A blank page looms in front of you. Its pale and ghostly gaze haunts the chasm of your Soul.
What Type of Inner Work Do You Need?
There are many routes we can take to get us through the depths of our unconscious. Which path should you take?
Okay, I know, maybe I’m being a little dramatic here.
But let’s face it … journaling can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re a beginner.
What do you write? How do you start? What do you put on that page?
As someone who has been journaling since 1999, I know that unnerving feeling. But I’ve had a lot of experience overcoming those problems, and I can help you out.
Journaling was and continues to be my go-to self-love and self-care practice. In fact, it was the #1 thing I EVER did to manage the anxiety and depression that sometimes plagues me.
Not only that, but journaling has actually evolved into a core spiritual practice for me.
Yes – I still do it to this very day!
Table of contents
How to Start a Journal
Answer this question:
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Are you a paper or online kind of person?
In other words:
Do you love the romantic idea of keeping a hand-written journal or are you a practical person who likes the convenience of online writing?
There’s a certain kinesthetic joy of putting a pen to paper. But there’s also a lot to be said for writing in an app or online diary.
To begin a journal, you’ve got to decide what kind of person you are.
(And maybe, you’re both?)
Here are some pros and cons to be aware of:
Hand-written journaling pros:
- Cozy and romantic (let’s be honest)
- You can doodle and draw more easily
- Helps you to slow down and be introspective
- It’s not as secure or private
- Can feel laborious
- Not easily searchable
- If you have messy handwriting that you can’t read, it’s probably not a great idea
Online journaling pros:
- You can easily do stream-of-consciousness writing
- More convenient when you’re on-the-go
- Easier to keep organized (e.g., with tags, folders, etc.)
- Is searchable (i.e., many online apps like Evernote allow you to search for a keyword or an idea you’ve had)
- More secure and private
- Lacks artistic flair
- Not as meditative
- You might not be able to connect as emotionally to what you’ve written
Yes, you can absolutely try out both (in fact, I recommend that you do!). But generally, you’ll gravitate toward one more than the other when learning how to journal.
Journaling, Spirituality, and Self-Care
I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.— Anne Frank
As a simple yet powerful form of self-care, learning how to journal can enrich your life on every level, including the spiritual.
Studies have shown that journaling improves our emotional and mental health (more about this in our other journaling article).
But how does journaling help us spiritually?
The answer is that journaling provides a gateway to our inner Self (also known as Higher Self) or Soul.
By helping us to explore, process, and work through our thoughts, emotions, dreams, and desires, journaling nourishes our self-awareness. Our ability to self-actualize increases.
We start to develop a fertile relationship with our inner landscape.
And the more inwards we go, the greater capacity we have to distinguish between our thoughts and feelings, and the whisperings of our Soul.
How to Write a Journal Entry
So how do you begin?
What do you write about within your journal?
When learning how to journal, just focus on one of the following basic questions:
- How do I feel right now?
- What’s on my mind right now?
- Why do I feel or think ______ ?
Start with one of these questions and see where it takes you, you might be surprised!
Download 12 FREE Printable Journaling Prompts!
Learn how to journal with the support of our journaling prompts that will guide you through exploring and discovering different parts of yourself.
How to Keep a Daily Journal
Answer: create a habit.
How do you create a habit?
Here’s some guidance from habit-creating expert Charles Duhigg:
- Create a cue or trigger that will inspire you to do the habit. For instance, think about when you’d like to journal – maybe in the morning? Perhaps before having your tea or coffee you could sit down to journal. Ask yourself, “How can I fit this into my day?”
- Make it into a routine. Once you’ve chosen your journaling cue, create a routine out of it, aka. do it every day, at the same time, in the same way. Even if you can only spare 1 minute, that’s okay. The point is to keep up the habit.
- Reward yourself. You can either go out of your way to reward yourself (this works in cases where you’re doing something you don’t enjoy). But the reward here will most likely come naturally: you’ll experience the spark of joy from having filled a page. You might feel a sense of self-mastery, accomplishment, mental clarity, or emotional relaxation – that will be the reward. But if you want to eat a piece of chocolate afterwards, I’m not against that either. ;)
How to Journal: 19 Beginner Tips For Modern Mystics
As I’ve already explored how to journal in a previous article of mine, I’ll cover beginner tips specifically for spiritual seekers below.
Journaling is a spiritual tool and discipline.
Journaling helps you to go deep in a way few other modalities can.
If you’ve ever gone to therapy, you’ll also notice that journaling is one of the first practices recommended by counselors and psychologists.
