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7 Simple Solutions When You Suck at Journaling

by Justine Haemmerli October 04, 2020


Hey friends. If you’re here, it’s because you want to journal - but maybe, kinda... suck at it.


And guess what? Samesies! Even though I run a company that produces these thoughtful, provocative Card Decks composed of Question and Topic cards that are used around the world as journal prompts, I too, suck at journaling.


Well, let me be clearer - I suck at what we commonly think of what journaling “should” look like, which is a regular, consistent practice, with a beautiful notebook, a peaceful meditative corner of the morning, a cup of chamomile tea steaming next to the page…


...yeah, this I suck at.


And while I have spent many years trying to replicate what I see others doing, and fretting over my inability to do so, in the last few years...


I’ve come to realize that by doing 7 simple things, I can embrace a style of journaling that actually works with my personality, with how I learn, and where I am in life...


...which allows me to reap the benefits of using writing to help me gain clarity and peace in my life, without all the BS of trying to create a practice for myself that isn’t sustainable, or suited to who I am.

Alright, lovey - are you ready to clear the gunk out and find out what kind of journaling is going to support your highest good, suit who you are and where you are in life, and help you use writing as a really powerful tool in living more intentionally?


Amazing! Let’s get started.

#1: Get Clear on Your WHY


What’s your motivation for starting a journaling practice in the first place? Is it because it seems like something you should do?


Or something you want to do because other people you admire have those pretty bullet journals and seem to get a lot out of it so you want to have that, too?


Is it because you’re feeling cloudy-brained, lost, confused, or stuck?


Is it because time seems to be flashing before your eyes and you want to slow it down, remember this life chapter, have something to look back on that reminds you of where you were in this moment?


All of these possible reasons (and of course there are oodles more) would point you in different directions - which might not lead you to journaling, in the end.


I know that I often decide I should start a journaling practice because so many people I like and admire in the “wellness” world seem to be doing it.


Sometimes I get mad at myself for being inconsistent and flakey, and I feel like I “should” be able to maintain a regular journaling practice, so I want to do it in order to feel better about myself.

But we all know that jealousy and self-criticism are NOT going to create a strong foundation for a lasting habit!


But, at the same time:

  • If you’re feeling murky on something...then staring at a blank page, or a prompt that opens a Pandora’s Box, might not actually be what you need in order to achieve clarity, focus, and get yourself unstuck enough to start moving forward, taking action, and making some changes.

  • If you’re wanting to capture a moment in time...there might be other ways to create a keepsake or a snapshot that feel lighter and easier.

  • If you’re already in a place you’re zooming around and super busy and where you feel time is slipping away...trying to create a habit that, for whatever reason, feels heavy, unnatural, or time-consuming right now isn’t going to feel good or be successful!

So in short - get clear on your WHY first, because this will help you figure out if journaling is what you need right now, and if it is, what kind of journaling it is that you need.

#2: Let Go of Rules


Journaling doesn’t have to be any one particular thing!


Maybe you gravitate towards one form now, and another later. You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to start and stop. You’re allowed to have bursts of consistency and then stretches of silence.


You’re also allowed to use media other than paper to journal.

Always return to your “WHY” and you will be able to determine whether you’re on the right track or not


In college, I was very frustrated with myself for taking notes on tiny pieces of paper, and in different notebooks, instead of in just one place which is what I thought I “should” be doing.


This played into my own narratives about myself: that I was sloppy, irresponsible, scatter-brained.


Then one day when I was sitting down to write an essay and trying to gather all my notes, and a little voice popped into my head:


Have you been doing things this way for awhile?


Yes.


And has it worked for you?


Yes, actually, it has…


And have you been able to be successful in school doing it this way?


...Yes…


So maybe this is just how your brain works?


hmmmmm


And if you just accept that's how your brain works, and just go with it, rather than being so annoyed by it, you might discover even more about how it works, and how to make it work for you, instead of messing it up by trying to change it?

Well, then. Touche.


I remember this moment so clearly - where I was sitting, what I was wearing - because it was truly a turning point for me. When I stopped seeing my way of thinking-through-writing as problematic, and instead just saw it as idiosyncratic - as an external extension of the way my mind worked inside - then I was able to relax a bit.


I always thought I lacked a process because it didn’t look like what I thought it "should" - when I realized that I did have a process, it just looked different from the accepted "norm."


Only at this point was I able to pay more attention to what it was, and from there refine and improve it.

#3: Embrace Lists


Journal entries don’t have to be paragraphs - and lists don’t have to just be practical!


Lists can be an incredible way to clear your mind, organize your thoughts, make sense of how you’re feeling, and name what you want. As a matter of fact, I use lists to journal about 50% of the time.


If you would like to try this kind of journaling, I’m sharing here four of my favorite lists that I genuinely use when I’m journaling (see below). To download them for free, just click on the images and save to your device or drive.

