Why You Should Start Journaling

Journaling is a very personal activity. And there are many different purposes and means of keeping a journal.

It can be a memoir of your travel, year or life.

It can be a means of self-help, record-keeping or tracking personal goals.

Or it may just be a new hobby to try.

I have been journaling for ten years. And I have used many journals for various reasons.

In this post, I aspired to include everything you may want to know about starting a journal. It may be an information overload. Just take what you want and leave the rest. Please use the links to jump ahead to the section you need.

One of the purposes of this blog is to share my mental health journey. So I have focused a lot on journaling for mental health. However, I hope the information I provide is still useful for anyone interested in journaling.

Why to start a mental health journal

Why Do People Journal?

The most basic use of a journal is to keep track of events and experiences. But the benefit is beyond the simple act of writing. Reading over those events later gives us a unique view of ourselves.

Every entry includes snippets of our personality, mindset and emotions.

Our mindset in a moment can shape how we view and remember an event. But our memories make it very difficult to separate fact from emotion. A journal entry gives more detail than our memory ever will. And once we have multiple entries to review, we can get a richer portrait of ourselves.

The self-reflective element of journaling makes it useful for practicing self-care, emotional intelligence, and improving therapy.

Journaling for Self-Care

Self-care is exactly as the name suggests: caring for yourself. It is the activities that you do to take care of your health.

Proper self-care requires working on yourself every day, both mentally and physically.

A good self-care routine includes activities that are physical, mental and emotional.

  • Physical activities are things like walking, dancing or taking a bath.
  • Mental activities like reading, drawing or learning a new skill.
  • Emotional activities like meditation, talking with friends or journaling.

Keeping a journal eases your thoughts and feelings.

It also can help you understand your mind, especially when it starts to feel jumbled and overwhelmed.

And reading past entries will also remind you of good days filled with happy memories. And you can trust the bad days will pass.

Journaling for Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is all about recognizing, understanding and using our emotions. And as I said above, one of the benefits of journaling is self-reflection.

Reading through past journal entries allows us to identify our feelings and the source of those feelings.

I’ll give you a very personal example of using a journal for EQ:

I started to find my journal entries to have common themes of feeling sad, small, and stupid. The common event was any form of contact with my partner. Once I realized this, I began to use my journal to encourage myself to end the relationship.

I identified my feelings, understood their cause and used them to create positive change in my life.

While this is an oversimplified explanation of EQ, keeping a journal is one practice to grow your emotional intelligence.

Journaling for Therapy

A journal can help you talk to your therapist.

Journaling has been described as a cheap form of therapy. But I would never say that it replaces a therapist. I have been in therapy during my mental health journey, and nothing can fully replace the help it provides.

Keeping a journal for therapy will add to your growth.

My experience is that a therapist will expect you to do homework between sessions. This homework could be reflecting on your session or practicing some form of self-help. Your therapist may even provide you with resources, such as worksheets or tasks. But if not, a journal is a great tool.

Regular entries will reveal your mindset and help you understand why you are struggling. Through these breakthroughs, you can narrow down what you need to work on in your sessions. Therefore, a journal can help you talk to your therapist.

You can also use a journal to track your progress in therapy. Re-read your entries over the past year to see where you started and how it’s going.

We take from therapy as much as we put into it. It takes time, emotion and honesty. And writing a journal entry gives us this outlet while only requiring a few minutes of our day.

How I Started Journaling (And Almost Quit)

When I was in high school, a teacher told everyone to keep a pad of paper and a pen next to their bed.

It was easy to start. I bought a cheap notebook and searched online for journal prompts.

And I wrote every day to form the habit.

Working the pen lightens my load.

But it quickly felt like a chore for two reasons:

First, I have very messy handwriting.

My hand simply cannot keep up with my thoughts. And when I first started, I hated that. I wanted to have pretty journals and didn’t want to wreck a new one with my writing.

I started writing slowly and focused hard on my penmanship. Until I realized I wasn’t writing as much as I needed to express myself fully.

Eventually, I came to accept how much better it feels to mark the page than to have pristine paper. Working the pen lightens my load when I write freely.

Second, I was trying to follow prompts and 30-day writing challenges.

Prompts are great for beginners. They will give you ideas of what to write about.

But I only connected with a few prompts I found online. So I’d be bored using the same topic again. Or I’d force myself to write one I’m not interested in. It wasn’t fun or beneficial.

