Journaling Basics

How to Build a Journaling Habit that Lasts

Even though keeping a journal is a proven way to foster deeper self-reflection and personal growth, starting a new journaling habit can be difficult. Whether you’re looking to document your daily thoughts and experiences, or set and track goals, a regular journaling habit can have a profound impact on your mental and emotional well-being.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a complete novice to journaling, it can be hard to know where to begin. The good news is that building a journal habit doesn’t have to be complicated, although it does take some time and effort. With a few simple tips and tricks, you can make journaling a regular part of your daily routine and start reaping the benefits of the self-discovery and self-awareness that journaling provides. In this post, we’ll explore some practical strategies for starting and maintaining a journaling habit that works for you.

What is a Journaling Habit?

A journaling habit is the practice of regularly writing down thoughts, feelings, and observations in a journal. Journaling can be considered a self-reflection practice that allows you to process your emotions and thoughts, reflect on your experiences, and gain insight into yourself and your life.

Journaling can be done in different forms, such as free-form writing, using journal prompts or questions, or using a specific journaling method like gratitude journaling or bullet journaling.

A journaling habit may mean writing a new journal entry every day or a few times a week. The key is to make journaling a regular part of your daily or weekly routine by setting aside time for journaling on a regular basis.

A journaling habit may mean writing a new journal entry every day or a few times a week. Some people journal for a few minutes a day, while others write for longer periods of time. The key is to make journaling a regular part of your daily or weekly routine by setting aside time for journaling on a regular basis.

The Difficulty of Building a Journal Habit

As with most habits, there are several reasons why it can be hard to keep a journal on a regular basis:

  • Lack of time: Many people find it hard to make time for journaling in their busy lives.
  • Difficulty getting started: Some people find it hard to know what to write about or how to start journal writing, leading to procrastination.
  • Perfectionism: Some people might have a hard time keeping a journal because they feel like their writing is not good enough and might be too hard on themselves.
  • Difficulty in staying consistent: Keeping a journal is a habit, and like any habit, it can be hard to keep it consistent, especially if you miss a day or two.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: Journaling can be a powerful tool for processing emotions, but for some people, the act of writing about difficult or painful experiences can be overwhelming.
  • Lack of motivation: Some people may find it hard to stay motivated to keep journaling if they don’t see any immediate benefits.

It’s important to remember that journaling is a personal practice, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to be kind and compassionate to yourself, and to experiment with different methods and techniques until you find what works for you.

journaling habit

Before You Begin: Identify Your “Why” for Keeping a Journal

A “why” statement (also known as a “motivational statement” or “purpose statement”) is a statement that clearly articulates the reason or purpose behind a goal or habit you wish to build. A “why” statement explains why something is important to you and helps to provide a sense of direction and focus.

For example, here are a few example “why” statements for building a journaling habit:

  • “I want to start journaling to better understand my thoughts and feelings and improve my emotional well-being”
  • “I want to start keeping a journal on a regular basis to document my life and my memories.”

By identifying a clear “why” statement, you’re more likely to stay motivated and stay on track with your goal.

Set Aside Time for a Journaling Habit Kick-Off Session

If you’re still in the early stages of forming your journal habit, set aside some time to do a dedicated “journaling habit” kick-off session. This session of journaling is designed to help you decide why you want to keep a journal, the challenges you anticipate, and then form an action plan for keeping a journal. By writing all of these things down in your journal, you’ll gain clarity and insight into your thoughts and feelings about keeping a journal.

Answer the following questions in your journal:

1. Why do I want to build a journaling habit?

After reviewing the section above, jot down a few reasons why forming a journaling habit is important to you. What journaling benefits are you hoping to achieve? Identify a few reasons why you want to start journaling.

2. How do I define a journaling habit?

Decide how to define a “journaling habit” for yourself. Does it mean writing every day, a few times a week, every weekend, or on a certain day of a week? Defining what a journaling habit means to you helps keeps it personal.

3. What challenges do I anticipate in keeping a journal?

Take some time to review the reasons for why it’s hard to keep a journal in the “The Difficulty of Building a Journal Habit” section above. Which reasons resonate for you the most?

