How to Journal & Create a Practice That Improves Your Life

Jordan Tarver
September 9, 2021

Many people find that expressing their thoughts or feelings is an easy way to improve their lives. Keeping a journal is one of the most common ways to do that. Learning how to journal will not only free you of mental distress, but it will also help you progress on your journey of becoming the best version of yourself.

I recommend journaling to everyone who asks me how to discover themselves and improve their life. In my new book, You Deserve This Sh!t, I offer specific journal exercises that can help you on your journey of self-discovery. These are the exact exercises I used to discover myself when you get a copy of my book.

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Follow these four steps to create a life-changing journal practice.

1. Choose a Medium

Before you start journaling, choose a medium. While most traditional practices include a bound journal, you can also option for a notes app or document on your phone or computer.

If you choose to use a book bound journal, I recommend the Moleskin Classic Notebook. If you are a more tech-forward person and want to use your phone or computer, I recommend using a journaling app like Day One. You could also use your phone's notes app or a Google Doc, but it may be harder to keep track of your entries over time.

In my own practice, I use a book bound journal and buy a new journal every year. This makes it easy to reflect on a single year when looking back at past journals. For example, I have separate journals for 2017 through 2021.

There isn't a right or wrong medium. What's important is that you choose the medium that best suits your lifestyle and the one you will use most consistently.

2. Decide What You Want to Write About

Journaling can have a positive impact on your life, with some studies showing how it can help you in hard times and through struggles. To receive results like those studies show, you'll have to understand why you want to keep a journal. Is it to document your life? Weed out negative thoughts? Understand your emotions? Overcome challenges? Maybe it's all the above.

To get the most out of journaling for your journey of self-discovery, it's best to write more than just a daily recap. You'll reap the most benefits when you dive into how different life moments made you feel. For example, you may write about a challenge you're facing, but instead of just writing about the challenge, dive into the emotions it brings up. Maybe it made you feel nervous or scared to fail, or maybe it made you feel confident when you overcame it.

This may seem like a lot to tackle when you're just starting your journaling practice. Most people have an easier time when using different journal exercises, which is a great way to be guided through a writing session.

Here are three easy journal exercises that you can use:

  • Gratitude journaling: Gratitude is the willingness to express thankfulness in life. This journal prompt asks you to write down five things you are grateful for every morning.
  • Verbal vomit: This exercise is designed to help you dump your mind, or verbally vomit, onto your journal. There are no restrictions. Write down everything that comes to mind and don't worry about grammar or punctuation. 
  • Guided brainstorm: Write down a question you want an answer to, such as “What am I passionate about?”, and then brainstorm a list of ideas that help you uncover the answer to your question.

3. Understand the Purpose of Your Practice

Writing and creativity comes in waves and at different times for everybody. For instance, if you're like me, you may find that journaling in the morning is the best time; however, others may prefer to write at night. There's no hard facts that say one time is better than the other, so it's best to find a time that suits your lifestyle.

If you don't know which time of day you prefer, it's crucial to understand the purpose and intention of your practice. This will dictate when it may be the right time to put your pen to the paper.

For example, many creative people and writers subscribe to "morning pages," which is a daily practice introduced by Julia Camera, author of The Artist's Way. Morning pages are three pages of free writing, written first thing in the morning. The purpose is to write whatever is on your mind to tap into your creativity before the stressors of the day start to intrude.

However, if you're creating a daily journaling practice to help you release negative thoughts you may have accumulated throughout your day, then an evening journaling practice may be right for you. This will help you release any unwanted thoughts or ideas before you go to bed and wake up to start another day.

If you're still unsure of your purpose or the time of day to journal, try different times and see what works best. Try writing in the morning, afternoon, and the evening for a few days. What's important is you choose a time that helps you build a consistent daily practice.

4. Write Every Day

While it may seem challenging in the beginning, you'll receive the most emotional benefits when you journal every day. Your goal should just be to get words on the paper every day instead going for a world record amount of time. By writing every day, you'll strengthen your writing muscle over time, which will make journaling inherently easy and enjoyable.

You'll find it easier to write for longer as journaling becomes a habit. After you are able to consistently write every day and are feeling drawn to longer sessions, go for it. You may experience longer sessions to be more therapeutic, or you may find them exhausting. What's important is that you find the sweet spot of time that doesn't make journaling feel like a chore and allows you to do it daily.

If five minute is your sweet spot, stick to that; if it's twenty minutes, do that. Just like the medium and the time of day you choose, the best length to write for is what feels best in your life.

Benefits of Journaling

Journaling has a wide range of benefits, from helping you get rid of unwanted thoughts to decreasing mental distress and anxiety. Here are some of the benefits you may experience by dedicating yourself to a daily journaling practice:

  1. Increase self-awareness: Developing a journaling practice is the best way to become more aware, internally and externally. It will help you learn more about your emotions, values, and visions.
  2. Reduce anxiety and mental distress: If you're struggling with anxiety or negative thoughts, journaling can help you sort out and understand what's going on in your head. Writing down emotions or thoughts can help you release them from your mind and body, freeing me of mental distress.
  3. Manage stress: Sometimes overthinking can cause stress. When you journal about what's stressing you out, it'll be easier to find solutions and make progress on relieving your stress.
  4. Process your emotions: Emotions are sometimes hard to make sense of in your head. Journaling about your emotions will help you understand what's triggering them and allow you to process them more easily.
  5. Constant self-reflection: Personal growth requires self-reflection, and journaling creates an easy way to do that. Studies even show that reflecting on lessons learned will lead to better performance and more growth.
  6. Document important memories: If you're someone who's drawn to documenting their days in their journal, it will become a handy way to remember important moments.
  7. Improve your creative thinking: Writing is an excellent practice to help improve your creative thinking and flow. The more you practice, the stronger your creative muscle will become.

5 Journaling Tips for Beginners

Journaling can feel like a challenge when you're just getting started. Use these journaling tips to help you build a strong daily practice:

  1. Keep your journal visible: If you tuck your journal away in a drawer or a bag, it's likely you may forget to write in it. Keeping your journal in plain sight, such as on your desk, can help serve as a visual reminder to open it up and get your daily words down.
  2. Start small: Remember creating a journaling practice is like learning any new skill: it may be hard in the beginning. To make it easier, start small and journal for only a few minutes. You don't need to write multiple pages to reap the benefits.
  3. Write about gratitude to overcome writer's block: If you're struggling to find what to write about, write down five things you're grateful for. This can help lift your spirits and kick start your creative flow. 
  4. Hold yourself accountable: One way to implement a consistent practice is to track your journaling sessions. You can use a habit tracking app to mark down when you've completed your daily session. Not only will it hold you accountable, but it will feel like a small reward when you mark it off every day.
  5. Use your journal as you wish: Your journal doesn't have to be public. As a matter of fact, most people's journals are private. This means it doesn't have to be perfect or follow a cohesive style or format throughout. If one day you feel like writing and another day you want to sketch a drawing, do it. Your journal is yours, so use it as you wish.

Bottom Line

Journaling is the first step I recommend to anyone who asks me how to become the best version of themselves. When you develop a journaling practice, you'll increase your awareness, become more in tune with your values, and grow over time through self-reflection. To start, choose your desired medium.


Jordan Tarver is a lead editor at Forbes, a keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of You Deserve This Sh!t.
He’s transformed over 30,000 lives through his book, amassed more than 200,000 devoted followers, and garnered over 60 million views online. Jordan is on a mission to empower people and organizations to unlock exponential growth and expansive possibilities.

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