Keeping a journal is a life changing habit. Doing wisely it allows us to clear out the emotional knots which keep us tied to life circumstances we’d rather outgrow. Journaling itself is easy; what’s challenging is starting the habit. This article will show you how to start writing a journal when you feel the need for some emotional clarity.
I wrote this article based on my own experience with writing a journal and on what I learned from “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It contains ideas to streamline your journaling habit so you’re more likely to pick up a pen and start writing when you feel the need to let off some emotional steam.
Want to learn about the benefits of journaling? Read this article: How To Release Negative Emotions
Want to learn about how to journal to release anxiety? read this one: How To Journal For Anxiety
Now on to the steps to start writing a journal!
Step 1: Buy A Journal
This step is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t have a journal, you won’t be able to write in it! So the first step is buying one.
A journal is a sacred space; a place where we can be ourselves with zero fear of being judged for our ideas, opinions, beliefs, punctuation, spelling or writing style. A journal will always welcome whatever you have to say; it will listen patiently and attentively. It’s the perfect friend.
Since a journal is such an intimate space it’s important to buy one which inspires joy and creative confidence whenever we look at it. Personally, I enjoy using soft-cover Moleskin notebooks. I find their simple elegance alluring and they’re flexible, which means I can put them into my backpack without having to worry about damaging them.
Key: Choose What YOU Want
The key is to choose a journal which resonates with you! One which aligns with your needs and tastes.
As another example, I prefer notebooks with blank pages over those with ruled ones. To me, blank pages represent potential; I can express my creativity in any way I want, write in any direction, doodle anything I want, without having lines to constrict my creating. But that’s just me.
A good way to decide what journal is the right fit for you is to simply imagine yourself writing in one. What is the journal that you imagine for yourself? Is it bound in leather? Can it fit in your pocket? Or is it the size of a regular notebook? How thick are the pages? Are they all one color?
Imagining your ideal journal will give you some guidance when you go out and purchase one! But don’t let your quest for perfection get in the way of actually buying the journal. Sometimes compromise is unavoidable. Many of my journals are far from ideal; but at least I have them to write in when I want to.
Once you have a journal you can take the next step, which is absolutely key if you want to make journaling into a lasting habit.
Step 2: Put It In A Visible Place, Along With A Pen
Putting your journal in a place you regularly spend time in will boost the odds of your writing in it.
When I was younger and had less control over my thoughts and impulses, I used to have a journal which I kept hidden away from sight. While this came with the advantage of privacy, it had the drawback of hiding my journal. I rarely wrote in it.
Having a physical barrier between us and our journal increases the amount of energy required for us to write in it. Instead of just sitting down, opening the journal and writing in it we also have to open a drawer.
The tiny step of opening the drawer to pull out our journal causes “ego depletion.” This means it takes more willpower for us to engage in our writing. This applies to every habit, not just journaling. We are more likely to follow through on our habits if we streamline the process by removing as many barriers as possible between ourselves and the habit. This is why laying out workout clothes beside the bed the night before makes it more likely that we will workout in the morning.
We can engineer our environment to promote the habits we want and restrict the habits we don’t want. I leave my journal on my desk, so it’s constantly around me.
So if you want to establish a journaling habit it’s essential that you leave your journal in a place you spend time in. This way it will become familiar to you, and what is familiar is comfortable. The more comfortable you are with your journal, the more likely you will resort to it when you need to clear out your emotional turmoil.
Step 3: Start With The Date
This step is another optimization for you to install the journaling habit. Blank pages can be scary. As a blogger I am all too familiar with the creative fear of staring at a blank page, wondering what to write.
Starting our journal entry with the date removes a lot of the pressure of beginning to write. It doesn’t take much creative energy to determine the date, but by starting with it we are no longer starting on a blank page!
Starting with the date removes the pressure to begin. It allows your mind to relax so that your writing can flow just a little more and be more satisfying.
Also, you don’t need to stop at the date. You can also write down the time of day and your location! That way, when you read back on your journal entries years from now you will be able to accurately place yourself in the space-time continuum.
Once you’ve written what you wanted to, the next step is key.
Step 4: Sign The Entry
Once you finish your writing it’s essential that you sign the entry with your name.
This provides a sense of closure. It closes the chapter on whatever it was you wrote about. If you don’t sign your name, it will leave the entry open. It will feel as though you haven’t fully addressed what you felt. It will remain in the back of your mind, drawing your attention away from the present moment; an unprocessed flea jumping around inside your heart and skull.
