I cannot tell you the sheer amount of times that I’ve tried to build a journaling habit for myself, only to give up within the next week or so because I felt like I wasn’t doing it right.
Every time, the process went something like this: I would gain a burst of motivation, and tell myself something along the lines of, “I’m going to journal every day from now on!” Every afternoon, I would sit myself down with my notebook, and write about my feelings, something philosophical, or simply a recount of what happened that day. I would dot my last sentence and look with satisfaction at the amount of pages that I wrote, proud of myself for becoming one with my inner writer. And then, somehow, I would slip up once by missing a day of journaling, either due to schedule blockages or lack of motivation. And then, disillusioned, I would immediately stop, not touching my journal for the next two years or so. And so the cycle would start over and over again throughout my life.
Now that I’m older and just slightly wiser, I realize one of the reasons why it was so difficult for me to build a consistent habit of journaling: I was journaling according to the way I thought I was supposed to journal. My biggest mistake was going into the habit of journaling without setting my own reasonable standards for myself, and letting routines that I followed in order to “get the authentic journaling experience” govern the pages of my notebook. Inevitably, once I felt like I wasn’t getting that experience, I just stopped.
So, what were some of these myths that put journaling on such an unreachable pedestal for me? I want to share a few with you, so that we may break through these barriers to journaling together.
1. You have to journal daily.
This myth was my biggest roadblock when it came to journaling. I always thought that I absolutely had to journal every day. If I missed a day, then I wasn’t doing it right. I wasn’t being a good writer. And a lot of websites online will tell you that journaling is most effective when you do it daily.
But the reality of it is: journaling every day doesn’t work for everybody. For some people, journaling takes time, and it can be difficult to find the capacity for journaling on the daily. For some people, forcing it can lead to burnout, which demotivates them to keep on writing until they eventually give up altogether.
For me, I feel that writing in my journal about 2-3 times a week, just to check in with myself and see how I’m feeling, is what works. But what works for me might not work for you. When thinking about how often you want to journal, it’s important to put your own needs and wants first. Start small, and work your way from there. If you’re forcing yourself to do it every day—not because you want to, but because you think you have to—then what’s the point?
2. Your journal has to look pretty. You need a fancy, aesthetic journal and a nice pen to get the authentic journaling experience.
I remember looking over at a student in my class once, highlighting her notes and writing vocabulary words in really neat calligraphy, and feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t make my journal look like that. Seeing all of those super cool bullet journalers on Instagram was also a little discouraging, especially when I looked at my own faded red, battered Calculus notebook from high school that I still use to journal in with my plain black pen (it still has my math notes in it!).
But in reality, I shouldn’t have let that get to me. And you shouldn’t either. Just because our journals aren’t fancy and don’t contain all seven colors of the rainbow doesn’t mean that we’re not journaling right. It just means we’re journaling in a way that’s personally easier and more appealing to us. What’s most important is the content that we are journaling about, and whether it’s making us mentally and physically feel good.
Put your torches down, highlighter and sticker addicts! I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want to pop a little (or a lot of) color into your notebook here and there. But for the people out there who aren’t as artistically inclined, don’t worry. All you need to journal is a pen, any kind of notebook or typing device, and your authentic self, and you’re all set.
Myth 2: Your journal doesn't have to look pretty. I used my old Calculus notebook to journal.
3. Your journaling has to be deep and thoughtful.
This is one I still struggle with a lot, as sometimes I still find myself trying to think of something that is super deep, reflective, or creative every time I journal. It’s almost as though I have an invisible pair of eyes looking over my shoulder and silently judging me. Except that invisible pair of eyes is actually my own, and I’m the one judging myself, even though there’s really no need to.
No, you do not have to be the next Shakespeare in order to journal. No, you do not have to have a deep revelation every time you journal. You don’t have to be a “good writer” at all, really. Journal about what you want, even if it’s just about your day, or what you plan to do tomorrow. Just let your authentic self spill onto the pages, and you’re journaling perfectly.
To conclude, I would like to leave you with one more statement. This one is not a myth.
There is no right way to journal.
Journaling is meant to be a personal activity. Thus, the most important thing when it comes to journaling is doing it in a way that feels right for you. For me, journaling is sitting down around 2-3 times a week with my old Calculus notebook and my black pen, picking a prompt, and writing however much my heart desires. Journaling for you may look similar, or it may look different. As long as you’re journaling in a way that personally improves your mental wellness in the best way possible, then you’re doing it right.
Actually, I’d like to revise my statement a little.
There is one right way for you to journal. And that’s your way.
Linda Tran is MindTerra's Social Media Coordinator and a student at UCLA who is passionate about making social change through the power of words. In her free time, she enjoys playing the violin, reading, and binge-watching anime to her heart’s content.