How To Start Journaling (4 Helpful Steps For Beginners)

Two journals and some pencils are stacked on a desk

For many people, journaling doesn’t sound like something challenging. You just put your pen to paper and start writing down all of the things that pop into your head right? 

Well, sort of.  

For some people writing comes naturally, and it is an easy task to accomplish. Their thoughts flow out of their pens like water.

However, although there isn’t a right or wrong way to journal, many of those people are doing so without any direction or guidance, and while this may have some benefits, they might be missing out on several perks by doing it this way. 

We also haven’t started to talk about the rest of us who might not have any idea of what to write about. We might be able to get a few thoughts out here and there, but not enough to turn it into a regular routine without help. 

I am one of those people. I’ve journaled and written in diaries and journals off and on for my entire life, but I was never able to keep it consistent enough to do it as a part of my regular routine. 

However, when I started on my own self-care and self-love journey, I quickly learned about how valuable of a tool journaling can be and I dove all in to learn everything I could about it, and how I could get the most success from it.  

So, here is my guide with tips on how to start journaling as a beginner.

What is journaling?  

Journaling is taking time out of your day to write about your thoughts, experiences, and feelings.  

The best thing about journaling is that it can be very personal and there are so many ways to do it, or to express yourself.  

Some people write every day like a journal or diary entry, other people write to-do lists and document their goals and dreams, other people may use it to vent about their emotions in a safe place, other people doodle and draw, and some people do a combination of some, or all, of the above.  

Why do people journal? 

Journaling can help you work through your emotions, grow, and learn so much about yourself.  

Many people also use it to heal from stress or trauma, problem-solve, make important decisions, and increase their happiness. 

There is a reason that some of the most successful and powerful people in the world include journaling in their everyday routines. 

What are the benefits of journaling? 

It improves our mental health 

One way to deal with our intense emotions and feelings is to express them in a healthy way. There are numerous studies that show that journaling has a positive effect on our mental health and can reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.

It can reduce stress 

A duke university study asked participants who had experienced a stressful event to do intensive writing for six weeks. This included using writing prompts and mindful journaling.  

The findings of that study were that writing increased resilience and reduced stress.

It is a great self-care tool 

Journaling is a great way to help improve our emotional self-care, mental self-care, and intellectual self-care. Not only does it help to put us in better touch with our emotions, but it helps us to be more present in the moment and become more mindful. 

It can help to boost our immune system 

Not only has journaling been proven to help decrease health problems, but it can also help you to physically heal faster.

It is great for self-reflection 

Many times when we write, we can express things about ourselves in ways we might not have considered before.  

Writing those things down can allow us to go back and review what we have previously written, or to even see how much we have grown since then, which is great for self-reflection.  

It can help us to become a more positive person 

By using a journal to express gratitude, it can help to activate areas of the brain that are connected to our positive feelings and emotions. This helps us to increase our optimism and can help us regain our power over our negative feelings. 

Is a great outlet for emotions 

A journal is a safe space where only you will ever read what you write unless you choose to share and give someone else access. This means it can be a great place for you to truly vent about hard days, hard experiences, and hard emotions. 

Can help to organize our thoughts 

Sometimes experiences and emotions can be so overwhelming that it can be hard to sift through. A journal can help you really determine how you feel about things, and be able to organize your thoughts. 

How to start journaling (4 Steps)

1) Discover your why 

Before you start, it can be important to ask yourself the question “Why do I want to start to journal?” 

What are you hoping to get out of it? Journaling might not be a right fit for everyone, or every lifestyle, so if you can answer why you want to journal in the first place, you can direct your attention to what style and type of journaling would be the best for you.  

2) Organize yourself 

Journaling is great because it doesn’t cost any money to get started. You can start with just some blank pieces of paper and any writing utensil you have around you.  

However, it would be a good idea to organize yourself and have a dedicated space to collect your thoughts. Something like a notebook, a journal, or even a binder for your loose papers can help. 

