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Journaling for Beginners: What You Need to Know

Journaling for beginners can be a bit intimidating or leave you feeling lost, not knowing where to start. It can also feel downright funny at first to start writing down your thoughts and feelings. I’ll tell you how I got started in a bit as well as my first “shocking” confession I ever wrote in my journal, but first, let’s dig into how to start journaling for beginners to give you the confidence you need to get started!

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What is a journal?

A journal is simply a place that you write down and express your thoughts and feelings. They are very versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. A journal can be handwritten or digital. They range from a very simple notebook, hardbound book, or sometimes just a file or folder of electronic documents. The physical books may contain ruled pages, blank pages, or dots in a grid-like pattern.

What are examples of a journal?

I am partial to a physical journal and have tried several kinds. I started with a free-writing journal with lined pages, and I have used something as simple as a notebook. More recently, I have tried a dot journal. I like both. I like the flexibility of a dot journal, but one of my favorite parts of journaling is free-writing my thoughts. Journals are incredibly flexible. It’s your journal and you can do it your way. (I made a free-writing section in my dot journal.) You can see examples from Amazon of both below.

Basic journal – lined pages. Traditionally used more for free-writing.

Dot Journal – dotted pages that you customize. Traditionally used more for planning and organizing purposes.

There are also journals that specialize in having already written writing prompts, such as a gratitude journal or journals for a specific purpose, such as a Bible Study Journal or a Prayer Journal.

If you like gratitude prompts, I have 30 day’s worth free in the VIP Library. Just enter your email address below.

What should I write in my journal?

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What you write in your journal is entirely up to you. First of all, what is the purpose of your journal? If you have no specific purpose for it, such as a diet journal, bible study, productivity, etc, try free writing.

First, write the date up top, and maybe the place. When I first started journaling, I found it helpful to pretend that I was writing to a friend. You can begin with a salutation if you wish like “Dear Journal,” or “Dear Trusted Friend.” Otherwise, just begin with the thoughts that are going through your head. For example, If I was to write a journal entry right now, it might look something like this:

April 30,2020 – Bedroom sitting at desk

Dear Journal,

I never thought I would be so excited about a concrete pad. I actually used the word “beautiful” to describe it. Wierd, huh? It really is a beautiful sight. I’m so happy with the guys that did it. Bubba even went above and beyond and cleared some brush for me that we have been trying to battle for the past 15 years. Talk about a huge relief!

The kids were soo excited to see the big cement truck come into our yard. The whole process of pouring concrete fascinated them. I breathed a sigh of relief that the driver did not hit the back porch steps. He only had a few inches clearance on each side between the steps and the tree.

Notice that I not only describe the events but all my feelings surrounding them? That’s one of the things that a journal is good for. Remember that there is no way to “mess up” a journal. Everyone that starts journaling as a beginner.

How do I journal my thoughts?

When beginning a journal, starting is probably the hardest part. You can either start as I did above, with just a description of what happened today and how you feel about it, or you can start with a journal prompt.

If you have some thoughts that are turning over and over in your mind, or you are dwelling on something, worrying, or having strong emotions about something, that’s a great time to journal. It helps to get those thoughts out of your head and on to paper. One of the benefits of journaling is that it helps you process your thoughts and they stay completely private.

You need to feel that your journal is private so that you are comfortable writing them all down. Your journal is a safe spot to write down and process your innermost thoughts and feelings. That includes the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.

Is it better to write or type a journal?

I prefer a handwritten journal, but as for which is better, that is completely up to you. If you are journaling as a beginner then try them both and see which one helps you more. For me, I feel like the handwritten one is more personal, but that could be because I am used to typing for blog articles and books. Your journal could just be a google doc or a word file.

According to Lifehacker journal showdown, a typed journal is best for keeping a record of information and is quicker and more convenient than handwriting. However, a handwritten journal activates different areas in your brain and forces you to slow down and be more mindful. Since it activates different areas of the brain, it also helps you work through feelings and emotions better. This may explain why I like a handwritten journal better even though it takes more time.