Keep in mind that everyone is likely to experience one of these challenges (or maybe all of them!) Document a few of the challenges you anticipate, like “I may find it hard to make time for journaling because …” or “I may feel overwhelmed when it comes to writing every day because …

4. How can I make journaling a routine part of my day or week?

For this last question, document a specific time of day you plan to journal. You may also want to consider habit stacking (or pairing one habit with another.) You may want to write this out as a declarative statement such as “I will set aside 15 minutes before bed to write in my journal” or “I will take a break around 4 p.m. each day to write in my journal” or “I will write in my journal each morning while I drink my coffee.”

5. How will I reward myself for keeping a journal?

Incentivizing a new habit can also be a great way to establish a new routine. Think of a way to reward yourself after you meet a certain threshold of days of journaling, like “I will treat myself to __________ after I have journaled for ____ consecutive days or weeks.”

6. What tips for building a journaling habit will I adopt?

Now, finish reading the rest of this post. Pick out a few of the tips you plan to use in your own journaling habit and write them down in a commitment statement, like “I commit to starting small” or “I will set myself a reminder” or “I will track my progress.”

15 Tips for Building a Lasting Journaling Habit

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the ways to prepare and plan for your journaling habit, here are 10 practical tips for keeping a journal on a regular basis. After reviewing these tips, you may want to reflect a bit more or document your thoughts in your journal.

1. Start small.

Begin with a small and manageable journaling goal that you can easily achieve. For example, you may want to begin by setting aside just a few minutes a day to write. One study from 2018 showed that just 15 minutes of positive affect journaling three times a week may help ease feelings of anxiety and stress and boost resilience.

To start small, you may decide you want to write just a few sentences, upload a single photo, write for a specific amount of time, or keep your journaling goal to a few times a week instead of every day. The key is to keep it manageable (while challenging!) so you can set yourself up for success.

2. Make journaling part of your daily routine.

Establish a regular time and place to write in your journal. Make it a non-negotiable part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. For example, choose a specific time of day or location to write. You may want to commit to writing in your journal in the morning, while your mind is fresh, or in the evening, as a way to reflect on the day and unwind. You may want to use your evening commute on the train as your time to write. Or you may want to visit a favorite coffee shop or bookstore as a place to journal every Saturday morning.

3. Keep journaling simple and easy.

A journal entry can be as simple as a few sentences, some bullet points, or a photo or two. While we may have high hopes of journaling 2,000 words a day or devoting an entire hour to journaling, keeping things simple and easy make a habit more sustainable over the long run. This may mean identifying the gap between an ideal journaling habit and one we can actually sustain.

Instead of writing in a notebook, you may want to start a digital journal as a way to keep things simple and easy. A journal app like Day One is designed to make keeping a journal as simple as opening an app on your phone to start typing a new entry. You can even upload photos, videos, or audio files.

4. Set reminders to journal.

Use a reminder or alarm to remind you that it’s time to journal. Reminders can be a great way to nudge yourself into building a habit at a specific time of day so you don’t forget.

With the Day One journal app, you can set up journaling reminders so you get a notification on your phone or via text message to remind you to write in your journal. In addition to a standard daily reminder, you can even add additional custom reminders so you can have a custom message appear, at a specific time or recurrence. You can also choose which journal to post an entry, add tags, and even specific templates so you can easily get started with a new journal entry.

5. Use prompts or questions to help guide your writing.

Journal prompts are questions or statements that are used to guide and inspire writing in a journal. They can be used to help generate ideas, stimulate reflection, and encourage self-discovery. They can take many forms, including open-ended questions, writing prompts, or reflective statements.

Journal prompts can be helpful if you find it hard to know what to write about or if you want to explore a specific topic or theme. They can also be used to encourage specific types of writing, such as gratitude journaling, daily reflections, or goal setting. You may find it helpful to use journal prompts as a way to spark inspiration or motivation to write in your journal.

6. Use journal templates.

Journal templates are pre-designed formats or layouts that are used to organize and structure your journal entries. Templates can include prompts, questions, or sections for specific types of information, such as daily reflections, goal setting, or gratitude journaling.

Using a templated approach to journal entries can be helpful for those who want a structured format to follow, for those who want to explore a specific topic or theme, or for those who have difficulty knowing where to start when journaling. They can also be used as a guide to help organize thoughts and ideas. It’s important to note that templates are not meant to be prescriptive, you can always add, remove or change things to make it more suitable to your journaling style. But if you find yourself wanting to write about the same things each day or week, a journal template is a great way to speed up the process of creating a journal entry.

The Day One journal app has several pre-built journal templates that you can use, such as a 5 Minute AM, 5 Minute PM, Daily Gratitude, Day Summary, and more. You also add custom journal templates with your own text and reminders.

