Journaling every day has been a game-changer for me and my spiritual practice. I want to share here, step by step, how I journal, to make it simple for you if you’re interested in starting your own journaling practice.
I try to do my journal work first thing in the morning, but sometimes the day gets ahead of me, so I will do it later in the afternoon, or even before I go to bed. The thing about starting (and keeping) a new habit, is to do it when it works best for you. I like first thing in the morning because I can more actively set the tone for my day and that works wonders for my anxiety.
I started by following pretty closely Dr. Nicole LePera’s Future Self Journal template. (if you sign up for her email list on her website, she sends you the template for free.) When beginning this habit, I stuck to this exact template to make it a little more simple for me. It was basically a ‘fill in the blanks’ type of journaling at first. After a couple of months, I started to add my own ideas along with some of her prompts until I had the type of journaling entries that I now use. (Pinterest is also a great resource for more in-depth journaling prompts. What I am going to share is more about changing patterns and showing up for yourself than introspection, however. I do also journal that way, but for this post, I am concentrating on journaling for self-improvement and growth.)
Why should you keep a journal? I’ll tell you; because it is a small promise you can keep to yourself every day, an easy of showing up for yourself that is simple and easy to maintain. The habit of showing up for yourself is a tangible way for you to remind yourself that YOU can be relied upon to care for yourself. One of the MOST important ideas to learn in a path of self-discovery and true healing is that no one is coming to save you, no one else is going to do the work it is going to take to heal you at a deep and life-changing level. You are the hero in your own fairytale, and doing this small, but regular activity every single day will remind you that you are in control of how your life plays out.
The reason journaling works is very practical. You are changing habits and thought patterns that no longer serve you, into new patterns that are more in alignment with the life you want to live.
I will give you an example.
When you first begin your journal, think of just one thing that you would like to work on and/or change. For me, when I first began, I was an extremely anxious person. To be honest, I was a damn mess of a person. I had gone through something that completely wrecked me and made me question the very reality I was living in. I needed help. For the first 6 months or so, my first statement each and every day was, “Today I am calm and safe.” I said that to myself every day for months until I knew in my bones that it was true. I changed the neural pathway that had kept telling me I was out of control and in danger on repeat for YEARS. I changed the thought pattern. It works.
So I will break down how I journal every day, piece by piece:
First, get yourself a journal. I like to use composition notebooks because I like to journal in a book with a flexible spine, and composition books are generally inexpensive (usually 1 or 2 dollars apiece) and you can find them almost anywhere. Dollar General, Target, almost any grocery store you can think of also carries them, so they are highly accessible for almost everyone. You can also decorate them exactly how you like. I like doing this because it is another small thing that makes me look forward to using my journal. I like pretty things.
Once you have your notebook, pick a time of day that works best for you. Keep in mind, your ego and your brain will try to resist you starting this practice. Your mind likes familiarity and this is you, introducing something new into the mix, so you may need to remind yourself that this is an act of self-care and nothing to be afraid of. If you try one time of day and it just is not working, don’t give up! Try a different time. (If having a physical notebook is too much, try adding your journal entries on your phone or tablet. The whole idea is making it work for you.)
Here is the template for my daily practice, as I do it presently:
1. Today I am _________________________________.
This is where you speak into reality about how you want to feel and/think about yourself today. In my case, I started with the statement, “I am calm and safe.” I wrote that statement for months. Until I knew it was now true for me. It’s sort of a ‘fake it til you make it’ situation. It works because YOU ARE THE ONE IN CONTROL OF HOW YOU LIVE. If you tell yourself positive things, loving things, on a regular basis, it becomes familiar to your mind and ego, and it reflects back to you in your reality.
2. I am actively changing the pattern of _________________________________.
This is where you name the exact thing you are wanting to change. For the first 6 months or so of my practice, I wrote “I am changing the pattern of being ruled by my emotions.” I changed my pattern in order to be a more emotionally regulated person. I found through this practice, (as well as my meditation practice) that I was able to teach myself to regulate my emotions as opposed to reacting to situations blindly. I began to ask myself WHY I was feeling what I felt, and I got to the root of some of my emotional reactivity.
3. I am grateful for ______________________________________.
Here, I list 10 THINGS I am grateful for. From the simple and mundane (running water and a roof over my head) to the incredible (freedom from fear). I tended to list things I already had when I first began my journal practice. Now I tend to list some things I already have as well as things I am working towards but may not tangibly have just yet. Part of gratitude is being thankful for things you don’t yet have, in the faith of eventually having them come into your life.
One example of this for me was getting my art studio. I expressed gratitude for a light-filled studio in a friendly community, space away from the house, that was affordable. A few months later, I got my studio in a great collective, close to my house, with really great people!
NOTE: If you just hate the idea of journaling and aren’t willing to spend too much time on it, or you think you are fine just how and where you are, I would suggest that you, at the very least, start yourself a Gratitude Journal. If you do nothing else except list ten things (heck, even THREE things!) that you are grateful for, every single day, you will start to see some positive changes come about. Gratitude is a very high vibration emotion. One of the highest, actually. So practicing gratefulness on a daily basis helps keep you in a state of high vibration, and this is very, very good!
4. 3 traits of my future self _______________________________________.
Here is where you start looking to your future and the type of person you want to be. For almost a year, I have written one of my traits as confidence. I am in the process of growing my career and if I want to be an artist who sells her work and is at ease in public settings, I need to have confidence. I need the confidence to show my work, talk about my ideas, and network with other people in the field when I need to. Think of the highest and best version of yourself, and what you need to incorporate in order to bridge the space between that person and who you are in this present moment.
A tip here: frame your statements in the positive. a future trait should be “confident”, instead of “not afraid to speak up”. We want to wire our brains to see the positive, not dwell on, be attached to, or repeat the negative relentlessly.
5. I am experiencing more _______________________________________.
This could be emotional, “I am experiencing more joy and peace.” or it could be physical, “I am experiencing more financial abundance.” I like to write, “I am experiencing more opportunities.” This can be an opportunity in my career, or opportunity for personal growth, etc. Whatever comes to your mind, write that, because that is what your higher self is wanting to work on. Don’t overthink it.
6. I take care of myself by ________________________________________.
What are you doing TODAY to look after yourself? It can be simple things like taking a bath or making sure you eat today. It can be bigger things like keeping promises to yourself or showing up as your own biggest fan. It can be listening to your intuition when you need to make a decision.
7. I am becoming ______________________________________________.
Who are you at your highest and best? Who is the best version of you that you can envision? This is who you are becoming. This can be energetic, “I am becoming free and loving.” It can be tangible, “I am becoming more successful.” “I am becoming an emotionally stable and strong person.” Think of your highest and best, and what that looks like for you. FEEL what it feels like to BE that person.
This is how you tell your mind and emotions what to expect as you GROW into this version of yourself. The brain fights tooth and nail for routine and familiarity, remember? So make it familiar and regular to show up as your best self, showing up FOR yourself, AS your best self, is one of the best ways to make space in your life for growth and positive change. It also creates space in your life by letting go of negative patterns, allowing room for good things to come in and replace them.
I hope this breaks down a journal practice in an accessible way and takes some of the intimidation out of starting your own practice.
This is also a great first step to beginning a daily meditation/prayer practice. I find that when I do my journaling, it helps me order my thoughts so that moving into a meditative space is much less frustrating for me. Journaling quells my anxiety and makes space for calmness and safety, which are two of the most important things for me and my spiritual growth.