Feeling Angry
When I'm feeling very angry, I use this list to process my feelings and any thoughts or further feelings that may arise.
Feeling Stuck
When I'm feeling very stuck in place, I use this list to process what's holding me back.

Feeling Sad
When I'm feeling sad, I use this list to process my sadness in order to acknowledge it and bring it out into the open.
Moving On
When I want to heal/move past something that is hurting and holding me back, this is the list I use.


This is probably my favorite way to journal. I’ll often make a three-columned list like one of the above, and then once I get my ideas down on paper, I use the Clarity Deck and pull a Question Card to help me think more deeply about what I wrote (see image below).


This lets me take the big soup of thoughts in my brain, create some order out of chaos, and only once I’ve done some compartmentalizing and cleaning up, do I then start to do my deeper reflection and thoughtful writing.

After writing your responses to the prompts on the list template, you can draw a Question Card to get you thinking more deeply about what you've written. If you don’t have your own Clarity Deck to use, you can check out a Card Draw example below!


Pick whichever card or color you’re drawn to (of the three), then flip through the slider to the card you chose and that’s the Question Card you’re meant to work with.

#4: Don't Fixate on the Notebook


Friends, this one is hard for me to say. I’m holding your hands in mine as I say this.


I love a pretty notebook. I get it. There is a high I get from finding a notebook with a beautiful cover and thick, smooth blank pages inside. I’m here for this.


At the same time, sometimes we become so fixated on the notebook, that we lose sight of why we’re journaling in the first place (if you’ve gotten lost in the notebook sauce, circle your sweet self back to #1: Get Clear on Your Why).

I know I sometimes buy a notebook and think ‘Now everything is going to be different! I’m going to write in here every day!


No more scribbling things on napkins and scraps of paper for me, nope, I have this gorgeous glossy British rose notebook and my whole life is different now, I’m a new woman, my hair isn’t frizzy, my skin is glowing, there are no piles of papers and cough drops on every surface of my home, there are no weird wet receipts at the bottom of my purse, everything I think and feel will be written in one place so I’ll never lose anything ever again, hello new me!”


Approximately ten minutes later I have a big idea and I write it on the back of a crumpled rainbow heart drawing my daughter left on the dining table… on a pile… of receipts and cough drops.


New notebooks can be inviting, but they can also be intimidating.


Don’t let the deer in the headlights feeling of staring at a blank page keep you from starting. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of done.


We can also let the search for the “perfect journal” stop us from getting started.


As much as we love journals like the Balance Bound and Passion Planner, don’t wait to get started until you find a notebook that speaks to your soul. Remember, this is just about getting ideas out of your brain, so you can work with them more clearly and intentionally.


Wherever that needs to happen, is where you need to start.

#5: Use Your Voice (Notes)


I personally think that the greatest benefit of journaling is getting ideas out of your head, and onto the page, so you can look at them and work with them in whatever way you need to.

Whatever helps you to get thoughts out of your body so you can start healing, so you can start working with them to gain clarity, so you can start to gain more control and intention around things that are floating around unchecked and unseen in your head - do that thing.


For me, it’s using the voice texting feature of my phone.


Sometimes I will send a voice message to myself, but usually I will open a draft email, hit the microphone icon, and record my thoughts, letting my phone transcribe. A friend suggested that on the app WhatsApp, you create a group with one other person and yourself then remove the other person, so you have a group with yourself where you can send these notes and messages whenever you like.


Once you’ve recorded your thoughts you can either listen and transcribe, you can copy the voice texting writing and put it into a Google Doc to work with, or you can simply leave it as an audio file.


You could listen to it to continue your reflection on a walk, or you could sit down with pen and paper and jot down your thoughts while listening to what you said.


This might feel a little unwieldy if you’re someone who gets lost in your thoughts, or struggles to know what to write about when journaling.


This is when using a tool like our Card Decks to give you a prompt, and a lens for focusing your thoughts, can be really helpful.

#6: Do it With a Friend


Journaling doesn’t have to be a silent meditative activity with instrumental rain music playing in the background, a clean table with a mug of steaming tea, a cat curled in a sun spot on the oak floor… I mean this sounds nice, but you might want to shake things up a little and bring some liveliness, silliness, conversation, and different energy into your journaling, too!

Doing writing activities with a partner, or even a small group, can be incredibly healing and eye opening.

.
Here is my favorite:


Set a timer for three minutes and write your responses to aquestion/journal prompt. You can either come up with a prompt together, or use something like one of our Question Cards to give you some guidance and inspiration.


If you’re using our Question Cards, you can choose the same one to share, or each pick one for yourself from the deck.


Another alternative could be to choose one Topic Card, and both write whatever comes to mind first regarding that area of your life.


When you're done writing, read through what you wrote, and underline parts you’re comfortable sharing.


Read this aloud to your partner, and have them share back to you what they hear as the main takeaways from your writing.

This is always really validating and/or surprising, I’ve seen it hundreds of times and it sounds so simple but it’s very profound!


