I sit with my beautiful new journal in front of me on my clear desk. Having chosen the colour carefully to reflect my mood for the year ahead, I feel cheerful and optimistic. I gently open it and flip through a few pages, I feel a magical sensation, as though a fairy just sprinkled stardust over me. The promise of beautiful thoughts and inspiration lures me to pick up my pen. I feel the potential of what this book could one day hold. This book could one day be magnificent. This is so exciting, I am ready to get started.
But as I open my pencil case and take out my pencil, I am suddenly overwhelmed with doubt. With what do I start first? What do I actually put on these pages? My mind is blank. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think a title page would be nice – but what if I make a mistake? What if I make a mess of it and it’s ugly? That’s ok, that’s why I am going to use a pencil first to plan it out carefully – but what if the things I have to write are just boring and negative? Before long, my inner critic has frightened me into just putting it all away. Maybe next year….
Most of us have probably at some point in our lives tried to keep a journal. But unfortunately I think we are rarely given guidance as to how to use one. Thankfully these days we can usually find inspiration and advice online, but I imagine most of us probably end up discarding the idea quite early on when we come across our first frustrations with it and our writing.
I started keeping a journal as a young girl when someone gifted me a beautiful little diary with a lock and key, which looked incredibly magical and special. I had expected to fill it over time with only beautiful and inspiring words, but that was not the reality, so eventually I burnt it. I have had several other attempts over the years, and it usually ends up the same way – with me burning the pages ceremoniously in the fire, swearing to never write in a journal ever again. For a while I also tried keeping a journal on my computer instead – like Dougie Houser – but that was equally frustrating and all I wrote about was negative, so I deleted it.
The good news is that I have come back to journaling as an adult in my mid-life, because I finally figured out how to get the best use out of one so that I can use it to feel more empowered, not bogged down in negativity.
It started in 2019 when I discovered the bullet journal method, a task management technique invented by Ryder Carroll. In his 2014 TEDx talk, Ryder explained that bullet journaling is useful for creating a life driven by intention, by helping you declutter your mind, cultivate your curiosity and remain focused. His method has inspired thousands of people to start their own bullet journals, many citing the many benefits, particularly for mental health and mindfulness. By now you can find thousands of video tutorials on YouTube.
My personal favourite inspiration for bullet journaling is Shayda Campbell. She combines task lists with simple, elegant illustrations that are easy to follow to bring a feminine touch to each page. It appeals the artistic side of me.
Why is journaling so valuable?
- Organises thoughts & feelings.
- By putting everything on paper you can organise and prioritise things.
- You may discover patterns and behaviours your were unaware of.
- Mindfulness, Self Knowledge & Personal Growth.
- Documenting details of our lives can help us chart our personal growth and raise our self-awareness.
- Tracking our health, habits, moods, diet, bodies and so on, can help us understand our bodies and wellbeing better. This knowledge can help inform choices we make to improve our health or performance.
- Living With Intention.
- Using information and data we document and observe about ourselves we can make proactive changes to help improve areas of our lives that matter to us. Whether for personal or professional use, this is the secret of how the most highly effective people in the world are able to be so damn effective. You can also be empowered to make significant changes in your life and create your own map.
- Creativity & Inspiration.
- It can open doors to our subconscious and creativity that we would perhaps otherwise not find time or opportunity for. It is also a private and safe place to express yourself freely without judgement. You are free to be as playful and honest as you want.
- Acceptance & Ownership Of Our Personal Stories.
- Expressing ourselves in our diaries helps us process thoughts, emotions and experiences so we can find insight or understanding in our situation.
- It is a beautiful way to connect with our deepest longings and to identify our fears and vulnerabilities.
- Being able to review our own personal stories can help acknowledge and process our past and any trauma we’ve experienced, it can also help empower us and give us hope when we see our progress, which there always is.
- Calming & Centering.
- Journaling can give us comfort, healing and perspective.
- The sheer act of taking some time to reflect on yourself and anything that is in your heart and mind has a calming and balancing effect. To reflect on yourself, your needs, your challenges and if you manage to, find some perspective, is all a form of meditation, self-therapy and self-care.
Myths about journaling
- Journaling does not require you to write an entry every day unless you want to.
- It does not require you to adopt a letter to self, God or “Dear Diary” format.
- It doesn’t have to be beautiful and neat.
- You don’t need to be creative.
- You don’t need to know how to write well.
- You don’t need to start at the beginning of a year.
- Journaling is not just for “girls”. Some of the most inspiring men I know are all dedicated journalers.
Do it your way.
What do you put in your journal?
This is personal and unique to everyone, you can create your own method and format for it and I really strongly encourage this for you because it’s important that you have fun with it. There is no point copying what others do if you don’t get any joy out of it.
For example, I personally don’t like pure bullet journalling. I like that it can help organise tasks and goals so I can focus my priorities at any given time, but I want more freedom to express myself more creatively and emotively like in a more traditional diary. So I basically experiment and mix things up in my journal. In 2020 I kept creating bullet journal lists of tasks and goals and I accomplished very little on those lists. But sometimes I did some completely different things. So I am flexible and change my journal according to my need.
But here are some ideas of things you could be including in your journal. I include pretty much all these things, but not all the time.
- TRACKING – BULLET JOURNAL
- Events & occurrences
- Things you’ve learnt
- Inspiring quotes
- Books you’ve read
- Anything you might want to refer back to in future.
- Poetry, prose, prayers
- Expressing emotions, longings, fears, concerns
- Gratitude list
- Whatever you want!
Play around with what you find most interesting, enjoyable and rewarding for you personally. It doesn’t have to remain rigid in format, in fact, quite the opposite, make sure you let it evolve so it suits you.
My 2020 journal is a bit of a mess because I was experimenting with the content I included each month. But that’s ok. I like going back and seeing what worked and didn’t and finding ideas for new things to try.
Create a routine or even a ritual around it.
Journaling works best when you make a regular commitment to it, however, this does not necessarily mean every day. I personally find writing every day unproductive for me. I need time to make sense of my thoughts and experiences, so instead I commit to writing a minimum of once a month. I do create a bit of a ritual around it. There’s nothing weird about it, it’s just that I simply give myself a morning or afternoon once a month to have some quiet time alone. I find it very calming and centering.
- A few days before the start of a new month, I will review the previous one and then also prepare for the month ahead, setting any goals or priorities.
- I have a tracker for various habits, moods, health that I fill in every day.
- I document important things I’ve learnt or discovered during the month, perhaps it’s a quote from a book I read, an idea I’ve had, a question I want to research, or a point a teacher made in a class.
- I write a review of my life or experiences once a month (or more if there’s more to write about or I’m simply in the mood).
- For fun I also do an oracle reading for the month ahead and take note of the message. I like to look back on the year and see if any of the oracle cards were right.
What do you need to get started?
Just a notebook and a pen. I use Leuchturm1917 dotted A5 notebooks. I will be sharing more information in upcoming posts about my techniques and suggestions. But you can also find so much online.