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How to start journaling (and stick with the habit)

figuring out how to start journaling have easy to follow strategies

As a child, you might have had a journal where you wrote about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It may have been an outlet to turn to when no one else could understand what you were feeling or going through.

While you may cringe about the things you wrote about as a kid (and you probably aren't going to start your pages with "dear diary" anymore), the benefits of journaling still apply even into adulthood.

Table of contents
Why should you journal?
How to start journaling regularly: 6 tips to create a habit
How you can reinvigorate your journaling routine
Start (and continue) putting your thoughts on paper

Why should you journal?

Not sure journaling is all it’s hyped up to be? Have you spent too much time staring at a blank page and are wondering if this exercise is even worth it? Well, there are multiple proven benefits of regular journaling. Here are just a few:

It’s a helpful way to process your thoughts

Have you ever felt like you can’t keep up with your own thoughts? Or, that your mind is constantly racing?

Logging those thoughts and feelings into a journal can help you track and make sense of what’s going on in your head. Plus, it’s a private and healthy way to process your emotions if you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone else. After writing about your feelings, you can then look at your notes later and see what might have triggered the emotional response so you know what to avoid in the future.

It helps to relieve stress

Many times, therapists or other mental health professionals will recommend journaling as an outlet to relieve your stress or anxiety. Putting your thoughts out onto the page can be therapeutic for many. In fact, a 2011 study showed that journaling about worries can reduce fears for the problem. The researchers for this study had one group of ninth graders write about their worries for an upcoming test prior to the exam and another group write only about the test content. The group that wrote about their text anxiety ended up outperforming the other group on the exam.

Another study from UCLA found that putting feelings into words makes hard-to-handle emotions (like sadness, anger, and pain) feel less severe. By acknowledging your stress in an outlet like a journal, you’ve named your fear or struggle and can then move on to find other solutions to reduce your stress.  

The mental health benefits are obvious, but surprisingly, researchers have found that writing in a journal can be beneficial for physical health too.

It’s a dedicated place to focus on your goals

You may have heard one of the most effective ways to achieve your goals is to write them down. One study even found that writing your goals down daily can make you up to 42% more likely to achieve them. By committing your dreams to paper, you’ve made them feel more real. Plus, you've created a resource that allows you to look at your goals every day to remind yourself what you’re working toward.

The best goals to set for success are SMART goals (that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) so you can ensure they’re clear, realistic, and have a deadline that will keep you on track. Your journal can be a place where you note what goals you want to reach, the steps you’ll take to get there, and discuss your progress along the way.

It’s an outlet to express gratitude

Practicing gratitude regularly has been shown to increase levels of happiness. A study done by researchers at the University of California and University of Miami found that people who regularly log things they are grateful for (known as gratitude journaling) instead of their burdens or daily tasks were in better physical health and had a more positive overall well-being.

A gratitude journal can be an effective outlet to focus on the blessings in your life. Plus, you can turn back to your journal whenever you’re feeling down and remind yourself about the positive things that deserve your attention.

How to start journaling regularly: 6 tips to create a habit

Ready to start writing? Try these six journaling tips to turn your goal into a habit.

1. Develop your reflection and patience skills

Being able to reflect upon your thoughts and feelings is a key skill to make the most of a journaling routine—after all, reflection is a huge part of what journaling is. Patience is just as important since a journaling habit isn’t built overnight, and it may take some time to get into a groove that works for you.

To help you develop these skills, F4S has a Reflection and Patience program led by a personal coach. It’s an eight-week program designed to help you increase self-awareness, develop mindfulness, and set the foundation for a growth mindset. Having strong reflection and patience skills means you can comfortably wait, pause, observe, or reflect without needing to take action. People with high levels of reflection and patience are also able to stick with tasks longer than others and they're comfortable waiting for the right moment to take action. All of these benefits can make a journaling habit more meaningful and make you more likely to keep persevering when your motivation is low.

When you enroll in an online coaching program, you’re also gaining your own personal cheerleader to guide you through your growth and, eventually, celebrate your success. ​​In fact, 90% of F4S online coaching participants achieve their goals by the end of their first coaching program. With the accountability of a personal coach and an organized program with curated sessions, you’ll be able to stay on track to develop these skills and apply them in a way that makes journaling part of your daily life.

2. Find a journaling method that works for you

Typically what people think of when they think of journaling is the traditional pen and paper method with details of the day, or maybe even a diary similar to what they had when they were young. While this is still an effective way to journal, there are other journaling techniques you can incorporate into your routine that might appeal to you more.

For example, a journal entry doesn’t have to cover what you did during the day in full sentences describing every detail. Instead, maybe you’d like to write down short bullets of thoughts you had throughout the day or a reflection on what you’re grateful for. If you’re more of a visual person, doodling or drawing what’s on your mind might be a more effective way for you to decompress and get your thoughts onto the page.

For the planner types, maybe a bullet journal is the right method for you. Bullet journaling entails making lists of goals or tasks you want to accomplish for the day or over a period of time. Then, you can add entries tracking your progress toward those goals by crossing the items off your list.

Not much of a pen and paper person? There are still ways you can process your thoughts and feelings with a digital journal.

The F4S personal journal

Did you know you have access to a completely free digital journal inside the F4S app?

It pairs perfectly with any of our AI coaching programs, and you can use this space to log your thoughts on the day or notes from your coaching sessions. Plus, it’s completely private to you. It's also easily accessible on your phone, so you have access to jot down your thoughts whenever you need it—whether you're taking some dedicated quiet time to reflect or have a random moment of clarity while in line at the grocery store.

The F4S journal even allows you to set reminders so you don't forget to check-in on how your goals are progressing, reflect on your wellbeing, or even refresh your vision board every day, week, or month.

