Even if you’re not much of a writer, you’re perfectly capable of journaling a.k.a. keeping a diary. Nobody but you gets to see what you’ll put on paper—and yes, you’ll want to go old school for this—so there’s no need to impress.
You’re journaling for yourself, which means you get to make the rules, and that includes writing incoherently or like you never quite learned the alphabet. You get to decide why you’re journaling and what you hope to get out of it. To be sure, you don’t need an explicit reason to journal, but here are two potential benefits of journaling:
It helps you decompress and feel good.
We sometimes harbor irritation, anger and other bad stuff. Putting our thoughts on paper frees negativity from our heads. You might discover this action is all you need to return to an even keel. Or maybe what you write is your first step toward addressing something troubling your life. Alternatively, if you journal about good things, you’ll be affirming the positive. In both cases, you’ll likely feel better once you’re done scribbling.
It helps you understand yourself.
Amass enough journals and one day you can look back at them. You’ll find patterns. You also might find how much you’ve grown. Or maybe you’re in a hole when you break out the old books, and former versions of yourself have helpful words of wisdom for your current down-in-the-dumps self. There’s no way to get that exquisitely personal library unless you start journaling.
To get going, all you need is paper that’s bound in some way, along with a pen. A hardcover 5×8-inch journal works well, especially if it’s spiral-bound: hardcover because that makes it durable and likely to last a long time without falling apart; spiral-bound because that makes it versatile and comfortable for writing. Again though, this is your show, so use something else if you prefer. Try not, however, to use something digital. Sounds silly, but writing by hand connects you to yourself more than writing with a keyboard or keypad. Also, a great time to journal is before bed, and you don’t need the blue light of a computer or phone then. Here are a few approaches to journaling:
Just write, and write whenever you feel like it—including throughout the day or in the morning, if that works better for you than at night. Write about whatever you want: complain, set goals, outline your Next Big Move. You can jot down observations or review your day. Go with the flow and see what happens.
Super simple: Each night write down three things you’re thankful for. That’s it. It’ll help you sleep better. And you’ll have a fantastic collection of all-things-good to refer to down the line. This type of journaling reframes how you interpret your day, as does the next style.
What went well?
Credit Martin Seligman, author of Flourish and Learned Optimism, for this one. Before bed, think of three things that went well during your day. They can be mundane (the line at the post office was short, so I zipped in and out during my lunch break) or spectacular (the handsome and smart man I met at my sister’s party last week called me).
Then—and this is critical—write down what caused those things to go well. So maybe: I picked a good time to go the post office or luck was on my side. And: I was being witty when we met, which hooked him or the universe was looking out for me. Seligman, a pioneer in positive psychology, says you’re likely to feel happier in six months if you do this type of journaling every day.
Journalist and yoga teacher Mitra Malek regularly edits and creates content for wellness-focused outlets, including Yoga Journal, for which she is a contributing editor. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.