If you’ve ever heard people going on and on about the benefits of journaling, you may have wondered whether it’s something you ought to try, as well. After all, journaling can allow you to work out your feelings as a healthy and therapeutic outlet. It can also spark creativity, help you to get organized, and give you the chance to remember all of the high points of your life while they’re still fresh in your memory — this way, you’ll have plenty of material to share with your future grandkids (whether they want to hear it or not).
Okay, what’s stopping you, then? It could be any number of things. As with any other type of practice that becomes popular, suddenly there’s a million people out there telling you exactly how you “should” be journaling, and not a single one of them agrees with any of the other self-proclaimed experts. Plus, they all make journaling seem so involved! Anything with a 20-point how-to list is an automatic “nope” for anyone not looking to complicate their life any further.
As a matter of fact, though, journaling doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you get over a few common misconceptions about it, you may find that journaling is the easiest, and most enjoyable, new habit you’ve added to your life since that daily half-caf mocha latte (and a whole lot cheaper, too).
There's a proper way to journal
Many people think that in order to journal the “right” way, you need some kind of expensive, fancy notebook in which to record your life’s special moments. As writing coach Lauren Marie Fleming tells it, this is… well, just silly. It’s not a life partner, it’s just a notebook. Your words matter, but what you write them on or in? Not a bit. Others advise you adopt some complex method of bullet journaling using color-coded pens and dividers and… sheesh. Nope, if you’re not a fan of being hyper-organized, there’s no need to adopt this method, either.
In fact, you don’t need to “write” your words down at all. Typing them into a Word doc is perfectly fine, as is using an app, and you can even dictate using a speech-to-text program, if that’s your preference. You can also doodle, sketch, or paste in collage materials — yes, scrapbooking can even be a form of journaling, if you prefer to record your impressions visually rather than verbally.
Oh, and don’t get too hung up on your spelling, grammar, or handwriting, either. Sacred workshop journaling leader Peter Occhiogrosso writes in HuffPost that these concerns are “block[s] created by the ego” and thrown up by your brain in an attempt to self-sabotage. Try to silence the voice of your inner 11th-grade English teacher, since journaling isn’t an SAT essay, and there are no points off for poor mechanics. In this instance, it’s all about what you say, not how you say it.
You can only record deep thoughts while journaling
Another mental barrier preventing many people from journaling is that you need to wait until you have something important to say. Again, this is nonsense. Oftentimes, when you just open up your mind and start spilling out words onto paper, you’ll find that thoughts shape themselves as you write (or type, or dictate).
What’s more, you’re never going to get any of the benefits out of journaling if you feel you have to censor your own thoughts and only inscribe the ones that are sufficiently “poetic and meaningful.” According to Lauren Marie Fleming, “Journals are meant to be the dumping ground of ideas and feelings, not a collection of your most brilliant thoughts.” Or you could look at it this way — you’re mining your thoughts to see what turns up, but there’s going to be a whole lot of dirt in between those rare nuggets of gold. Still, if you never start digging, that gold will stay buried forever.
Journaling is for narcissists
This is one of the odder myths out there, if you think about it. Journaling is essentially private, and it’s perfectly all right to think about yourself and spend time in your own head. No one is, or should be, so altruistic that they need to spend 100 percent of their time thinking about others. Plus, as Peter Occhiogrosso points out (via HuffPost), “Narcissism actually refers to uncritical admiration of one’s self or physical image, whereas journaling requires an honest appraisal of yourself, your efforts, and things as they are.”
Journaling might even be considered an antidote to narcissism as long as you’re able to work out all of your thoughts, opinions, and feelings in your own personal venue, rather than posting everything that crosses your mind right out there on social media — where the implied assumption is that the rest of the world actually cares what you think. They may, they may not, but in the pages (paper or electronic) of your journal, you’re only playing to an audience of one.
Plus, even if you can’t give up social sharing, you can look at your journal as a trial run. Use it to work out how best to express your thoughts before you “go live” with them. That way, you’ll have fewer regrets once you put your words out there, where they’re a screen capture away from haunting you forever should you misspeak.
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