Close the entry by signing it. Doing so will give you a burst of dopamine and make you feel as though you have accomplished something. Which you have! You just faced your inner world and expressed it in words!
That’s the stuff of champions.
Those are five steps you can take to install the journaling habit.
The following points relate to how to make the habit stick.
Bonus: Tips To Make The Habit Stick
What follows are tiny choices you can make to increase the odds of your establishing journaling as a lasting habit. Small choices when carried out consistently over long periods of time (months and years) add up to tremendous change.
Bonus 1: Be Consistent
Consistency leads to success. When it comes to changing our behavior, it’s more effective to do a little every day than to do a lot once in a while. This means that if you want to become a person who journals, your best bet is to do at least a sentence a day. This sounds easy, but believe me, when the time comes to execute, humans are experts at rationalizing excuses.
Nowadays I only journal when I feel the need to, meaning when I’m feeling down or anxious. I’ve become an expert at paying attention to my inner state and determining what I need to do to help me work through my issues. If you’re curious on how I did that, you can read this article about meditation.
We all have tremendous creative power locked away inside of us. But our emotional tangles prevent this power from expressing itself, like the knots in a garden hose which prevent the water from flowing. What I’ve noticed is that when people aren’t aware of what’s going on inside of them, they don’t know what to do to allow themselves to work through their issues.
This included me.
When I felt anxious I would just sit and try to distract myself through reading or entertainment, instead of doing an activity which would help me undo the knot which had formed within me, like journaling or going for a walk. So I would stew in my turmoil.
But with increased awareness we see more options and can make better (wealthier) choices. Journaling and meditating allow us to become more aware of what’s going on inside of us, so we can choose better!
Bonus 2: Track Your Progress
Studies show that people who track their meals are more effective at losing weight. The same goes for people who budget; budgeters have greater control over their financial situations than non-budgeters.
So if we have a habit we want to install, like journaling, we give ourselves a massive edge when we track our progress. And the simpler and more accessible our tracking system is, the more likely we are to do it (tracking progress is a habit, so the same ideas apply to doing it).
As an example, I have set myself a goal of writing an article every weekday for a whole year. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, I’ve streamlined the process so much, I’m actually en route to achieving it.
And tracking my progress has been key to my efforts.
Immediately after I write, edit and publish an article, I take a marker and fill in one of the squares. It’s so satisfying! The feeling I get whenever I fill in a square is a natural high coming from the sense of accomplishment. It’s a dopamine rush! The unfilled squares are from when I was vacationing in Mexico.
Progress is the best motivator. Having a visual reminder of the progress we’ve made is a great way to keep us on track to achieving our goals.
It also helps in applying the next tip.
Bonus 3: Reward Yourself When You Journal
This is such a great insight which I got from “Atomic Habits”. Rewarding ourselves when we follow through on a habit we’ve set for ourselves is the perfect way to get our “instant gratification monkey” on board with what we want to achieve.
For example, I have a goal of waking up at 5 AM throughout the week. This is a challenging habit for me, I’ve only recently transitioned into being a morning person and it still takes monumental amounts of willpower to get out of my bed at 5 in the morning. I’m not always successful.
So to keep myself motivated, on the days I do manage to get out of bed at 5 AM, I reward myself with a delicious piece of chocolate after lunch. It works beautifully; I love chocolate, so my unconscious mind knows that it will only get the treat if I get out of bed when my alarm rings at 5 AM.
The key for the reward to work is to be strict with it. If you don’t follow through on your commitment, you don’t get the reward, no exceptions. It’s hard to not give myself the chocolate on the days I don’t get up at 5 AM. But since I want the chocolate so much, that makes it the perfect motivator to get me out of bed in the morning.
So choose a reward you love and treat yourself whenever you succeed in sticking with your journaling goal! You can even track yourself and once you’ve followed through on your habits a certain amount of times you can give yourself an even bigger reward; like a vacation or a luxurious spa day.
Final Thoughts: Journaling Is A Habit And Thus Can Be Installed Like One
I hope you have found this article useful. I write these articles to inspire people to take action and improve their lives. The internet allows us to share our message with all who are interested in hearing it, and my message is the following: we all have it in us to live wealthy, adventurous, productive lives; what many of us need are examples of people who have learned how to improve their habits, applied what they’ve learned and reaped the benefits.
I practice everything I write about in this blog. This allows me to faithfully share the most powerful practices which expand our capabilities and fortify our fortunes.
Please drop a comment if you have any questions. I will gladly respond to you as soon as I am able.
To our wealth and success.