How to Start Journaling. Tips for Newbies

Journaling can change your life forever. Try these methods

For years Oprah Winfrey has been advocating the power of journaling. Every time I interact with a counselor regarding mental health, I often hear them talk about why it is important to start to journal. 

They say it clarifies your thoughts, helps you recover from traumatic experiences, improves your life, etc. Story of Fitness spoke to Dubai-based journaling expert Rachael Lynn who told us how daily writing can be a life-changing habit.  She also gave us tips on how to start our journaling journey. Here are the excerpts from our conversation

Why is journaling important for mental health?

On a surface level, every human likes to talk about themselves. And in a journal, we get to talk – unfiltered, raw, even sharing our deepest regrets. We open up about most embarrassing moments, releasing unhealed trauma, and the things we’re afraid to say out loud.

Journaling can help you:

  • Vent strong negative emotions safely
  • Recognize regular patterns in your life. You can find that things that cause you regular stress. You can also learn about habits you didn’t realize you had. Now you can change them
  • Release the analytical, left-brain tension inside of you and allow room for new ideas
  • Recognize the good things you have in your life
  • Dream, plan and strategize for the future

A journaling session can help in various ways. Whether you have unresolved tension from a traumatic event, or you’re frustrated from a bad day.

What is the right way to start the process of journaling?

Decide that you’ll start for 5 minutes per day and sit down and write any thoughts that come to mind. What are you feeling? What has been bothering you? If you feel stuck, scour the internet for journaling prompts. Think of it as beginning a meditation practice – you can do it on your own or you can listen to a guided recording. All that matters is you start.

What steps should to be taken when we start to journal?

My style of journaling is not about making lists and goals. Get over the idea that you need perfect grammar, sentences that make sense, or have to take a certain amount of time. Write what comes up. That’s it. If that sounds frustrating, it may be even more of a reason to try. Releasing performance pressure and perfection is the most significant step.

How many times shall we journal in a day? 

Start journaling with 1, 5-minute session. If you want to go longer, go longer. Become familiar with relating to yourself in this way. Learn to enjoy having a conversation with yourself, shedding thoughts. And then see if you notice you feel drawn to sit down and journal more often. Some days you might skip, some days you might do 2-3 times in a day. I say whatever several times won’t overwhelm you and stop you from doing it at all.

How does journaling affect the brain? Can keeping a journal help beat procrastination habits?

Research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology indicates expressive writing, or journaling, “reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory. These improvements, may in turn free up our cognitive resources for other mental activities, including our ability to cope more effectively with stress.” (Siri, Carpenter 2001)

Journaling makes you more efficient!

If you want to beat procrastination specifically, then I’d say start journaling on the deeper reasons you’re procrastinating. It is even more beneficial than free-writing. Ask yourself (and your page) – Is this thing I’m procrastinating even important to me? What am I afraid of happening if I DO it? What is stopping me? You might be surprised at what comes up.

Oprah Winfrey often mentions that she writes down things that she is grateful for every day in her diary. She says acknowledging these things made her more receptive to the goodness in her life. Can you shed some light on the benefits of a gratitude journal?

We have to train our minds to get used to a certain way of moving, just like physical fitness. Automatically look for good things, rather than scanning our environment for things we should be afraid of. This trained fight or flight response needs habitual and constant reinforcement that we’re safe. Gratitude journaling builds that muscle and reminds us that the good is always there. Oprah has the right idea! (as always)

Can journaling help us get out of a bad mood? What is the science behind that process? 

Studies that support the science behind getting out of a bad mood with journaling focus on the idea of intrusive thoughts – or those unwanted mental patterns that keep us in a negative loop. When you write about them, you’re able to reduce their mental impact. It also helps separate the *emotion* from the thought itself. Again, just like meditation helps you realize you’re NOT the thoughts you’re thinking – journaling can show you you’re not the thoughts you’re writing. They are a habit.

“Don’t treat your relationship with your journal as another way to search for a magic pill”

If you find yourself journaling in a bad mood and it seems to be getting worse – don’t force yourself to keep going thinking, “of course I can’t get journaling right either”. The journaling is still helping.

Call in another resource to support yourself. Use ALL the resources available to you whenever you need them. One must not treat their relationship with journal as another way to search for a magic pill. Your mind and heart are precious. Journaling is just about reminding you of that.

This article was originally published on July 2, 2020

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