As we globally face changes to our way of life, isolation and anxiety or fear as a result of the global pandemic that is COVID-19, it is more important than ever to care for ourselves and our resilience. For those of us who hope to grow out of this unique time in history, creating space to reflect is paramount to supporting learning and change. It’s also one of the best ways to help process and navigate the emotional ups and downs that come with change and challenge.

If you have thought about starting a journaling practice for a while, then you likely already know that journaling can help you to:

  • Sleep better
  • Increase performance
  • Decrease emotional distress
  • Gain better wellbeing 
  • And a bunch of other awesome things

A quick google of journaling turns up so many different resources it can be quite overwhelming, so I hope here I can offer you some focused ideas to get you started. Once you are on the path, I know you will find your own way.

How do you journal? 

There are a lot of different approaches, but the essential thing is sitting down with a pen and paper (or a gorgeous journal) to think. Then write down some of that thinking. Yup, at its core it’s that simple.

You can write about ideas you have, a diary of your day, empty out your frustrations onto the page, write about challenges you are facing and how you might solve those, or things that you loved about your day. 

Particularly as you begin to build this habit, I encourage you to focus more on the habit and ritual of making this time everyday, and less on what you actually write. If you want some ideas there though, I have some coming up for you.

Why pen and paper? We know our brains respond differently when we type to when we write things out. Education research is even finding that children remember more when they write notes versus type them. If you can handwrite in a journal that is definitely the way to go. Especially if you journal to end your day, staying away from the devices is best. 

Other tips and tricks to get you started are:

  • Start small – a few minutes a day ideally in the morning or evening.
  • Write three things you are grateful for. Most of us struggle to know what to write when we start, so this is a great place to begin. Gratitude has so many positive impacts, and it gets you writing in your journal every day.
  • Don’t focus on being tidy! This one was hard for me, but you really just want it to flow. If you use bullet points, mind map, create lists, write at odd angles, draw, it’s all ok. This goes for spelling and grammar as well. 
  • Try and write for a minimum of time, say 5 or 10 minutes. What you will find is that even when you think you are done, there are more thoughts lurking in the back of your mind. They are usually the ones you really need to get to! 
  • Once you have built a bit of a habit, try to start AND end your day with journaling. I tend to find that planning and setting goals or intentions works for me in the morning, and then gratitude and reflection work well for me at night.

You can also use questions or prompts to guide your reflection. As you practice you will likely find that you have different goals for your writing from time to time. This will influence what you write. Feel free to follow these nudges rather than feeling confined by how you started or being ‘consistent’ in what you write. 

Consistency in the action is important, but mixing up the content from time to time is okay, even advisable.

Some great resources you might like to check out:

  • 5-minute journal – I have used this and it’s a great simple structure that works. You can buy the journal, but they also kindly offer a download that you can use and list the questions, along with why they work. Well worth a read. 
  • More tips and ideas for journaling can be found here 
  • Currently I am using this High-Performance Planner from Brendon Burchard. I love that its twice per day and also backed by research. 
  • This article is a nice summary of some of the research into the benefits of journaling and some ideas to help guide your practice

To help you along, here are some prompts you might like to use to guide reflection as you start.

  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?
  • What did I achieve today?
  • 3 things I am grateful for today are…

As we navigate this global challenge in 2020, some things you might like to reflect on are:

  • What am I starting to see differently?
  • What has changed in my life since COVID-19 started? How do I feel about those changes?
  • What did I learn about myself today?
  • To feel safe, I need…
  • When I reflect on this time in my life 5 years from now, I want to remember myself as…
  • What things bring me joy right now? What is it about these things that sparks joy?
  • Who around me seems most in need of joy? How might I do to add joyfulness to others around me?

Pick one or two that jump out at you and start with writing a sentence or two a day. If you write more, great. If not, that’s awesome too. 

Remember, the key here is to just start. On any old piece of paper for now. With any prompt or none. Gratitude or reflection. AM or PM. Just start. And then do it again tomorrow. One of the things you can journal about is how its working for you and what new approaches you might like to start to help you land on the best way for you. But for now, just begin.