You might think writing in a journal requires no explanation. Crack it open . . . pen to page . . . done. Except it doesn’t seem to be that easy for some because I know plenty of people who have bought journals or gotten them as gifts then never jotted down a single word in them. Sometimes, they got close: cracked open the cover, stared at the pristine blank page, let the pen hover there for a moment, then shook their heads and closed the cover again, tucked the journal in a drawer, and forgot about it.
I happen to believe that writing down your innermost thoughts helps you know yourself, clarify your wants and desires, explain to you why you do what you do, and the benefits go on and on. I also happen to know that an unwritten journal won’t help you at all.
So with all that in mind, here are a few tips/guidelines to help you actually use that journal:
1. Journaling can save your life if you make it imperfect
I’ve come to find the majority of the time people don’t use their journals is because those journals are perfect/pretty/unblemished and so people are either:
- afraid to mess them up by writing in them or
- afraid to make a mistake inside them.
So do yourself a kindness and scribble on the cover or the inside pages. Spill your favorite beverage on it. Put stickers all over it if that’s your thing. Drop it on the ground and step on it with a shoe, leaving tread marks. Whatever you need to do so that book is no longer perfect, and therefore you are free to write in it, make mistakes in it, be your glorious imperfect self in it.
2. Journaling can save your life if you don’t show it to anyone
Your journal is for you and you alone to figure things out. If you go into a journal thinking that you want someone else to read it, you’ll start second-guessing yourself, tweaking your responses, wondering if it’s okay to think what you think or feel what you feel because of how others might perceive it, and on the list goes.
You won’t be your authentic self, you won’t give yourself honest answers, you won’t let yourself explore how you actually honest-to-goodness feel about anything if you’re worried about what others will think of you if they read what you write. If you choose, later on, somewhere down the road to let someone else read it, that’s your choice. But right now and for as long as you want, maybe even forever, you keep your journal to yourself.
3. Journaling can save your life if you give yourself permission
This one’s about giving yourself permission for whatever you need to: to write the truth no matter how raw/brutal it might be, to burn your journals after you’re done writing in them, to write as much or as little as you want, to say what you really want to say and consequences be damned, to admit to things you’ve done or were done to you, and/or whatever it is that you need to give yourself permission to do.
I’ve come to find that many people, myself included, have spent far too much of our lives waiting around for someone else to give us permission to do things. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to do the things you want for your life; the only permission you ever need (ahem, as long as it’s legal) is your own.
4. Journaling can save your life if you don’t sweat the mistakes
You’re human so you’re going to make mistakes. No worries because you’re in excellent company with the rest of the humans on the planet. So make a mistake early on (see number 1 above), which gives you permission to make all kinds of mistakes from that point forward.
If you make a mistake, simply cross it out and keep on going. If you forgot something, jot it in the margin with an arrow. If you get distracted, doodle wherever you want to on the page. The point is to not let the mistakes derail you. You just keep going. There’s no perfection to be had, so don’t aim for that. Aim for honesty. Aim for real. Aim for knowing yourself and what you really want from your life.
5. Journaling can save your life if you stop judging
Your inner critic will likely come out. That’s okay because you’ve accepted that there’s no perfection to be had (see number 4). You’re in your journal to play, to figure things out, to experiment, to find your own voice (which is what you need to guide you). There’s no pressure in your journal. There is nothing at stake. It’s just you with a pen, talking to yourself. It’s just you learning some things.
You’re seeing what actions you might want to take. You have nothing to lose by writing in a journal that only you are going to read. So when that inner voice starts criticizing, don’t start berating it or arguing with it or engaging with it in any way other than to just offer it a cup of your favorite beverage and tell it that any answer, as long as it’s truthful, is the right answer for you. Then you keep on writing.
So will you save your own life and start writing in a journal today?