How to Journal
The good news is, there is no right or wrong way to journal. Like getting exercise, prayer, or meditating what matters is only that your process works for you and doesn’t keep you from doing it. If the process is prohibitive, review the first principles framework in the Begin Again intro.
Types of Journaling
“Journaling” isn’t defined by a specific method, like “exercising,” there are many styles that can suit different goals or preferences.
The best part about journaling is your practice does not have to be the same every day. You can focus on emotional intelligence one day, creative stream of conscious the next, and gratitude after that. Or, you may prefer creating some kind of consistent format, where each session you identify what you’ve been feeling, thinking, something you’re grateful for, and respond to a short prompt.
Here are a few prominent forms a journaling practice can take:
Stream of Conscious Journaling
Stream of consciousness journaling, exemplified by “Morning Pages” from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” involves writing down thoughts as they naturally occur, without editing or filtering. This technique, often done first thing in the morning and with a goal of simply filling 3 pages without a focus on quality, is known for enhancing creativity and self-awareness in daily life by providing an unstructured space for spontaneous expression.
Diary journaling is a more time-based form of journaling, typically focused on documenting daily events, thoughts, or feelings. Unlike stream of consciousness journaling, it is a recounting of the day’s happenings and reflecting on them. This method is valuable for memory keeping, self-reflection, and tracking thinking over time.
Prompt-guided journaling begins by writing responses to specific prompts or questions. Unlike free-form journaling, it directs your focus to particular topics, ideas, or self-reflections. This method is particularly helpful for exploring specific aspects of your life, emotions, or values that you may not think to write about (or want to write about) on your own. See my 14 journal prompts below to get started.
Gratitude journaling is regularly writing down things you’re grateful for, with the goal of fostering a positive mindset. This practice is often recommended for boosting mental well-being, especially for overcoming a sense of negatively or helplessness. By focusing on smaller and more abstract things you’re grateful for over time versus large and obvious things, this practice can infiltrate your everyday life, allowing you to be happier and more at peace with day-to-day experiences.
Reflective journaling involves writing about personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings with a focus on introspection and analysis. To do this, you reflect on specific feelings or events, interpret their significance, and consider how they impact your beliefs and future actions. This style of journaling encourages a deeper understanding of oneself and is often used for personal development and problem-solving.
This can be a routine practice that feeds into a larger, structured end of year reflection like I do. It can also be more philosophy or values based, my article The 12 Reasons People Don’t Have What They Want is almost verbatim from a random, unexpected journal entry.
Vision journaling is a forward-looking form of journaling where you articulate and explore your future aspirations, goals, and dreams through writing. It differs from traditional diary-style journaling by focusing specifically on envisioning and planning for the future. In this practice, you write about your desired outcomes in various aspects of life, such as career, personal growth, relationships, or hobbies. This method serves as a powerful tool for discerning intentions, clarifying goals, and mapping out steps to achieve them. By regularly engaging in vision journaling, you create a written manifestation of your aspirations, helping to keep you motivated and focused on your long-term objectives.
In contrast to long-form prose, bullet journaling is a popular organizational method that involves using bullets to log tasks, events, and notes in a concise, structured manner. It’s a customizable system that combines planning, tracking, and reflection, often enhanced with creative elements like layout designs, doodles or calligraphy. This method is known for its efficiency and flexibility in helping manage daily life and long-term goals. Read How to Bullet Journal.
A decision journal is a tool that helps individuals improve their decision-making by recording and analyzing their current decisions. It helps to prevent hindsight bias, encourages self-awareness, and provides a feedback loop for better decision-making. The key components of a decision journal include recording the situation, problem statement, variables, complications, alternatives considered, expected outcomes, and personal feelings during the decision-making process. Read more about how to create a decision journal.
Dreamlining, as conceptualized by Tim Ferriss, is a goal-setting method that blends vision-setting with specific timelines. It involves listing your deepest desires or goals, assigning them 6 to 12-month timelines, and breaking them down into actionable steps. This technique encourages a focus on personal aspirations over societal norms, aiming to transform distant dreams into achievable objectives within set time frames.
Habit Tracking Journaling
This is a method focused on recording and monitoring daily habits to build self-awareness and achieve personal goals. It often involves keeping a structured journal where you track the consistency of various habits, such as exercise, diet, or meditation as well as the daily factors that influence whether you meet or miss your habits. This technique helps in identifying patterns, fostering discipline, and measuring progress over time.
Affirmation journaling primarily aims to counteract negative self-talk by focusing on positive statements about yourself. This practice helps in reprogramming the mind to adopt a more positive and empowering belief system, combating self-doubt and reinforcing self-worth and confidence.
Creative journaling is an unstructured practice where you express yourself through various creative mediums such as short stories, lyrics, or drawings. This form of journaling fosters creativity and self-expression.
Things to Write in a Journal
For our generation in particular, this can be an especially tough habit to break. In a world where everyone’s online, it’s a daily battle just to stand out as an individual against the anonymous masses. We’re used to branding ourselves. We’re used to self-promoting. We’re used to relentlessly maintaining a pristine persona and assuming that everything we ever do will be permanently recorded. And that’s all the more reason for us to have a refuge from that.
The more we’re able to let go of that urge and explore ourselves uncritically, the more effective this discipline will become. Fundamentally, journaling gives us a place to be honest with ourselves while simultaneously training us to be more honest.
When we’re switching from one mask to another, it can be dangerously easy to lose track of the real us, and journaling gives us a chance to truly examine our own lives and grapple with the people we are.
Read our article for more tips on making journaling easy.
To do lists. Deepest, darkest fears. Epiphanies. Insights. Questions. Things you like and dislike about the Batman universe. Our journals aren’t supposed to be a record of our thoughts but rather a place to figure out what those thoughts are.
Every one of us is a twisted jumble of impulses, instincts, insights, irrational fears, and Ghostbusters trivia. These pages are where we’re going to untangle what we’re thinking and feeling, and that’s only going to happen by letting ourselves spill out everything (again everything) onto the page.
In a world where it feels like everyone’s watching (or equally terrifying – like no one’s watching), it can be strangely difficult for us to truly see ourselves. Journaling not only helps us discover that, but allows us to ultimately become the people we actually are. Whether you’ve been on the road a while or if you’re just starting out on your journey, every one of us could benefit from the tried-and-tested practice of logging our distance.