benefits of Journaling 

(According to science + personal experience)

There's been so much scientific research around the act of expressing yourself through writing.

From improving your physical health1, mental and emotional wellbeing2 , to helping manage major stressors like losing a job3. 

You're also likely to make fewer trips to the doctor's office4, if you journal consistently.

And while it's comforting to see so much scientific support around this topic, nothing beats experiencing journaling for yourself and watching the benefits unfold in your life.

So, let me tell you how my love affair with journaling began.

Buckle up.

How Journaling Unbroke My Heart

I was in the midst of grieving the loss of a relationship when I decided to make a change. I wanted to discover who I was. And what I wanted out of life, now that I was no longer somebody's wife.

The loss -- a lengthy separation followed by a nasty divorce -- hit me hard. The sadness of heartbreak, anxiety over an uncertain future, the loneliness, anger, guilt, and shame of failing at my marriage.

But although this loss took so much out of me at the time, it rewarded me with something big. A new, and much-improved relationship with myself.

I owe that to journaling.

I've been expressing myself in various notebooks for over 13 years now.


Some of the ways journaling has helped me personally, and continues to help me:


I don't fear negative emotions: When bad juju hits the fan, I can process it in all its raw glory. Whether it makes me feel sad, angry, fearful, guilty or frustrated, I know I have to feel the feels.

I don't dwell on the dark stuff for too long. Prolonged dwelling is unhealthy. But I can sit with the negative emotions I once used to run from. And experience them without being all consumed by them.

Working through my emotions in this way helps me to move on with my life. And it beats being stuck in cycles of pain or self-pity.

I know myself better: I'm better at tuning into the quirks of my personality, and the motivation behind my actions, thoughts, and emotions.

And this self-awareness benefits me in so many ways. 

I'm less reactive, more reflective.

I know what I want from life, which helps me make better decisions. And I'm really good at holding standards and keeping boundaries that support these decisions, along with my core values.

Because of this, I'm more intentional about how I spend my time and energy, and who I spend it with (massively cuts down on dysfunctional stress, and my dealings with drama kings and queens).

I have a better relationship with myself: My journal is my parent. My cheerleader. My shoulder to cry on. My business mentor. My therapist.

My journal is a safe place where I can express myself openly and honestly, without judgment. And a place where I can find creative solutions to problems or everyday challenges in life.

Through regular journaling, I dose myself with unconditional love, and nurturing, and truth bombs, and self-acceptance. 

This is not only incredibly soothing but, confidence building too. 

And you know what? It does wonders for the way I treat myself.

I appreciate things more: When you spend a lot of time reflecting on your life, you can't help but find things to be grateful for.

And for me, that spills into my day-to-day interactions with the world, and with the people around me. I have these little moments each day where I catch myself being thankful for everything. Even the smallest of things.

They light me up, and of course I look forward to journaling about them.

These benefits are just the tip of the ice-berg.

Let's just say that overall (and this will sound like a sac of sap), I’m a mentally and emotionally happier, healthier human being. And I dig that.

Different Styles of Journaling

There are many ways to journal, but here are a few of the popular ones.

Gratitude Journaling

Practicing gratitude has real and lasting benefits for your mental health and overall well-being.5

As humans, we're very good at registering and dwelling on negative events and experiences, over positive ones.

We can't help it. We're wired that way.6 

But, we can flip our negativity bias on it's head. By making a conscious effort to focus on the positive we can tap into our happy place.

How to Do it:

Take a few moments out of your day, or week to write about the things you feel grateful for. This could be your health, home, family, friends, pets, career, money, learning a new skill, alone time. Anything.

Some people like to journal at the end of the day, while others like to do it as soon as they wake up in the morning. It's up to you.

Visual Art Journaling

If you prefer something a bit more creative, try this out for size.

Art journaling is a soothing technique that can help when dealing with stress and anxiety.7 You can combine various art forms such as writing, doodling, drawing, photography, or collage to express your deepest thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

It's also a lot of fun. And no, you don't need to be an artist to try this.

How to Do it:

 Find a large space (ideally a table, but the floor will do),and gather your art supplies. This could be paints, pencils, chalk, photos, glue, stickers, magazine cut-outs, newspapers, scissors/cutting tools etc.

Then, assemble the artwork in your journal.

