Five Quick Tips to Start Your Journaling Journey

Journaling wasn’t something I grew up doing. In fact, I hated writing. But when I was in my early 20s, my relationship with my body and food led me into therapy and coaching, and writing became a useful tool for me to process what I was thinking and who I was. It helped me find a bit of much-needed self-awareness and eventually led to greater self-acceptance.

Since I got so much out of journaling, I started recommending it to friends. They’d share a work thing or a relationship issue, and I’d annoyingly say something like, “I know it’s kinda weird but have you journaled about that?” They were not into it. They didn’t know where to start or weren’t writers or didn’t have time. I was also not a writer and didn’t have time, but somehow this was cathartic for me, so I did it. I’d write on my phone, during in-between moments, like waiting in lines. As far as where to start, I just needed to ask myself a good question and honestly answer it, so I made a book of essentially 55 good questions (journaling prompts).

Along my journey through journaling, I’ve discovered some crucial pointers for getting the most out of your writing sessions. Here are some tips.

Tip #1: Get curious.

Approach journaling like a scavenger hunt—one that will lead you to your innermost feelings. The journey ahead is thrilling, but it’s also new territory since you’re going into the great unknown. Slight curiosity is all you need to get going. Get inquisitive about what you’ll find on the route, and don’t rush the process. It’s not about where you end up, although that’s sure to be incredible; it’s much more about what you discover along the way. Savor every feeling and emotion that comes through while you’re writing. What you find will be different every day. These tools are ever-changing because you are.

Tip 2: Dance with resistance.

Resistance will inevitably arise while you’re journaling because you’ll start feeling emotions that you don’t want to feel. We often numb those feelings with food, sex, drugs, TV—even by consuming self-help or spiritual entertainment (which was my jam). But leaning into your discomfort is how you go deep and the only way to truly change. When you become aware of the resistance to unwanted feelings and bravely lean into them, what unfolds truly is radical.

Tip 3: Cultivate awareness.

The goal of journaling isn’t to make you into a “ball of sunshine” 24/7. Rather, it is to give you tools to help shorten the time between coming out of the flow and going back into the flow—flow being that state where everything in your life seems to be moving effortlessly. We’ve all been there, and it’s so awesome. Basically it looks something like this: You have a great hair day, you pick your outfit with ease, you get a nice text message and find the perfect parking spot, your favorite song is on the radio, and so on—that’s “in the flow.” Out of the flow is the opposite: You can’t find anything to wear, your hair looks terrible, you get a mean text from your boss, you’re late because you can’t find a parking spot, and the song you hate keeps playing on the radio.

While it seems like none of this is in your control, how you react to it definitely is. By choosing different thoughts during unpleasant situations, you can change your perceptions and shift from out of the flow to back in more quickly. Awareness of when you’re out of the flow is the first step to getting back in alignment, and awareness can only happen in the present moment. When you feel out of alignment, you’re in your “thinking mind.” To get out of that, simply bring your attention to your feet—because they’re farthest from your brain—and notice the moment you’re currently in.

Tip #4: Be radically authentic and honest.

What stops us from feeling free and fully ourselves is what we are hiding: poor judgment calls we’ve made, things we’re embarrassed about, goals of ours that seem too unrealistic to claim. We bury our dark secrets and get preoccupied managing them to ensure we don’t appear less than perfect—or get caught in the lie of trying to appear perfect. But when we let it out (even if it’s just to ourselves), we can breathe.

By being vulnerable and acknowledging what we’re ashamed of, we let go of any guilt that we’re holding on to. As Brené Brown teaches, shame cannot survive being shared, and admitting our shame to ourselves is the first step. So let’s not waste your time. Make a commitment to radical authenticity and honesty when using the journaling tools in this book: Dig out the secrets you’ve buried, the things you’re hiding, and show them the light of day by letting it all out on paper. If you’re lying to yourself or writing what you think you “should” be writing or what someone else would want to read, stop yourself immediately, return to the present moment, and write what’s true for you.

Tip #5: Fake it till you make it.

When you’re doing things that are new and uncomfortable, it’s inevitable that, to some extent, you’ll feel like you’re pretending—at least I always do. When I started teaching yoga, I felt like I wasn’t actually a yoga teacher but just pretending to be one, mimicking my own teachers. But as Kurt Vonnegut says in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Basically, he’s saying that it works to fake it till you make it. You will feel like a fraud, but so does everyone else.

The process of journaling and expressing your feelings honestly on paper might be brand new for you. If that’s the case, going this deep might cause some strong reactions, such as

  • Wanting to stop or quit
  • Feeling like you’re a fraud
  • Thinking you’re wasting your time
  • Turning off your new, heightened awareness and zoning out with familiar, comfortable habits—watching TV, reading magazines, browsing online—anything to avoid that new feeling.

Don’t let that stop you. Everyone feels as though they’re pretending when they start a new routine. When you haven’t done something before, or you haven’t done it consistently, it’s not ingrained yet. This new way of expressing your feelings fully, as a writer, is uncomfortable. You might be feeling like a ball of emotion when you begin this process because perhaps you rarely ever allow yourself to feel your uncomfortable emotions. And feeling uncomfortable is when most people quit.

So, when you reach this point, you must ask yourself: Do I want to have a deep life? Do I want to feel the richness of mad love and the sadness of heartbreak? Do I want to feel the full spectrum of emotions … or do I want to numb out? Journaling is a practice that puts a mirror right up to your face. It shows you what’s going on at a deeper level when you allow yourself to examine your feelings as they authentically flow out of you.

When you feel like you’re playing pretend as a writer but you like what you’re pretending—that’s when you need to keep going. That’s when, with time, the routine becomes ingrained, and, before you know it … you will no longer be pretending.

Some other tools that will be helpful in the process:

  • An open mind
  • Your curiosity
  • A favorite journal or notebook
  • A legal pad or computer paper
  • A favorite writing instrument.

Although nothing else is required, the following are some “nice to haves”:

  • A comfortable, quiet place (Again, not required! The journaling prompts can be done anywhere, from an airplane to a crowded car ride, and you’ll be surprised where the best info comes through.)
  • A cup of tea
  • A burning candle
  • Burning some sage
  • Calm, soft, inspiring music.

This is the point where I wish you well on your journey through journaling! Know that it’s one with many twists and turns—some surprising, some cathartic, some deliciously uncomfortable, and all incredibly rewarding. You are a new person each and every day and the journey is an endless discovery that keeps getting better and better the more you return to it.

Find out more about Katie Dalebout's expressive writing program at Kripalu.

Katie Dalebout, writer, host, and wellness and creativity cheerleader, started the podcast Let It Out, a long-form interview show with more than 226 episodes

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