journaling: how to start & make it stick.

I decided to start journaling because I was desperate to manage my anxiety and thoughts around food. I had read so many books on personal development and high performance and they ALL mentioned the benefits of journaling.

There is a bunch of neuroscience and psychology behind the benefits of daily writing and reflection, but I am no scientist. What I can say is it really works. I now manage my anxiety in a way I never dreamed possible, and I attribute a lot of that to my journaling habit.

Journaling can be such an important space to hold for yourself and your emotions. It is a space you can say whatever you want without consequences, really feel all of your emotions and hear all of your thoughts, and above all it is a constant source of support and an outlet for your day to day highs and lows.

I see the people in my life who chose not to journal and many are in a constant state of confusion. They come to me and are continually frustrated or feeling out of control, and I offer that it is because they are not taking the time to process life.

They have about a million thoughts in their head and never take a good look at any of them. This confusion is beyond frustrating for them because they are unable to take any kind of action towards the things that matter to them. They always feel trapped and it is because confusion stops action. Your objectives must be clear to get to your goals.

To state the obvious, all you need a notebook and a pen to journal. Finding the right materials is never the hard part of getting started. When I suggest that people journal when they are wanting to feel better and start working towards their goals, they often tell me they feel dumb writing about their feelings. But in my opinion, the really dumb thing to do would be to live a life completely controlled by the subconscious brain.

The subconscious brain will always tell you to hide and play small- to never face your demons- but that discomfort is the currency of your dreams and sanity.

Just thinking thoughts in your head isn’t enough, you aren’t clearing any head space for the thoughts you really want or for new perspectives.

Without getting things out of your head and on paper you will remain confused and stuck. Don’t wait to start writing until things are really desperate, or until you are happy so that you can just write about the good stuff. Start right now, this will be the habit that really moves the needle in your life.

Some simple tricks to make your journaling goal more habitual and easy to follow through on are to keep your journal next to your bed, or wherever you plan on writing, and to integrate it into your current routine.

In order to make journaling a part of your daily routine, you must strategically pick a time of day and place where you will write every day.

For me, I have found that it works really well to journal first thing in the morning. After my alarm goes off, I get up and get ready for my workout so I am not tempted to stay in bed. After I am dressed for my workout, I get back into bed and journal before heading to the gym. I have made daily writing a part of my morning routine.

Another trick to making journaling a habit for yourself is by creating triggers. For me, the trigger to write is the initiation of my morning routine. A trigger for you could be a time of day or a daily event that will be a reminder that it is time to journal. When you are first getting started you could even set an alarm on your phone or a calendar alert. Whatever it takes to start making journaling a habit for yourself- do it.

Creating a minimum baseline has been the ultimate hack to get myself to stick to any habit and really change my life. A minimum baseline is the minimum commitment you will follow through on.

My minimum baseline for journaling is that, no matter what, I will write my current goals and the steps I am taking today to make them happen- each and every day.

The trick to a minimum baseline is to make it so incredibly easy to follow through on that there is no way your brain can talk you out of doing it. Make it something you know you can and will do. Even if it seems too easy or too small to make a difference, the idea is to create a habit for yourself that will last and eventually become automatic.

When you establish a minimum baseline it should be about 20% of your long term goal. For example, if you want to write a page a day, start with a couple sentences- like your current goals or things you’re grateful for- and work up as you feel ready. But no matter what, you always show up for your minimum baseline.

Like anything, there are days you will skip the journaling or forget, but you just continue to recommit to your minimum baseline as many times as you need to until the habit is formed. If you keep going and reinforcing the behavior it will become automatic. Just keep going.

As I mentioned before, I started including journaling as part of my daily routine to manage my anxiety and thoughts around food.

I was able to use writing to get through anxiety by recording and looking at the thoughts in my brain that were creating the result of anxiety. A really simple template for this sort of self evaluation is Brooke Castillo’s thought model. I’ve found that low level anxiety can be addressed using this method of thought work.

Similarly, journaling can be used as a platform to uncover subconscious thoughts that are running, and possibly ruining, your life. To start checking in with yourself, I would set a timer for 10 minutes and commit to writing until the alarm sounds. Even if it is nonsense, give yourself the space to say whatever is bouncing around in your brain.

If you are feeling anxiety, it is usually intensified by an underlying sense of being out of control. Use writing as a way to give yourself some stability and take back control.

I take back control over my thoughts and feelings by writing about the situations that really freak or stress me out. If I’m obsessing over an event or a ‘what if’, I write down my current thoughts or story about it and process it down to the facts. I recognize what is really true and then rework my thoughts around those facts to serve me better.

When you’re being mindful, it really can be that simple. You are in the drivers seat.

Food urges- meaning the urge to over eat, eat off your plan, or eat when you are not hungry- can also be managed with journaling. Like I’ve said before, all overeating is emotional. If you are overweight or are feeling out of control with your eating, there is an emotional component that isn’t being addressed. Understanding the thoughts that are creating the urge to overeat will give you back so much power over food. Food and the urge to eat will no longer control you and keep you stuck at a weight you hate.

I have pages and pages in my personal journal filled with thought work about urges. To work through an urge, I first check in with myself when I have a thought about overeating or eating off plan. An easy way to idenitfy an urge is to ask yourself if you are hungry. This is very connected to an understanding of the hunger scale and the techniques I use to maintain my weight loss intuitively. You must increase your awareness of your body’s signals and be able to identify urges.

A recent example of this work that I’ve done is writing through urges to overeat chocolate at night. I was consistently going for more and more dessert than I had planned or needed each night, and I hated that I was breaking my plan and not doing what I said I would do. I was ready to figure it out. When I felt myself desiring the food even though I wasn’t hungry, I would go to my journal and write down my thoughts and especially focused on what I really wanted in that moment.

It took a few weeks of reflection, but I realized it was never the candy that I wanted- I was really wanting to take a break from homework and was using eating as a way to give myself an excuse to stop working. Once I figured out why I was overeating, I was able to give myself what I really wanted. Now I give myself a real break. I go talk to my roommates, I watch a YouTube video, I simply relax.

Without journaling, I would have kept mindlessly eating chocolate and wondering why I felt so overwhelmed. I took back control and gave myself what I really wanted and needed- and you can too.

Journaling, above all, has really been the secret to managing my anxiety and mind overall. And it’s not just me getting amazing results from this habit- read any personal development book or examine the routines of the highest performing people in the world. They all do some sort of reflection- whether it is writing or meditation- and it has enabled them to achieve incredible results.

Creating a space to examine, not just experience, your thoughts is the key to improving your mind and ultimately your life.

You may feel dumb or self conscious at first, but it is worth it- you are worth it. I know what it feels like to be completely overwhelmed with my weight and crippled with anxiety, but daily journaling has truly helped me take back control, and I know it could be the answer for you too.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

Pema Chodron

8 thoughts on “journaling: how to start & make it stick.

  1. I love love love journalling. I have been doing it consistently for almost a year now and I can see the difference in myself.

  2. I go through waves of journaling but it’s been a while. Life gets busy and the habit doesn’t stick. Thanks for sharing these ideas to help make it a part of my routine.

  3. Journalling is awesome and therapeutic. It helped me cope with my anxiety a lot. You can express yourself without criticism or pity.

  4. These are really helpful tips. I’m constantly buying new journals but fall off the wagon after a few days of using them. I’m trying to get better at it as it always helps me to brain storm for blog posts as well. Thanks for sharing!

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