My conclusion: Do whichever way works best for you. If you can’t ever find the time to hand write a journal, it’s not going to do you any good. Try out both ways and see which is the best fit for you.

How does journaling affect the brain?

As it turns out, journaling has a very positive effect on the brain. The connection between our mental and physical health amazes me the more I learn about it. In 2005, this study found a connection between expressive writing (journaling) and physical and emotional health.

Journaling for Beginners – An interesting study on How journaling affects the brain

In 2013, Scientific American posted about the results of another study that seemed to link expressive writing with accelerated healing. In New Zealand, they took 49 healthy adults (ages 64-97) and had them write about daily events or upsetting events for 3 days in a row. 2 weeks later, each of them had a medically necessary biopsy on the arm, which was photographed daily for the next 21 days to document healing. On the 11th day (about half-way through the documented period) 76% of the group that had done expressive writing were completely healed vs 42% of the control group.

The scientists that did the study attributed it to reduced stress levels and increased amount of sleep in response to those reduced stress levels. Though the study group was not very large, I found the results rather interesting. (Inner science geek coming out.)

More scientific evidence that journaling positively affects the brain

I’m not sure that we have totally figured out all the positive benefits of journaling on the brain. However, a Fast Company article cited Dr. James Pennebaker, who is reported to be an expert on studying expressive writing. He said that journaling strengthens your immune system and has been associated with lessening symptoms of anxiety and depression. He also claims that it increases your happiness and deepens your meaningful relationships.

Journaling for Beginners – Can Journaling Be Harmful?

Like most things, there are a few instances where journaling can be harmful if taken to the extreme. If you are journaling as a beginner, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Your journal causing you to overthink your life.
  • Letting yourself fall into a trap of negativity. Write down good things as well as bad in your journal. Don’t always dwell on the negative.
  • Becoming obsessive about it

It can also be a bit uncomfortable to get a better view of yourself if you don’t like what you see/learn. One of the things that I really love about journaling is that it lets you get to know yourself better. This includes the good and the bad. All in all, I think the positive benefits of journaling for beginners far outweigh the bad. I have been helped far more by my journal than harmed.

Journaling for Beginners – Journal Techniques That Rock

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  1. Free Writing – write whatever is on your mind without any rules
  2. Productivity – Write what you need to do and where you need to focus your efforts for the day.
  3. Lists – You can have a list for anything – what you need to do, what you accomplished yesterday, things that make you happy, etc
  4. Bullet Journaling – Specialized type of journaling with dot paper designed to be very flexible to fit your needs, however, it also requires that you plan how you want to use it, number pages, and make a table of contents.
  5. Prompts – Prompts are a question that you answer in your journal entry. They are designed to get you started and clarify your thoughts on a certain subject. (For example – 94 Thought-Provoking Journal Prompts for Self-Discovery)
  6. Visual/Art Journaling – Better at drawing out your thoughts than writing them? Our brains think in pictures, so if you are artistically talented or enjoy drawing/doodling/painting, you might consider drawing your thoughts/feelings or accentuating your written words with art.
  7. Gratitude Journaling – Gratitude is a powerful tool for happiness because it shifts our mindset from what we don’t have to what we have. This can be a very quick (less than 5 mins) pick me up if you don’t have very much time, but still want to journal.
  8. Unsent Letter – You can write unsent letters to people telling them your innermost thoughts and feelings while still keeping them entirely safe and confidential inside your journal.
  9. Perspective Journaling – Journal from another person’s perspective, or from your own perspective in the future or the past.
  10. Timer Method – I can spend hours writing. If I’m short on time, I set a timer and get out whatever thoughts are most pressing on my mind.

