What journaling taught me about showing up

Keeping a journal has become an essential part of my life, but it took several false starts before I learned how to get the most out of journaling and to make the habit stick. Here’s why I initially struggled and how I eventually made journaling work for me.

What journaling taught me about showing up

I haven’t always kept a journal. There have been several points throughout my life where I’ve felt inspired to try to make journaling work for me but would fail to keep up the practice.

In hindsight, it was my mindset about journaling and some misconceptions I developed in early childhood that had me approaching journaling all wrong. It wasn’t until many years later, after I overcame these misconceptions, that I discovered how rewarding and helpful a regular journaling practice can be.

Misconception #1: You’re writing to an audience.

I was first introduced to journaling in primary school when my classmates and I were tasked with writing about what was happening in our lives and how we were feeling. We had spent several sessions writing in our journals when our teacher asked us to hand in our booklets so she could review them and give feedback. 😬

I think my teacher intended this exercise to help us strengthen our writing skills, but it was the first step in causing me to feel as if my private writing was on public display.

This belief was further reinforced about a year later when I was gifted a journal of my own and encouraged to begin my entries with “Dear Diary”. Unfortunately, there was something about writing, “Dear Diary” which made me feel like my entries were for/to someone else, thus requiring structure, etiquette, editing, and conversational flow.

Feeling like my journal was for someone else made me feel intensely restricted in how I could explore my thoughts and feelings. I wrote as if there was an audience, and this placed imaginary limits on what I felt I could write and how I believed I could write it. When I adjusted this mindset to accept that I could write whatever I wanted, however I wanted – without judgment, structure, edits, and form – my journal became a place where I could connect with myself.

Misconception #2: You need a reason to journal.

I’ve had perfectly good reasons to start a journal and I’m sure you have, too. It’s keeping a journal after the initial reasons have passed (or changed) that requires a deeper motivation to continue the practice.

If you’ve ever purchased a new journal, intent on filling it with your own daily life log only to discover 1/8th of the way through that you’ve lost all motivation to continue, you might relate to how I’ve felt any time I’d start – and flop – a new journal.

I found my deeper motivation during a self-imposed 30-day challenge of committing to journal every single day for a month. It was on the days when I didn’t feel like I had much to write about that I began adopting a stream-of-consciousness-style of writing and began opening up on the page. The resulting free-flowing mind-dump helped gave me a new perspective on how much I could unearth during a session regardless of whether I had something specific to write about.

That’s when it clicked for me that it’s the act of writing that matters most. I didn’t need a reason to write...I just needed to write. The discoveries I’ve made via the process of writing are what have made the practice so worthwhile.

Misconception #3: You must journal every day.

Writing in my journal nearly every day has worked well for me but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work well for you. I’ve missed days because I wasn’t feeling well or got too busy. I’ve also missed days (especially in the beginning) because I hadn’t yet made it a habit and had forgotten to make time for it. It took me a while, but I eventually discovered the best way to journal for me. You are likely to have your own style that works best for you...and maybe you just haven’t discovered it yet.

I believe some journaling is better than no journaling, so if the pressure of feeling like you must keep a journal every day is getting in the way of starting (or restarting) a journal at all, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to start and try at your own pace and take away the encouragement you need from this account of my own experience. 😊

Afterthoughts: I never liked how self-conscious I felt while writing in my journal and the twinge of failure I’d experience whenever I’d find myself unceremoniously plucking out the pages of a flopped journal so I could repurpose the remainder of the notebook for something else (I would throw the pages into the waste bin).

If it wasn’t for my wonderful husband, I honestly don’t know when I would have tried journaling again and if I would have found the right way for me. I owe him my deep thanks for helping me restart once more.