Therefore, once I understood the journaling basics, I stopped using prompts.

My tactic is now to start with a statement or create a question, similar to the examples I provide below.

Ultimately, I got the idea and basics of journaling from other people. But I’ve been able to keep journaling for over ten years because I adjusted the pastime to suit my needs.

I try to update my journal three times a week. I allow my pages to be messy. And I rarely use prompts unless they’re interesting.

Everything you want to know about starting a journal

How to Write In a Journal

The rules are there ain’t no rules.

– “Grease” (1978)

A journal is incredibly personal. And there is no one right way to do it.

So let’s start by breaking whatever misconceptions you may have about journaling:

It is not a school assignment. You don’t have to be a good writer, use proper grammar or tell a story. There is no minimum number of words and no maximum number of pages. You are writing for yourself. You won’t need to explain your thoughts to other people or seek their approval. And please don’t feel like you have to write pages-long prose about the woes of the day.

Now let’s give you some motivation to start writing:

Write about what you want as often as you need. You can write once a day, four times a day, once a week, three times a month—it’s in your hands. A few sentences are fine. It’s understandable if you don’t have the energy to write every day.

Write when you are happy as well as when you are sad.

Choose a writing style that suits you:

  • Freewriting
  • Jot notes
  • Lists
  • Poems
  • Lyrics
  • Comics
  • Doodles
  • Write in a notebook
  • Type on a computer or phone

Use one pen or multi-coloured pens and highlighters to develop your own technique.

Using different pens really helped me in therapy.

When I journal, I will often start wherever my mind is focused. For example, it could be in the middle of a story. Then as I write through the event, I will go on tangents to cover different angles.

Before my next therapy session, I will read over my journal entries and mark up the pages with a different coloured pen. In other words, I study my journal entries to prepare my notes.

Bottom line: You have total freedom to do whatever you want in your journal.

Start Your Journal

Before buying a journal… start writing.

Before buying your first journal, notebook or diary, start writing.

On the one hand, waiting until you find the perfect journal is a great excuse not to start journaling. (You’ll have to trust me on this as I am a master procrastinator.)

On the other hand, you need to figure out your journaling style.

I don’t want you to find writing as a task. So, let’s keep it simple.

Experiment to find the best writing style for you, using whatever you have on hand:

  • Add notes on your phone.
  • Start typing on your computer.
  • Make a list on post-its.
  • Answer prompts on a notepad.
  • Draw on blank paper.

Think of this as an audition.

Try writing every day, but do something a little different. If on Monday, you write a list of your favourite songs. On Tuesday, try drawing your emotions. And on Wednesday, free write on your computer.

You can narrow down the proper journal when you know what feels most comfortable for you.

Getting The Right Journal

Infographic about buying your first journal including notebooks (hard-bound, soft-bound and spiral-bound), paper (lined, unlined and dotted), Pages and cost

Once you know how you want to journal, you can start looking at the available options.

Again, journaling does not have to be expensive.

To give you an idea of the variety of journals, I will describe my journals and how I use them.

I currently have 5 personal journals and use them for various reasons:

  1. Mental health

My mental health journal is a big honker. It has three sections separated as lined, unlined, and dotted pages. It is spiral-bound and has 480 pages. It cost less than $20.00.

I really hop around and use whichever section fits my current mood. I write on all the pages but also use the unlined and dotted pages to draw.

I also use the unlined pages during my therapy sessions. My sessions are over messenger, so I jot down what we discuss and any advice I receive. After the session, I review everything and use a different coloured pen to write notes.

  1. Brainstorming

My brainstorming journal has 120 lined pages. It is a soft-bound notebook and had cost about $14.00.

I use this journal for writing my blog posts. To be blunt, this is my most chaotic journal.

  1. Quotes

My quotes journal has 100 lined pages. It is a soft-bound notebook. The cover was custom-designed and cost around $50.00 in total. The cover is also removable. Once the notebook is full, I can get a new one and re-use the cover.

I use this journal to keep track of the first sentence of every book that I read. I got the idea from a writing class. This is my favourite way of keeping track of the books I’ve read. When I re-read the sentence, I instantly remember the book I got it from.

  1. Doodling

My doodling journal has 500 unlined pages. It is a hard-bound art book. The pages are designed to absorb ink without bleeding through to the next. For this reason, it also cost $40.00.

