A Quick Start Guide to Journaling

If you’ve been putting off journaling for a long time, or have recently discovered the advantages of journaling but don’t know how to begin, then this post is for you!

But before we get started, it’s important to be clear on what the purpose of journaling is. That way, you’ll know exactly what you want out of it, and you’ll notice how silly the main obstacle to journaling is (we’ll get to that in a minute).

The Purpose of Journaling

The most basic purpose of journaling is: to express your thoughts in written form.

While your thoughts are floating in your head, you don’t really have a good grasp of them, or how they relate to each other. By writing your thoughts down, you can manage ideas as though they are building blocks that you can rearrange to form the structure that you want. This is almost impossible to achieve if you are simply thinking, without writing.

Writing is what brings clarity, and journaling is the process you use to express your thoughts in written form.

The Main Obstacle to Journaling

What prevents many people from journaling is the false assumption that their thoughts must be clear and well structured as soon as they put pen to paper. In other words, if they can’t see their thoughts flowing gracefully onto the paper, then they aren’t good at journaling!

But journaling isn’t about writing well. It’s about writing your thoughts down, no matter how scattered or messy they are. Your thoughts don’t even have to be true! What matters is that you write them down. You can then see your thoughts more clearly, and refine them later on.

Therefore, expect your writing to lack structure and your thoughts to lack clarity. This is normal. And this is what journaling will help you improve. You will begin to structure your writing and clarify your thoughts with journaling.

In other words, structure and clarity are the outputs of journaling and not the required inputs.

Now that we got this obstacle out of the way, let’s consider our journaling options.

Paper or PC?

There are two main ways you can keep a journal: on paper, or on a computer. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. To list just a few:

Paper Advantages:

– Portable (though smart phones can offer the same advantage)
– Comfortable for some people (myself included)
– Flexible (you can write, doodle, draw, etc.)
– Can see the entire page (without needing to scroll, zoom out, etc.). This might not be an advantage to others, but it’s certainly an advantage for me!

Paper Disadvantages:

– Strain on the wrist (which can get you to stop writing before you run out of ideas to write!)
– Can be difficult to read after some time (especially if your handwriting is as bad as mine)

Computer Advantages:

– Easy to search
– Easy to edit and organize
– Faster (especially if you increase your typing speed. A keystroke will always be faster than writing a letter)

Computer Disadvantages:

– Can lose your files if your computer files aren’t well organized

I actually use both approaches, to combine their advantages and overcome their disadvantages. I mostly use a notepad to write my thoughts down while I’m in a meeting, or for brainstorming, or planning, etc. I use my computer for when I need to write a lot and writing on paper would seriously slow me down. I also use my mobile phone to record my thoughts while I’m on the go.

Getting Started

1- Buy/Grab a notepad (preferably with a hard cover), or use a word processing software (it can be Microsoft Word, or Notepad, or a specialized software, like The Journal)

2- Think of an issue that’s bugging you, or is looping in your head

3- Give this idea a title (e.g. buying a new PC), and write the title at the top of the first page of your journal (or at the top of your computer file), and include the date (this can be important for reference)

4- If you already have thoughts on the matter, write them down as they come to you (but don’t force yourself to think more about the issue)

5- If you have another (unrelated) idea that’s on your mind, repeat steps 3 and 4, but on the next page of the journal (or under a new title in your computer file. Try not to write in a new file, because the files will be more difficult to manage later on)

Of course there’s more to journaling than that, but this isn’t called a QUICK Start Guide for nothing 🙂

Use this as your first step towards journaling, and I’ll give you more tips to make the journaling process much more rewarding for you.

The main advantage to a quick start is that you overcome the main obstacle of journaling and become used to writing your thoughts down, without caring about how structured or presentable they are.

Let me know what your experience of journaling is using the Quick Start Guide 😀


Why You Should Keep A Journal

If there is a practice that should be considered compulsory for personal growth, it’s to keep a journal. I can’t stress enough on how important it is, but I can list some of the benefits you will get if you keep a journal (and this is, by no means, the full list of benefits):

Record your own ideas

Our minds are constantly making some impressive observations, which we usually ignore or quickly forget. That’s a waste of our mental effort, and a huge loss for us, especially if these ideas are valuable and can change the course of our lives.

