How to Start Journaling & Stay Consistent
Strategies and tactics to create a lifelong habit.
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
Journaling is a powerful habit, but it’s difficult to start and even harder to stay consistent.
It’s powerful because it’s a better version of thinking.
Thinking is ambiguous and prone to fallacies. Thinking doesn’t give us a way to organize, inspect, or capture what’s going on in our heads. It’s just an onslaught of random ideas. Anyone who has tried meditating knows that controlling our thoughts sounds a lot easier than it is.
Writing is different. Writing is linear. It’s concrete and focused. It’s an artifact that captures thoughts, ideas, and emotions so they can be referenced in the future. It’s a tool to organize thoughts and develop them into ideas, theories, or explanations.
Thoughts are ambiguous and fleeting, but writing is clear and permanent.
The Power of Journaling
Journaling is a better vehicle for analyzing our lives than thinking.
It allows us to take control of our thoughts and benefit from them instead of being trapped or controlled by them.
Our thoughts are like oil. They are invaluable, but not in their crude form. They need to be carefully refined into new forms before they become useful.
Journaling is the refinement process for our thoughts.
Like most things in life that are worthwhile, the challenge is not recognizing that journaling is valuable, the challenge is getting started and staying consistent.
To get started we need to:
Decide where and when to journal
Become comfortable writing about nothing
And to stay consistent we should:
Define a daily practice
How to Start Journaling
We can journal on a scrap of paper or a gold-lined vintage notebook and the outcome will be the same, but when we’re getting started it’s helpful to define or create a specific place to capture our thoughts.
The same way choosing a gym and creating a training plan makes it easier to get started exercising, choosing where and when we are going to journal lowers the barrier to entry.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning or the evening in the notes app or in a custom-made journal. When we’re getting started, it matters that we have a time and place that gets us to sit down ready to write.
Then we can face the next challenge, what to write about.
This is the number one question from new journalers and often the biggest roadblock to getting started.
Writing is almost always a polished medium. We’re used to writing essays in school, emails to clients, or texts to friends. In almost all of the writing we normally do there is a distinct purpose for the words we string together and we’re writing those words to convey ideas to another person.
This creates a pressure that journaling needs to be polished, well-thought-out, or purposeful.
But what matters when we journal isn’t what we’re writing about, it’s that we are writing at all. The benefit of journaling comes from capturing our thoughts on the page.
This means we’re often writing about nothing at all. Whatever thoughts, ideas, or feelings we have in the moment should end up on the page. Once the pen is moving our stream of consciousness can take over and the ideas will come out much easier.
Journaling once can be what unlocks a new insight, solves a tough problem, or helps us see things from a new perspective, but the real benefit of journaling comes from the sustained practice of capturing and understanding our thoughts over time.
How to Stay Consistent
The first thing we can do to stay consistent with our journaling practice is create a template or structure to reuse every day.
This helps us in two different ways. Primarily, it lowers the barrier to entry for journaling on a regular basis. It removes the intimidation of the blank page and provides a starting point.
It also provides us with a consistent reference point. When we journal in the same format every day we can easily compare how we were feeling at different points in time. This record of our thoughts and feelings becomes increasingly valuable the longer we build it up and becomes a fascinating artifact to look back on after a few weeks or a few months.
In addition to a daily practice of journaling, learning to recognize triggers for reflection helps us stay consistent as well.
Whenever we’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, joyous, grateful, or any other extreme emotion, we will benefit tremendously from sitting down to write about it. Good or bad, it’s in these extremes that we can use journaling to capture our thoughts and feelings in the moment to better understand them and use that understanding to improve our lives moving forward.
Learning to recognize these triggers means we’re able to capture and better understand all the most impactful moments in our lives.
With the comfort to write about nothing and a place to do it, we can begin journaling, and with a simple everyday journaling template and a habit of putting our thoughts on the page in the biggest moments of our lives, we can stay consistent for years.
Thanks for reading Prompted! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Are you comfortable writing about nothing?
What are 3 questions you can ask yourself every day to create a journaling template?
What was the last major moment in your life that could have served as a trigger to journal? How do you think journaling would have changed how you handled it?
If you’re looking for motivation to start journaling, here are 156 prompts from Prompted’s archive.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.