How to Start a Journaling Practice: Tips, Tricks, Rewards & Challenges

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For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to have a daily journaling practice. For some reason, this hobby has always held value to me. I’d envision myself curled up in the corner of a couch, writing in a beautiful journal, using a perfect pen that effortlessly highlighted the uniqueness of my penmanship, my thoughts would flow onto the page, over time notebooks would fill one after the other, and I would proudly display them on  a bookshelf somewhere. It’s a lovely thought, but in reality implementing a daily journaling practice is a little bit more…complicated. 

It took a long time but, finally, in 2015 I made my vision a reality: I began writing daily, and the notebooks and bullet journals did start filling up. I would like to share my journey to journaling in the hopes that it will help others cultivate their practice. So, keep reading! I’m about to share almost 20 years of tips and tricks, AND be totally honest about the rewards and challenges you’ll face along the way.

How to Start a Journaling Practice: Tips, Tricks, Rewards & Challenges

The Attempts

I attempted to become a diary keeper at least 10 times over my lifetime. The first few attempts were when I was a teenager, the majority of the attempts were when I was in my early twenties, and the last attempt (which was successful) was in my early thirties. Each attempt was met with a  brand new fancy notebook which would cost waaaay more than I am willing to admit  (I’ve had a fondness for fine stationery my entire life). 

As each day came to a close, I would write about it. I quickly realized that my day to day life wasn’t actually all that exciting. Exciting events accumulate over time, and an isolated daily page of writing doesn’t actually reveal all that much at the start.

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Remember: journaling implies handwritten. Truly getting into the details of your day using a handwritten medium is a time investment. Just filling one page, depending on the size of the notebook, can take upwards of 20-30 minutes.

The Realities of Keeping a Daily Journal

The First Reality: The Negativity Bias

Initially, starting a journaling habit is not nearly as rewarding as one would think. That is,  until you have a really bad day. Suddenly, you can’t wait to get home and write everything in your journal… to vent, to let it go, and have an audience that will always be on your side.

 On a bad day, I can remember picking up my pen and filling pages effortlessly. I’d write until my hand hurt and my letters became blurry from either exhausted penmanship or tears. 

When writing daily, there seems to be an involuntary pull to express the negative. Journaling is cathartic in this way. In my experience, I was always more likely to vent about a bad day than I was to brag about a good day. 

The Second Reality: The Joy is in the Writing, not the Reading

One of the beauties of journaling is that as you write you truly begin to get a sense that your thoughts are flowing freely onto the page. The pen that writes is the conduit to your innermost feelings. As you free write it feels like there could never be any errors. Unfortunately, re-reading entries will prove this feeling false. Hand written pages are not magically highlighted with spelling or grammar errors. I know I have a tendency to leave out words when I handwrite. Sometimes reading my entries can sometimes feel like putting together a puzzle.
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The joy in journaling is the writing, not the reading. I don’t suggest never reading your old  journals, but I would recommend allowing a few months to pass before venturing backwards into your experiences. Here is an excerpt from my journal regarding an experience I had re-reading an entry: 

 “Looking back, it amazes me how fragmented this is! At the time, I remember feeling like I was being so in depth. It probably took me well over an hour to write this [entry] ! Writing 6 pages felt like such an accomplishment, but now all I want to do is edit!”

Giving yourself time before reading will allow you to gain perspective and hindsight about what you were experiencing and feeling as you wrote.

How To Get Started: 3 Do’s & 3 Don’ts

Lets start with the Don’ts:

  1. Don’t use an expensive notebook. Investing in something fancy will put pressure on you to have a perfect journaling practice. You will feel like you need to write neater because you want to maintain the niceness of the notebook. Censoring your handwriting censors your thoughts. Get an ordinary notebook. Don’t be afraid to be messy, cross things out and carry it around with you. The more used and tattered your notebook looks at the end, the more successful your practice!
  2. Don’t let filling notebooks be your end goal. This was a trap for me. I was too future focused. I created an all or nothing statement in my mind that if I was filling notebooks I would then be an avid journaler. Writing is meant to be an activity that connects us with the present moment, which can only be measured in progress (not success or failure). My first filled notebook took about 8 months to complete!  
  3. Don’t write about your day. All of my ‘start and stop’ attempts at writing occurred when I was only filling my pages with daily events. Using a structured style of journaling can increase your dedication to the practice. I had much more success using journaling prompts to guide me (more about that below). 