So if you’re a modern mystic, spiritual wanderer, self-help voyager, or simply want to build a better relationship with yourself, here’s my advice for how to journal:
1. Take a centering breath
This is optional, but I find that it’s often beneficial to pause briefly before journaling.
Taking a centering breath (i.e., breathing slowly, smoothly, and deeply) helps to stimulate a calming parasympathetic response in your body.
The idea is that the more relaxed you are, the more enjoyable it will be to write, and the more you’ll be able to go deeper with your journaling.
2. Get comfortable
Depending on where you decide to journal (e.g., on the train), this isn’t always possible.
But if you choose to set a journaling habit at home, it’s amazingly helpful to associate it with comfort and safety.
Whether it’s a cozy nook in your house, a favorite chair, or even your bed, journaling in a comfortable setting will cement this as a life-enriching habit.
3. To connect with your heart, try this
Many spiritual and mystical inclined folks have a strong desire to reconnect with the heart and the power of love. If this is something important to you, try this:
Place one hand over your heart, and the other hand over your stomach. Mindfully sit like this for one minute, tuning into your inner being.
That’s it, it’s very simple.
This practice, which I explore a little more in my deep listening article is what I call heart-gut centering.
Instead of staying solely in your mind, this trick will help you to tune into your heart and gut instinct intelligence.
4. Why journaling in the liminal hours is particularly special
My next tip for how to journal as a beginner is to choose a liminal hour – aka. Sunrise or sunset – to journal.
These ‘betwixt and between’ liminal times of day are symbolic of the threshold between one world and the next. In other words, sunrise and sunset are like gateways between the conscious and unconscious mind.
In myths and fairy tales, liminal times of day were spaces of magic, mystery, and transformation.
So while you’re free to choose any time of day to journal, I recommend setting a solid habit at either sunrise or sunset. You’ll notice that, for some reason, it adds an extra ‘oomph’ to your writing.
5. Choose a format
Refer to the previous section in this article entitled, ‘How to Start a Journal’ if you haven’t read it already. Are you a paper or digital person? Figure that out, and you’re all set!
6. Light a candle
Again, this is not essential. I only share this tip because it has helped me.
If you want to dive right into journaling, go for it!
But if you like creating little rituals that ‘get you in the mood,’ this might help.
Lighting a candle is symbolic of intentionally creating a ‘sacred space.’ Fire also represents clarity, inspiration, passion, purification, and rebirth.
As you can see, this simple practice has many benefits that directly enhance the process and power of journaling.
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7. Ask yourself these questions
I’ll repeat what I wrote above in the section called ‘How to Write a Journal Entry’ because it’s important.
Focus on answering one of the following simple questions:
- How do I feel right now?
- What’s on my mind right now?
- Why do I feel or think ______ ?
Choose one of these questions and go from there.
8. Let go and let flow
Don’t worry about editing what you’ve written or being grammatically correct.
None of that stuff matters.
Let go of the idea that you have to be a “good writer,” or “make sense” – this is irrelevant!
The point of journaling is to help you get into an introspective flow that will enable you to spill out the contents of your heart and mind.
9. Send your inner critic to the naughty corner
We all have an inner critic, that part of us that is watching and judging and second-guessing everything we do.
Journaling can trigger this fault finding part of us – especially when you’re first learning how to journal.
When thoughts such as “you’re no good at this,” “this sucks,” “I sound ridiculous,” “none of this makes sense,” “you should just quit now” arise, be aware that they’re from the inner critic.
And send that part of you to the naughty corner!
By this, I mean, reclaim your power, affirm yourself, and ignore the tirade of negativity from your inner grouch.
10. Read over what you’ve written to gain insight
Don’t skip this part!
Reading back over what you’ve written helps you to integrate different pieces of information. Often, the greatest epiphanies will emerge out of the blue when reading your own words back to yourself.
Also, his practice helps to strengthen your self-awareness, self-understanding, and even self-acceptance – it gives you a bird’s eye view of what you’re thinking and feeling.
You may even like to go so far as highlighting keywords or even making notes about your notes. This practice can boost clarity, emotional integration, and provide clues for what to do next in your life.
11. Call on guidance from your Soul / ‘spiritual team’
Sometimes, we feel so murky inside that we desperately need help from a higher source (one greater than our limited ego-self).
That prayer may sound like, “Dear Soul/spirit guides/ancestors/etc., please help me to find clarity and a way forward. I feel lost and stuck and I need your loving spiritual guidance. Please light my way as I journal. Thank you/amen.”
Such a simple action as prayer can help deepen and sanctify the process of journaling.
12. Keep your journal private
In particular, if you opt for a physical journal, keep it secure!