Here's some art journaling inspiration for you:

Stream of Consciousness Journaling

This is called "stream of consciousness" because your thoughts flow from one thing to another without much order or reason.

Just like a river or stream.

You'll also hear style be referred to as freewriting.

How to Do it:

Just write. Write anything that pops into your head at the time.

Maybe you start off reminiscing about a lovely evening with a friend... then all of a sudden you remember you forgot to feed the cat, and you still have dirty dishes in the sink, and you notice your tummy's rumbling, but what should you eat?... OMG a cheese toasty with Worcester sauce on it ... just like the one you had at your nan's house last week...

Yes, it's like verbal diarrhea, but in written form.

Don't overthink or judge whatever it is you're writing. 

Allow yourself to spill all your thoughts and feelings onto paper.

You can set a timer for this exercise if you like, but that will interrupt your train of flow. Not ideal. You don't want to be disturbed mid-flow.

Morning Pages 

This is also a form of stream of consciousness journaling, but the idea behind this technique is that you have to journal in the morning, and write three pages of longhand.8

This form of journaling is often used by writers who struggle with writers block. It's great for clearing the mind, while improving creative writing skills along the way. But it's a great technique for anyone.

How to Do it:

See stream of consciousness above.

One Line a Day Journaling

If time is an issue for you, this journaling method is one of the quickest and easiest ways to start and maintain a journaling habit.

How to Do it:

Every day, you write down one line in your journal.

You could write a quick one-sentence entry about how you're feeling that day, how you slept the night before, what you are grateful for, or something you learned about yourself.

One line. That's it.

How to Start a Journal for Beginners

It all sounds nice, I hear you say, but how do you ACTUALLY start journaling if you've never journaled before.

Let's break it down into five steps:

  1. Identify your reasons for journaling
  2. Chose your journal format
  3. Select your environment
  4. Start writing 

Step 1: Identify Your Motivation

Why do you want to start journaling? And why now?

What are you hoping to achieve?

Is it for personal development, to be more grateful, have better relationships, to be more mindful, or to process emotional pain?

Unless you can identify why you want to start a journal, your attempts to put pen to paper will be a major struggle-fest.

And that's bound to crush any enthusiasm, hope, or motivation you had for journaling. You'll struggle to be consistent, and eventually, give up.

Journaling can work for you - if you let it.

So, figure out what you want from your journal. Get clear on that, and you'll start to see journaling as the bridge drawing you closer to your desires.

It then stops being this task you have to make yourself do. Instead, it becomes an experience you look forward to because you get so much value out of it.

Here's that question again... Why do you want to journal?

Take a moment to really think about it.

Write your answer down, then move on to step number two.

Step 2: Choose Your Journal

What type of journal should you use?

In a nutshell, use the type of journal that will work best for you.

Some people prefer using digital apps to keep their journals.

Others prefer paper.

I'm a paper gal when it comes to journaling.

I love the feel of gliding a pen across paper, and seeing the marks that I make. I'm both physically and emotionally connected to my journal. 

Digital journaling doesn't do it for me. I'm in no way a luddite (I freaking love technology). I just don't always want to be 'plugged in'.

For me to connect with and process deep thoughts and feelings, I need to do that AWAY from an electronic screen. No PC, iPad or smartphone. 

A paper journal is my sanctuary in this respect.

A momentary escape from the world of tech.

But I digress.

Ultimately, the best type of journal for you – is the one you’re going to actually use on a regular. Want to go digital? Do that. Paper? Go for it!

Either way you’ve got to like....

No, you've got to LOVE your journal enough to look forward to writing in it.

The rest of this article is going to refer to handwritten journaling, but what I write next, has relevance to digital journalers too.

Shall we continue?

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Things to Consider When Buying a Journal:


Size. 

Will you be carrying your journal around with you?

If that’s the case you want a notebook that’s not bulky and fits into a regular sized bag. An A5 hardback would be your best bet. It's more durable than a paperback, or spiral bound journal, and is a decent size to write in.

If you won't be lugging your journal around with you, a paperback or larger size journal could be a good option.

Paper type.

Should you choose a journal that has lined, blank, graph, or dot-grid paper? 

The answer to that question, depends on how you intend to use it.

Do you have the kind of handwriting that's unruly and needs guidance? You're probably best with a lined journal. 