Tools you might want include: 

  • Notebook 
  • Pens 
  • Whiteout 
  • Stickers 
  • Highlighters 
  • Sticky notes 
  • Bookmark 
  • Paper clips 
  • Markers 

3) Decide what type of journaling you would like to do 

There are many different types of journaling, and you can do all of them, none of them, or some of them. It is completely up to you and dependent on your why and what you are trying to get out of journaling. 

Some common types of journaling are:

Gratitude journaling 

When you journal for gratitude, you focus on your blessings and all of the things that you are grateful for. Gratitude journaling can help you to become more positive, and help to shift your mindset because it can show you that no matter what you are going through in life, there are always things to be thankful for.  

One of the most popular ways of gratitude journaling is to list three you are thankful for every day.  

Regularly journaling about the good things in life can help you to become more resistant when it comes to the bad things. 

Bullet Journaling 

Bullet journaling is a great option for people that feel they have endless creativity. It lets you design your own journal and pages so that you could make your own combination of habit and mood trackers, journals, planners, and goal trackers all in one place.  

And if you want to make a change you can simply change your next page. 

A man is showing us how to journal using a bullet journal placed on his desk

Diary journaling 

The purpose of a diary is normally to collect and record data. This includes your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and activities.  

You can use a diary to document what you did for the day, track any progress you make towards achieving your goals, for self-reflection to get to know yourself and your emotions better, and so much more. 

One word journaling 

One-word journaling is basically exactly what it sounds like. Everything you write for that entry is based on one specific word. There are several common ways that people one-word journal. You could write down one specific word you are feeling every day, and then flesh that word out and look at it in depth by adding as much writing as you want around it.  

Or you can also use one-word journal prompts that are given to you each day to help get your creativity flowing and see how much you can write and what types of emotions or memories surface based on that word.  

Flow of consciousness journaling 

This is the most common approach to journaling and is what most people imagine when they think about journaling. With this type of journaling, you just sit with paper and a pen and write whatever comes to your mind. Your pages become a blank space for you to vent, or process your thoughts and emotions in a healthy way.  

If you don’t enjoy writing that much, or you find it hard to think of what to say and where to start, you may find journal prompts to be helpful.  

Dream journaling 

A dream journal is a way to record all of the dreams you have had through the night in as little or much detail as you decide to include.  

Dream journaling is usually done right after you wake up so that you don’t forget the details of your dream. 

Food journaling 

A food journal is usually used by people who are trying to track what they eat to analyze that data, or to use it to track specific food goals.  

Video journaling 

People that don’t enjoy writing, but like speaking about their feelings might enjoy video journaling instead.  

You can prop up your cellphone or a video camera, and just speak to the camera. You could use the other types from above like speaking about what you are grateful for, or you could just do flow of consciousness and talk about whatever comes to mind.  

In a way social media has become like a video journal for some.

The point of recording it, is so that you can watch it back if needed.  

4) Start writing 

It can be helpful to just start to write whatever you can, to get used to the act of writing, before you try to decide if you are getting everything you can out of journaling, or if it is really for you.  

Journaling for a little while will teach you if you need to change anything up.  

For example, I started writing on just lined pieces of loose paper, but that quickly became unorganized and messy, so I quickly transitioned to spiral-bound notebooks.  

Reminders for journaling: 

-You can write whatever you want 

-You can try a combination of any of the journaling types 

-It doesn’t have to be perfect or nice 

-It can be messy and exhausting and sad  

-There is no right or wrong way to journal 

-If you find it hard to think of things to journal about, try journal prompts to get your thoughts flowing 

-Don’t judge yourself based on what you write. Your journal should be a safe space where you can be honest 

Journaling is honestly one of the most valuable tools I have ever used when it comes to learning more about myself, becoming more productive, and learning how to love myself.  

It also really helped me to heal from my past, and to become more in touch with my emotions and take control of them.

Time to pick up that pen and get writing. 

FAQ

  • What should I write in my journal about?

    You can write about anything. Just recording what happened in your day. Your thoughts and feelings. Your problems and struggles. Your gratitude and joys. Your dreams and goals.  
    You can write about anything that you want.  

  • How often should I write in my journal?

    This is completely up to you and will depend on your own circumstance, the amount of time you have to journal, and exactly what you are trying to get out our journaling

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