Here's How to Actually Make Journaling a Habit
Let me describe a common cycle: It starts with buying beautiful new stationery and journals. Leather bound, floral covered, monogrammed pages—you name it. With it comes the joy of doodling and writing on the first few blank pages. I’m going to start journaling all the time, you think. But then, life kicks in and the journal gets buried under piles on your desk. The journal is slowly forgotten about. Then, one day you walk past a beautiful new journal at the store and … repeat.
It’s a cycle that many of us face as we get older—and journals get easier to buy (thanks, Amazon Prime!). Whatever your intention for wanting to journal–maybe to use it as a personal diary, a planner, an art project, or just a landing spot for random thoughts—it’s a smart idea. Studies have shown that writing regularly comes with lots of benefits.
In a study from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Syracuse University, results suggested that writing about emotions and stress gave an immune system boost in patients suffering from illnesses like HIV/AIDS and arthritis. Dr. Joshua Smyth, a researcher who led the study, told the American Psychological Association that participants saw benefits when they journaled about understanding and learning from their emotions.
“By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings,” Dr. James Pennebaker, the other leading researcher in the study, explained to the APA. “It helps you to get past them.”
While this study focused on writing about emotions and experiences in cause-and-effect explorations (“I feel _ because _”), there are other studies that point to benefits from journaling in other ways.
“Keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends, and improvement and growth over time,” licensed clinical social worker Maud Purcell explains on Psych Central. Keeping a record of your habits gives you a resource to refer back to when you’re trying to solve problems or check in on your progress.
One popular way to keep track of your daily habits and information: bullet journaling. Created by Ryder Carroll, this subcategory of journaling has gained a large following due to its straightforward approach to journaling and note-taking that’s easily adaptable to anyone’s goals. You can bullet journal to keep track of finances, plan your day, track your sleep schedule, log your workouts, write down monthly goals, log your moods, track your Netflix marathons, Taco Bell excursions—literally, anything. A bullet journal is your space to record, draw, write, list, plan—whatever you want.
So you have the journal, you have your preferred journaling method—but how do you make it a habit? Shine talked to one journaling expert to get some tips.
Bree Gee is a Melbourne, Australia-based bullet journaler who shares her journal layouts with a cool 77K people on her Instagram account, @breeeberry. She tells Shine she’s enjoyed journaling since high school—and she's stuck with the habit year after year.
“I personally like to try and journal for a short period, 10 minutes, every day,” she says. “I find it a great way to reflect on the day, plan for tomorrow and unwind from the stresses of that day.”
When it comes to getting her 10 minutes in for the day, here’s how she sticks with her journaling goals:
Find a Time That Realistically Works For You
By reserving a daily time when you can focus on your journal, you’re more likely to make it a routine, Gee says. You can try journaling during your commute (if you’re not behind the wheel, of course!), or jotting down your thoughts every time you wait for your food at a restaurant.
Gee emphasizes that it’s all about finding something that works with you and your own needs. “Setting aside five minutes of your day to plan in your journal can easily be done. I know a lot of people who enjoy doing it while eating their breakfast each morning or as a wind down activity before bedtime.”
You can even set reminders on your phone to help you stick with your journaling habit. Or, download the free Shine iOS app—which delivers weekday motivational messages and prompts you to log one thing you’re grateful for each day.
Be Creative With Prompts
While Gee prefers bullet journaling, other types of journaling work, too. A “Dear diary . . .” approach can be easier if you like to do a thought dump rather than track specific things.
If writing about your day or ranting about your problems gets boring, here are a couple prompts to help you keep your creative energy flowing:
●︎ Write a letter to your future self, or a letter to yourself at a certain point in the past
●︎ Think of questions that you’d normally ask someone to get to know them better, and ask yourself them to get to know yourself better. What’s your favorite movie and why? What is your biggest pet peeve? Where do you stand on a certain political issue?
●︎ Write an introduction for yourself as if you were about to be introduced on stage. What do you want to be known for and why?
Don’t Compare Yourself on Social Media
With so many beautiful journal inspiration accounts out there, it’s easy to start comparing what’s on your page to what you see on the screen.
“I think a lot of people can get caught up trying to over complicate their journals,” Gee says. “Especially when viewing other people’s journals on social media.”
Instagram or Facebook can be a great place to find ideas and inspiration, but don’t let it bring you down if your artistic skills aren’t as refined as someone else.
That said, don’t write off social media completely. Finding an online community of other journalers is a great way to motivate yourself to put pen to paper.
“[Online communities] are all so supportive, and it’s incredible to be able to share your ideas with one another,” Gee says.
Whatever you decide to do with your blank journal is up to you, and it’s important to remember that there is no wrong way to express yourself. Your journal is a judgment-free zone and a place to document your private thoughts. This is about you, for you.
Read next: How to Journal Yourself Happier