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How To Start A Journal: The Step By Step Blueprint

We have a tendency to bottle up our thoughts and emotions on a daily basis. We walk around with unfinished to-do lists in our head, goals that aren’t crystallized, and thoughts and feelings that we haven’t quite come to terms with yet.

Achieving your goals and dreams means paying close attention to your internal dialogue. But this dialogue is hard to keep track of given the million other things that we think about on a daily basis.

One moment we’re thinking about our dreams and goals, and then suddenly our attention is captured by our smartphone, or by the fact that the groceries just got to the front door step. We’re presented with so many different stimuli on a daily basis that it’s hard to take advantage of those moments when we’re thinking deeply about the current trajectory of our life.

Daily journaling is a great way to take advantage of these moments. Getting our true thoughts and feelings down on paper allows us to capture insights about our lives that can be used to create a better future.

In this article, we’ll talk about how to start a journal and why you should even start one in the first place. By the end of this guide, you’ll know which type of journaling is right for you and have a clear framework for turning it into a daily practice.


Why Should You Start a Journal?

There are many different benefits to starting a journal, but the most important one was already touched on in the section above.

We all have certain times during the day where we’re engaged in deep reflection about the future. 

  • We think about our goals and dreams, and ponder whether or not we’re on the right track towards achieving them. 
  • We think about the bad habits that we need to break in order to live a more fulfilling life.
  • We ruminate about the past and ponder all of the things we could’ve done different
  • We think about the things that we’re grateful for and the things that we deeply desire that we don’t have yet.

These are the moments where we’re getting in touch with our deepest self. Yet, so often we just let these moments come and go without gaining any insight from them.

Keeping a journal helps you capitalize on these opportunities and get these important thoughts and ideas onto a sheet of paper.

Keeping our problems, fears, and insecurities buried doesn’t do us any favors. It just makes us feel more overwhelmed, more anxious, and more trapped.

The key benefit of journaling is that it gives our inner wisdom an outlet – this inner wisdom can provide a starting point for how you’re going to shape your future.

On top of that, it’s been proven that journaling can be an effective way to improve your mental health. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, here are some of the additional benefits of journaling as a daily practice:

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved ability to cope with depression
  • Better management of anxiety
  • An outlet for more positive self-talk
  • Self-awareness of certain triggers that lead to self-destructive behaviors
  • Healthy prioritization of fears, problems, and concerns


5 Different Types of Journaling Techniques To Start With

Before discussing how to start a journal, let’s talk about the various types of journaling techniques that you can implement.

There are an infinite number of ways to journal, but not all of them are created equal. Just like your habits, there are certain techniques that deliver more impact than others.

I’ve decided to condense the various journaling techniques out there into the five that I believe to be the most insightful and practical. 

Keep in mind that this is strictly my opinion. By no means are these options the only paths available to you, but my goal isn’t to overwhelm with dozens of options because that may lead to analysis paralysis. 

So without further ado, let’s get into these five different journaling techniques. Be sure to take note of any that resonate with you.


#1: Keeping a Gratitude Journal 

One of these easiest ways to get started with journaling is to keep a gratitude journal. 

It’s simple. It’s not time-consuming. And it’s a very powerful tool for helping you build a more appreciative and positive mindset. 

It’s human nature to think about the things that we lack. The dream job we don’t have. The dream car we can’t afford. The social circle that we wish would grow bigger, etc.

Keeping a gratitude journal flips the script and forces you to search for the good. By making this a daily practice, you’ll start rewiring your brain to see the positive in certain situations where others are blinded by negativity.

How to Keep a Gratitude Journal 

Here are a few ideas for how to start keeping a gratitude journal:

  • Write down three good things that happened to you over the past 24 hours 
  • Write down three things in your life that you’re currently grateful for


thank you note showing gratitude


#2: Future Self Journaling

This is probably the most powerful journaling technique on this list.

