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November 4, 2022
How To Use Journalling As A Tool For Self-Exploration

Louisa Larocque

A woman sits at a desk and focuses as she writes in a journal.

I Want To Journal But Where Do I Start?

In March 2020, I began journalling to stay mindful of my mental health throughout the pandemic. That journal now holds 1506 entries, but when I started, it felt boring.

Over time, journalling got easier for me. What began as stressful, slowly became meditative. Here are eight tips that helped me move through the discomfort and develop a healthy journaling habit.

1. Set the mood

Create a cozy, relaxing environment for your journalling–whether it’s with a scented candle, drinking tea, wrapping yourself in a favourite blanket, or asking Alexa to “play a fireplace on YouTube.” 

Think more about your surroundings. Are you wearing something comfortable? Do you like silence or noise? What type of lighting makes you feel relaxed? If you are autistic, you know how much physical discomfort can affect your inner peace.

Accommodate your preferences and repeat them each time you write. A consistent environment cues your nervous system that it’s time to write.

2. Begin by recounting your day

Journalling doesn’t have to be a long, detailed process. You can simply start by reflecting on the day’s events. Even if this is all you write down, you’ll have a written record of your lived experience, frozen in time. Sometimes the best reflections are the short entries where we’ve simply recorded what a normal day looks like for us.

Journalling makes a great time capsule for the future, should you want one. For those who want to record more than the day’s events, ask yourself: how did I feel about today’s events? Deeper reflections may come to mind as you ask simple questions. 

3. Only journal when you feel like it

Journalling is meant to be explorative and therapeutic, not another task on your to-do list. If you don’t have the capacity to do it this week, don’t. We want our brains to think of journalling as a relaxing experience, not a difficult one. 

If you don’t feel like writing by hand, you can use the voice note app on your phone or download DayOne, an iOS journalling app that I highly recommend.

4. Be aware of judging yourself

Do you judge what you’ve just written? I sure have. I’ve thought, “What if I look back on this entry and cringe?” The good news is that journalling is about the journey, not the destination. You don’t have to go back and read your entries, but if you decide to, you might notice that those not-so-perfect entries provide insight or illuminate an area of personal growth. 

If you find yourself criticizing what you wrote down, take a moment to practice self-compassion and accept your feelings, questions, or reactions just as they are. Who knows, this “wrong” entry might just give you a nugget of wisdom. 

5. Avoid getting stuck on the details

Perfectionism has no place here. Don’t get caught up on your penmanship, grammar, spelling, or structure—unless you find it soothing. Doodles and scratches give your entry character and reveal where your mind was on that day. Make your journal honest and imperfect. 

When you examine these “mistakes” in your entry, can you see the story emoted by the words? Can you identify if you were feeling tired? Elated? Inspired? Confused? Little mistakes in your text also indicate the velocity at which you were typing or writing. There’s more to a journal entry than meets the eye. 

6. Keep your journal in a safe place

Make sure your journal won’t be read by prying eyes. If you don’t feel your journal is in a safe place, you may not feel that you can be vulnerable (which defeats the purpose of your new habit). 

Figure out which journalling method works best for you and how you can keep it safe. If you journal on pen and paper, consider buying a journal with a lock or hiding the journal somewhere in your home. Other safeguarding options include giving the journal to a friend or using an online journalling app that has a password. 

When picking a hiding place, remember someone might still find your journal. Brainstorm if your guardian might go through that drawer. In what circumstances could your partner stumble across your journal? Should you move it? The more confident you are that nobody will read your reflections, the more vulnerable you will be as you write. 

7. No censoring!

Don’t silence your voice. Your journal is where you can be unapologetically you. You don’t have to worry about what the paper will say back to you: its purpose is to bear witness to your life at this point. 

Your journal can also serve as a milestone to mark who you were when you started journalling and who you are becoming. Move past the fear that someone might read it and lean into what could come of this self-exploration journey.

8. Don’t push yourself

It’s healthy to set boundaries, even in journaling. Don’t push yourself beyond your emotional capacity to reflect, and don’t force yourself to explore things you don’t feel ready to yet. Always consult a doctor or mental health professional if you find your journalling is negatively triggering you.

You’re on your way to a healthy habit

Congratulations! You have taken the first step toward achieving your goal of building a journaling habit. Now, what’s next?

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