As a kid, I heard about journaling but wasn’t interested. As a teen I considered that journaling might be a good thing to do, but it still didn’t click for me; I tried and failed a few times and then just gave up.
Somewhere in my early 20s, something clicked. Now, journaling is a part of my daily life and those who know me are aware that I’m kind of obsessed with it. To those of you who want to journal but struggle, I’d like to share a few key principles and patterns that I have found helpful.
Find Your Motivation
Arggh! Yes, I used that word, but this is 100% the problem, it’s the thing you have to solve but stay with me here, it doesn’t have to be as painful as you think.
A great source of motivation that still fuels me to this day started with the Civil War journal of my great, great, great grandfather. As far as I know, nobody else in my family ever kept a journal, but this guy did. He not only kept a journal, he published several copies and passed them around to the whole family. It’s not that long, you can read it in about an hour, but for me it’s like a time machine.
Sure, any history book can take you back, but there’s something a little different when it’s your own flesh and blood writing about things like intense combat and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You might be thinking, “Cool story bro, but I don’t exactly have an ancestor’s journal lying around that I can draw motivation from.” I get that, but it wasn’t the content of the journal itself that motivated me, it was actually the absence of journals from my other ancestors.
Out of all my ancestors, I only had this one record. Seriously? Decades, even centuries of life experiences, and all they left were names on a gravestone. Only one guy cared enough to pass something along and it is a treasure to our family today. After a moment of scolding my ancestors, it was like I could hear them say, “Yeah? So what are you doing differently?” That was my initial kick of motivation.
Other motivators appeared once I actually started, I’ll list a few:
- Reflection. Sometimes I can’t even remember what I did 2 days ago. After a few weeks of daily journal-keeping I realized how cool it was to be able to recall an amazing amount of detail from my own past.
- Children. Having children made me think about what would happen if died. What would I leave behind for them? What kind of father would I be if I didn’t pass on the life lessons and perspectives that I have gained along the way. I now find motivation with every entry I write.
- Overcoming introversion. I tend to be more introverted, and kind of a home-body. Having a journal to be accountable to encourages me to get out there and have some great experiences in life that I can write about.
- Big picture stuff. Although my personal life may not feel significant or interesting enough to journal about, the world around me is. I realized that I can be a unique witness to the events of the times I live in and this can be incredibly valuable to the future; think of the diary of Anne Frank.
- Immortality. There’s a certain sense of immortality when I start to see journals fill up. I know that no matter what happens, something of me will live on and potentially influence my family or the world in ways that I can’t even imagine.
Purpose-driven journaling has worked for me instead of just journaling just for the sake of journaling.
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment
Finding motivation is sometimes easier said than done, and it’s more likely to get done when the task is easy.
There are many, many, many ways to journal so just pick the one that sounds easiest and try that first, it’s what I did. I’ve discovered several great options along the way that you might want to try:
- Blank notebook. This is by far the easiest place to start if you like to write, but for some, that blank page staring you in the face can be intimidating.
- Specialty journal. Barnes and Noble has a great collection of “Specialty Journals” that feature a variety of themes with fun prompts that can help solve that writers block.
- Inspiration journal. Before I started recording my daily life, I carried around a small notebook where I would sketch ideas and record small snippets of things I found or thoughts that inspired me. I’ve always liked collecting things, so collecting ideas was an intriguing and addicting practice that I still do today. If you are a spiritually-oriented person, then I highly recommend trying this.
- Journal Jar. You can do a search for this term and find countless blogs with journal prompts that are available for free. You can also make an actual jar if you want to.
- Blog. Start a blog. Sharing things publicly is a great way to spark motivation using the feeling of accountability to an audience.
- Social media. You’re probably already sharing countless photos and live events across various platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. While these might not technically be considered journals, it’s better than nothing.
- Journaling apps. There are many journaling apps out there and it can be good to give them all a try and see what works best. A great place to start might be (shameless plug) JRNL.com.
When you are trying to get started, don’t be afraid to experiment and switch things around. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist and sometimes feel like I don’t want to start something until I’ve found the best solution. If you are weird like me in that way, I can tell you that you will probably change journaling methods over the years and try numerous techniques anyway so just start somewhere.
Remove Guilt, Celebrate Every Entry
I know the guilt that comes with failure to start journaling and failure to maintain journaling as a habit. When I actually started journaling, I went a little nuts and wrote every day for 3 years straight without missing a day! Then life happened and I lost the rhythm. I felt guilty about not maintaining that awesome streak but I still journaled periodically over the years.
When JRNL.com launched I was highly motivated again and began a 10-month daily streak. In my mind, a daily journal was the goal. Sure, having a record of every single day of your life is kind of cool, but was that really important to me? I thought about how valuable just a small handful of journal entries from any of my ancestors would have been better than nothing.
I concluded that rather than guilt or fear of missing a day being a motivator, that I should shift gears and focus more on the idea that any entry, no matter how short, is worth something. Any time that I create something is a win, it’s a victory, and that is something to be proud of. So my advice is to kick guilt to the curb, even if you only journal to take note of the big moments in life, that is an incredibly valuable practice and worth your efforts.
Consider Vulnerabilities and Redundancy
I still remember very vividly hearing entertainer Marie Osmond mention on a TV show that she had lost 30 years of journals in a house fire. That really got me thinking about the possible threats to preserving my journal content. If you’re trying to get started journaling, here are some very real vulnerabilities to particular journaling solutions that you might want to keep in mind:
- Books: Sometimes difficult to keep private if not locked away or hidden well, vulnerable to misplacement, theft, house fires, flooding, natural disasters.
- PC-based: Some people use offline solutions like Microsoft Word or some kind of notepad program to keep their journal entires. Note that all hard drives will eventually crash at some point in their life cycle, you could lose everything instantly. Like books, laptops are subject to the same vulnerabilities as any other physical solution so keep that in mind.
- App and Cloud-based: There are a variety of apps out there and I personally prefer a digital, cloud-based solution for most of my journaling. However, it’s important to note the risks there, companies can go out of business and if there isn’t some way to back up your data, you could lose it.
I like to look for a solution that has as many points of redundancy as possible. I have used many different journaling solutions in the past, but here is what I personally look for:
- Cloud-based storage: A digital solution makes it easy for me to capture moments via apps, email, or direct entry on my laptop where I have a full keyboard to use. Entries in the cloud are protected from all of the vulnerabilities of a physical book or a PC-based solution. It is password-protected and encrypted so I know my entries are safe from prying eyes.
- Exporting to other digital formats: If I can export to a PDF, epub, or other format, I can save a copy locally on my computer and back it up on Dropbox.com or Box.com.
- Book publishing: One of the main reasons I use JRNL.com is because of the book publishing. I love that my entries are all in digital format so that I can easily search them, share them, and print a physical book that I can enjoy and pass down to posterity. There’s just something magical still about turning actual pages and seeing your entries in print.
The more points of redundancy, the less vulnerability, and while you can’t remove all risks from the equation, technology can be an incredible asset to journalers.
Well, there you have it: find some motivation (maybe this article might do it for you), have fun experimenting with different solutions, remove guilt and celebrate every entry, while considering how to protect those journals along the way. Everything else will come naturally, you’ll find something that works for you and it’s ok if your methods change over time, there aren’t any rules!
If you found this post helpful, please consider sharing it on social media and with anyone you think might be interested.