How to journal 

Journaling is a powerful tool for introspection, emotional processing and organisation. If you can make it a habit, your life will improve. 

I started journaling when I was eighteen (I’m twenty-four now). Since then, I’ve journaled about three times per week, and started a degree in journalism.

Here are my thoughts on how to journal. 

Where to start

As with everything, getting started is the most difficult part. I’ve created a ritual which helps me to get going. 

First, I write the day, then the date, then the time. This is a good way to ground yourself in the present moment. Next, I write an observation from the day. This can be anything – and I mean ANYTHING. “It was cold today” or “I met a nice dog on a walk”. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you get something down on the page. I’ll often use the first paragraph to take note of what’s been happening in my life, both good and bad. 

I always journal at the same time – just before bed. It clears my head and gives me an opportunity to set intentions for the next day. Some people journal in the morning. It’s up to you, but try to do it at a similar time each day to help the habit stick.

What to write about 

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Journaling is an intensely personal practice. What you write isn’t anyone else’s business but yours. It is vitally important that no one ever reads your journal unless given clear permission to do so.

The most important thing is that you approach the pages with honesty. Don’t edit what your mind wants to put down on paper. Don’t write as if someone will read it. Don’t judge yourself for what you write. Just try to get out of your own way. You’ll find that once you get started it can be difficult to stop. 

If you’re struggling to get going, it can be useful to ask yourself a question: What could I improve in my life? Did I handle that situation well? What are my values? 

A recent journal entry.

Why journal? 

I recently watched Stutz, a documentary on Netflix about Jonah Hill’s therapist, Phil Stutz. In it, Stutz explains that journaling is a gateway to your subconscious. It’s a way to analyse your deeper self and allow your subconscious to be brought forth into your conscious mind. You can dig deeper into who you are and better understand yourself as a person. 

Sigmund Freud, the man who coined the term ‘psychoanalysis’, said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” It is priceless to gain a deeper understanding of yourself as a person. Your whole life improves. The world makes more sense, decisions are easier, and the reasons behind your actions become clearer. 

Artwork by Afterskool. I highly recommend following their Youtube and Instagram.

Your future 

Journaling allows you to create order in the chaos of the future. You have no idea what tomorrow will bring. You don’t even know what will happen in the next hour. The future is absolute chaos that we are falling into constantly, forever. This can, understandably, be terrifying. There are an infinite number of paths you could take or things you could pay attention to.

So how do you know which path to take, and what to pay attention to? Well, you can create a tiny square of order in the future and aim for that. When I was backpacking, I didn’t have a clear path, but I always knew where my next destination was. I didn’t know what it would look like, or how long it would take to get there, but I created a little bit of order in the future and aimed for it. You can do the same in life. When I decided I wanted to study Journalism, the path was not clear, nor the timescale, but I had a goal – a tiny point of order in the future – and worked my way towards it. The path wasn’t easy. I was rejected the first year I applied. Then again the next year by my first-choice university. But I still found my way because I knew where I was going and why. 

“When you want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Cohelo 

Emotional processing 

Abraham Lincoln was famous for writing ‘hot letters’. These were letters to people who had angered him, like a general who had disobeyed his orders in the Civil War. He would write about what stupid, incompetent, hard-headed, poorly disciplined, short-sighted, egotistical, self-serving morons they were. When he was finished writing – when all the venom was out of his system – he would put the letter in a drawer and leave it for a few days. They were almost never sent. 

Once you say something, you can’t take it back. When we’re angry, we rarely articulate our feelings properly. And if we do, the person our aggression is directed towards won’t be in a state to listen. I’ve never had a productive conversation in an emotional state; never resolved an issue. But I have hurt loved ones’ feelings, which is horrible. 

Instead, save your anger for your journal. Write down exactly how stupid that person is. Write pages and pages of your angry feelings – get it all out. It’s fine, they won’t read it. Once it’s out, leave the matter for a few days and see how you feel about it then. If you still have unresolved feelings, a truth unsaid, let the person know. At least you’ll say it from a calm, rational state of mind. 

The Shadow

Journaling is an excellent tool to confront the darkness that lies in all of us. What Carl Jung called The Shadow. The Shadow is the part of the psyche deemed unacceptable by your ego. This includes taboo thoughts, urges and desires kept hidden by shame. Everyone has a Shadow, and if not confronted, it can reap havoc on your life. Journaling provides the opportunity to confront your Shadow and integrate it into your being. 

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn. 

Tools 

You need beautifully little to journal. A pen and a piece of paper are enough. I have a specific journal I like to write in and pens I use too. 

These include:

  • A journal – I use A4 Nü journals because I like the feel of the paper and that they never fall apart. 
  • Pen – I like rollerball pens because of how smoothly they glide. Again, it doesn’t really matter. 
  • Working journal – I also like to have an A5 journal I use for work. This is where I scribble notes and plan blog posts. It keeps my personal journal tidy. 

There are also some great journaling resources you can find online. 

Fear-setting by Tim Ferriss – Tim Ferriss popularised a practice called fear-setting. You write your biggest fears, what would happen if they came true, the likelihood they will happen, and what you could do to resolve the situation. It was extremely valuable for me when I decided to drop out of university. 

The Daily Stoic Journal – Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic Journal is great too. It gives you Stoic questions to ask yourself like “what is truly within my control?”. Ryan also writes great books. 

Awaken the Giant Within – This is Tony Robbins’ seminal work. It’s thicc – be warned. If you want some deep, deep introspection read this book and do the exercises. It will change you. 

Signoff 

I end every journaling session with a signoff. A final thought of the day. Sometimes it’s a quote. Other times a reflection. Often just some nonsense. It’s a nice ritual to end on. 

So here’s the signoff to this blog post: 

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung.

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