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How to Choose the Best Journal and Journaling Techniques That are Right for You
Have you been wanting to begin journaling but are not sure where to begin, or which journaling techniques are right for you? Maybe you are ready to step up your self improvement and try something new, or are finding yourself staring at a blank page don’t know what to write in your journal.
I am 50 years old and still remember receiving my very first diary. For me, it was a secret place to write all of my most intimate thoughts, feelings, and details of my dysfunctional and awkward adolescent and teenage years. It felt safe and secure with its gold lock that made it my own private space, ensuring me that I could write about anything and no one would find out.
Keeping a diary was common practice when I was growing up, but over the years has morphed into this different kind of writing we call journaling. But what exactly is a journal and how does it differ from writing in a diary?
What is the difference between a journal and a diary?
We can differentiate a diary from a journal in the sense that a diary is more of a thing, whereas journaling is something we do.
noun, plural di·a·ries.
1. a daily record, usually private, especially of the writer’s own experiences, observations, feelings, attitudes, etc.
2. a book for keeping such a record.
3. a book or pad containing pages marked and arranged in calendar order, in which to note appointments and the like.Source: www,dictionary,com
One of the most famous diaries that I can think of is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, which is an account of her life during the Holocaust. She made daily entries of events, thoughts, and feelings, but when reading from front to back, her entries provide a historical story and record of that time period.
A journal is also a daily record of events, thoughts, feelings, or experiences, but the act of journaling is for the purpose of self-reflection, and is often used in psychotherapy, as dictionary.com defines:
1. a daily record, as of occurrences, experiences, or observations:\
verb (used without object)
2. to write self-examining or reflective journal entries, especially in school or as part of psychotherapy:Source: www.dictionary.com
Not only do I journal for myself, but over the course of my 15 career as a therapist, I use journaling with my clients.
Journaling not only provides an outlet for self-expression, it can help with establishing new habits, quitting old habits, self-discipline, establishing new routines, becoming more organized, mindfulness, and creativity, all of which are essential aspects of achieving a healthy level of emotional well being.
What are the different types of journals?
There, essentially, are only 2 different types of journals:
- Blank notebook
- Guided journal
A blank notebook, whether it be a bullet journal, a dot grid notebook, a spiral notebook, a composition notebook, or even a sketch book, is perfect for planning out and creating your own personal, private, and creative space. With a blank writing canvas, you can apply an array of different journaling techniques.
If you struggle with getting started, need some journaling inspiration, or are unable to get past the white page of death called the very first page, a guided journal may be beneficial for you. Guided journals contain journal prompts, phrases, and thought-provoking exercises that are beneficial for self reflection, self discovery, and self awareness. Sometimes guided journals contain quotes, inspirational messages, or have pages planned out for you, such as my journal, ME: A Self Awareness Journal for Women.
Some types of guided journals for mental health include:
- Mindfulness and meditation journals
- Mood journals
- Gratitude journals
- Self esteem journals
- Wreck journals
- Bible and prayer journaling
What are the different types of journaling techniques?
If you are asking yourself, what do I put in a journal? How do I start a journal, or what do I put in a mental health journal, it can be comforting to know that you can do whatever you like with a journal.
Some things to ask yourself, however, are:
- What is my purpose for wanting to start a journal?
- How much time do I want to spend journaling everyday?
- What are my goals and how will journaling help me?
- How do I want to structure my journal?
After answering some of these questions, you can then learn some journaling techniques and make a decision as to which one (or ones) are best suited for your needs.
1. Visual and Art Journaling
According to research psychologist and author of Visual Journaling as Reflective Practice, Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT, writes that visualization can be a powerful tool for unlocking trauma by transforming thoughts and emotions into art without using words. She also writes that it can be a beneficial self-care practice, as well as a means of stress reduction.
She expresses that when utilizing visualization journaling for coping with trauma , it is important to have a “witness” to share this type of journaling with. Therefore, when using this type of journaling as a means of addressing trauma it is recommended to do so with a trained mental health professional. That is not saying, however, that visual or art journaling isn’t a positive outlet if you have trauma. What I am suggesting is to not try to treat your own trauma based on articles you find on the internet.
With that being said, visual or art journaling is a creative process which can also be used for everyday journaling, regardless if you have mental health conditions or not. Creativity is a soothing, calming, healing, and stress-reducing activity, and utilizing this type of art journaling can be comforting, especially when we struggle with verbal self expression.