Record the information you come across

Your memory might be very good, but the likelihood of you forgetting the information you come across is still there, and you don’t need to run this risk, especially when the information can be extremely valuable to you.

Clarify your thinking

Your brain has already registered a great deal of data, and you’re constantly processing this data to make more sense of it. But to simply rely on your subconscious mind to do all the work, or to try and think by yourself, without writing down your thoughts, is not as effective as writing your ideas down and processing them on paper.

You’d be surprised by the amount of contradictions, inconsistencies, gaps and flaws you will discover in your own thinking when you write your ideas down, and the amount of insights you will get once you think on paper.

Structure your thinking

If I ask you for your opinion on a subject, you might struggle to find the right starting point for you to begin with, or how you will sequence your ideas for you to share with me. Writing imposes sequence, because you can only write one idea at a time.

When you begin journaling, your ideas won’t be well sequenced, but you’ll soon be able to structure your thinking so that one idea flows more gracefully to the next.

This mental habit will serve you well in your life, because you will structure the way you think about your life.

Plan your life

Your life involves many things for you to manage, and you can’t think about everything all the time. Writing these things down can help you plan your life more clearly.

Resolve your emotions

Have you ever felt upset or frustrated, but didn’t know why, or how to shake off these feelings? Writing your feelings down, and thinking of the situation you were in, can bring a great deal of clarity to what happened and why you feel the way you feel. It becomes easier to resolve your emotions on paper rather than experiencing the emotions, and having your thinking conditioned by these emotions.

Improve your writing and communication skills

It goes without saying that practice makes perfect, and the more you write, the better you get at it, and the more you can clarify your thinking, the better you can communicate with others.

Know yourself

You might think you know yourself because you’re always with yourself, but that’s not very true. If you don’t direct your conscious mind towards understanding your thoughts, needs, wants, emotions, experiences, etc., then you are your own companion, but you don’t truly know yourself.

Monitor your progress

There are some things in life that cannot be accomplished overnight and they need to be achieved incrementally. To know that you’re heading in the right direction, you need to know which direction you are heading in in the first place. You can do that by writing down your progress, and seeing how long it’s taking you to move towards your goal, and what can be done to improve your progress.

Remind yourself of your accomplishments

Your accomplishments can be very inspirational, but you might forget about your accomplishments as time passes by. Write your accomplishments down, so you can always have a reminder to keep you inspired.

Learn from your mistakes

Experiences come and go, but to learn from them, you need to be aware of the lessons these experiences bring with them.

Become more conscious

Writing is an active, conscious process. By directing your conscious mind towards making observations, you will be able to learn more about life, and having an active approach towards life, rather than operating on autopilot.

Respect the nature of time

Many people (myself included) often try to achieve 101 things at the same time, or want to get the end result before starting a project. Writing leads you to respect the linear nature of time. You can never reach the end of a sentence before writing its beginning, and you can’t write more than one sentence at the same time. Getting into the habit of writing will help you appreciate this fact about time, and to not expect to break this law in other parts of your life.

Overcome overwhelm and stress

If you’re juggling 101 ideas at the same time, chances are you’re constantly overwhelmed and stressed out. Getting these ideas out of your head and on to paper will help you overcome these feelings and to feel more relaxed knowing that your ideas are somewhere you can refer to (but are not constantly looping in your head).

It’s private

Some people only think out loud, and to other people. That way they never get to address the issues that are too private to share with others. A journal is a private discussion with yourself, so you can speak about everything and anything.

Get tasks half-done

A lot of tasks depend on a great deal of planning. Writing an article requires that you write an outline. By having a journal handy, you can get to plan, write outlines, etc. so that you can accomplish projects with greater ease.

Inspiration for future projects

Simple ideas can evolve to global projects. Your journal is a treasure chest of ideas you might choose to take on as projects in the future.

Make use of idle time

A journal is a great way to make use of the time you are waiting for a friend to show up, or for an appointment, or whenever there are minutes to spare that you haven’t decided what you’ll be doing.

Keep your commitments

Most commitments go unfulfilled because you haven’t noted them down. A journal is a great place to keep and manage your commitments.

*     *     *

These are some of the benefits that you will gain by keeping a journal. That’s a pretty impressive list for something that’s easy to start and maintain!

If you already keep a journal, are there more benefits you can add to the list?

If you don’t already keep a journal, stay tuned for my Quickstart Guide 🙂

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