Journaling For Dummies
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Journaling, in the most basic terms, is the practice of recording life events. However, journaling also entails delving into thoughts and emotions by using writing and visual forms of expression for personal growth and development.

This Cheat Sheet outlines how to get started in journaling, including the benefits of the practice, different methods of journaling, and how to get into the habit of keeping a journal.

Benefits of keeping a journal

Because journaling is a uniquely personal form of documenting and exploring life experiences, there are as many purposes for keeping a journal as there are people.

Some common reasons for journaling include:

  • Keeping a record of events
  • Processing thoughts and emotions
  • Managing projects, goals, and tasks

Some lesser-known ways that journaling can help you, which you may not have considered before, include:

  • Developing self-awareness and knowledge
  • Improving decision-making skills
  • Healing trauma and emotional wounds
  • Managing anxiety and depression
  • Enhancing well-being through self-expression and gratitude
  • Strengthening your immune system
  • Collecting ideas
  • Boosting memory and comprehension
  • Building creative and problem-solving skills

Getting started with journaling

Journaling is an easy and inexpensive self-help tool, requiring only an intention to explore life honestly (and a few implements). To get started, do the following.

  • Define your primary purpose for journaling. That is, what do you hope to gain from journaling?
  • Decide whether you want to journal by hand (analog) or use a software application (digital).
  • Gather your journaling supplies:
  • Analog: If you’re planning to journal by hand, at minimum, you need a notebook that has blank or lined pages and a writing instrument.
  • Digital: If you’re planning to journal digitally, you need your preferred device — computer, tablet, or smartphone — and a word processing or journaling application that works with your device.
  • Determine what type of journaling you want to do and, if appropriate, begin with some writing prompts. Or, you can just begin writing whatever comes to mind.

Different types of journaling techniques

Just as there are countless reasons to keep a journal, there are a variety of journaling techniques, or methods, that have naturally developed over time to meet specific goals. The following list outlines many popular journaling methods. Use it as a guide for the type(s) of journaling that can provide the benefits you hope to gain in your journaling practice.

  • Unstructured: As the name suggests, this type of journaling is completely freeform, consisting of simply writing whatever is on your mind at the time (also known as free-writing). This type of journaling can be used to clear the mind of distracting clutter and stress so you can think more clearly and calmly.
  • Reflective: A structured method focused on finding meaning by examining life events and asking deep questions. when you use reflective journaling, you examine emotional responses, thoughts, belief systems, and behaviors to increase self-awareness and potentially take action for improvement.
  • Mindfulness: The goal of this meditative process is to bring your awareness into the present moment through the observation of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Benefits of mindfulness journaling include feelings of peace, reduced stress, and increased well-being.
  • Bullet: Bullet Journaling is a structured system developed in 2013 by Ryder Carroll to organize thinking and remain focused on important priorities. Bullet Journaling helps to increase productivity, document and track life events, and build desired habits, among other benefits.
  • Creative: Most journaling methods focus on writing. Creative journaling, which may be incorporated into any of the other journaling methods, allows for self-expression by using a variety of (mostly) visual methods. Along with writing, creative journaling may include drawing, doodling, painting, photo collages, and other forms of multimedia. Digital versions of creative journaling may also include audio and video.
  • Gratitude: Focuses specifically on identifying things and people in your life to be thankful for, with the purpose of building an overall sense of gratitude. Benefits of gratitude journaling include decreased stress levels, increased self-awareness, a different or renewed perspective on challenges, improved emotional health, and enhanced happiness.

Establishing a journaling habit

To successfully establish a robust journaling practice, take the following actions:

  • Define your purpose for journaling. Knowing why you want to journal will strengthen your commitment to the practice and help you start strong.
  • Set practical expectations and start small. Decide how often you want to journal and how much time you want to devote, then start with a small fraction of your goal. For example, if your goal is to write 20 minutes per session, start by writing 10 minutes each session. By starting off small, you’re more likely to be successful at incorporating journaling into your regular routine.
  • Put journaling on your calendar. Schedule your journaling time and set a reminder. Then, keep that date with yourself.
  • Pair journaling with something else you love to do. When you pair a new activity with something you already habitually find pleasure in doing, it activates the pleasure and reward centers in the brain, encouraging your journaling practice to stick.
  • Create a cozy, comfortable, and private place in which to journal. You’ll look forward to keeping this special time just for you.
  • Remove distractions. Set yourself up for success by avoiding distractions and interruptions. For example, turn off your telephone and digital notifications. And if you have children, arrange for their care so that they won’t interrupt you. Or schedule your sessions for times when you’re alone.
  • Identify yourself as a journal writer. You become who you think you are. When you see yourself as a person who has a rich journaling practice, you act upon that vision of yourself.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Amber Lea Starfire is a writer and writing coach who has published two memoirs and several journaling how-to books. She has also developed a series of online classes and workshops that have helped hundreds of people journal and deepen their writing practice. Find out more at

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