And now the Do’s:

  • Do find a pen that you love. If you are going to be writing a lot you should love the way your pen feels and writes. Personally, I prefer finer tip pens (0.7 tip is my ideal). Finer tip pens are less likely to smudge because not as much ink is expelled with each pen stroke. Thicker tip pens and gel pens are prone smearing and bleeding through the pages of your notebook. This will annoy you, trust me!
  1. Do keep your journal in sight. You may have the urge to keep your journal hidden to protect your privacy, but if it’s too well hidden you won’t be reminded to write in it. Store your journal in a place where you will encounter it. I kept my journal in a bathroom cabinet for almost a year because I would see it every time I needed to get toothpaste.
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  2. Do use specific types of journaling. As mentioned earlier, writing about your day can be a trap. There are many types of journaling and all of them do reveal insight into your life over time, despite not documenting daily occurrences. Here are a few different styles of journaling to try:
  • Line a Day: Simply write one line a day everyday. Short, sweet and to the point.
  • Morning Pages: A writing practice that takes place first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. Without happenings to dwell on, morning pages can reveal clarity about what you’d like to accomplish each day. Morning writing tends to also have a more positive tone should you choose to re-read your entries.  
  • Gratitude Journal: Write 1 to 5 things that you are grateful for everyday 
  • Journaling Prompts: Answering daily questions that may or may not have a theme to them. Pinterest is loaded with various types of journaling prompts. For 3 years I used the same monthly journaling prompts. It was fun comparing how I answered each question differently from year to year. This is my preferred method to journal.

Almost six years later, I am happy to say that I am still journaling. Sure, my practice ebbs and flows but ultimately I am committed to it. I’ve allowed my writing to evolve and I use different styles of journaling for variety. I have now filled 15 notebooks. Just as I envisioned, I display them proudly as I hope one day you will too. 

By: Cheryl Tobin

About the Author

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Cheryl is the author of the blog Spiritually Premeditated. She describes herself as a spiritual enthusiast, avid journaler and wannabe morning person. She relies heavily on coffee and oracle cards to get through the day. 

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Lazy Day Activities

Sometimes it’s hard to have a lazy day but when they do come around it feels awesome! I maybe a little weird about the things I like to do on lazy days but hey, to each is there own, right?

What do I consider a lazy day?

To me, a lazy day is a day to take some “me” time and just take a break from life. A little time to let everything else fall by the way side for a bit.

Lazy Day Activities - because some days you just need to

Lazy day activities:

Read a book – I like to think of myself like Belle from Beauty & The Beast. I do love my books of all shapes and sizes. 

Journal – nothing is better to me than feeling pen on paper. The way the lines flow onto the page creating words to be read (or not – its my preciooooous).

Diffusing – I love my essential oil diffuser, it’s great and keeps me happy! With so many scent combinations you can’t get bored, there’s even different ones that act as mood enhancers.

MUSIC – this is actually one of my all time go to’s. I love listening to the lyrics that resignation or the rhythm behind the words. Have a bad day? Music. bored? Music. Bad day? Music. You get the point. I have a different playlist for all my moods. I listen to everything from zen, country, R&B, and drum & bass. I just love it all! If you have a song, drop it in the comments.

Valentine’s Day: Must Do’s For Single Ladies #Valentine’sDay #selfcare #selflove

Painting – I’ve fallen out of this recently but I’m getting back into it. I love the freeing feeling I get while splattering the canvas multiple colors or simple brush strokes.

Drums – yes, I play the drums and play around on them. They’re a huge stress reliever when I need something I bang on or throw sticks at. If you’ve noticed with this noise making instrument you can either have a plan or go at it alone. I memorize the songs I play since I’m still trying to figure out how to read music.

Crystals/meditation  – I believe in the power and healing properties that crystals have to offer. I Just sit or maybe lay with one or two in hand and meditate or clear my mind of everything. I have quite a collection but I do have my favorites.

Aerial yoga – I absolutely love these classes! Who doesn’t want to twirl around in huge stretchy soft ribbons suspended from the ceiling? I will say it was a disaster the first few times.

Walking/running – I mentioned in my goals for this year I will be walking/running 1,000 miles, I have a year to do so but I’m hoping to finish in July. Of course I’d want to finish early. I’m so impatient (with everything)!

What’s your number one hands down favorite thing to do when you get time to have a lazy day?

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Goals for 2020

Today is the first day of the new year, the first day for new beginnings, the first day for those resolutions. 

I don’t really stick to resolutions, I don’t know why really. Goals, goals I can stick to, I guess I just trust that word more than resolutions.

Why do we need goals?

Goals are a way to keep us focused although sometimes we get distracted, goals help to bring us back to the now and keep us pushing forward.