By ensuring that your journal is private, you’ll be able to write in an uninhibited way. You won’t feel pressured subconsciously to keep things ‘clean’ or ‘acceptable’ so that just in case someone reads it, you won’t get in trouble.
Your journal needs to be a space where you can be absolutely 100% honest.
So buy a padlock. Lock it in a case. And if you have an online journal, choose a secure password.
Don’t share that password with anyone (obviously) and make that password unique to the journaling platform you’re using.
13. What to do if you have writer’s block …
Some days no words come. It happens. And that’s okay.
I don’t write in my journal everyday, particularly during periods where I feel like life has a certain equilibrium.
(But as a beginner learning how to journal, it’s good to create a daily habit, even if you don’t feel like it, keep the habit up every day for a year or more. I wrote every day from age 13 to 19, religiously. It paid off a thousand times over!)
There are a few ways to overcome writer’s block:
- List 10 things you’re grateful for and why
- Finish the sentence, “Today I am feeling …”
- Finish the sentence, “Today, most of my thoughts have been about …”
- Go on a website like Pinterest and find a bunch of journaling prompts that inspire you!
14. Stay inspired and keep the magic alive
I’ll admit, sometimes journaling can feel lonely, especially when you’re doing it alone and it’s all about you.
Thankfully, there are so many ways of staying inspired and connected with other journalers!
Join a Facebook group for Journalers, create a Pinterest board with beautiful journaling prompts and aesthetic. Search Instagram for inspiration. You can also check out my 30+ list of mindfulness journaling prompts.
The internet is your best friend!
15. Stick with one main type of journaling, but don’t be afraid to try others
There are so many types of journaling out there. Examples include:
- Introspective journaling (what we’ve been talking about)
- Gratitude journals
- Bullet journals
- Morning pages
- Dream journaling
- Travel journals
Don’t overwhelm yourself with taking on too many types of journaling, just try one or two and stick with them to see how they resonate with you.
16. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself
When first learning how to journal we want to try and create a habit.
But don’t let that desire to create a habit cause you to feel pressured into doing it. Journaling is meant to be fun and therapeutic.
When we’re overly strict with ourselves, we invite the inner critic into the room to berate us with nasty self-talk and diminish our self-worth.
So attempt to set a habit, but be gentle and forgiving with yourself.
It’s okay to put journaling aside if you feel worn down or just don’t want to force yourself. Do what empowers you!
17. Be wary of wallowing
I love journaling because it helps me to express emotions that I struggle to put into words.
But I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of using journaling to wallow in feelings of self-pity and condemnation in the past.
So be wary of wallowing. Journaling is meant to illuminate you, not drag you into the dungeons of despair.
If you feel like it’s moving in that direction, stop, take a break, and answer the question, “What can I do to feel better?”
18. Try a pre-formatted journal
Blank journals are great. But there’s something delicious about pre-formatted journals, aka. ones that already come with questions or are beautifully designed.
One that I’ve been using recently is the Mother Mary Oracle Journal because I’ve been connecting with the Virgin Mary and I love the artwork of Shiloh Sophia McCloud.
Based on my experience as a spiritual counselor and journaling enthusiast, I’ve also co-authored a number of journals such as:
Sometimes we need direction with our journaling and a little helping hand, so if any of these journals catch your eye, feel free to check them out. (You’ll be supporting my work here too!)
19. Look at the big picture
Finally, perhaps one of the things I love the most about journaling is the ability to see the big picture of your life.
Few people explore the benefits of reading back over what you’ve written one week, one month, or one year in the past.
I often like to flip to random pages and see what I was thinking or feeling on a certain day. Often I find unexpected themes emerging, such as the fact that around the full moon, I feel particularly antsy and irritable. (Or conversely, filled with wild ideas.)
By looking back at what you’ve written, you can find strange and delightful surprising patterns emerge.
Often, a life lesson that you’ve been trying to integrate comes back into focus. A new layer is revealed. And more spiritual integration can happen.
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If you’d like to find more suggestions on how to start journaling, see our 100+ journaling ideas article.
It’s such a beautiful process!
Journaling has enriched my life in more ways than I can ever express.
To end this guide on how to journal, I’ll leave you with some gorgeous quotes about journaling:
Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.― Christina Baldwin
Journaling is a great way to pay attention to “how it all came to be.” In looking back, you gain insight into (and appreciation for) your challenges, lessons, and perseverance.― Melissa Steginus
Your Journal is like your best friend, You don’t have to pretend with it, you can be honest and write exactly how you feel.― Bukola Ogunwale
Tell me, do you journal? What part of this article helped you the most?