Do you feel restricted by lines? Go for a blank paper type.

Although I like blank paper journals, I've given up on them. I can't write in a straight line to save my life. I need evenly spaced guides to scrawl on.

Do you like to doodle as well as write? Would you like to embellish your pages with cute stickers? If so, go for a journal with good quality paper that’s either blank or dot grid (that said, my current journal is lined and it doesn’t stop me from breaking out the odd doodle).

Price.

There are journal connoisseurs who think nothing of spending £40 on a fancy calfskin, hand-stitched leather journal. 

I’ve even seen journals selling for upwards of £90. 

Shiiizz! If I have to take out three Klarna instalments just to pay for a journal with empty pages inside, then that journal is not for me.

Not at the rate I go through them.

You don’t have to go broke buying a journal.

Spend what you’re comfortable spending, but make sure the journal you pick is one you’ll actually write in. You want to use the thing, not confine it to that dusty pile of empty notebooks taking up space on your shelf.

Is it Okay to Use Journal Prompts?

Yes. It's absolutely fine to use written prompts in your journal.

I mean, it's better than painstakingly staring at a blank page.

Plus prompts help you uncover deep thoughts, emotions, and feelings that you've buried. And help brainstorm ideas for areas you want to improve on.

Alternatively, buy a guided journal that has pre-written prompts in it.

Like this one:

Start Where You Are Journal

This journal combines mindfulness and creativity to help you stay motivated and inspired. It helps you explore, celebrate, and appreciate yourself and all the world has to offer.

Shop the Journal

Step 3: Choose Your Environment 

Where ever you feel relaxed, comfortable and free to write your innermost thoughts, that’s your spot.

That could be your bedroom, living room, the garden shed... the toilet.

Some people like to journal under zen like conditions no distractions. While others prefer the ambiance of a coffee shop or library setting.

What's more important is writing in the same environment each time. That way you'll start to associate that space with your journaling practice. Which will help you develop a regular writing habit (we’ll get to this later).

When is the Right Time of Day to Journal?

The right time to journal is the time that best works for you.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Choose a time when you’ll feel the most energised to write. And once again, try to pick a time when you're not likely to get interrupted.

For me, it’s first thing in the morning, because... well, zero distractions. I just can't get my journaling head together at any other time of day.

What if You Struggle to Get Alone Time?

If you have kids, or pets that don't seem to want to leave your side, I see you rolling your eyes at me right now. But hang in there. Here are a few ways to get the alone time you seek (from a mum of six).

If you're really struggling with finding the right environment or time to journal, don't beat yourself up over it. Sometimes, it doesn't happen. 

Accept the situation for what it is now. But look for opportunities to pursue journaling when you can create the space for it.

Step 4: Write Your First Journal Entry

Most people shy away from starting a journal because they don’t know what to write.

When it comes to that first page, they zone out. Or overthink it. Usually, because they’re trying too hard to write something profound or prolific.

The first blank page of anything is intimidating, but here’s how you get past that. You. Keep. It. Simple.

Start with the context. Write about general stuff.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Write down your name age, location, relationship status.
  • Write down the reasons why you’re starting a journal at this time.
  • Are you about to start a new project, new job, move home?
  • What are your journaling goals?
  • Where are you in life right now?
  • What’s working well? What’s not working well? 
  • How are you feeling about journaling in this moment - happy, sad, indifferent, worried, angry? 
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What do you want to improve or change?
  • What do you want to learn – in general, and/or about yourself?

The main thing to remember is this... being open and honest in your journal is your superpower.

Your journal is a place where you can be yourself, and learn about the person you really are - in all your messy glory. 

It would be a shame not to fully explore what's going on with you.

Much like working with a therapist, your level of openness can help or hinder that relationship. They won't be able to help you if they don’t know where you’re at, or where you want to go. 

Nor will your journal my friend.

So, How Often Should You Write?

This is tricky because I want to tell you to write whenever you feel like it.

But the reality is this: 

If you want to become a journaler, you need to make journaling a habit.

And habits only come about when you do things consistently.

When I first started journaling, I wrote every day for three months straight. That's what I needed to make journaling a permanent fixture in my life.

Nowadays I don't feel the need to journal every day. I go through phases.