Other resources:

Find the Perfect Type of Journaling for You

Get the Most from Your Gratitude List

Journal techniques for aspiring writers (Bustle)

6 Effective Journaling Methods to make you stick to the habit (Medium)

8 Journal Techniques for Better Mental Health (Psychology.com)

(Bullet Journaling 101 (kalynbrooke.com)

8 Journaling Tips for Beginners

There is no wrong or right way to journal. For instance, my bullet journal is much more geared towards free-writing and gratitude than planning. The extensive planner part just didn’t work for me, and that’s ok. When giving advice on journaling for beginners, I find it helpful to keep these things in mind:

1. Be Vulnerable and Authentic.

You really want to feel that your journal is your private place. This allows you to be vulnerable and examine your emotions and mindsets in-depth. It also lets you identify patterns in your behavior and thoughts. Tell how you really feel. Don’t hold back. Just expressing yourself will sometimes make you feel better.

2. Anchor it to Another Habit

It’s hard to be consistent with journaling. Set aside a designated time to do it and anchor it to another habit that you already have. For example, when I wanted to start reading my Bible more, I anchored it to my morning coffee. I usually try to journal a few times a week.

3. When it Slips, Start up Again

I will be the first to admit that I have not always been consistent with my journaling. I aim for 2-3 times a week. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. When it does slip and you can’t remember the last time you picked up your journal, start back again. They key to keeping a journal is to keep starting the habit over and over. You don’t really “fail” unless you totally give up.

4. Have Patience With Yourself

Your first journal entries may not be perfect. Writing is a skill. The purpose of journaling is to help you process and express your thoughts and feelings. It’s not a perfectly manicured example of your best writing. If you can only think of 3 sentences to write, then that’s ok. Your entries will get longer as you go and when they need to be. Sometimes I don’t have a great deal on my mind. Other times, I fill up multiple pages. Both are perfectly acceptable.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment

I have tried all kinds of different journaling styles to find what I liked. I am currently liking a bullet journal, but it’s not nearly as organized as I see most people’s. That’s ok. My journal is just for me. No one else. So what if I don’t have a perfect table of contents or gave up on habit trackers after a week? That’s ok. I experimented with colored pens and different formats until I found something that works for me. Experimenting keeps it interesting.

6. Don’t Edit

Your journal is unfiltered. This is not the time to go back and criticize yourself over spelling errors and grammar. Don’t edit, just let your thoughts flow.

7. Write the Good and the Bad

I don’t like reading all bad stuff. I try to make a point to record the good and the bad. That way when I go back and remember this time in my life it’s not all bad news. Life is full of highs and lows.

8. Just Start

Often times starting is the hardest part with journaling. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Grab a notebook and start with your first journal entry. Open a word document and start typing, or go pick out a more traditional one. The important thing to do is to just start. Try it on for size and see if journaling is a good “fit” for you.

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The Last Thing You Need to Know about Journaling for Beginners

Journaling is a great way to help your mental and physical health. It makes you happier and helps you process emotions faster as well as relieves stress. There is no real right or wrong way to journal. I started journaling when I was 11. I got a hardbound book that was actually for accounting because I loved the idea of having a diary to write my private thoughts and secrets in. (One of my first entries was confessing that I still slept with a stuffed animal at night. * gasp *)

Through my adult life and especially over the past 3 years I have tried to make it more of a regular habit. It’s helped me get through some really stressful times. I hope that you find journaling for beginners helpful as well. Do you still have questions? Leave me a comment below! I love hearing from you. If you have tips that you’d like to share, leave those in the comments too!

2 thoughts on “Journaling for Beginners: What You Need to Know”

  1. Iโ€™ve been journaling for years but still consider myself a beginner since I am SO inconsistent. Thanks for pointing out that it isnโ€™t a fail if you start back up again. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. You are very welcome. I frequently fall off the journaling wagon and have to get back on. I can always tell a difference in my mental state when I start again. ๐Ÿ™‚

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