Future self-journaling allows you to hit the fast-forward button on your life and imagine a future where you’re happy and fulfilled. Then, you get to work backwards and determine the precise actions that will get you to that desired state.

However, what’s really unique about this practice is that it brings you face-to-face with the worst case scenario. You have to think deeply about what happens if you don’t decide to take action on your goals.

When you thrust yourself into the future and imagine one where you’re filled with regret and shame, this can serve as a powerful motivator to recognize the importance of the actions that you take today.

How to Perform Future Self-Journaling

Future self journaling is broken up into two parts:

  • First, you need to block out an hour or two  to perform the front-end of the exercise
  • This portion forces you to get down all of your thoughts about the future – the good and the bad
  • The second half of this exercise is the act of daily reflection about the first part of the exercise and monitoring your progress toward your desired future.

It’s too much to cover in this article, but if this technique is resonating then you can check out this article for a more detailed explanation of the process – How To Get Started With Future Self Journaling

I think you’ll find it extremely powerful.


#3: Goal Centric Journaling

If you want to learn how to start a journal that helps you stay on the right path towards your biggest goals, then goal-centric journaling is a great option.

Clarity is power. If you write down your goals every day, you’ll have a clear picture of where to invest your time and energy.

Constantly reminding yourself of your goal cements it into your brain. It plants it into your conscious mind so that you’re more likely to receive cues from the external world to take action.

Simply saying that you want to achieve something isn’t enough. Writing down your goals and monitoring your progress towards them is the best way to ensure that you actually follow through.


How to Perform Goal-Centric Journaling:

  • Figure out a goal that you’re absolutely dedicated to achieving over the next 12 months
  • Every day, start your goal centric journaling routine by writing down that 12 month goal
  • Next, write down the most important task you can get done today that represents significant progress towards that goal

how to start a journal for goal setting


#4: The Food Journal

Why is there a journaling technique on this list that has nothing to do with productivity, emotions, or goal-setting? Because keeping a food journal is often recognized as a keystone habit.

A study published in the National Institute of Health found that in a group of 1600 people, people who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t.

It turns out that as this behavior became an automatic routine, people began to recognize their own eating patterns and use the journal to plan future meals. They also became more mindful of what they were eating knowing that they were going to hold themselves accountable and write it down.

Keeping a food journal seemed to act as a springboard that allowed other positive behaviors to flourish.

How to Keep A Food Journal:

  • Keep this journal with you wherever you go
  • Each time you eat, write down what you ate and the time that you ate it
  • Try to estimate amounts if possible
  • Don’t wait until the end of the day, make sure you write in journal immediately after finishing the meal
  • Review the journal weekly and look for patterns showing when you’re slipping up. 


#5: The Bad Habit Journal

Want to learn the quickest way to break bad habits? Become extremely self-aware and figure out the triggers and cues leading to them in the first place.

All of our habits, good and bad, are triggered by certain cues. These cues can be internal, such as feeling stressed or feeling lonely. 

Cues can also be external as well. If a smoker sees someone else smoking a cigarette you can bet that he/she will be tempted to grab one.

When most of us try to stop our bad habits, we try to deploy extreme self-discipline and force ourselves to resist temptation. And while quitting something cold turkey can work once in a blue moon, it’s not an effective strategy for long-term behavior change.

Our bad habits are a product of the environment and emotional state we find ourselves in. Identifying the internal and external triggers that are causing your bad habits is the best way to start forming a plan to remove them from your life.

How to Keep A Bad Habit Journal

  • Focus on one bad habit that you want to change
  • Whenever you slip up, write in your journal about what happened and what you were feeling
  • What was your emotional state like? What time was it? Where were you?
  • After enough entries, you’ll probably start to notice a pattern in when and where you’re screwing up
  • This will give you the insight you need to design your environment in a way that sets you up for success


man holding a cigarette


How to Start A Journal: Shaping Your Path

We’ve just covered five different types of journaling that you can start implementing into your life. Now comes the hard part – picking one and committing to it.

The good news? There’s probably a couple journaling techniques on that list that resonate with you. 

The bad news? You only get to choose one. You’ve gotta just pick a technique and stick to it, it won’t be as effective if you’re attacking it with split-focus.

Focusing on everything is the same thing as focusing on nothing. Narrow your focus to getting proficient with one technique before you start expanding your horizons.

If you’re struggling with which one to pick, here are two questions to help you decide which one to start with.

  • Which journaling technique helps me with the biggest struggle in my life right now?
  • Which technique am I most likely to enjoy and stick to each day?

Listen to your inner wisdom and just pick the one that feels right to you.


When Should You Journal Each Day?

The answer to this question will be different for everybody.

First off, it depends on which journaling technique that you choose. Keeping a bad habit journal and a food journal are ongoing tasks – they need to happen in the moment.

However, the other techniques like gratitude journaling, future self journaling, and goal focused journaling can be done at any point during the day.

Finding the best time to journal starts with looking at opportunities during the day where you can block out at least 5-10 minutes for uninterrupted work. Typically, the best times to do this are during the early hours of the morning and the closing hours of the day.

These are the hours of the day that we have the most control over. Additionally, in my experience it’s during these times that my true thoughts and feelings are more apparent.

When I wake up, I feel motivated to take on the day and journaling acts as a great springboard to help me attack it with clarity. On the other side of the spectrum, bedtime is when those deep, late-night thoughts start popping up in my conscious mind, which makes it the ideal time to be putting pen to paper.

In summary, the morning/ evening are the best times to journal. However, the most important thing is that you pick a time you know without a doubt you’ll be able to stick to on a daily basis.

If that happens to be the middle of the day, then so be it. 


starting the day off right with journaling and coffee


How To Start A Journal: Turning It Into A Habit

Let’s dive into a few insights regarding habit formation that will help you with turning journaling into a daily habit that happens on auto-pilot

With any change in our lives, what we’re really after is to get to the point where we don’t have to exert any willpower to take action. We want showing up and doing the behavior to become something that we do without thinking.

Getting to that place with any behavior means mak it a habit.

We’ve covered a lot so far, but right now it’s the missing piece in this guide for how to start a journal.

There are two things that are needed in order to speed up the process of a new behavior becoming a habit – consistent mapping and consistent repetition.

Consistent repetition is pretty self-explanatory. It just means that we need to consistently perform the behavior every single day.

Consistent mapping refers to the context that the behavior occurs in. The context refers to when and where the behavior takes place, and these two things need to be the same on a daily basis in order to cement the neural pathways faster.

Using these insights, we can draw these conclusions about how to form a journaling habit in the most efficient way possible

  • Perform your journaling technique at the same time every day
  • Perform it in the same location every day

Each time you do this, your brain will start to relate the habit you performed to the context you performed it in. This means that when you find yourself in that same environment, you’ll feel a natural pull towards the behavior instead of a giant wall of resistance.


Final Notes on How to Start A Journal

Well, there you have it. We just covered a step-by-step guide for how to start a journal. 

Journaling is not something that’s going to change your life overnight. In fact, it’s very rare for any one habit to do that for you. 

Journaling is simply another tool in the arsenal that you can use to accomplish your goals and live a more meaningful life. 

Want to start finally getting rid of toxic habits that are keeping you stuck? Use the bad habit journaling technique to identify the triggers leading to them.

Want to start being more grateful and cultivate a more positive mindset? Start writing down three things that you’re grateful for every day.

No matter what you want to achieve, there’s a journaling technique in this article that you can leverage to assist you in getting what you want from life.

Stop keeping your thoughts, feelings, and emotions bottled up. Have the courage to be vulnerable and put pen to paper. 

You never know what you’ll discover about yourself once you start writing.

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