How to Start and Keep a Journal

Learn to Journal

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Discover the many benefits to writing down your thoughts.

I’ve kept a journal since I was in third grade. I started with a diary that had a tiny lock and key. Back then I used to grade my days. “Today was terrible. My parents made me eat eggs. Someone at school said I look like Pippi Longstocking. Today is a D.” I moved on to notebooks of all different sizes and designs. For every entry, I filled page after page with my chicken-scratch handwriting until I felt better. Like a genie going back inside her bottle, opening a notebook and writing felt like an escape for me. A journal can be a friend, a secret-keeper, a form of meditation or a therapy session.

Science also backs up the therapeutic and health benefits of keeping a journal. James Pennebaker, Ph.D., a psychologist and a leading expert on journaling, says expressive writing—putting words to our painful experiences—can strengthen immunity, decrease anxiety, lessen depression and improve relationships. His research shows that writing about emotional upheavals can even help us heal.

I credit journaling combined with talk therapy for overcoming painful moments in my past, and the solace and power of writing has stuck with me as an adult. Now I grab my journal to recharge. I write until I feel a renewed sense of clarity and peace wash over me. Blank pages can unravel challenges and provide comfort. Writing is how I think.

Experiencing all the benefits firsthand, I often recommend journaling to others. It’s typically met with, “I want to, but I wouldn’t know what to write.” If journaling doesn’t come naturally to you, but you’d like to reap its benefits, here are some ways to get started.

Just Write

Write whatever comes to your mind. Turn off the perfectionist and silence the 10th-grade English teacher who lives in your head. Keep it private and tell yourself your notebook is just for you. Then, start putting your thoughts on paper. Stream of consciousness writing can help you connect with who you truly are and what is going on with you at your core. Write to identify or solve a problem. Write to vent. Write to connect with yourself, hear your inner voice and make sure your life is in alignment with your values.

Journal to Start a Gratitude Practice

Simply writing down three things you are grateful for each day can shift your perspective and make you a happier person. It’s also simple to do. You’ll notice more of what you enjoy because you are training your brain to seek the positive. Your well-being is also likely to improve, as positive psychology founder Martin Seligman, Ph.D., has found in his research. Gratitude has a compound effect. Soon you will have a journal filled with positive thoughts.

Write to Heal

James encourages people to write about emotionally turbulent experiences because truth-telling heals. There is power in sharing your story. Put words to a painful time or event in your life and watch how the process of sharing your story—even to yourself—can have a transformative effect on your life. Writing can help you think with clarity by filtering out all the noise around you.

Let Journaling Evolve With You

I don’t plow through journals like I used to anymore. I semi-jokingly tell my husband he’s my journal now. (Poor guy.) With young kids, a husband and a career, I don’t have as much time to journal these days. I use one hardbound journal for an entire calendar year. I may use it for stream-of-consciousness writing when I need to, but now it is more of an everything journal. I use my journal to capture and savor gratitude. I jot down funny things my twin girls say. I use my journal to capture pearls of wisdom from books, experts, podcasts and magazines. I write favorite quotes. I even track my weight and fitness goals. Let your journal work with your life.

Let your writing flow in a way that resonates with you. There are numerous ways to keep a journal. Experience how journaling can be life-changing for you.

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