Daily journaling can help bring calm, focus and direction into your life.
During the recent lockdown I began every day by writing three longhand pages in my journal. This was a safe space for me. I could download my worries, frustrations and anxiety onto paper. I placed no fixed structure or particular demands on my writing. I simply had to fill three pages. This journaling practice was enormously helpful. It allowed my to process my thoughts, play with ideas and begin each day in quiet reflection. It was a lifeline.
Journaling is Liberating
Many therapists and mental health professionals recommend the practice of journaling. Simply writing down your thoughts each day is helpful for depression, anxiety and coping with stress[i]. Many people report that keeping a journal helps them to be more grateful, more productive, more creative and happier. For me, journaling helps me discover and focus on my life goals. It is an outlet for negative emotions and a liberating place to develop new ideas.
There are Lots of Different Ways to Journal
One of the freeing things about journaling is that there are no fixed rules. Your journal is your private space. You can relax and be yourself here. There are probably as many ways to journal as there are individuals.
Having said that, it is helpful to have a framework for beginning or refreshing a daily journaling habit. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Choose a Regular Time and Place – and Stick to It!
One of the most powerful aspects of daily journaling is just that: it is a regular daily habit. I am a big fan of the impact of tiny habits. Little things, practiced daily, can massively improve our lives[ii].
It is much easier to stick to any daily practice if we do it at the same time and place every day. Have a think about when journaling could fit into your life. Just ten minutes each day can be enough to make a difference. If you have a bit longer, that’s even better. Try to find a time when you can be undisturbed for a little while. Many people like to journal first thing every morning. Then you can start your day’s activities feeling calm and focused. But the evening can also be a good time, when you can sit down, reflect on the day and maybe plan for tomorrow.
It also really helps to have a dedicated place for your journaling. This might be your bedroom, the garden shed or the kitchen table. If possible, keep your journal and pens here. Our brains build habits much better when we learn to associate an activity with a specific location and daily routine[iii]. For example, when I finish clearing up breakfast, I get out my journal, sit by the window, and write.
Choose a Dedicated Notebook and Pen (or Pens!)
I tend to journal much more regularly when I use a book that I like. This is very much a question of personal taste, but I recommend you give it some thought. My preference is for an A5 size notebook with an attractive cover, rounded corners to the paper, dots in a grid pattern instead of lines on the pages, and an elastic thingy to hold the pages closed. But that’s just me. You might prefer a big A4 book, or something smaller. What matters is that you feel good about the book you choose. It should feel a bit special and make you want to write in it.
Pens matter too. I like to use lots of colours depending on my mood, so I have a pencil case full of fine line coloured pens. Some people like an old fashioned fountain pen, and others go for a pot full of simple ballpens or pencils. Having a pen or pens at the ready makes me feel like the sort of person who journals. And I don’t want to be distracted by searching the house for a pen during my precious journaling time.
Digital Journaling Apps
Some people like to use digital journaling apps. Personally I prefer the release of writing stuff down longhand on paper, but apps can offer other features like daily prompts and the ability to add photos. If you are interested in exploring this option further I have added a link below to a useful review of apps currently on offer[iv].
What to Write
Ok so you are sitting down in a quiet space with your journal and pen. What are you going to write? Sometimes I take a free flow approach, but I have also found structure and journaling prompts to be very useful. Here are some ideas.
Freeform Daily Pages
This is the journaling style taught by Julia Cameron in her excellent “The Artist’s Way”[v]. You don’t have to be an artist to use it. Your only goal is to fill a certain amount of space, writing longhand, each day. You can write whatever you like. I often start out by having a good moan about whatever is bothering me. Once I have got this out of my system I generally find I can begin to be more positive, creative and hopeful. The simple process of writing down whatever comes to mind is remarkably calming and freeing.
Using this approach, it is particularly important to remember that your writing does not have to be “good” in any sense. It is whatever comes. This is your space. Do whatever you like with it. The benefits are huge.
A year or so ago I used a much more structured form of journaling. Each morning I asked myself the same questions:
- What do I really need, right here and now?
- What do I need to do today to meet these immediate needs?
- Writing in the present tense, what does my ideal day look like, as I imagine it today?
- What three things am I grateful for today?
- How would I like my life to look three years from now?
- What one action can I commit to doing today that will bring me a tiny step closer to my ideal life?
Combined with monthly goal setting, I found this to be an incredibly powerful tool for changing my life in positive and lasting ways. It helped me focus every day on what was really important for me. It kept me thankful and proactive in looking after myself and others. Journaling is a key factor in self-care.
Avoid the To Do List
Sometimes my journal degenerates into a “To Do List”. Then it is time to try a fresh approach, maybe write freeform for a while, or utilise some inspiring prompts.
Other Types of Prompts
There are lots of journaling prompts you can use to refresh or inspire your daily writing. Some focus more on self-care, while others are useful for productivity, positive mood or self-discovery. I’ve included a link to a downloadable PDF of journaling prompts here and at the bottom of this blog.
No one has to Read It
Remember that no one has to read your journal. Not even you, unless you want to! The process of writing stuff down is the important bit. It is a journey of release and self-discovery. Feel free to write “badly”, unload all your rubbish and be yourself. Your journal is your private space. It is your playground and your rubbish dump. It is your space, for you and no one else.
Today’s Calming Practice: Journaling
Find a notebook and pen. Sit down somewhere quiet for fifteen minutes and just write. You can use some of the prompts I suggest if you like, or just see what comes. You don’t have to read your writing back unless you want to. Experience writing your thoughts down on paper. Remember, it doesn’t have to be good. Simply write. Then stop and take a few moments to notice how you feel.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk