So you’ve started a journal and you’re ready to take it to the next level. Maybe you’ve heard people talk about how journaling is the key to success or peace of mind and you want that, too. Bottom line, if you’re not seeing drastic improvements in your life because of your journal, you need to get better at journaling.
I know, I know, you’ve been told by the journaling “experts” out there that there is no right or wrong way to journal.
But that’s simply not true.
It’s just like anything in life: If you want to achieve results through your journal, you have to spend time getting better at journaling.
So, here are the seven ways to take your journaling practice to the next level. If you implement each of them, I promise you will be amazed at the results.
1. Take it Seriously
There are a lot of misconceptions about journaling floating around out there:
- That it’s for 13 year-old girls
- That it’s for people who would rather sit around instead of getting stuff done
- That it’s all about touchy-feely stuff
- That every entry must begin with, “Dear diary…”
- That I don’t need to journal
And I could list hundreds more. But the point is that, if you listen to any of these misconceptions, you can’t take journaling seriously.
The fact is that journaling has been clearly demonstrated to benefit the human brain.
- It helps you learn
- It improves your physical health
- It improves your emotional health
- It benefits your cognitive processing
- It increases your critical thinking and reflective thinking abilities
- It improves your sense of self
- It helps to improve your ability to focus
In other words, journaling is not just for a certain type of person—whoever you think that might be. It’s for you, and the potential benefits of journaling are pretty significant.
But these benefits won’t automatically show up in your life just because you put pen to paper once in a while.
No, to get the most out of your journal, you need to get better at journaling. And the first step to getting better is to take it seriously.
2. Get Focused
When you don’t really take journaling seriously, one of the results is that your journal lacks focus.
One day you write about how your sister’s snarky comment made you feel; the next day you write about how much you love your kids; the next day you write about how stressed you are.
Put simply, this is not the right way to journal.
You need to decide at the outset why you are keeping a journal in the first place.
- Is it to track your goals?
- Is it to keep you organized?
- Is it to document your garden?
- Is it to plan your meals?
There are about as many reasons to keep a journal as there are people who journal. But the only way you will get the most out of your journal is if you are focused.
3. Understand what a Journal Is
It might seem like a strange thing to say, but most people don’t know what a journal is.
A journal is not simply a book filled with blank sheets of paper.
A journal is a tool to help your brain do its job.
Here are some of the things we ask our brain to do that it isn’t very good at:
- Holding on to multiple ideas at the same time
- Being objective
- Organizing and prioritizing tasks
- Analyzing emotions
Now here’s something worth thinking about: Each one of the tasks listed above is essential for success, productivity, happiness, peace of mind, or virtually anything else you might want in life.
Therefore, to get where you want to go, your brain needs help.
And that is precisely where your journal comes in.
Everything your brain is not good at is exactly what a journal is good for.
Once you understand the role of a journal as a tool to help your brain, how you go about using it will change and improve.
4. Think about Yourself
There’s a lot of advice out there about journaling. But I find that it usually falls into two categories: Either it says that you can journal however you want, or it says that you must follow a certain, rigid system.
I believe that both are wrong.
I’ve already made it clear that you can’t just write whatever you want however you want to write it and see meaningful change in your life.
But you need to avoid falling into the trap of following a rigid system as well.
Instead, with the first three steps above in mind, you need to think about your personality, your strengths, and your preferences.
Don’t ever follow every detail of a system just because some “expert” said it was the only way to go.
No, that’s a sure way to get frustrated.
Instead, always be sure to think about what will work best for you.
5. Be Honest
One of the great misconceptions that even well-seasoned journalers have is that a journal is the place where you are free to be honest about what you think and how you feel.
But the truth is that we are really good at lying—even to ourselves.
Being honest—even when you’re writing in your private journal—is not always natural. It takes a lot of effort.
So don’t make the mistake of assuming that, just because you’re writing in a “private” journal, you can trust yourself to be honest.
You need to pay attention to what you’re writing and why all the time, or else your brain will try to trick you. It’s natural for us to want to impress other people by bending the truth and putting a spin on things that paints us in a positive light.
This is true even when we’re writing to ourselves.
6. Plan for Change
Knowing that your journal is a tool for your brain means that you should expect how you keep your journal to change over time.
There are a lot of different journaling methods out there. And, once you’ve got your reason for journaling set, feel free to try any and all of them. You might even want to mix and match some of them. That’s okay.
In fact, that’s a good thing.
If your journaling practice doesn’t evolve over time, you’re not making the progress you should be making.
When you find something that works well, keep it but keep experimenting with other parts of your journaling method and format that you can add.
7. Evaluate Consistently
I am amazed at the number of people who will give up on journaling because “it doesn’t work” for them.
That is, quite simply, not true.
Journaling “works” for everyone. But it does usually take some time to figure out the best way for you to do it.
And the only way to figure it out is to ask yourself if you feel and see tangible ways keeping a journal has helped you move toward your goal (remember your focus?).
If it doesn’t appear to be working, make a change.
If it is working, try and identify what are the pieces that are working the best and double down on those.
If you want to become better at journaling, the most important thing you can do is make sure you’re approaching your journal with the right mindset.
- Are you really taking it seriously?
- Do you have a clear focus for your journal?
- Do you understand what a journal is?
- Have you thought about your strengths and weaknesses?
- Are you planning for change?
- Are you evaluating your progress regularly?
If you keep these seven points in mind and work on improving on each one, you will become better at journaling than you ever thought you could. And the results you see in your life will be dramatic.