Sometimes we just don’t have the words to express what our hearts feel or what our minds think.
Examples of visual journaling
While working in outpatient treatment with clients in addiction recovery, I conducted a women’s group and we often created collages. Here is an example of one I created which could easily be implemented into a journal:
These were some simple collages using old magazines to describe ourselves using positive words. This was actually a thought provoking activity for myself, as well as for the women in the group.
Other examples of visual journaling are:
- Using an old hardcover book and converting it into a journal using mixed media elements such as paint, markers, and texturized materials
- Watercolor painting
- Hand lettering and calligraphy
- Using old childhood story books and “rewriting” the story over the course of your year (I actually did this while in undergrad when studying psychology)
- Rewriting childhood fairy tales with you as the character
- Your own spin on a piece of artwork
- Creating collages of photographs or images combined with simple labels and writing
I actually came a cross an article that has art journaling prompts. HOW COOL IS THAT! Check out 50 Art Journaling Prompts by Blacksburg Belle for an AWESOME list packed with art (visual) journaling inspiration.
When should I use visual journaling:
- When you struggle with using words
- When you want to add a creative aesthetic to your journal, notebook or diary
- To hold on to memorable things such as photographs
- When you want to add colors, pictures, and character to your journal
- Anytime you feel like it!
2. Bullet Journaling
Bullet journaling is more of a journaling system, rather than a type of journal. It originally was created by Ryder Carroll as a simple and streamlined way for people to become more organized and productive in their everyday lives.
However, bullet journals can be used for just about anything and there are some techniques we can apply within a bujo. I currently use mine as an appointment book, keeping track of my monthly bills, passwords, and most of my important daily tasks.
Because organization and productivity are essential components of improving self esteem and self confidence, bullet journals and dot grid notebooks are an excellent choice for mental health journaling.
Bullet journals can be used to track moods, track habits, establish goals, make simple daily journal entries, creating task lists, creating self care lists, and anything else that pertains to overall well-being and self improvement. Again, there are no limitations.
Related article: Review of the 5 Best Bullet Journals for Beginners
ME: A Self Awareness Journal for Women
I created ME: A Self Awareness Journal for Women with self improvement in mind, particularly for women who do not feel they have the time or desire to set up their own bullet journals. Sometimes it helps a little to have a place to begin, so I incorporated all aspects of mental health into one journal, and it is laid out in bullet journal fashion.
The nice thing about it is that because it is, for the most part, a blank journal, it can be tailored to anyone’s specific needs.
ME is not a diary type journal but, rather a place to log all of your daily events, keep track of new habits, quit old habits, practice self care, track your moods and identify the triggers associated with them, practicing gratitude, and brain dumps. Through this journal, women can discover more about themselves, and become empowered to become the best version of themselves.
Some other examples of bullet journaling techniques are:
- Gratitude journaling
- Future logs
- Year at a glance
- Daily entries
- Mood and habit tracking
- Goal setting
- Brain Dump pages
- Creating lists
- Financial tracking
- Motivational pages
- Inspiration walls
- Vision boards
- Allowing yourself permission to make mistakes
- Doodling, drawing, quote writing, positive affirmation to-do’s
There are no limitations to bullet journaling, except for the amount of space you have available on your page, and how much ink is in your favorite pens for journaling.
Related article: Best Pens for Journaling in 2021
3. Letter Writing (transactional writing)
II IIn the world of psychotherapy, one therapy technique we often use is transactional writing, which includes letter writing.
Like visual journaling, it is recommended this type of journaling for mental health be done with a professional therapist. The reason for this is that transactional writing is a type of therapeutic journaling which has a whole theory behind it. It can unleash hidden traumas, and trigger deep, intense emotions.
But, we can still take use the concepts and loosely apply them to our lives and situations we might be experiencing.
Letter writing in a journal can be very empowering, and can be very helpful for coping with difficult emotions because we essentially take ourselves out of our own shoes. When we depersonalize our situations, it is much easier to express ourselves and through letter writing, we can learn a lot about ourselves and our emotions.
