The Beginner’s Guide to Starting and Sticking With a Journal

The Beginner's Guide to Starting and Sticking With a Journal

Ask any lifelong journaler, and they’ll tell you a diary is more than a notebook. It’s a survival tool, a meditation practice, and a record of a life, all in one. “My journal is my first place I go to process. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t write my way through really sticky situations,” writer Jeanna Kadlec tells

A journaling practice has become especially essential for many during the pandemic. Living alone and trying to create a routine, publicist Sydney Tillman made journaling a daily habit for the first time in 2020. “It became the thing that would get me out of bed,” Tillman says. Reflecting on her archive of entries, Tillman sees evidence of “growth and progress” during what she called an “awful” year.

Science supports the anecdotal evidence of journaling’s positive effect on mental health. According to Dr. Elizabeth Gilbert, the Head of Research at PsychologyCompass , “decades of research” back up the benefits of journaling when it comes to reducing anxiety , easing depression, working through trauma, and setting goals. “If there are stressful things happening in your life, journaling trains you to stop, react, and make sense of it all,” Gilbert says. “Even just make a narrative about it. Tell it in a story in a way that makes sense.”

For all its purported benefits, though, creating a regular journaling habit can seem daunting for those of us who haven’t been scribbling away since middle school. Starlet Susilo, owner of the boutique stationery company BonBon Paper , says many customers are “overwhelmed” by the possibilities of the blank page—especially given the plethora of beautiful (but ambitions) examples of watercolor-filled bullet journals on blogs and Pinterest.

“Forget about being perfect. Just get started,” Susilo tells customers. “This is just for you. It’s a private experience.” Katherine Smith, a 24-year-old recent college graduate, agrees. “Once I realized my journal was truly for-my-eyes-only content, I was able to really relax into the experience and say what I needed to say for myself within the pages without my inner critic jumping out,” she says.

Given that writing in a journal is such a personal experience, it may take some experimentation to find what works for you (and which type of actual journals you prefer). Below, find some of the best tips and example entries for beginners looking to start a journaling practice, sourced from the pros themselves.

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Gilbert says to experience the most benefits of journaling, consider writing regular entries. The consistency of the routine matters more than the length of each entry. “Start with a goal for your journaling that feels realistic,” she says.

Ultimately, she recommends making writing a daily practice akin to brushing your teeth. Kadlec, for example, writes at the same time every day: After coffee, but […]

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