SO. You want to start journaling.
You bought a journal at Target, with little birds on it. Or you went real fancy and got a leather-bound Diary from one of those eco-friendly shops that smells like handmade paper, vanilla and the soft darkness of an independent bookstore (I don’t know how dark can have a smell, but it DOES). Also, there are apparently only two options for buying a journal–mass produced or by the blood/sweat/tears of an elven craftsman under a mossy green tree.
There is no in-between! We take no quarter!
It’s late, okay?
Anyways. So you have the dang journal. You even got some pens that you have either loved for years, or that you swept up in a burst of artistic energy and purpose. These pens. These pens will make you a diarist on the level of Einstein and Edison.
Don’t be mad. This is how I am or have been. It’s why I can write about it with some confidence and humor. I remember many, many times where I would buy a journal that made me feel literary, pick up as elegant a pen I could find…and stare at the wall until I was saved by some distraction. For years, I had the prettiest array of utterly empty journals on my bookshelf.
Fact was, I had no idea where to start! And so! At this late hour, when inhibitions are laid to sleep (as I should be right now) and my stomach growls for the dinner I never had, I am going to jot down 3 (three) really simple ways for you to start journaling, if you don’t know where to begin.
#1 Write down a few things you’re grateful for now.
Every morning at work, for ten minutes, I write about what I’m thankful for. The effect on my day cannot be overstated. On days when I forget to perform the exercise, I reach noon feeling strangely off. Usually by then I’ve had a minor freak out over something that didn’t deserve it, or am simply harangued by a sense that something is missing. That I’ve forgotten something important. When I remember, it’s like the sun comes out again! Gratitude! Of course! Silly me1
Journaling what you’re thankful for only takes a few minutes, is super easy and will get you in the habit of journaling pretty quick! Plus, it often ends with a smile on your face.
#2 Write down how things went right in the past.
This is hard to do when you are feeling down or out of control or like nothing is going your way. So started a running list in my journal, recording and recollecting times when I thought things wouldn’t work out, and they did. I keep this question in mind every day, especially when I’m feeling positive! As humans, we tend to focus on the negative because focusing on what might kill you is a biological advantage. But that means our minds are skewed towards what’s bad. Far from being foolishly optimistic or happy-go-lucky, recording the good that has happened actually evens out our perspective! Reading over those entries is like walking on a lonely road, and coming to a fresh spring of water. It’s like being worried about the roof caving in then finding a pillar as solid as ever. If you make this a habit, you will remind yourself of what you’ve been through and how you’ve thrived.
Again, very simple but with huge effects down the road!
#3 Write down your better self.
Does your best self get up at 7am and stretch every day? Does she meditate on and memorize key verses? Does he read a book a month? Does she finish that short story she’s been working on? Does he finally sit down and hash out his finances? Does she take that free coding course she’s been meaning to take for years? Does he put more
socially distanced energy into acquaintances who could become friends? Having a clearer vision of who you would like to be, gives you something positive to aim for when you’re not sure how to spend an extra hour and would rather not end up surfing on YouTube!
I use this visualization of the better self to fill in time, yes, but also to actively ask: What would she do today? Who would she call? What wouldn’t she do? Would she be bothered by this? Would she eat this or that?
Somehow, creating this other version of myself helps me let down my guard; I don’t feel judged when I realized I haven’t been doing what I really want. Then the practice goes from being self-immolating to a kind of gentle emulation. Somehow, it’s less intimidating than trying to be more like the greats of history, and I find that things actually get done.
The fact is, we’re all going towards a future, which is where our future selves will be. If we take the time to figure out who we would like that person to be, rather than end up there by default, the result will be greater purpose, satisfaction and joy. That’s been the case for me anyways and you can start doing that by journaling two or three character traits or habits that would make you glad to see in six months’ time.
And there you have it! Three ways to start journaling today that are simple, quick and will start you off on a great foot.
If you journal already, I’d love to hear in the comments what kinds of questions you ask yourself or what kinds of methods you find helpful!