I have consistently kept journals for over seven years. My first journal was a long, scribbly entry from when I was 8 years old, but I found my love for journaling when I was around 13. It started on Tumblr (a platform that I didn’t understand would shape me as a person, for better or worse) and quickly grew into a treasured daily habit. I saw what people I followed online were doing — call it nosy, but I love seeing how other people keep track of their lives — and I adored the idea of looking back on my entries in the future. Over the years, I’ve tried just about every journaling method, technique and prompt. So here’s a list of the top five journaling styles that I’ve actually stuck to and why they worked for me.
1. Daily Journaling
Starting with the most intimidating, this one can be challenging to undertake. The key to keeping up with daily journals, in my experience, is to tie it to an existing habit — for instance, I complete my daily journal entries either in the morning with my morning cup of tea, or right before I go to bed at night. I use morning entries to set intentions for the day ahead, and night entries to reflect on the day I’ve just lived. This year, I’ve committed to writing at least one page daily. Some days I’ll write more, cramming pages with lists and long creative entries, and other days, I’ll just briefly describe what happened that day to fill a single page. I’m not promising myself carefully crafted, flowing writing — just a commitment to one page a day. I think the practice is far more valuable than the result.
2. Emotional Health Journaling
Call it venting, healing your inner child or shadow work — whatever term you use, it’s important to have a safe space to process your emotions. Writing down how you’re feeling has been proven to be beneficial for your mental health, provided you allow yourself to completely surrender to how you’re feeling without judgment or reservation. To heal and move past whatever you’re feeling, you need to feel it first. This can be a daunting process. If you’re doing it right, it will be messy and you might experience unexpected reactions as old feelings resurface. I never realized that writing words down on paper could make me cry so much! After a session of shadow work, when I’ve really allowed myself to be vulnerable and write honestly, I feel so much lighter.
3. Art Journaling
Art journals can be as elaborate or low maintenance as you’d like. You might explore different niches, like junk journals and sketchbooks, while figuring out what kind of art journal might work best for you. These kinds of journals are perfect for people who prefer more visual forms of creative expression (or for those with an abundance of stickers they’ve been waiting for the perfect time to use!). There is a bevy of research that shows visual art can reduce depression and anxiety, increase self-esteem and self-worth and encourage connection with the world around you. I personally find that art journaling works best for me during busy periods, such as final exams, to ensure that I schedule some mindful downtime.
4. Bullet Journaling
Bullet journaling can also be as elaborate or minimal as you’d like. This approach is, in essence, a customizable planner system. Some bullet journal junkies include daily, monthly and yearly spreads, while others merely write up daily to-do lists. The beauty of the bullet journal is that you can make it work for you — it might take a little more work than buying a planner off the shelf, but creating something hands-on means that you can curate exactly the kinds of spreads you need for your specific lifestyle as a student. Class timetables, grocery lists, assessment calendars and workout routines can all find a home inside the pages of a bullet journal. Personally, bullet journaling brings out my perfectionist side, which can sometimes make it difficult to get started. I prefer sticking to simple weekly spreads and daily to-do lists with minimal effort and minimal room to mess up!
5. Gratitude Journaling
Finally, I thought it would be fitting to end this list just like I end every day — with gratitude journaling. Keeping a gratitude journal (or incorporating it into another kind of journal) has made a huge difference in how I see the world day after day. Even after a tough day, when it feels like nothing went right, I can always find a few things to be grateful for — even if they are as simple as a pen to write with and a bed to fall asleep in. Gratitude is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Before long, you’ll find yourself actively looking for and recounting the things you’re glad to have in your life. Loved ones, your favorite song, a good meal and having a roof over your head can all end up on this list. Nothing is too big or too small. Concluding your day with gratitude tunes your mind into positive feelings and makes it easier to repeat the process the next day. Start with a list of three to five things you’re grateful for, and then watch your journal (and gratitude muscle) flourish from there.
Journaling is a valuable practice no matter what form it takes. From to-do lists to gratitude lists, to journaling about your emotions and journaling about your day (no matter how mundane it might seem), there is something for everyone. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to take up the habit, in whatever way suits you best. Journals are simply tools for self-improvement and self-discovery — what you do with them is up to you. Invest in a new favorite pen and notebook and get started!