Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 4: How To Start Journaling So That It Actually Helps


So many people I know say that they are terrible writers. 

"I'm not a writer."

"Oh no, I can't write."

This limiting belief gets in the way of so many people learning how to access the enormous power of journaling. Much of the perceived limitation that people hide behind is due to the belief that there is a right or wrong way to journal. If people are not accustomed to the vulnerability of reflection or the practice of handwritten freewriting, then a giant mental block is formed in their brain, creating a balloon of pressure that leads to panic and........they never try to start. 

The concept of right and wrong is horrendously taboo. If you missed my post about why that is, check it out here before we continue, to give you better context.

The Problem

In this world of oversaturated markets peppering us with advertisements about what the internet thinks you need to buy, there are so many options for notebooks and planners and journals that are supposedly the miracle for your productivity and success, but how can someone know what journal is best for them if they believe that they will not be able to journal "correctly" from the get-go?

What To Do About It

The solution is to start with the end in mind. 

What makes you productive at home or at work? What practices do you have in place to be productive? What must be in place around you for you to feel productive?

For example, music needs to be playing in order to clean the house. A picture of your family must be lined up on your desk in order to start work. 

Everyone's unique productivity criterium is different and represents the way that their mind works.

In this way, the efficacy of reflective journaling depends on your awareness of what makes you productive. 

The Practice 

I started journaling in the winter of my freshman year of college. I remember it was a time where my self-awareness was blooming and I needed a way to filter the thoughts that were flooding in to my mind as college slapped me with the concept of "adult independence".

I was not so aware yet to necessarily do anything with the thoughts but I needed a place to put them. To save them.

My first journal entry ever was one simple phrase: "I am like Leonardo Da Vinci". Not because I was an artist and inventor at the time but because I recognized that I thought differently than a lot of people around me and I analyzed the world and my life in deep ways. 

This is a great example of journaling because the realization had been in my head for a while and I needed to get it out, even though there was nothing to do about it other than remain aware that that is the way that I am. 

I have a huge imagination. I spend probably 35% of every day consciously imagining life as though it were in a movie, with background music and all. Because of this, my productivity is correlated with my ability to hold on to the broader vision of something I am doing so that I can focus on the tasks that contribute to it. 

As a result, my mind does not respond well to confinement. 

This is why I am most successful at journaling freehand in a lined journal that has no prompts or schedulers or anything. Nothing that tries to constrain my mind into certain kinds of reflective structure. 

Your Turn

So again, what makes you productive?

Many people need much more mental structure than I do when reflecting, and that is okay. If you are one of those people, you would benefit from a journal that has writing prompts or specifically organized spaces for certain kinds of reflection in it so that the structure is provided for you and all you have to do is answer the questions.

Bullet Journals have become super popular because of the way they help people structure and organize their thoughts and notes with visual cues in the notebook itself.

Modern technology has advanced so far as to offer Rocketbooks, which are environmentally conscious notebooks that allow you to download pictures of your notes into a Rocketbook app and then microwave the notebook to erase the notes. 

This works well for the person who would not mind keeping the reflections somewhere but also feels compelled to burn all evidence of the reflection because of how vulnerable the process was. I know a few people like that...

How To Get Started

Clean and simple lined journals work the best for me not only because of the lack of visual constraints in the journal itself, but because it gives me total freedom to write in it however I damn want to.

I can say whatever I want in it. No one is telling me what to do.

"Okay cool, Taylor. But how do I start?"

(I get that a lot)

Start like I did with one simple phrase. It does not matter what it is. Anger is pretty accessible for people so say something you are pissed off about. For instance "I am pissed at ______________." 

It is as easy as that. 

Your next steps

Journaling has been one of the most powerful things I have ever done. It has saved my life on a couple of occasions, and continues to allow me to store information about myself beyond the confines of my head.

I want this for you as well. So start here:

  1. Determine what mental state makes you productive.

  2. Find a notebook or journal that coincides with that.

  3. Think of one simple phrase that is relevant to your life right now for your first entry. 

  4. Enjoy the boundless expanse of your thoughts.