I am not good at drawing, but that doesn’t stop me. I draw multiple images on every page. And I date each of my pictures. I’ve noticed some improvement as I keep practicing, so seeing the dates is also encouraging.

  1. Notes

My note-taking journal is really a catch-all. It has four sections and 400 pages. It is a spiral-bound notebook and cost $20.00.

I use it to learn new programs, self-care strategies, hobbies, etc.

Some things to consider

Your best journal is whatever suits your writing style and feels most comfortable. And every option has strengths and weaknesses.

A soft-bound will need to be held open. But you will get full use of the paper. I also like how they look on the shelf.

A spiral-bound will fold around, so you have less to hold. I also like how easy it is to pull a page from a spiral-bound notebook. But the coil may be uncomfortable to rest your wrist on. And sometimes, the coil wrecks the covers of other books, so I don’t want them on my bookshelves.

Some notebooks include writing prompts. These are good if you really want a writing challenge or need the motivation. But they will cost more money. And the possibilities for these journals are limited to the subject of the prompts.

If you want a journal just because you love the cover, go for it! I have bought many journals for that exact reason. In time, I always find a use for them.

And I fully encourage you to keep multiple journals at once. You can separate them by theme or goal.

Again, there are no rules so choose the options that serve you best.

What to Write In Your Journal

It can be challenging to sit down and start writing. You may question where or how you should start.

Just remember that there are no rules to writing in a journal.

If you have something sitting heavy in your mind, write it out.

And it’s okay to start in the middle of a story. You are journaling for yourself, not for other people to read. You already know the situation/feeling/problem you are writing about. Let it out; the paper can take it.

If you need some help to get started, please use my list of journal prompts.

Journal Prompts

Choose the prompts that connect with you. Don’t force yourself to write every prompt.

General

  • What did I do today?
  • How do I feel today? Why?
  • Look out the window. What do I see? (Be detailed.)
  • What is something new I learned this week?
  • What are my goals for today? This week? This year?

Opening Statements

  • The things that bring me the most joy are…
  • I want/need to forgive…
  • I wish…
  • I am excited to…
  • I am focused on…

Lists

  • 10 of my favourite inspirational quotes.
  • 5 emotions. Try to answer: what does [emotion] mean to me?
  • Things to let go of.
  • My favourite song lyrics. (Can you explain why?)
  • Daily affirmations.

For Mental Health

  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What makes me feel safe? (These could be people, objects, places or actions.)
  • How do I want to feel today?
  • What do I love about myself?
  • (After meditation) What passed through my mind?
20 effective prompts to motivate your journaling journey. Prompts for beginners.

I hope you feel motivated to get that journal started! Have you started a journal? Share your tips or questions in the comments below!

10 Ways to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Does anyone else dislike the expression “get out of your comfort zone?”

I’d rather stay comfortable while I try new things.

Instead, I prefer the idea of expanding my comfort zone. I don’t want to break it, but I want to stretch my limit just a little to enable more experiences to feel comfortable.

10 Activities to Expand Your Comfort Zone

I learned the hard way to take baby steps in the expansion process after forcing myself into a panic attack—it wasn’t a great time.

It took practice to recognize what I could accomplish and when I needed to stop.

During the process, I reflected on the past events that produced my short limits and considered how I could let them go. And I discovered why certain activities made me feel more comfortable than others.

I am sharing this list of activities that I used in the hopes that it can inspire others to expand their comfort zones as well. Some of these activities are small steps, and others are giant leaps.

Deciding on the activities that are right for you will take a lot of self-reflection. Some things to consider are:

  • What are your goals?
  • What will make you uncomfortable in that situation?
  • What can you do to make the situation more comfortable for yourself?

Please read the list and consider an activity that serves your comfort zone.

Disclaimer: The activities on this list may result in interactions with strangers. Be careful and trust your instincts. Do not force yourself to remain in a situation that feels unsafe or uncomfortable. If your gut tells you to go home, go home and reflect on the interaction. You did not fail!

A residential street for a short walk
Gurye, South Korea, 2019

1. Go For A Walk

Can it be that simple? Well, yeah.

Exercise can help relieve some anxiety, and you won’t be stuck in one place for too long–unless you want to be.

Take a solo walk around your neighbourhood. Feel comfortable being alone outside of your home, in an area you are familiar with.

If you already walk regularly, try taking a different route. Follow the path to the left rather than the right and see where it leads you.

