Updated: Apr 19, 2021
For many people journaling has positive benefits. Through journaling, people are able to gain insight regarding mood and behaviors, problem solve more strategically, reduce stress, and even increase self-esteem. All of these things can lead to an improvement of health and is often included as part of self-care activities.
Your left brain, the analytical and rational side, is activated while writing. And while the left side of the brain is busy ‘being the brains’, the right side is working your creativity, intuition, emotions, and thoughts. When you put it all together, the process of writing can minimize mental blocks and allow you space to dig deeper about yourself, others, and things that are happening around you.
I started keeping a journal, or diary, of all types during childhood. From rap lyrics and short stories to accounts of my life and my thoughts. I was very private with my journals and would sometimes throw them away so that no one would ever know what I’d written. I wish I would have kept them, but that’s what I felt I needed to do at the time. As I got older, I began keeping other types of journals and I still practice journal keeping to this day.
Types of Journals
This is a common method of journaling and the first type of journal that I began keeping. You write about your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they relate to the things that are going on in your life. I remember this journal vividly. It was smooth to the touch, lime green with white patterns, and could be closed with a lock. I was in grade school and can recall writing about how excited I was about spending summer vacation with my grandmother.
I had a rhyme book full of dope lyrics complete with bars, hooks, and sometimes music. Most of the songs were about my life or things happening around me. I talked about love, sex, and relationships a lot, go figure. Think Issa Rae freestyles--- I really wish that I would have kept that one! This later turned into poetry and story writing.
Remember passing notes in and between classes? Well, some friends and I began using notebooks to write back and forth in. We would pass the notebook in class and no one would suspect anything! There was even a notebook full of random characters (we created an alphabet, just in case anyone ever found it). Ha! You can use this concept to share a journal with family members as well.
This was a mixture of writing and scrapbooking. In other journals, I would probably mention traveling but this was only for documenting trips. I would write about preparing for the trip, the places I went to, people I met while also including ticket stubs, postcards, and brochures.
I kept a journal during my time living abroad in Costa Rica. It became a mixture of a thought recording journal and travel record. I also used the time specific style for two months to track my sleeping habits. This type of journaling can be used to record a transitioning period or when something uncommon is happening (i.e.: transitioning, summer vacation, pregnancy, beginning therapy, etc.).
This is a journal used to record your dreams. It is best to start writing as soon as you wake up so that you can document as many details as possible. If you are like me, you can keep a dream journal because you have very vivid dreams and want to record them. You can also use this journal if you want to analyze your dreams and identify any patterns.
Remember the idea of having a “Little Black Book”? Before cellphones, people would keep phone numbers in a small address book. Some people would make notes about dates or hook ups. You can do something similar or write to discover fantasies, preferences, and explore previous experiences in more detail.
I started doing this when I was young as a way to increase my comprehension and build my vocabulary. I would write down new words, the sentence it was used in, and write down the definition. This now looks like writing notes of my thoughts and ideas as I read along, questions that may come up for me, and things that I want to research to continue developing my understanding. You could also keep a log of all the books that you read and your thoughts about them or start a list of books that you want to read.
This can be a method to use if you are going through a change or want to write about your current situation in addition to your plans for growth. This can also be a way to track changes and progress while undergoing a journey of personal development. You can also use this method while you are going to therapy as well.
Simple ways to start a journal
Starting a journal can seem daunting, especially if this is a new interest of yours. The best way to take the pressure off is to determine what makes the most sense for you. You do not have to sit for 30-minutes a day to write long paragraphs about your deepest secrets, fears, and aspirations. Use the examples above, to remind yourself that there are a variety of ways to get the process going. Here are a few quick journaling tips:
Each morning, jot down your first thoughts or complete a to-do list. Before bed, reflect on those morning thoughts, check your list, and jot down new night thoughts.
Look online for writing prompts or purchase a journal with prompts or quotes you can use as writing inspiration.
Your phone likely has a recording feature. Use this to record your thoughts instead of writing them down.
You can also create a vlog (video log or blog). You can record this for yourself or share on social media. Think about YouTubers who talk about beauty routines, their natural hair journey, or share their thoughts about current events as examples.
I mentioned time-specific and personal development journals. You can implement the same concept with taking pictures of yourself, your surroundings, the kids in your life, whatever you like. And if you want to add a few thoughts to it, you can.
Journaling as a practice takes time to get into. Start off small if you need to and build your way up. But remember that there is no pressure because the process is your own. Be it a quick 5-minute log of ideas or a short story you created from the day’s events, the point is that you are taking time to prioritize yourself by prioritizing your thoughts!
Rafaella Smith-Fiallo is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owns Healing Exchange LLC. She specializes in supporting healing after sexual violence, building self-esteem and confidence, and teaching healthy sexuality to individuals, those in relationships, and within supportive group settings. She also cofounded Afrosexology, a sex-positive, pleasure based sexuality education platform.