Some ways you can incorporate letter writing into your journal:
- Write a letter to your future self
- Write a letter to your situation
- Write a letter to someone you care about who has given you advice
- Writing letters of advice to your best friend, versus writing a letter to yourself (this is one of my favorites when dealing with bad relationships)
- When you are struggling with your emotions (especially when we get tired of hearing “you’re so emotional ….. well, sometimes when we hear things enough times, we have to start paying attention and this kind of letter can give some insight into our feelings).
- Writing a letter to someone you are angry with
- Letters and prayers to God, such as you would in a prayer journal
I have been letter writing for years. Here are some samples of my own letter writing:
4. Free writing
When I was in high school, one of my favorite classes was creative writing. We always began class with some timed free-writing, or stream of consciousness writing. If your kind of journaling is all about creative writing, this is the PERFECT thing to add to your journal, diary, or blank notebook.
Our instructions were to just write without picking up the pen for about 5 minutes. During that 5 minutes, we were to just take the words out of our thoughts and let them flow through the ink in the pen on to the surface of the paper. It is not an intentional type of writing, but rather a way to focus and get your creative mind going.
There is no rhyme or reason, no directive, no prompts, for what you write on paper during free writing. Honestly, it can be kind of hilarous when you read your excerpts back because sometimes none of it makes sense.
However, there is power in our streams of consciousness.
While writing your thoughts, at some point during that non-judgemental process, there will be something in your thoughts that stands out in your mind. When it does, you can circle that thought in your mind and use that as your own, self created journal prompt.
I have written many short stories in my lifetime based upon an idea that surfaced while free writing. It also has been the inspiration that has led to some visual and art journaling.
It is very empowering to let our thoughts flow, and to allow ourselves to step out of a structured box and to free our minds.
Stream of consciousness writing likely is not best suited for bullet journaling, but is a perfect fit for that unused spiral notebook you may have stashed away somewhere.
However, you may be surprised that in that short 5 minutes, you gain some insight into your fears, worries, life stressors, things that make you happy, things that make you sad, things you want to improve on in your life, or even possibly learn to celebrate your successes.
4. Morning pages
I, personally, do not do morning pages. I am a night journaler, and have no interest in writing 3 pages at the beginning of my day. I am more of a bullet journal chic, so I begin my days going through my schedule, setting some goals for the day, and convincing myself I am going to have a good day.
However, not everyone is like me, and there might be someone out there who wants to commit to a morning journaling routine.
Try it. It might be for you.
What the heck are morning pages, anyways? Well, we’re gonna learn this journaling practice together…….
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, has the best description of morning pages. She says they should be called “mourning pages” because they are a “farewell to the way life was and an introduction to what life will be.”
In other words, say goodbye to yesterday and hello to a new day through this stream of consciousness writing style in which you free write 3 pages every single morning. As she discusses morning pages, I think I did my own mental free writing and realized the value morning pages can have, particularly when we are people whose minds race a million miles an hour.
Morning pages function as a daily morning brain dump by decluttering our minds from the things that are irrelevant to today. Writing 3 full pages of nothing but the things in our minds, we can set goals, and make conscious decisions to focus on the things in front of us, instead of the worries about yesterday.
Since there are so many mental health conditions where ruminating thoughts about the past exist in a person’s mind, morning pages can be a valuable grounding tool. In fact, they can become an essential mindfulness exercise.
I think I will try this for myself. If you have used morning pages, I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments below.
Any kind of free writing needs a great notebook. If you are considering adding this to your morning self care routine, grab a Rhodia Notebook. They are just my favorite spiral notebook because the paper is so smooth and wonderful.
Smooth and morning just seem to be the perfect combination.
If you are wanting to begin journaling and don’t know what to write or where to begin, just grab a pen and paper and try some stream of consciousness writing. It doesn’t need to make sense; it will warm your brain up. If you are wanting to organize your life, try a bullet journal, and if you struggle with putting things into words, try some visual or art journal.
No matter which journaling techniques you try, there are no limitations. Any type of journaling can improve your mental health because it promotes creativity, self-expression, can improve your self-esteem, help keep you organized, reduces stress, and provides a quiet and calm space for your racing thoughts.
Whether you struggle with over-thinking, feeling excessive sadness, lack motivation, or just want to learn more about yourself, journaling is a positive and useful way to approach self-care and your emotional well being.
I would love to hear which journaling techniques you have tried, or what you do everyday for your journaling routine!