Reflect on experience, challenges, and growth – YOUR WAY

Starting and keeping a journal is a wonderful and thoughtful activity that will boost your personal growth and provide you with a place to think and record those thoughts.

Writing your journal entries by hand forces you to reflect on the elements, choices, and outcomes of your life on a regular basis – if you make time for it and encourage journaling to become a habit.

When you commit to journaling regularly it’ll become more obvious where your challenges lie – something about the act of writing down your experiences on paper provides the time you need to search your heart and mind and expose your true feelings.

It can also serve as a fantastic way to record your life – in all its perfectly imperfect glory - and if you can’t see it - to prove to yourself how much you’ve grown (and changed) over the years.

You might be surprised three years from now when you look back on today and refresh your memory about what you’ve been through, what you’ve learned, who you used to be, and who you became.

It might feel tough to get started: what do you write about? Should you use a notebook, word processor or something fancy like a leather-bound journal?

Any of the options mentioned can work, but when you put a little more thought into it and search for authentic answers within yourself, you can create a journaling routine that works for YOU in all your perfectly imperfect humanness – THAT is the goal.

These tips can help you get started on your uniquely personal journey toward utilizing journaling for self-reflection and discovery:

Tip #1: Choose your medium.  Newsflash: It really doesn’t matter where you record the experiences of your life; all potential mediums – paper, electronic, etc. - have their advantages and disadvantages. The key to making journaling work for YOU is to choose a medium / method that works FOR you and creates ease, not difficulty.

  • Notebooks are a typical choice, but there are other possibilities. Many of us spend all day typing away on our computers and are ready for a break at the end of the day. Journaling in a notebook with smooth paper and an elegant pen gives you a chance to manually write something. What you write will somehow seem more sacred, more serious, because you’ve written it with your own hand.
  • Computers can be a help or a hindrance; you might sit down to create your journal entry and end up surfing the Internet, playing a game, responding to emails, or picking up that unfinished task from work that needs to get done. Think seriously about your computing “style” and whether it’s suitable for an introspective, creative process like journaling.
  • Would an art, drawing or illustration program empower you to create beautiful visual journal entries?

    Could putting on your headphones or inserting your earbuds be the signal that your journaling time has begun and encourage you to "talk it out"? Give yourself time and space to explore the scenes, colors, shapes, and graphics that rise in your dreams (or your waking moments) and show off your creativity.
  • If your computer is more like an extension of your hands and a mode of self-expression, then by all means USE it! What’s most important about journaling is that the method you choose encourages you to express yourself, to dig deeper into your personality and your psyche, and that the method doesn’t hamper your process. Make it easy on yourself, work WITH your method rather than against it, and if it works for you, then WORK IT.

    Give it some thought and try out a few methods – you may even want to switch methods periodically to keep your journaling practice fresh and exciting.
  • Consider what makes you unique. Do you have a visual impairment or a mobility challenge with your hands that makes handwritten journal entries a serious challenge? An audio blog or one created with a computer using a speech-to-text program would work better for you.

    Remember that your journal is YOURS – no one can tell you the right or wrong method for you to explore your thoughts and document your life and your emotions.

    Make journaling something you’ll look forward to – tap into your artistic side, use spoken word poetry or songs to enhance your practice, and feed your spirit as you explore the inner workings of your mind and heart.

Tip #2: Keep it short. Of course, you can write as much as you want. But if you keep it short, especially in the beginning as you’re trying to establish this new, healthy habit, you’ll be a lot more likely to do it consistently. Give yourself a minimum of 30 days to establish the habit, and 60 days is even better. Reward yourself at regular intervals – 1 week, 10 days, etc. to keep your motivation high.

Even just a few bullet points can be enough to capture the essence of what happened in your day, and bullet journaling may become your new favorite method for a while.

Small doodles on formerly blank pages – or on pages full of text – can add meaning to your entries. Do you turn the dot on your I’s into the center of flowers? Are O’s subjects to be turned into mini suns? Explore your creativity while honoring your time constraints and make the best use of the time you dedicate to your new practice.

Tip #3: Set a schedule. If you use a notebook, keep it by your bed, the coffee pot, or another place where you’re likely to see it; that way you won’t miss it when things get hectic (as they often do).

Set a reminder on your computer or smartphone. It can make more sense to do it at the end of the day as you reflect on the ups, downs, and tasks in your day, but any time is better than never. Choose a time and try to stick to it.

An audio journal dictated during your commute in your car can be a terrific way to get your entries in, or writing in your journal while riding mass transit can also work. A recent train ride to visit my daughter in Baltimore provided me with some uninterrupted time to doodle, journal, and read – a fantastic way to pass the time on my required trip.

Tip #4: Never miss more than one day. Things can come up in your daily activities that prevent you from getting an entry done, and it’s easy to miss a day here and there.

If you miss more than one day in a row, you might wind up missing five days before you know it. Dedicate some time and effort into being consistent with journaling – you deserve to take time for yourself!

It can be difficult to go back and fill in the blanks at a later date.

  • If you do forget and skip a couple of days, rely on your other life and activity records to fill in your entries. You can look back at your calendar, planner, and your emails to refresh your memory about how your days were spent.

    Journaling can help increase your ability and willingness to take notes about your activities and accomplishments – getting used to the action of writing daily will make it easier for you to turn to it as a regular part of your day.

Tip #5: Track your progress toward your goals. List the things that are most relevant and important to you at the time. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, mention related victories, missteps, and your weight fluctuations. Noting your emotions and circumstances where you enjoy positive progress can help you to repeat those successes, and analyzing the challenges can help you head them off in the future.

If you’re trying to earn an extra $1,000 this month, keep a running tally of your progress. What innovative ideas come to mind related to earning additional income? Are you pushing for a raise at work? Analyzing whether it’s time to start a side hustle? Note your ideas, questions, and potential challenges to help you make better decisions.

Tip 6: Keep your journal private and secure. If you believe that someone else might see it, you might be hesitant to be completely open when writing. Your innermost thoughts, dreams and emotions deserve privacy.

This is one area that computers or a tablet can really shine; with a decent password, it would take an experienced and dedicated professional (or an accomplished hacker) to get into your journal. A simple locked drawer can work well, too. While you want to upgrade your security from the little gold lock and key of diaries given to little girls, you don’t want to make it difficult to access or hard to secure. Do what helps you be open and honest about your entries and reduces your worry about unauthorized, prying eyes reading your private thoughts.

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Before you know it, you’ll have a full volume of journal entries. Consider that writing just half of a page each day would be over 3,000 pages in 10 years!

Journaling is a productive, positive, and personally satisfying way to record your life and track your progress. Think about how interesting it would be to read your current entries 10 or even 50 years from now, tracking your journey from who you were then to who you are now, with all its ups, downs, and transitions. You might even want to give your journals to your children someday. Start establishing a journaling practice today.

A life worth living – your life - is a life worth recording!

About the Author Dianne Daniels

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and currently residing in Norwich, Connecticut, Dianne M. Daniels empowers women 35+ to create their Best Life with the Power of Affirmations & Journaling. You can learn how to use proven practices to create and manifest the life you want (and deserve) to live.

Dianne is a Unitarian Universalist Minister and holds a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry. She's an avid reader, a lover of old houses (she renovated an 1850s vintage Greek Revival home with her family), and proudly serves her community as a Registrar of Voters.

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