My Journey with Journaling : It May Be Messy, But It’s Mine


Journaling can refresh the soul and declutter the mind.


two journals with colored pencils laying across the top


Whether it was in a therapy session, self-help guru’s book, Ted Talk, or over coffee with a friend, we have all heard the words “You should journal.” This used to be a somewhat triggering phrase for me because, until the past year, I sucked at it. Or at least I thought I did. What I had come to view as past failed attempts made me feel just that: like a failure. And, correct me if I am wrong, but I am fairly certain this is not the desired outcome. None of us are out there looking for just one more thing to feel bad about. 


But now, about one year into my most recent attempt, my mindset surrounding journaling has shifted, and I am so glad it did. I hope sharing some things that have worked for me may help you as well.


a close up of a woman, with blue nail polish, holding a pen as she is journaling in a notebook


Find a Medium


Google Docs, voice memos, the notes app of your phone, pen and paper, the back of some junk mail. All of them. Just one of them. Whatever. If you are really into pens and have one that feels good when it rolls across paper, stock up on those pens! If you find it tedious to write but are an avid typer, go for it on your laptop or phone. I prefer pen and paper. I have one in my purse and one on my desk at home. I also use my notes app pretty frequently for quotes I hear or things I just want to get down quickly, so I don’t forget them. My process is kind of messy, which may bug other people, but that is okay. It is mine and what works for me. This is a big part of what I have come to love about it. It doesn’t have to work for anyone else. I don’t have to win anyone over on my process.


Start from Gratitude


I have a friend who also happens to be an amazing writer who posts her gratitude list every day on Facebook. Do you remember when Facebook had a “Notes” section? That is how long she has been doing this. I so admire her vulnerability in sharing her gratitude with the world. I am not as brave as her. But she did inspire me to bring this practice to my journal entries. It helps with the “What do I even write about” argument I used to always make.


a journal with the words, "I am grateful for ..." written a the top of the page


No matter what head-space I am in when I start writing, I can ALWAYS come up with one or two things I am grateful for. “A warm cup of coffee.” You can even go for cliche, obvious ones like “a roof over my head” or “food in the fridge” on days you are especially pitiful and not feeling the least bit grateful. Usually, once the pen starts moving, I can surprise myself with something I didn’t know was swimming around in my head, like “Hubs brought me Reese’s pieces last night, and it was so thoughtful. I love when he makes these small gestures to show he loves me and thinks about ways to make me happy.”


Don’t Overthink It


When I flip back over the past year’s musings, there are plenty of days that hold nothing insightful, helpful, or meaningful. “Today was a day. Grateful it is over. Will try again tomorrow.” Or “Hey. Still here. Putting one foot in front of the other.” There are also huge chunks of time, weeks or even months, where I wrote nothing at all. I lost my dog of 14 years last fall and stopped journaling for two months. When I picked it back up, I was able to reflect on when and why I quit, so the act of not journaling became an important part of my journey.


A mistake I made in the past would be to think that I had to start over. Buy a new journal. Hit the reset. Write in it every day because I want to be “good” at it (also good for who? Myself? No one else is reading it, crazy-version-of-myself-that-lives-in-my-head) … Instead, I just picked it back up and continued. So now, this year of journaling has not been filled with successes and failures. It is a timeline. An outlet. Here when I need it and when I don’t. And always glad to see me no matter how long it has been. 


End with Intentions


Set them daily or weekly or monthly or all three. I like to do it weekly. As I complete them, I end my entries by celebrating what I got done, or I adapt and edit the list because life changes, so what you want to accomplish can too. I like the word “intentions” because I have an out. Again, for me, it has been important not to link anything in my journal to a place of judgment. We can be so mean to ourselves, so we must give ourselves grace with our intentions.


a pen on top of a journal that has two pages folded into the shape of a heart


Sometimes they are concrete things that have a deadline, such as “Complete Continuing Education,” but the best ones are small steps you can make to feel better about yourself like “Don’t step on the scale,” or “Take a family walk after dinner three times this week.” The trick is when you revisit them, and you haven’t fulfilled the intention, you just shift it to the next day or week or month and try again. Or scrap it because you decide you don’t care about that particular thing anymore. It is fine not to meet the intention. There is always a new deadline and another day. Except when there isn’t, in which case, your journal intentions that no one knows about but you are the least of your concerns.


This year has been one of the more challenging of my adult life. Plenty of love and support have been shared, and I can find lots of things to feel happy about. I also worked through some pretty insane anxiety. I made tons of mistakes and fought off some guilt and shame I thought I had put to bed long ago. So my journaling did not make my life better. What it DID do was give me a place all my own to work through it all. And that is what I want to share with others. So if you don’t want to journal, I say DON’T DO IT. It is not for you, or maybe it is not for you right now. But if you DO want to? Make it yours … and have something all your own, too.