How I Finally Stuck to Journaling (Almost) Daily
In an ideal world, I would get up every morning and journal while having my coffee.
I’m sure I’m not alone in loving the idea of journaling, in theory. I’m a writer, so it seems natural I should be a journaler, especially since it’s helpful to have a good record of events and thoughts for memoir and personal essays.
Being a writer also means notebooks are the default gift I receive on most occasions. These gifted would-be journals stare at me from my bookshelf, judging me.
It’s also common knowledge at this point that journaling has a number of psychological benefits, including reduced stress, increased emotional intelligence, and more. These are all good things, and I would like to invite more of them into my life.
But, for some reason, I’ve struggled year after year to solidify my journaling habit. Inevitably, I journal for a few days in a row, miss one day, then another. Soon enough, a month goes by without picking up my notebook, and by then it feels like too much to try and recapture all that lost time.
The trouble was, I could never quite figure out how to journal. It sounds silly, but I’d sit and stare at the blank pages in my notebook wondering what exactly I should write. Almost immediately, the entries would devolve into flat reiterations of what I’d done each day, not interesting even as I wrote them.
Sometimes, I’d look up journaling prompts, of which there are many, but this, too, failed to keep me consistently returning to the page. The prompts felt random to me, not like the record of my life and thoughts that I hoped my journal would contain.
Last month, I finally broke my losing streak of journaling attempts, scribbling away in my notebook every morning. How did I do this? I reframed the narrative.
Or, really I tricked myself into journaling by… not calling it journaling, at all.
If you’ve read The Artist’s Way, you might be familiar with the concept of “morning pages.” In essence, it’s a way to get the creative juices flowing. You wake up and write three pages, longhand, straight away. The morning pages are to be a stream of consciousness, which means you’re just supposed to write out your thoughts.
Because I wanted to start writing more, I adopted this practice last month. Or at least, I adopted the spirit of it, breaking all the rules. I had my breakfast first, and wrote for however long felt good rather than sticking to three pages.
Nevertheless, I found myself writing down my early morning thoughts every single day for a week, then two weeks, and now we’re approaching a full month.
Somehow it has become a part of my morning routine, this time with my journal, slotted in while I sip my coffee, before the “scroll pointlessly through social media” time that comes before my daily yoga.
One morning, I realized that, even though I labeled the top of the page “morning pages” each day, what I was really doing was keeping a journal. Finally, after so many years of trying.
All it had taken was stepping away from the word itself, against which I had developed something of a mental block from so many failed attempts. As often as I’ve heard the advice to “reframe the narrative” when working through life’s challenges, it had never occurred to me that this could be applied to something as simple as journaling.
Whether you call it journaling or morning pages, I’m finding the practice highly generative. Spending a bit of time putting my thoughts to words each day makes me feel more productive as a writer, and it helps me spark ideas that can become articles or essays later on.
I’ve never believed the old adage to “write every day,” because I don’t believe we set ourselves up for success when we demand doing anything every single day. For me, that just sets up a streak that’s doomed to fail, and I become disappointed and defeated the moment I miss a day. Instead, I give myself Sundays off from my morning pages because rest is important, too.
In spite of the day off, this is the longest steak of consistent, uninterrupted journaling I’ve ever managed. The experience is a good reminder that sometimes when we feel stuck the best thing to do is look at the problem (or in this case, the habit we want to form) from a different angle. Shifting how you frame a situation can help get you unstuck and unlock your ability to accomplish what it is you set out to do.
Thanks for reading! Want more advice on writing? Check out this article on running mantras to improve your writing!