Journaling is a discipline, yes. But how we define discipline can greatly affect our success in the disciplines we commit to. For me, discipline always had a negative affiliation. It's an obligation, something I don't want to do, but should. It's good for me, but no fun. That's how I thought of journaling. I was constantly reading about the power of journaling and how it could bring forward vision and stimulate creativity. Sounds great...but every day, even when I don't know what to write? Pressure. It became something I thought I should to do, but actually kind of avoided.
Then I changed my mindset. I made a conscious decision that journaling is not what I should be doing. It is what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to see where it would take me and how I would learn and grow through the practice. This simple commitment changed everything. It was freedom. I was no longer trudging through an obligation, distracted by avoidance and guilt. I was engaging in something that I wanted to be doing, and that I wanted to effects of. I wanted to see where the journey would take me. I wanted the vision and the creative clarity.
Journaling became a creative outlet and a self exploration for me, so I want to share some of my best advice for cultivating the habit as part of your own journey to joy. May you find freedom in a discipline that brings forward what you really want.
1 - Be intentional in choosing your journal.
Take some time to consider what kind of journal will allow free flowing thought. Your journal is where ideas, observations, and insights you didn’t even know were inside come flowing through your pen like magic. But, is your mindset what you should produce impeding your process? For instance, do you love the idea of beautiful bound and embossed journals, but feel like you have to save them for when you feel true brilliance coming on? The journal is so beautiful that you can’t allow yourself to experiment and free flow? Maybe you need a simple composition notebook or legal pad to take the pressure off to be profound and let your writing take shape without hindrance.
Ask yourself a few questions to feel out what style journal is best for you.
2 - Create a habit.
Make your process a habit, a ritual even. Schedule your journaling time into your day. Keep your journal and a working pen in the same place so that when you go to write, you have what you need to get started right away. Pick a spot in your home or in nature that is your go-to spot for writing. The consistency and routine of your process will allow you to funnel more thoughtful energy into your writing instead of into when and where to write.
Some days you may feel like you have nothing to say. Write anyway. Set a timer and make yourself write until the timer ends. I’ve often thought I had nothing to say and forced myself to sit down for 15 minutes to write, and come up for air an hour later amazed at what my heart needed to explore. If timing isn’t for you, you can set a page minimum for yourself. You may take 15 minutes to meet your minimum feel like you’ve said what you needed. You may take an hour and feel unsatisfied. Rest in that discomfort. Something profound might come from it tomorrow. Whether it’s a timer or a page minimum, set a rule for yourself to help avoid the “I have nothing to say” hangup. Sometimes those are the days that your heart unexpectedly pours out onto the page.
3 - Be alone.
Be really alone. Steal away somewhere quiet. Don’t multitask. No tv, no computer, no phone at arm's length. Put your technology in another room and tell your family you need to be alone without interruptions.
Once you're alone, take a moment to soak in the quiet and observe your mind and your heart. You can do this through prayer or meditation. Just notice your emotions, your thoughts, your body. Take some breaths as you observe and then open your journal. Taking even a few moments of quiet meditation or prayer before you begin writing can break down barriers to your creativity and inner voice. You’ll feel more open, aware and ready to put pen to paper after you become aware of where your heart, mind and body are in that moment.
4 - Use prompts to get started.
If you’re new to journaling or feel like you’re in a rut, use prompts to stimulate creative thought and get you going. You can do a google search for journal prompts, then write down some that resonate in the back of your journal. On days when you feel stumped, refer to your list of prompts. Using prompts doesn’t mean that your writing is cheesy or scripted, it just gives you a starting point. You may start with a prompt and end somewhere completely different. Prompts just set you on a path and encourage thought and curiosity.
5 - Ditch the Expectations.
Your journal is about you first. It is where you are free. Free from judgment. Free from the roles and labels the world has assigned you. Free from expectations and pressure and perfection. It is where you can reveal your heart and soul, and learn and love your truest self. It will be painful and joyful, uncomfortable and familiar, disappointing and exhilarating. There are no rules. Allow yourself to breathe and embrace the unexpected. Find peace in the unknown and acceptance in your own journey.
6 - Share what you learn. Shine your light.
Once you feel confident in your process and you’ve opened yourself to freely express and explore, you will begin to have little revelations and insights brought forward from your journal. They are gifts you have given yourself by taking the time to look inward and learn. When you have these revelations, your heart will be bursting for more. You’ll crave connection and wonder if others can relate to your revelations and insights. When you reach this point, I encourage you to open yourself and your ideas to others.
You may have fears and doubts about sharing or discussing what is in your journal. After all, your journal is all yours - a secret place where you can be your true self. It is safe and sacred, and you have poured yourself into the pages. You are reveling in the satisfaction of self-discovery and creative exploration. But, when you find your voice, when the ideas start flowing, when you tap into something deep and beautiful, don’t stifle your voice and steal it away between you and your journal. Face your fears and shine your light. Invite a friend for coffee and talk about what you’re learning. You don’t have to call and say, “Let’s discuss my journal.” Just share your story. Ask if they can relate or if they have any insights to offer. Explore ideas, collaborate, and share. We are meant to connect with one another. Keep your journal as a sacred space to connect with yourself, and use your revelations to shine your light and powerfully connect with others.