So many of us want to feel these benefits of keeping a journal, but find the process to be tedious and soul-sucking. However, journaling can be an extremely important mental health maintenance tool, and can even help you set and achieve important personal goals. Thankfully, journaling can be much more than what most of us usually think — don’t give up yet!
If you don’t like writing or hate the pressure to journal every day, you have plenty of options left at your disposal–options easier and often more interesting and fun than a traditional diary. Contrary to popular belief, journals can take many creative forms, tailored exactly to how you enjoy expressing yourself and reflecting on life.
Below, find discussion and creative ideas for how to start journaling–without pain, and without forcing yourself into a habit that’s not right for you.
To journal, or not to journal?
For those of us whose thoughts race constantly, journaling helps us engage with our own minds. If we can keep it up, of course.
Journaling can be a compelling method of self-expression, where you let out your experiences and feelings onto a piece of paper without fear of being judged. This can help create a sense of clear perspective toward your own life, which helps mental health in the long run. It’s a great habit to get into because you will become more self-aware, process your feelings, and resolve inner-conflict.
However, self-knowledge can be one of the scariest things we go through as humans. Self awareness often brings self-consciousness, which can cause great initial discomfort.
Journaling is challenging for many of us for a variety of other reasons, too. Maybe you’re afraid to confront your feelings. You avoid writing things down because the emotions are intense. It could be that you’re overwhelmed with all the things going on with your life, and you feel as if there’s no time to journal. Or, it could be something else! These are all valid feelings.
What if we re-define what journaling is?
If you’re worried about the time constraints, it doesn’t take so long to write an entry; writing in your journal can be part of your nighttime routine. You might take a bath or shower, get into your pajamas, into bed, and write for 10 minutes. Or if you’re worried about facing your feelings, you have control over what you write (or choose not to) in your journal.
Additionally, you may choose not to write at all.
Aside from the discomfort that clarity can bring us, there’s also the challenge of writing, itself. Expressing deep thoughts and feelings feels vulnerable, even when nobody else is around; combine that vulnerable feeling with echoes of school, writing assignments and grading, and writing in a journal becomes a complete turn-off.
As mentioned above, journaling doesn’t have to involve writing, though this is usually the way we imagine it. The challenge of labeling emotions with the correct words, and of accurately reflecting our internal experiences, can make journaling feel futile for many.
But the good news is, that journaling doesn’t have to involve words. It doesn’t have to involve daily entries and guilt over missed days. Your journal just has to allow you to remember important moments and feelings, in a way that you can benefit from.
This means that instead of written diaries, journals can look like collections of pictures, texts from friends, or doodles inspired by your days.
The great thing about keeping a journal is that you record what happened during a particular time in your life, in a way that resonates for you. You can work through complicated emotions by journaling without writing — instead using collages of memes, or putting a daily memento into a time capsule journal.
In these ways, journaling is still an excellent (and free) form of mental and emotional self care. The key is to find a way to document your day, without adding what feels like a giant extra step into your routine. When you make journaling fun for yourself, it becomes something you look forward to, instead of just another chore.
How to start a journal: alternative ideas
There are ways to keep a journal that don’t require writing in a regular notebook. To select the best method for you, think about what kinds of record-keeping you already do.
Do you take a lot of pictures on Snapchat or Instagram? Do you like making lists? Instead of starting a whole new journaling habit, why not just integrate the concept of journaling into your existing habit?
Here are some unconventional ways to participate in journaling, which might stick better:
1. Create a snapchat/instagram “journal”
Each day, take a photo that represents your experience: a friend you saw, a relaxing panorama from a hike, or an annoyed-looking selfie. Apps like Snapchat allow you to save photos to “memories,” and the apps share these memories back with you at the end of each month, and on important anniversaries. If you’re someone who has trouble looking back without a reminder, this journaling method can be especially effortless. These pictures document where you’ve been, and how things have changed over time. You can even add captions to approximate “writing” in a journal, in your photos. Just make sure to periodically reflect back on your photos.
2. Turn your to-do lists into a log
If you make a daily to-do list, use that as a base for your journal! Every day, save your daily to-do’s to a folder or running document with the date. At the end of the day, you can summarize how you felt, underneath. If you forget a day, or forget a summary, no pressure. This type of journal can help you find patterns between your moods and daily activities.
3. Try bullet journaling
For people who want a regimented creative outlet, bullet journaling can be a great tool. It consists of writing lists of things that happened during the day or a series of thoughts represented with bullet points. This type of journal can reinforce the self-esteem of a neat freak, or help artistic folks bring some structure to their creative self reflection.
4. Take a daily 10-minute doodle break
Get a notebook, set a timer for 10 minutes a day, and let your mind and pencil go free the whole time.
Once a month, or whenever you remember, take some time to go through your most recent doodles. See if you notice patterns, like if you can tell anything about your daily mood from what you tend to draw. If nothing else, doodling at the end of most days is a great way to calm your mind.
5. Use voice memos
Journaling doesn’t have to be done in hard copy! If it’s easy for you to speak a couple-sentence summary of your day, try using your phone’s voice memo feature. Whenever the mood strikes, record a short clip into your phone. You can record a series of voice recordings that summarize the day’s events or just capture your emotions at any given moment. This alternative way to journal also lets you hear the tone of emotion in your own voice – which may sound different than how you would’ve described it.
You’re not out of luck if none of these options appeal to you.
Maybe none of these alternatives to journaling sound right for you. That’s ok, too! But there really is some use to getting thoughts off your chest and validated by understanding others.
If you need to get tough thoughts or feelings out of your head, but journaling isn’t for you, you can let it out anonymously here, 24/7, in a peer support chat.
Supportiv peer support chats are judgement-free and a good way to regroup at the end of a tough day. It’s okay to reach out when you need a person to hear you. Don’t be afraid to ask for support; you might even help someone else by sharing.