How to start journaling for beginners — the different ways to journal 

Journaling can be an excellent tool to support better mental health. It is a great way to sort through thoughts, capture them, and reflect on them too. Research has shown that journaling does not only help reduce negative thoughts and anxiety but can also improve physical wellbeing. Researchers discovered that journaling has led to an improvement of overall immune function and, therefore, a decrease to a risk of illness. 

However, journaling can feel quite daunting to start. When I first started journaling, I would often get frustrated. I would catch myself thinking things like ‘am I even doing this properly?’ and ‘why can’t I stick to this?’. I would put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right and feel disappointed if I didn’t manage to journal every single day. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this. 

Journaling is a very personal thing, and there is no right way to do it! Of course, that can bring frustrations in and of itself — sometimes we just want an answer! But finding the best way to journal for you is a trial-and-error thing. The best way to start journaling is to do just that: start. There are many ways you can journal, and one may work better over another. 

Mind dumping/stream of consciousness

When I first started journaling, I immediately went to mind dumping as this was what I thought was best for me. Mind dumping is when you are presented with a blank page and write down whatever is in your head. This can take any form, such as paragraphs, bullet points, or lists. It can really be meditative to see what thoughts come up on a certain topic and write them down. If you feel like your mind is swirling with thoughts, this can be beneficial to see everything written down and getting it out of your mind. For me, this was a great place to start with, but I was craving something more focused to help process my thoughts. I found it difficult to start writing when being presented with a blank page, which made me less likely to stick to the habit. After letting go of my expectations, I decided it was best to try something else. 

Guided journaling

With a desire to bring more focus to my journaling, I decided to invest in a guided journal to help focus on positivity/gratitude and stop myself from engaging negative thought loops (that I sometimes felt I got into with mind dumping). The Five-Minute Journal by Intelligent Change was a turning point for me. Although quite pricey, at £27, I decided to go for it as I heard great things about the journal… and I liked the aesthetic. For me, investing in something more premium made me feel more inclined to stick to using it as I liked the notebook itself. However, this is not to say that this is the only five-minute journal out there. There are other, cheaper options available. Another option I considered was ‘a line a day’ journals. It is down to what works for your price point and needs. 

The Five-Minute Journal did what I needed it to do. It focused my writing and allowed me to easily insert it into my daily routine. Instead of grabbing my phone in the morning, I would pick up my journal and write instead.

After a month, I wondered how much of an impact this was having on my wellbeing as I wasn’t seeing significant, definable moments of success. However, one day, I did end up reaching for my phone instead of my journal. I had received a message overnight that was quite negative. Instantly, I was in a foul mood and remained in that headspace for the remainder of my morning. Giving myself space from this, I realised that if a negative experience could affect my mindset so decidedly then starting my day with positivity through journaling had to be helping too. This made it easier to stick with, as I recognised its value in my life!

Paving your own way

After settling into my Five-Minute Journal, I realised I wanted something else out of my journal. I had built a healthy habit of practising gratitude through this journal, and picking out the good parts of my day, but I wanted to delve a bit further and help myself redirect negative thought/behaviour patterns. With the knowledge I had gained from my experiences with journaling, consulting with friends, and engaging with therapy myself, I decided to pave my own way with journaling. 

Again, I tried to go back to mind dumping but this time with more focus. I would set myself a target of writing a focused list on how I was feeling. However, I was still met with the intimidation of seeing a blank page and fail to start. Instead, I decided to take what I had learned and give myself a structured journal each day. I would ask myself how I was feeling and write the top three emotions I identified. I then wrote why I was feeling this way and ask (if anything negative appeared) what I could do to help me process these emotions. Finally, I would end with practicing gratitude and affirmations. Although this is not necessarily an ‘approved’ method, this worked for me. I kept to my journal and enjoyed writing it. It just goes to show that journaling can take any form and you can write what you feel will be most beneficial to you. 

Try something other than writing

For many people, writing is something that they find hard, or is something they don’t necessarily gel with. And that’s okay! Journaling doesn’t necessarily have to be written. If you enjoy art, maybe try doodling or creating an art journal. If you prefer tracking your mood with a habit tracker, then try that. If your workload is getting you down and you want to visualise it, maybe create a to-do list. There is even an app called Finch, where you take care of a pet by taking care of yourself. You can set yourself goals and check in with your pet each day. There are so many different, creative ways to try journaling. Don’t be put off because you feel like you must write. 

My experiences taught me that, for me, paving my own way and taking what I learned made me find the perfect way to journal for me. Of course, there are loads of other different ways to start journaling! It’s all about trying different things. Don’t give up — you’ll find something that works.

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