Sometimes I'll write daily for months on end. Then nothing for a week. Then I’ll journal a few times a week. Then every day again. 

So if you’re just starting out, I encourage you to go hard.

Aim to journal every day.

Once you've built your journaling muscle you'll get into a natural writing rhythm that works for you.

Maybe you'll continue to journal each day.

Or maybe you'll find once or twice a week is enough.

How Much Should You Write?

Now, this depends on what mood you're in when it comes to journaling. And of course, how much time you've got.

Some days, if I've woken up late or had a bad night's sleep, I can only manage to muster a quick sentence.

Other days, I'm spitting out six pages of word vomit.

I've tried the morning pages method of journaling, but I'm not good with following rules. And having to write three pages every day, kind of sucked the life out of me.

I didn't like feeling guilty for not reaching my daily journaling quota on days where the energy just wasn't there. So, I stopped trying to hit three pages and did my own thing.

My advice: go with the flow. Listen to what you're feeling, and how much time you have, and act according to that.

The most important thing is that you're writing something. It doesn't have to be a lot if you don't have the capacity for it.

Should You Review Your Journal?

Some people review their journal every day.

Some, every week, month, or year.

Others review their journal during specific seasons in their lives.

Some people don’t review their journal at all.

Whether you review your journal depends on what you're using it for.

Journaling for self-improvement? Got goals you want to track? Then it makes sense to want to review your journal from time to time because that's a good way to measure your growth.

If you're writing as a way to heal emotional wounds, you may not want to revisit what you've written.

In this case, the simple act of venting, then letting go is enough.

Ask yourself, what would be the benefit of reviewing painful journal entries after you've grown, and healed from those episodes?

5 Tips for Journaling Consistently

One of the biggest problems people have with journaling is inconsistency. They write something one day and then go weeks or months without writing anything.

While you can get away with journaling this way if you're an established journaler, you'll struggle if you're just starting out. As a beginner, this lack of consistency is likely to lead to downfall.

Why? Because you've not yet internalised the practice of journaling.

I've been journaling for so long now, that if I miss a couple of weeks it doesn't have any negative impact on me. I understand the ebbs and flows of my journaling practice and accept that for what it is.

That said, it feels unnatural for me to go too long without writing in my journal. I just don't see a time when I would ever give it up.

As a beginner, skipped journaling sessions may feel like failure. You might kick yourself for not sticking to the program. And then question whether journaling is for you.

So, if you have trouble keeping a journal, here are a few tips that may help:

1. Remember Why You’re Journaling

Chances are you're using your journal to support your well-being in some way. It may feel difficult now, but your future self will thank you for the effort you've made.

Keep that in mind, and journal for that version of you.

2. Use Journal Prompts

These can be anything — questions, words, or sentences — that give you direction when you start writing.

You don't need to stick with the prompts, or even answer them fully. The goal here is to use these prompts as inspiration when you don't know what to write about.

3. Make it Easy to Access

Imagine for a second, your neighbour drops off a batch of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. You leave the plate of steaming goodies on your kitchen counter.

What happens the next time you walk into your kitchen?

You see the plate of mouth-watering snacks staring you square in the eye. Softly whispering: 'eat me'. 

If you're like the 1.3781 billion sugar addicts on Earth, you're going to want to reach for one? Am I right?

Now replace the cookies for your journal (I know, not as tempting). 

But, you've had a hard day at work and your mind is buzzing with thoughts. Out of the corner of your eye, you spy your journal. You know that would be a good place to offload, and so you pick it up...

Try to get into the habit of leaving your journal somewhere in plain sight. Maybe on your bedside table. Or the kitchen counter. When you can see and access your journal easily, that'll be your cue to pick it up.

4. Dedicate Time to Journal

Physically schedule that time in a planner or calendar, then follow through. If you think you're likely to forget to journal, set yourself a reminder.

5. Go For the Lowest Common Denominator 

So you don't feel like writing a page in your journal today. That's okay, because you don't have to. Write a sentence instead.

Don't want to write a sentence? Okay, then write a word.

One. Single. Word. Something that expresses how you're feeling in that moment, or sums up the entirety of your day:

  • 'Exhausted'
  • 'Exhilarating'
  • 'Bewildered'

This way, you won't feel like a flake for not journaling. You may even surprise yourself and end up writing more than you thought you would.

