How to start journaling today
Journaling is an activity you can use to reflect on your thought patterns and emotions. It can give you space and a structure to record how you’re feeling and/or a way to think about things differently. Here, Kids Help Phone offers suggestions to incorporate journaling as a tool to boost your mood, process difficult emotions and notice the good in everyday life.
What are some benefits of journaling?
Simply put, journaling is one way to keep track of what’s going on in your life and make time for reflection. It’s about creating a safe place to record your feelings and work through experiences in a way that feels right for you. These are often things you do throughout your day already without realizing it. The act of creating intentional space to reflect on what’s going around you may help to provide a new outlook or perspective. It may also help you figure out what you want more of in your life.
How can I get started with journaling?
It’s understandable if starting with a blank page feels overwhelming. The ideas here can help you get started by incorporating journaling into your daily, weekly or monthly routines. You can use a scrap piece of paper, a notebook or the notes app on a phone or computer. If saying things out loud works better for you, you can also use a voice memo or recording app.
There are no specific rules for journaling. Journaling can mean just jotting down something you feel good about, are grateful for or that brightened your day — or you can try something more structured (check out the ideas below!). While it may feel difficult to find things to be excited about or hopeful for at first, remember, the process can take time.
It can be helpful to start small: take note of something once a day, a few times a week or whenever you think about it. There’s no minimum amount, and it’s OK if you forget or skip a day. Journaling is less about the number of times or things you write down and more about the act of making time for reflection.
These notes to yourself may be as simple as:
- “I’m grateful for my comfy bed”
- “I’m happy the sun came out today”
- “I appreciate my friends”
- “I feel better knowing that I made my neighbour smile”
Recognizing the good things in your day may result in more positive thinking patterns, increased feelings of hope and can help you become a more balanced version of yourself.
What are some ideas to structure my journal?
Bookend your day
For more structure with journaling activities, you can try specific prompts at the beginning and end of your day:
Set your mindset and intention in the morning:
- Today I’m excited about:
- One thing I will do for myself:
Reflect on your day in the evening:
- Something good about today:
- How I’d like to feel tomorrow:
You may find it helpful to add some of these additional prompts into a weekly reflection:
- What personal strengths or skills did I use this week?
- Who helped me this week?
- Where did I find calm this week?
- What helped me feel strong or happy this week?
- What went well this week? Why did it go well?
- I want to remember ____________.
- I want _______ to keep happening.
Setting goals may help to prepare for things coming up, outline steps you want to take and increase your self-esteem. If journaling becomes a regular part of your routine, you can start to set specific goals for yourself. Your goals can include anything going on in your life: school, work, family, friends, hobbies, etc.
Here are a few examples of goal-setting prompts you could add to your journal:
- Things I enjoy that I’ll make time for:
- My main focus:
- A personal goal:
- A work/school goal:
Focus on setting one or two SMART goals. SMART stands for:
- Specific — what do I want to happen?
- Measurable — how will I know I have accomplished it?
- Attainable — is this a realistic goal for myself?
- Relevant — is this important to me right now?
- Time-based — what is my time frame to complete this goal?
Examples of SMART goals:
- “I will spend 30 minutes working on my paint by numbers project this week”
- “I will block off time in my calendar to write 200 words of my English paper by next Thursday”
- “Today, I will text my friend Michelle to ask when they are free to set up a video chat”
At the end of the day or week it may be helpful to reflect on the goal(s) you set for yourself. It’s OK if you didn’t accomplish all of your goals or meet them in the way you imagined. You can recognize the steps you took towards them and consider what may have made them challenging to accomplish and if starting small and building on them is more realistic. Taking time to reflect on your goals may help prepare for the day or week ahead.
One of the best parts about journaling and goal setting is that you get to choose the format, topic and language you use. From time to time you may find it helpful to explore a specific experience further. You can try this through an activity that is flexible and creative!
Take five minutes to describe something in detail: through words, art, music or however you like to express yourself.
Is there something positive or interesting that you really want to remember? What about a lesson you learned because of something that happened? Or a reminder of a thing or person that made you happy and brought you joy? Spend five minutes writing down, drawing or making a collage of the details of the experience. Include things you saw, heard, felt, smelled and tasted to create a full picture of the experience or moment. This exercise may help the positive impact of the experience last longer.
Where can I find other self-guided activities?
If you find journaling isn’t benefitting you, it’s OK if there are other tools and activities that feel better. It can take time to incorporate the practice of journaling into your self-care routine. You can be proud of yourself for taking the time to look after your well-being — however that looks for you.