Along your walk, take some time to sit on a bench, relax and observe.

If someone greets you while walking by (which is very common where I’m from), decide if you’re comfortable with greeting them in return. If you’re unsure, wear earbuds without music playing to give yourself an excuse for not hearing (AKA ignoring) those people.

A selection of traditional Korean desserts
Seoul, South Korea, 2017

2. Dine Out Alone

This one can be somewhat scary, and I don’t recommend forcing yourself to start here.

But, if you love dining out and don’t want to wait for your support system to go with you, perhaps this could be your end goal.

At a restaurant, you can eat alone at a table. And the only people you need to talk to are the waitstaff.

If you are like me and get anxious about talking to waitstaff, practice and prepare before going to the restaurant. I practice a script in my mind about what they will likely ask me and how to answer.

I ook at the menu online to get an idea of what you would like to order. Pick three drinks, appetizers, entrées and desserts so you have a back-up plan in case they run out.

Also, prepare “I’ll just need another minute,” and don’t let them rush you.

Keep in mind that restaurants are typically full of people, which could mean a potential sensory overload if you are sensitive to sound and movement. Bring a book or plug into a podcast to establish a wall from the other restaurant patrons.

Woman holding a ukulele

3. Join A Class

Are you interested in learning ceramics, dance, martial arts, yoga, or another language? You can do it!

A class offers three core benefits while you expand your comfort zone.

First and foremost, you can learn or improve an activity that interests you.

Second, classes offer a safe social aspect.

When the class first begins, everyone starts as a stranger to each other (i.e., no scary cliques).

The class has also brought together a group of people who have similar interests, so you already know one thing you have in common.

And when you see the same people every week, you may slowly begin to form a bond, which has the potential to develop into close friendships.

Third, and best of all, if you do not enjoy your classmates, you won’t need to see them after class ends—there’s no commitment necessary.

There is nothing wrong with having an escape plan.

Image of a joined Facebook group page

4. Join An Online Group

Disclaimer: Do not provide personal or financial information to people you meet online. Should you decide to meet up one day, have a video call first and choose a public location. Also, tell a friend or family member who you’re meeting and where.

From the safety of your own home, unite with people from around the world who share your interests.

Social media, online games and forums provide a space to create meaningful friendships.

And even if you never meet these people in real life, online friends are significant and empowering.

The internet offers something for everyone, so finding potential groups you click with can be accomplished with a quick search.

Follow the topics that get you excited. Participate in discussions. Follow the people who post the content you like. Share, like and keep conversations going.

Remember to be respectful and that it’s okay to disagree with someone without being rude.

Close up image of a blue mug and the interior of a café in the background
Gurye, South Korea, 2020

5. Visit A Café

Get a change of scenery while doing something you like: read a book, work on some knitting, listen to a podcast, or update your blog.

As long as you order something, you can sit in a café.

Full of comfortable chairs, a few plants and a well-spaced seating arrangement, most cafés are designed to be a calm place for people to meet or work outside of the home.

If you’re lucky, they’ll have a window seat where you can enjoy the sun’s warmth and take breaks to people-watch.

It is customary to order a few drinks should you choose to remain there for a few hours, so take a gander at the menu before arriving and think of what you might enjoy.

If you visit a small café often, there’s a good chance that the baristas will remember you, and you can create a comforting friendship. Of course, it doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it feels great!

Cœur de pirate at the 2017 Regina Folk Festival
Cœur de pirate, Regina, Canada, 2017

6. Go To A Concert

You may be asking, why would I ever want to be squeezed together in a mob of strangers? It’s simple: you like the music.

I’ve seen my favourite band ten times, and while it can take a long, calming pep talk to get myself in the building, I’m always happier for it.

For me, the most awkward and anxiety-inducing moment of the night comes before the concert starts. This is the time when the lights are still up, and I’m standing alone, away from the crowd, scrolling social media and feigning confidence in my solo venture.

But once the lights go down and the music starts, the group comes together as one, and I’m no longer alone.

I’m not a fan of crowds, but in this setting, even though a horde of strangers will surround me, I barely notice them as I focus on my band and their music.

For those more interested in trying to ally with a new friend, this activity again allows you to be around people with similar interests. Try to strike up a conversation before the show starts, and maybe you can meet up after to talk about it.

Solo woman visiting light art installation
Yeosu, South Korea, 2022

7. Take A Tour

This is an excellent idea for the solo adventurer and history lover.