6. Track Your Progress

One way to make your journaling habits sticky, is to track them.

With a habit tracker.  

This will help you focus on getting your journaling done.

It'll also give you little butterfly's in your tummy when you see all the progress you've made each week (or month).

Okay, maybe butterflies is a stretch.

But you'll feel like a more accomplished journaler. And you'll want to keep that winning streak going. Because progress on a habit tracker looks great when you've checked off all the boxes.

And not so great when you can see the days you've skipped.

So, keep yourself accountable and grab this habit tracker template --

Attach it to something you use daily, like the fridge or a planner.

5 Common Obstacles to Journaling (and What to Do About Them)

So now that you've read all these tips, you're good. Just pick up your journal, and get to writing...


Yeah, I wish I could tell you that it'll be smooth sailing from here on.

But, I'd be lying. Because journaling isn't easy.

It can bring a heap of goodness into your life, but there will be struggle. 

And you'll be tempted to quit (or just not start at all).

And I don't want that for you.

So, I'm going to share a few roadblocks you might encounter on your journaling journey. And what you can do to swerve or minimise them.

1. Getting Terrible Writer's Block 

This is not a sign that you should give up journaling. Chances are you're experiencing empty brain syndrome, and you're panicking. And in doing so, simultaneously putting more pressure on yourself to perform.

It happens. Even to great writers. Fortunately, it's temporary.

What to Do About it:

Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Know that anything you write is progress, even if it seems like jibberish. 

Allow yourself to write that jibberish and be okay with it (because no one else is going to see it other than you, right?)

Alternatively, find a few journal prompts and go to town on those.

Here are a few of my tried and tested empty brain busters:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What do I need to do to make tomorrow better than today?

Sometimes I’ll even write about me not wanting to write.

A quick entry like:

‘I don’t feel like writing today, and that’s okay. There’s always tomorrow’.

2. Struggling to Find Time

Or at least that's the story you'll tell yourself. The reality is this: We make time for the things we want to do in life.

What to Do About it:

Get super honest with yourself, and answer this question:

"Do I really not have 5 minutes in a day, or week to write a couple of lines in my journal? Or, am I trying to avoid it."

If you are trying to avoid your journal, there's no shame in that. But get curious about what's really going on.

Because more often than not, you'll see that time (or a perceived lack of time) is not the issue. 

Let's be real. If you want to start journaling you need to make space for it. And if you can't carve out a smidgen of time, you're not really ready to journal. Not right now. But maybe in the future.

If you are ready, take inventory of the things in your life that you're currently prioritising, and be prepared to make a little sacrifice.

Here's another question to ask yourself:

"What can I do less of in my day, or week to make time for journaling?"

Maybe that's watching 5 minutes less of TV, going to bed or waking up 5 minutes earlier, or saying no to mindless phone scrolling.

We all have 24 hours in a day. You get to decide where you invest it.

3. Skipping a Day (or Longer) Then Feeling Bad

This is the reason why so many of us give up when trying to install a new diet, or exercise regimen into our lives. We have everything mapped out in our heads, maybe even on paper. 

We're so determined we're going to stick with the plan, no matter what.

Then it happens. We skip a day.

And then another. Followed by yet another. 

We start feeling bad about all these skipped days and decide that the diet/exercise thing isn't going to work. 

Depending on the relationship you have with journaling, a string of skipped sessions can make you feel just as bad. You view the lack of consistency as failure, and conclude that journaling isn't for you.

This is merely all-or-nothing thinking.9 Don't allow it to ruin a good thing.

What to Do About it:

If you do miss a few days (and it’s inevitable that you will), don’t freak out. This doesn't mean your journaling journey is doomed to failure. It's just a minor blip. And as long as you jump back on the saddle, you're all good.

Forgive yourself for that missed day, or three, and move on.

It might help to set a three-strike rule. Make a pact with yourself never to skip more than three days in a row. 

It doesn't have to be set to three days. It could be four, or five, or seven. Whatever timeframe feels comfortable for you.

4. Worrying Someone Will Read it

You're about to pour your thoughts, feelings, and emotions into your journal, but then you stop. A horrifying thought crosses your mind:

"What if someone reads this one day?"

Well, chances are that that could happen.

It's the reason why, as a kid I fantasised about starting a secret diary.