When I first came across journaling, I had this preconception that it was just a fancy word for writing a diary; that it was just a place to put your memories and experiences as a record of what you did on a particular day or somewhere else to keep a to do list and to be honest - that didn't seem that appealing to me.
As I have expanded my own practice, I have discovered it to actually be a powerful tool that helps me tap into my thoughts and feelings, letting me understand myself better. It's also often a point of emotional release. The act of writing out how I feel can easily bring me to tears and allows me the opportunity to really explore those feelings; honour them and then release them.
It's in this way that journaling has become an important tool in my self care practice. Here are my tips on how you can make it part of yours:
1. Keep it simple and simply begin. Whilst it's very indulgent and luxurious to have beautiful stationery and an army of pretty notebooks around you, it's not essential for an effective journaling practice.
It's easy to turn journaling into something you can't fully commit to unless you have the perfect notebook, a beautiful pen (or a whole rainbow set of them); a favourite candle on the go and some soft music in the background.
That's perfectionism and idealism getting in the way of what can be a simple and beautiful practice of self communication and care.
You don't need to over complicate it. A simple spiral notebook and a biro is sufficient to begin with because the important thing is just to start. I also often use the Notes app on my phone, especially if I start to tap into a flow of words when I'm out walking in the park or after a swim at the gym (I'm often most inspired in my spiritual element of water - not always a convenient place to write!) The important thing is to start. Pick up a pen, and start writing.
2. Honour it as a self care practice. Having just said you should keep it simple to start, I'm now going to contradict that and say that I think there is something powerful about building a practice around journaling!
I have incorporated my journal practice into my morning mediation practice. It's like the meditation is the time I can spend just being, and then the act of writing in my journal helps me make sense of anything that may have come up in my mediation.
It's also the act of setting aside time and making it your own. We all lead busy lives and have the weight of other people's expectations on us and often it's our own priorities that suffer for it.
Yes, you can journal on the bus on your way home from work - but imagine the deeper inner depths you can tap into if you used it as a self care practice with a boundary of sacred alone time?
3. Let it flow - it's not a time for overthinking. We have all been there - maybe in an exam or when you have a report for to write and your mind is blank. Or you start writing, and then rethink it so cross it all out and start again. Journal writing isn't like that.
Your journal has no expectations about flowing prose and flawless grammar. Your journal is a reflection of whatever is going on inside you and sometimes that is messy and uses bad grammar and awful spelling!
If your mind is blank, then just start writing. Write what you see around you; what you can hear outside or what sensations you can feel in your body. As you let the words come through free writing, then they will begin to flow and you can tap into that inner world that you want to understand more.
Let typos happen, and there is no need to scribble stuff out if you think it's "wrong" - you had some reason for writing it and it may not make sense straight away but it will. Don't overthink it if you are repeating yourself - in fact that is an excellent indication of where you need to focus your attention. Let the words flow without expectation.
I often don't even read back over what I have written in one session. I may never read it again if what I needed at the time was to process it through the act of writing it out and then letting it go. You may come back to read it in months or years later and smile wryly as understanding finally sinks in and you can finally share whatever trick the universe was playing at the time.
4. Be realistic, honest and kind in your practice. If you set out to explore journaling with the intention to spend half an hour each morning and evening recording your thoughts, then you are very likely going to find that challenging to stick to. There are no rules around this - it's a practice that should suit you and reflect your needs and no one else's. If you want to have a set practice of journaling every day, then do so but be kind to yourself if you forget or don't feel like it one morning.
Likewise, you may set out to simply use your journal as an expanded to do list, but find yourself spending hours each week pouring out your deepest feelings.... Go with it! Honour that flow of words and let it pour forth. This is journaling as self care so let it be whatever you need it to be that enriches you.
5. Gratitude, Intentions and beyond - expand your practice to suit your needs. I use my journal in a variety of ways and don't have a set or structured practice. I most often use it in the mornings as a place to download my thoughts after meditation. These are always my favourite entries to read back on. It's where I can practice self compassion and celebration for myself to remember what I have come through; how I have grown and sometimes uncover forgotten wisdom.
It's also the place I sometimes set an intention for the day. The act of writing something down and then reading it back and saying it out loud does some thing to hard wire that intention into my subconscious and ensures it gets woven through my day, whether I'm aware of it or not.
In the past, I have used it before I have gone to bed as part of a gratitude practice - a really beautiful way to look back over the day and consider all the things both big and small to be grateful for. Going to sleep with those things on my mind instead of any worries I might have is always a good way to aid restful sleep.
You can of course use your own journal for whatever you want, how ever you want and when ever it suits you - there is no wrong way as it's a practice that is sacred and unique to you.
If you are new to journaling and looking for some inspiration, I have a free download of 50 journal prompts as starting points for you to focus on. It covers a variety of themes from career to community and also includes some simple action ideas that you can use too.
I'd love to hear from you about how your own journaling practice develops and if you use the journal prompts, if anything interesting comes up for you.