If you’re interested in journaling activities for partner and small groups, here is a free Intuition Opening activity we have for journaling on your own, with a partner, or with a group, which you’re welcome to try:
We also have tons more activities, printable templates, and journal prompts for partners and groups in these guides:
And a month's worth of journal prompts for moms here:

#7: Use a Tool


When journaling is a struggle, finding the right tool is absolutely essential - and it depends on what your specific struggles are. Do you have a hard time making time for journaling? Is consistency difficult for you?


Do you find it hard to know what to write about? Each of these problems has a different solution.

I would invite you to get clearer about what it is that makes journaling difficult for you, so you can be sure to get the support that will actually solve your specific problem.


Buying apps, notebooks, programs, or filling your feed with a ton of information and imagery that doesn’t directly solve your unique problem can actually make it worse...by overwhelming you with objects and content that reinforces the feeling of not being good at it/stress around keeping up with a tool, or using a notebook, which could just exacerbate the problem that’s originally holding you back.


Here are a few tools that we recommend, based on different problems:

Not Sure What to Write About?


  • Pinterest is a terrific source of inspiration, searching for "journal prompts." You can follow our Journal Prompts board for tons of inspiration and prompts to get your wheels turning - we update it weekly and there are so many great lists there to choose from!

  • Our Card Decks offer quick jolts of direction and inspiration, giving you something clear and profound to write about by combining a Topic and Question card, and writing about how that question relates to that area of your life.

Hard to Carve-out Time or Make Your Practice Consistent?

  • Presently is a super minimalist and modern app I use that gives me a prompt once a day to record what I'm grateful for. I appreciate the simplicity of the prompt, and that it gives me a push notification that's hard to miss, and easy to complete.

  • Using a one-sentence a day journal can be a great way to establish a quick and easy practice of recording your thoughts and a snapshot of your life at this time. Here's an example of one from The Happiness Project.

  • Sometimes it's easier to have an appointment with others than keeping a date with yourself! That's one of the reasons we love group journaling - it makes it easier to stick to a practice of writing for clarity, and it gives you something fresh and unique to do with your friends! If you'd be interested in starting your own journaling group, we have a free Virtual Circle Guidethat gives you a ton of resources for easily starting your very own online journaling group. You can download it for free here.

There you have it my sweet friends - 7 ways to get unstuck when you want to journal, but maybe kind of suck at it. I hope these resonate with you, and give you permission to be yourself, listen to yourself, and learn from yourself.


Remember - you have the answers to your own questions; it’s just about learning to hear them.


I would argue that there are few better ways to do that then by creating a journaling practice that is uniquely suited to who you are, how you are, and where you are in life right now.

BLOG POST SUMMARY:

  • Get Clear on Your WHY: What’s your motivation for starting a journaling practice in the first place? Is it because it seems like something you should do? Or something you want to do because other people you admire have those pretty bullet journals and seem to get a lot out of it so you want to have that, too?
  • Let Go of Rules: Journaling doesn’t have to be any one particular thing! Maybe you gravitate towards one form now, and another later. You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to start and stop. You’re allowed to have bursts of consistency and then stretches of silence. You’re also allowed to use media other than paper to journal.
  • Embrace Lists: Journal entries don’t have to be paragraphs - and lists don’t have to just be practical! Lists can be an incredible way to clear your mind, organize your thoughts, make sense of how you’re feeling, and name what you want. As a matter of fact, I use lists to journal about 50% of the time.
  • Don't Fixate on the Notebook: I love a pretty notebook. I get it. There is a high I get from finding a notebook with a beautiful cover and thick, smooth blank pages inside. I’m here for this. At the same time, sometimes we become so fixated on the notebook, that we lose sight of why we’re journaling in the first place (if you’ve gotten lost in the notebook sauce, circle your sweet self back to #1: Get Clear on Your Why).
  • Use Your Voice (Notes): Sometimes I will send a voice message to myself, but usually I will open a draft email, hit the microphone icon, and record my thoughts, letting my phone transcribe. A friend suggested that on the app WhatsApp, you create a group with one other person and yourself then remove the other person, so you have a group with yourself where you can send these notes and messages whenever you like.
  • Do It with a Friend: Journaling doesn’t have to be a silent meditative activity with instrumental rain music playing in the background, a clean table with a mug of steaming tea, a cat curled in a sun spot on the oak floor… I mean this sounds nice, but you might want to shake things up a little and bring some liveliness, silliness, conversation, and different energy into your journaling, too!
  • Use It with a Tool: Buying apps, notebooks, programs, or filling your feed with a ton of information and imagery that doesn’t directly solve your unique problem can actually make it worse...by overwhelming you with objects and content that reinforces the feeling of not being good at it/stress around keeping up with a tool, or using a notebook, which could just exacerbate the problem that’s originally holding you back.
Justine Haemmerli
Justine Haemmerli

Educator, Consultant, Founder of Girls Gone Happy


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