7. Let go of perfectionism.

Remember that the purpose of journaling is to process your thoughts and emotions, not to create a polished final product. You may find it helpful to write without caring about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Just write—you can always edit later.

When it comes to your journaling habit, be kind and compassionate to yourself and remember that it’s okay if you miss a day or don’t have much to write about. Remember it takes time to build a habit.

8. Backfill journal entries for dates you miss.

There’s no rule that says you can’t go back and fill in dates you missed in your journal. As we’ve interviewed many people with long journaling streaks in our Streak Stories series, backfilling entries seems to be a common approach.

In the Day One app, you can change the date or time of a new entry by clicking on the date of the entry. You can also add entries from the calendar view by selecting a date on the calendar.

9. Track your progress.

Keeping track of your progress, either by writing it down or using a journaling app like Day One, will help you see your progress and stay motivated. The Day One journal app has a few ways to track your journaling habit. Journal Streaks show the number of consecutive days entries were created, and the Calendar view gives you a visual of dates on the calendar for every entry you create. Both of these features make it easy to see how often you’ve journaled so you can track your progress.

10. Experiment with different journaling techniques.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of journaling such as gratitude journaling, bullet journaling, or free-form writing. You may want to try video journaling or photo journaling, too. If writing about your feelings seems too overwhelming, focus on the events of the day to document what happened. You may even want to experiment with creating multiple journals with specific purposes, such as a food journal, dream journal, or gratitude journal.

11. Celebrate small wins.

Remember to reward yourself when you successfully complete your journaling habit goal. Celebrating small wins is about recognizing and acknowledging progress, no matter how small it is. Figure out what “celebrating” means to you—is it simply taking a moment to recognize an accomplishment and give yourself a pat on the back? Is it treating yourself to something you enjoy, like a relaxing spa day or a new book? Do you like to invest in something to make your journaling habit more enjoyable or easy, such as a new pen or markers, or a Day One premium membership? Does celebrating mean sharing your win with family or friends? Just choose something that will help you to stay motivated and engaged in your journaling habit.

12. Reflect and reassess your journaling habit.

Reflect on your journaling habit and make adjustments as necessary. Ask yourself: What seems to be working? What isn’t working? For example, you may find that writing in your journal in the morning is just too difficult. Maybe it’s time to write at a different time of day instead.

13. Reread your journal entries over time.

As you build your journaling habit, make a point to reread your journal entries. Reflecting on your past journal entries can help you see how you’ve grown and changed over time. This may also help reinforce the habit of journaling as beneficial for your memory, self-reflection, and personal growth.

14. Make journaling enjoyable.

Finding ways to make journaling more enjoyable can make it more sustainable in the long run. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and make it a fun and enjoyable experience. For example, focus on writing about fun, funny, or meaningful moments of the day. Use your journal as a place to be creative, daydream, or explore new ideas.

15. Be patient and don’t give up.

Building any habit, especially a journaling habit, takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and don’t be discouraged if you slip up or miss a day. The key to building any habit is to stick with it even when it’s hard. Just remember: you can do anything you commit to doing if you don’t give up. Be patient and keep trying! Each day is a new opportunity to start fresh. Your journal always offers a blank page, waiting to be written, whenever you are ready.

Wrapping Up: Journaling is A Life-Changing Habit

Building a journaling habit can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth. A journaling habit can help you reap the many benefits of keeping a journal on a more regular basis. By following the tips outlined in this post, you can set yourself up for success by making journaling a regular part of your daily routine.

Remember to start small, track your progress, and experiment with different ways of journaling until you find what works best for you. With time and dedication, journaling can become a part of your daily routine that you’ll look forward to each day. Plus, with journaling, you get the added benefit of building a life-changing habit that continues to compound into the future, serving as a reminder of all the progress you have made.

Start A Lasting Journaling Habit with the Day One Journal App

The Day One journaling app makes it easy to keep a journal and build a journaling habit. With daily reminders, daily writing prompts, and journaling streaks, you can stay motivated to form a journaling habit that lasts.

About the Author

Kristen Wright is the author of three books on journaling, including The Transformation Year, a year-long series of daily journal prompts. With a passion for writing and self-reflection, Kristen uses her experience with journaling to help others discover the benefits of documenting their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In her role at Day One, she helps to promote the power of journaling so people from all walks of life can experience the transformative power of journaling.

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