Having easy access to a journal in your pocket may help you develop a habit of writing down your thoughts regularly and reap the benefits of journal-keeping.

3. Incorporate it into your routine

Once you’ve determined how you want to log your thoughts and feelings, you need to find the time to do it on a regular basis—especially since time constraints are a frequent barrier to instituting new healthy habits.

Writing down your thoughts sporadically can still be beneficial in the moment if you want to process what’s going on in your head, but to see real long-term results, developing a consistent journaling practice is the best way to get you there. Similar to any new habit, you’ll have to find time where it makes sense in your daily life to pause and reflect through journaling. Here are a few strategies to incorporate it into your routine:

Do it at the same time every day

Whether it’s during your morning coffee time or right before you go to bed, set aside the same time each day to journal. Soon, it will become second nature and you’ll automatically begin the habit once that time of the day arrives.

Protect that time

  • Once you’ve chosen the time you set aside every day to journal, do your best to protect that time and avoid things that may cause you to skip the habit. Try and find a quiet place to do your journaling so you’re free from distractions at the moment. Or, don’t schedule an early morning meeting if that’s your time to journal, as the meeting will rush you through your morning pages. If you find it tough to keep that time for yourself, quite literally block it out on your calendar as an obligation.

Keep your journal in an easily accessible place

  • If you’re going for a nontraditional method like voice memos or the F4S journal, you’re probably using your phone which is a great, easily accessible method. But, if you’re putting your thoughts to paper, keep the journal in a place where it can be easily seen or accessed, such as your nightstand or handbag. You don't want to fall into the trap of "out of sight, out of mind."

4. Let go of expectations

Sometimes people are nervous about starting a journaling routine because it seems like a big commitment. They ask questions like, “What will I write about every day?” or “How can I add another thing to my to-do list?” If you feel this way, your fears are valid. However, these worries can be avoided if you let go of expectations.

Journaling is a habit that’s just for you—no one else. Therefore, you get to set as many or as few rules as you’d like. You can choose to journal only once a week. Or you can decide not to give yourself prompts so you can focus on writing freely about whatever journaling ideas come to mind. Don’t feel like you need to set a time or word count expectation, either. As long as you are consistent in your habit for whatever parameters you set, you’ll be able to keep a journal regularly.  

In addition, let go of any expectations of what journaling will do for you. While there are many benefits of a journaling practice, you may experience all or none of those advantages. Or, those benefits may be slower to manifest than what you originally anticipated. Lean on those patience skills (remember, coaching can help), and don’t worry if you’re not noticing life-changing improvements in your life right away. You’ll be able to enjoy journaling much more if you go into it with few expectations and avoid pressuring yourself to see results.

5. Write about what you want

It’s hard to stay motivated about your journaling routine if you’re forcing yourself to write about things that aren’t interesting to you or rehashing the most mundane parts of your life. Think outside the box when it comes to your journaling topics, and stick to covering subjects that you’re passionate about. Whether you write down to-do lists and goals because you love crossing things off or you write what you think a deceased loved one would say about your life today, make sure it’s something that keeps you stimulated in your practice.

Not sure what you want to write about? That’s okay! This is where those reflection skills you developed earlier come into play. Don’t be nervous to sit quietly for a moment and just be. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and try to let your mind rest. Your thoughts will probably wander, but what comes to mind might be the inspiration you need to start on your journal entry.

6. Give yourself grace

Throughout your journaling journey, you’ll probably find times where you’re not motivated to log an entry or feel frustrated by not seeing the results you anticipated. This is perfectly normal. The important thing is that you give yourself grace through the process. Your practice will not be perfect, but it’s yours to develop, refine, and evolve through the years.

If you begin to feel down or frustrated, try going through some of your old entries to see how far you’ve come in your journey. Be proud of the progress you’ve made so far, and you may feel inspired to continue your journaling practice—even through the hard moments.

How you can reinvigorate your journaling routine

If at some point you become bored with your journaling routine, that doesn't necessarily mean it’s not working for you anymore. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to change things up to spark some new creativity. Try gathering inspiration by using one (or even a combination) of the following strategies:

Journal in a new location

If you typically journal in your bedroom or kitchen table, try looking for a change of scenery. Go outside or try journaling in a new spot in your home. The change in location may spark some new energy to inspire your journaling reflection.

Try doodling

Sometimes words may fail you, but you can still use your journaling time to process your thoughts and get your feelings out onto the page. Express yourself through visuals and draw or sketch whatever comes to mind. Using your journal as a creative outlet as well as an emotional one can be the change-up you need to reinspire your journaling routine.

Look into journal prompts

A journal prompt could be the solution if you’re feeling unmotivated to continue your journaling habit. Prompts pose topics or ideas that are meant to spark your imagination to begin writing or recording your thoughts into your journal. You can find a journaling prompt online or in books and choose the ones that interest you the most.

Write from someone else’s perspective

A common creative writing technique is to write from another person’s perspective and imagine what this person would think, do, or say throughout their day. This is another great journaling technique to switch up your standard routine and branch out into something new. You may develop new insights to reflect on for your own life by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  

Start (and continue) putting your thoughts on paper

Learning how to start journaling can be the easy part. But, much like any new routine, the most difficult piece of the process is learning how to keep the habit. However, if you build on your reflection and patience skills, you’ll be able to set the foundation and skills to keep at it, even when it becomes boring.

Patience will give you the grace you need when you’re feeling uninspired, and reflection will provide you with the insight to look within and pour out your thoughts into the journal. By enrolling in F4S’ Reflection and Patience coaching program, you’ll develop these skills and more to set yourself up for journaling success.

Ready to start your journaling practice on the right foot? Click here to access your free personal journal inside F4S.

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