Tours can be of a single location or provide transportation to various places. It could be a famous landmark in your own city or a set of islands on the other side of the world.

In other words, a tour can give you a short or long time bunched together with a ragtag group of people.

Tours have allowed me time to become familiar with other people as well as time to venture out alone.

As they are full of solo travellers, it is understandable and expected to break off alone sometimes.

I also enjoy tours that provide transportation and accommodation as I will only have to talk to the tour guide to sort out any issues.

And with a tour guide, you can listen and follow along or participate and ask questions.

Never forget that when you pay for a tour, you have the right to ask many questions, so don’t be embarrassed—you’ll be giving the tour guide a chance to show off their knowledge.

Explore all the available options, and decide what will make you feel the most comfortable.

One green and one red mug at a Christkindlmarkt in Germany circa 2019
Germany, 2019

8. Visit A Street Fair Or Market

Perhaps this idea came to mind as the weather is getting warmer. Still, it allows you to flex a few of these suggested activities: walking, eating alone and playing tourist.

The market could be in your city or the next town over. It could be a farmer’s market or an artisan street fair.

During the spring and summer months, there are many markets displaying various wares that will likely meet your interest.

But don’t feel trapped inside during the colder months as winter markets can be overflowing with beautiful decorations and warm drinks.

When purchasing from a vendor, you can keep the conversation strictly to your purchase or ask them about their process and get into a deep discussion.

People who set up these booths are often very chatty because they are excited about what they do and want to share it with everyone.

Should the interaction become too much, you can say “thank you” and leave.

Don’t forget to bring cash along with your credit card for those few vendors without a machine.

Hearts and love locks in Busan, South Korea
Love locks in Busan, South Korea, 2020

9. Go On A Date

Disclaimer: Please be careful with online dating. Try to video chat with your match before the date, share their details with a family member or friend, and meet in a public space.

Yeah, I know, dating can bring the worst kind of judgemental behaviour against introverts for their limited social skills.

We must talk about ourselves and keep a conversation going to get to know a new person. It sounds awful!

But, if you really want to learn about someone, you won’t get stuck in small talk.

Deep conversations are often intoxicating for introverts.

A first, second or third date is a great place to get that fix.

And we live in a time when dating apps are the go-to place to meet a potential partner.

Checking a profile can tell you if they are physically and personably attractive to you.

With your conversation opener, the small talk can get out of the way very quickly or be ignored entirely if you ask a pointed question about their profile.

You don’t have to meet until you are ready, and by that time, they won’t be a perfect stranger anymore.

Lanterns in Jiufen, Taiwan
Jiufen, Taiwan, 2020

10. Take A Solo Trip

Disclaimer: I always share my itinerary with a family member or friend. Be safe and have fun!

It’s another scary one but beyond worth it if you’ve always wanted to travel.

When you are on a trip, you will interact with so many more people than you usually would in your daily life.

You’ll meet hotel staff, gas station attendants, bus drivers, flight attendants, restaurant staff, and tour guides. And they might also not speak English depending on where you want to go.

For your first adventure, I recommend taking a short trip to a nearby city or simply checking in to a hotel to explore your own city as a tourist.

I have found that many tourism experiences follow the same formula, so there is some comfort to be found in the routine.

Because travelling and experiencing the world is my dream, I have promised myself that I won’t waste my vacation time and money staying inside.

Instead, I plan a short itinerary for some activities to ensure I get out of the hotel.

Trust me, it’s easy to get comfortable in the solitude of a hotel, but remember that at the end of the day, you can retreat to that safe space to recharge.

On many of my solo trips, I would be out exploring from 8 to 5 (or whenever it started to get dark). I would then spend the remainder of the evening alone in my room.

The activities can be simple: go for a walk in a new city, read a book in an interesting café, try new foods, and take tours.

I admit that I have found a lot of comfort in being a stranger in a strange city.

That’s the list!

Once again, I don’t recommend forcing yourself to try something if it triggers any anxiety or negative thinking. Before most activities, I would need to give myself an encouraging pep talk. And sometimes I would last maybe 5 minutes before bailing.

After trying an activity, reflect on how it made you feel and why.

Find encouragement in every activity you have tried.

You are doing this for yourself, so be kind and set small goals to accomplish along the way.

If you have tried any of these activities or would like to recommend more, please share in the comments.

Expand your comfort Zone with 10 Activities