5 Easy Ways to Get Started Now
Keeping our minds sharp, eating healthy, making time for loved ones, staying fit, getting a solid night’s sleep, advancing our careers, staying fulfilled creatively—it’s a tall order. So how come, despite the many tech tools at our disposal, it sometimes feels like we’re merely treading water? As much as we stay on top of our to-do lists, making real progress on longer-term ambitions or sorting through persistent emotional concerns can be trickier.
Below, we explore how just a few minutes of daily journaling—writing down your thoughts, goals, daydreams, and concerns—can increase mindfulness and help you sort through your emotions and aspirations. Many of us have gone through phases of journaling or kept a diary as a child, but then something along the way to adulthood made us stop.
Here are some tips to get you writing again and keeping it up:
Set up a distraction-free, peaceful journaling spot.
We know, it’s easier said than done, but finding a place where you can let your mind relax and wander is important. Start with these simple steps:
Turn off your phone. And laptop. And tablet. And TV. This is a no-electronics zone, a chance for your brain to unwind from the minute-by-minute pace our world demands.
Set up an area where you’ll enjoy spending time. Your cluttered workspace might not be the best option here. If you desire quiet, create a little area of calm in your home—maybe it’s in bed, with some candles burning and jazz playing. Or maybe it’s in the park, where you can enjoy those blazing, end-of-summer sunsets. If you need more stimuli surrounding you, try a café. (Extra points if it doesn’t offer Wi-Fi!)
Write, don’t type.
Once you’re set up, dare to ditch the keyboard. Longhand daily journaling—that’s right, pen and paper—can help break us out of our usual way of thinking. Here’s how:
When we write longhand, we get to see our thoughts spill out in a way the backspace button doesn’t allow. In our airbrushed world, seeing some smudges, cross-outs, and revisions makes for a radical experience. The ability to add a note in the margins or an afterthought at the top of the page can get us out of the speedy, linear, perfect-as-you-go mentality that comes along with typing.
Invest in a journal that will make you want to write, like a classic, sleek Moleskin that can fit easily in your purse or pocket. And if you tend to be afraid of “messing up” more expensive or ornate journals, use a simple legal pad or marble notebook to get your feet wet.
This might be hard for the color-coded organizational queens among us, but try an unlined journal—watch and see your writing take on new shapes, strange patterns. The formlessness of the text may just bleed into your thoughts and surprise you. That idea for a poem you’ve been harboring for a couple of years? Now’s the time to let it loose and see what happens. The great startup idea you and your friend keep talking about? Jot it down, make it real.
Set up a schedule and stick with it.
Okay, you’ve got a pretty new journal, you’ve turned off your phone, and now you’re staring at a blank page wondering how the only thing you can think of is how much you don’t feel like doing laundry. We get it. Here’s how to get into a daily journaling mode and stick with it:
Set aside a journaling time that works for you. Maybe it’s in the morning, before getting down to work, or before bed—whenever you have a brief period of quiet or solitude. You may not always be able to adhere to, say, 9:30 AM on the dot, but sticking to a general time of day (like before breakfast, before sleep) will train your mind to click into journaling gear.
Let it all out, then let it go.
It’ll be harder some days than others, of course, but allow your anxieties, hopes, dreams, fears, and daily anecdotes to spill onto the page. Read on for some tips on how to get your thoughts on paper.
Write down the first thing that comes to mind, even if it’s “I don’t know what to write about.” No one else will read what you’re writing, so go ahead and make a mess. Write something silly. Write something that you can’t stop thinking about. Write down the lyrics to the song that’s been in your head all day. Just getting started will get you into a better flow faster.
If you’re coming to the page with a pressing issue, don’t hold back. Write it down unfiltered and unedited, and note how your emotional state has shifted by the end— perhaps you’ll become more aware of a possible solution to a problem. It can be jarring to recognize how malleable our minds can be, but a mind open to change is the sign of an active, thoughtful one.
Once you’ve addressed any extremely pressing concerns, move on. Even if you haven’t reached a conclusion or are still confused about a certain issue, your brain needs time to refresh and recharge after relaying a complex situation. If you’re having trouble getting going after writing about anxieties or stressors, try some journaling prompts to get your mind moving in a new direction.
Write down your goals and aspirations. This stimulates your brain’s reticular activating system (RAS), a filter mechanism that allows us to sort through what needs our attention and what doesn’t. Just by writing them down, our ambitions take a higher priority, allowing us to recognize and act on opportunities that will help us succeed.
Daily journaling also allows us to take stock of what we’re grateful for in our lives. To journal mindfully and keep perspective of your circumstances and place in the world, try these exercises in gratitude:
Jot down at least one “good thing” a day. Even something as small as the compliment a coworker paid you on your new blouse is worth remembering if it brightened your morning. Or the woman on the subway who radiated kindness on the non-air-conditioned subway car during rush hour. Whatever it is, these are the moments we should recognize more completely.
Make a list of things you’re proud of to jog your memory if you’re having a rough go of it. This will help you get into a better habit of practicing self-gratitude. We tend to give a lot of weight to the things that stress us out, the things we wish to improve—but without also focusing on the good, we lose sight of how much we’ve accomplished already.
Give your mind some room to wander, turn over thoughts, and mull over ideas and observations that don’t involve the immediate. If all you write one day is a description of the beautiful hike you did last weekend or how fascinating it was to watch a hummingbird at the feeder, count that as a victory—you’re getting outside yourself and appreciating the vastness of the world around you.
Daily journaling is a wonderful way to increase our mindfulness, keep track of our goals and progress, and express gratitude for the many small joys in our lives. Like many a great song and great romance, journaling is a slow build—enjoy the process of getting to know yourself better. We’re all busy, but taking a little time out of the day to let our minds speak for themselves is just as important as the effort we put into our physical health, careers, and relationships.
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