Journaling is highly recommended as a way to relieve stress, increase focus, and gain insight. However, many people write one entry and then the notebook is tossed into the back of a drawer and forgotten.
Writing nurtures your relationship with yourself and provides a valuable coping tool. A journal is available when there is no one to talk to, enabling you to soothe your own emotions and come to your own conclusions.
The three most common roadblocks to journaling are summarized here, with ideas for overcoming each hurdle.
1. “I don’t want someone to find it and read it.”
It is understandable to be concerned about other people finding all your innermost thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, there are many ways to secure the contents of your journal for your eyes only.
Lock boxes. This might be a locking file cabinet or a security box with a key or combination. A simple lock box with a key can be found for about $15-$20.
Journal Software. Keep all your writing safe on your computer. Word or Notepad are well liked, but journaling software adds that extra level of security with encryption and passwords. Some popular programs include OneNote, The Journal, and MacJournal.
Journaling Websites. Access your journal from anywhere by using a journaling website. Penzu provides a free and secure platform for journaling, with the option to upgrade for additional protection and use of a mobile app. My Therapy Journal is a paid service and includes features like charting progress toward goals. Blogs are popular as well, but the settings need to be changed to private. I did not feel confident I changed these settings correctly and so I was uncomfortable using a blog as a journal.
Cell Phone. Your cell phone is usually with you at all times and has a password to limit access. It can be helpful to type out a quick journal entry using a memo or utilize encrypted journal apps, like Memories: The Diary.
2. “I don’t want to read it”.
Reading your writing further fuels processing of your thoughts and emotions and can create new awareness and insight. However, it is okay to never read a journal entry again! So, go ahead and shred, burn, or delete those words you don’t want hanging around. The writing by itself is beneficial enough, and the reading is a step you can opt out of.
3. “I don’t know what to write”.
A blank page can be intimidating, creating a momentary loss of words. Some people are also concerned about journaling “correctly” and apply rules to the way they are writing. These rules might be about how often you write, how long your entry is, and how neatly it is written. It is also common to become critical of your writing as not “good” enough. The following tips might help.
There are no rules. Wreck this Journal is a fun book that invites you to tear out the pages, doodle poorly on purpose and break all the journaling rules. Your journal is for you. It can include free writing, poetry, drawings, photos, blank pages, scribbles, misspellings, profanity, bold colors, sloppy handwriting, magazine clippings, or whatever else you choose.
Let it flow. Just start writing, even if you write “I don’t know what to write”. Again, there are no rules. If you become critical, write those criticisms down too. It can be helpful to see clearly what that critical voice is saying. The important part is that you are writing.
Take an inventory. Write down every single thought that is going through your head. Don’t stop until you’ve collected them all, no matter how big or small. This can be a good exercise at night when you are having trouble sleeping.
Ask yourself questions. Here are a few questions as an example. Ask questions and answer them, as if you were in a conversation with a dear friend.
- What am I feeling right now?
- Have I felt this way before?
- What do I want?
- What is bothering me the most?
- What is my part in this situation?
- What’s holding me back?
- What am I grateful for?
- What if I wasn’t afraid?
Use Writing Prompts. It can be helpful at times to pick a topic or a random question to motivate our writing. Here is one site with over 700 prompts, like “where do you think you will be in 5 years?”, “what is your earliest memory?” and “what is on your bucket list?”.
Enjoy your writing!