Start introspective journaling
I started journaling a few months ago, and I can’t believe I didn’t start sooner. Journaling has proven to be an invaluable tool that helps me manage anxiety, improve my relationship with myself, process life experiences from a fresh perspective, and so much more. Unfortunately, navigating the concept of “journaling” in the 2020’s can be daunting and distracting. Firstly, keeping a journal does not need to turn into an extensive productivity tool. And secondly, you don’t need to meet some unrealistic aesthetic standard for it to be worth your time. There are various journaling methods that serve unique purposes, but I’d like to discuss the totally approachable practice of introspective journaling. (Also known as reflective journaling, stream of consciousness journaling, or life journaling.)
Getting started journaling is as simple as putting a pen to paper and letting the words of your internal experience flow onto the page. That’s it? Well, that statement is similar to saying meditation is as simple as sitting somewhere quiet and breathing. Just like with meditation, journaling is totally approachable! It can be enormously beneficial for the body and mind, and you can uncover deeper levels of understanding in your practice. Below are my tips for how to begin journaling, how to build a daily habit, the types of introspective journaling methods, and how to get past the mental pitfalls of journaling.
The benefits of introspective journaling
- gives you the time and space to be present with yourself and your internal experience
- is a safe space for you to express yourself, without judgement from others
- improves mindfulness
- encourages self-partnering
- can be used as a tool for managing anxiety, stress, and insomnia
- helps uncover unconscious thoughts and feelings
- serves as a place to reflect on and grow from past experiences
- chronicles thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are meaningful to you
- encourages you to unplug and slow down
Methods to start introspective journaling
Here are a few introspective journaling methods that you can start using in your practice. I switch between using all of these methods in my journaling practice, depending on what serves me best that day.
Stream of Consciousness Journaling
To begin stream of consciousness journaling, put your pen on the page and write whatever comes to mind. You can start with any thought, emotion, or physical sensation you are experiencing in that moment. Begin writing, and allow yourself to switch between topics or wherever your attention wants to go. You can write as fast or slow as you need to.
This type of journaling can help you become more aware of your internal experience and/or uncover unconscious thoughts or feelings.
Stream of consciousness journaling is my “go to” method when I am overwhelmed with anxiety, panic, or racing thoughts. Additionally, I use this method to uncover what I am feeling when I am not sure what I am feeling. With this method, I can often write multiple pages with ease. And sometimes I have to go back and read what I wrote in order to know what I even put on the page. This technique helps me understand what is causing anxiety or negative emotions, and I usually end up forming some conclusions or resolutions about it all that help me navigate through it next time.
Reflective journaling allows you to take the time to consciously dive into and reflect on a specific topic. You can use this method to process pivotal life experiences that happened recently or in the distant past. Whenever I notice recurring thoughts or memories keep coming up, I know it’s time to reflect on them in my journal.
Begin reflective journaling by choosing an experience to explore in great detail. Discuss what happened, what you thought and felt about it at the time, and what you think about it today. Dive into what you learned from the experience. You may find you can draw new conclusions about this experience from a fresh perspective.
A common method people use to start journaling is through “life journaling.” With this method, you can write about what you are doing, what you plan to do, or what already happened that day. You can write about anything; events, hobbies, projects you are working on, outings with friends, travel experiences, interesting dreams, etc.
This is not the same as keeping a diary or daily log of all the minute details. Instead, you can write about life experiences that are meaningful to you. I suggest diving into why these experiences are meaningful to you. Explore all of the thoughts and emotions you have around these experiences.
This type of journaling encourages you to take the time to fully process your life and all the emotions that come with it. If you look back on your journal many years later, life journal entries can help you remember your life experiences.
Build the habit of daily journaling
Write with pen in a physical journal
You don’t need an expensive journal to start journaling. Any simple notebook can work, but I highly recommend having a writing utensil and notebook that you enjoy using. I also recommend using your journal solely for the purpose of introspective journaling. For example, avoid using your journal for other things like school or work or as scrap paper throughout the day. This can help you stay focused in your journal and feel like it is a comfortable mental space to come back to. (Keep reading: How to build the habit of daily journaling.)
Keeping a paper journal (rather than a digital one) can serve as a visual reminder to use it. And a physical journal allows you to unplug from the distractions of electronics while you write. Writing in pen can ease the desire to erase and re-write sentences that could have been written better. Good writing isn’t the focus of journaling. See my post why you should choose a physical journal (instead of digital).
Keep your journal with you
Keep your journal with you so you remember to use it. Just as you would bring your phone and water bottle with you as you settle into different areas of your house, bring your journal along, too. Then you can always grab it when you have some thoughts you want to write.
Decide if you want to bring your journal with you outside of the home to school, work, or coffee shops. For some people, having their journal with them at all times is a necessity. Others feel their journal is safer at home.
As a teen, I would bring my journal with me to school so prying eyes didn’t find it while I wasn’t at home. But I never took it out of my backpack to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. As an adult, I feel more comfortable leaving my journal at home unless I am going somewhere specifically to write in it, like a park or coffee shop. There is a risk involved, so consider it, and do what feels right for you. Storing it in a locked safe is also an option.
Check in with your journal daily
Opening your journal at least once daily can encourage you to write in it.
Start by writing the date, maybe a greeting, and anything that comes to mind. Opening your journal every day can help build the practice of daily journaling, even on days when you don’t have a lot to write.
Avoid the mental pitfalls of journaling
Feeling the pressure of aesthetics
Seeing other people’s ultra aesthetic journals on social media can give us unrealistic expectations about what our journals have to look like in order for them to be “good enough.” For many people, it feels daunting to keep a journal that has to look perfect. And it may discourage some people from ever getting started. Remember that these creators spend a lot of time and energy planning visual spreads ahead of time, perfecting their handwriting, and staging their journals for social media engagement. It makes for beautiful journal spreads, but journaling does not have to be an aesthetic endeavor. There are so many more benefits to journaling than how good it looks to other people.
If this is a pitfall you may be susceptible to, I recommend establishing with yourself why you want to keep a journal. Is your goal to have a beautiful journal?
This was tricky for me. I love looking at pristine journal spreads, but the fear and shame of making mistakes in my journal was hindering my journaling experience. After toiling with this, I decided my goals include building a better relationship with myself, and so that takes priority in my journal.
If art is a form of self-expression for you, know that you can freely doodle, write messily, make mistakes, and be as creative as you want to in your journal. None of it ever has to be judged by the outside world. These days, I try to be forgiving with myself. And my journal has proven to be a useful tool for accepting my flaws, instead of further fueling perfectionistic standards.
Stuck from a mental writing block
You may want to write in your journal, but you feel stuck thinking, “I don’t know what to write,” or “this is stupid.” Know that this is normal, and you can get around this. There is an enormous amount of writing content inside all of us. After all, we are complex beings with years of experiences and layers of unconscious thoughts and ideas. Sometimes when we try to access our internal experience, part of us pushes back because it is afraid we will uncover something that may be uncomfortable. You can try journaling about why you feel this way. And essentially use these thoughts as a prompt for your journal entry.
Some days journaling doesn’t serve you
As you build the habit of journaling, some days you may start writing, but realize you just don’t feel like writing. Or maybe you are more excited about doing something instead of writing about it. Make a pact with yourself that if you don’t feel like journaling after a couple sentences, you won’t force yourself to keep going. It is enough that you opened your journal and reinforced the habit of daily writing, so let yourself move on. Hopefully this mental shift helps you find the joy in journaling. Above all, journaling is a tool that serves you when you need it.