Goals for 2020 - make them then crush them

 

Goal List:

  1. My freelance business – I want to get it up and running, full time. I am hoping to make $2,000 a month by June. I  think it’s impossible for me to work full time in a office work environment with my poor mental health at times & migraines. Writing is by far my dream job and I’d love to be able to make a living from the fruits of my labor. I don’t think I’ve every been so excited or motivated. 

This brings me to my next goal:

  1. Mental health – when I have good days I get so much done, Other days not so much. You’d think mania days were productive but in my case you’d be wrong. I successfully start about 4-5 things and never finish them. Yeah, I need to make improvements.
  2. Healthy foods – I’m definitely going to start cooking and eating heather foods. At the end of 2019 I lost 25 pounds and feel great! I’d like to lose about 20 more which would put me at my goal weight again. I want to try foods I’ve never thought about trying before and sometimes forcing myself to like them.
  3. Running/Walking – this category & I have history which is also a love hate one. I use to run 6 miles everyday then after the half marathon (I didn’t train for – I know!) I hurt my knee so I dropped off (hints the weight gain). I’ve already signed up for a 5k, 10k (starting slow), and a challenging.

Fall In Love, Again #mentalhealth #love #art #yoga #running #adventure

  1. 1000 Mile Challenging – yes, you read it right. It’s to help raise money for charities. I have all year to do the 1000 miles but I’m hoping to knock them out by July. I’m so impatient.
  2.  Read more books – I’d like to start reading again, I’d like to read a book a month. We will see how that goes.

Wow, that’s more goals than I thought I had.. 

What’s the biggest goal you wish to accomplish this year?

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Mood Bored; A Bipolar Story

– This one is a little raw, it’s honesty in the days of my life. This post is one about bipolar disorder and the effects, this post also touches on anxiety and depression. I don’t know if any of these will trigger anyone with a mental illness. –

If you’ve watched TV, Netflix, Hulu, or any other tv or tv app then chances are you’ve seen a bipolar medication commercial, these commercials talk about bipolar’s “extreme highs or lows” meaning  depression, mania, and hypomania.

I’ve spent 5 days in a state of mania and now I’m exhausted. I’ve barely slept, my brain has been firing non stop for the duration, and my emotions were all over the place.

Mood Bored; A Bipolar Story - a recent journey of a diagnosis

What is hard about this disorder is that you don’t know when any of it is going to happen, it could be weeks or it could be months but when it does the only thing you can do is hold on and trust it won’t last forever.
Drowning in bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety

It can be really hard on your family and friends too; canceling plans made well in advance that everyone is excited for, family get togethers, or just hanging out to watch tv or paint.

When the mind decides itself upon something there is no changing it, especially when it’s wired in so deep it can’t be found. I’ve made terrible financial decisions, relationship choices, not looking after my well being, and spending days feeling like I have to read 3 books, write a novel, paint 12 canvases, writer 15 business and 20 personal blog posts, talk to every friend I have for hours, and get my hair & nails done when I’m so confident I could touch the sky.

I’ve also got anxiety which can be brought through the roof sometimes. Large crowds I can’t be in because I’m worried something will happen to me or the ones I love, I’m claustrophobic even in my own clothes because my chest gets so tight I can’t breathe, and bring on the stress that bring on the panic attacks. That’s only to name a few.

See what I mean by just holding on, it’s really all you can do. I’ve picked up a few tools along the way. I’ve learned to still try to be mindful in these episodes and anxieties. It’s definitely not easy but you’ve got to push through to find something to grasp while waiting for the storm to pass.

storm passing bipolar, anxiety, depression

I’ve recently started going to a psychologist which was referred to by my psychiatrist, but I’m not exactly sure how it should go, I’ve only been once. I thought it was just talking about my feelings but I was told to talk about anything that pop up or anything I find during the week before another session to write things down, I’d like to cover.


I’ve had anxiety for most of my life and I’ve been misdiagnosed since I was a teenager, i was being treated for anxiety and depression but nothing was working; if anything it was making it worse. I was a little relieved when I got the bipolar diagnosis because now I know I’m not crazy and all over the place chalking it up to my personality.

Someone who knows where you’re at and what it’s like is always helpful. Other than my psychologist and psychiatrist I’m going at this alone myself. When I try to talk to friends or family members all I get is a “I don’t understand”, which sort of pisses me off in the case with my mother. I talk to her about everything, she’s my best friend yet for this particular subject she won’t take the time to read up on it or ways she could help.

If you too have this disorder and need someone to talk to, I keep conversations confidential but I’m in no way a psychologist but I am a good listener. Send me a message or email and we’ll chat as long as you need to.

 

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