By Katie Dalebout
Somewhere in my early 20s, I started writing down my thoughts as a supplement to therapy. At first, it felt unnatural - I didn’t grow up writing (in fact, I hated it), but slowly I realized what a useful tool it could be for developing and practicing self-awareness. Shortly thereafter, I was hooked.
I began recommending it to friends and listeners of my podcast – and the response I got was… lukewarm at best. I’d bashfully say, “I know it’s kinda weird, but have you journaled about that?” Spoiler alert: People were NOT into the thought of it. Many didn’t think they had time and most didn’t know where to start. I get it – ”Journaling” can feel like a big vague thing. It sounds like a place with no beginning and no end, so it’s understandable that people find it intimidating.
As I began having these conversations, I realized I wanted to show people that journaling could be approachable once you simply start. I told them sometimes I write in my phone, during in-between moments like waiting in lines. To start, I just ask myself a good question and answer honestly. Over time, I got so passionate about sharing my approach that I made a book of 55 good journaling prompts and questions — it’s basically a scavenger hunt for your mind. Boom – there’s your starting point.
Considering trying to pick up a journaling practice or simply want to break down some barriers that are preventing you from putting pen to paper? Here are my tips (and some prompts!) for getting started:
Tip 1: Just start. It’s half the battle.
Like with anything else, you learn best by doing and the more you do it the easier it will become. Good news: It’s impossible to do it wrong. This isn’t school - you don’t have to turn it in when you’re done. No one ever has to see it and it definitely doesn’t have to be done any single way. The only way to fail at this is not to try.
Tip 2: Get curious. You might learn something new about yourself.
I always tell my friends to approach journaling like a scavenger hunt (but for feelings!). You’re in search of something here. Writing out your grocery list might be a good mental warm-up, but it’s not journaling. Try to dig a little deeper than a to-do list. There’s no need to rush yourself, but don’t be afraid of the f-word: feelings. That’s the good stuff!
Tip 3: Don’t self-edit – just let it out
We’re taught in English classes to analyze our words, sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, and grammar; however, none of that matters here. We constantly wear masks in the world to protect ourselves, but journaling is the place to remove them and be your truly unedited self.
Tip 4: Dance with resistance
It’s possible that resistance will arise while you’re journaling because you’ll start feeling emotions you don’t want to feel. Take a moment to acknowledge it and know that it’s a sign of progress. While it can be tempting to numb feelings, leaning into discomfort is an important part of creating change.
Tip 5: Befriend yourself – your real self
For many years, I didn’t allow myself to authentically express who I was, so I lost touch with my true self. To heal and come into my own, I had to get to know myself all over again. I did this with my journal. Through letting out my real thoughts onto the page, I could see the real me, not the watered-down version I showed the world. Always bring your real self to your journal. A deep sense of self-awareness is one of the true keys to happiness and fulfillment IMHO.
Tip 6: Be radically authentic (with yourself!)
Make a commitment to be radically authentic and honest when journaling – dig up the secrets you’ve buried and hidden. If you’re lying to yourself or writing what you think you should be writing, stop, return to the present, and write what’s true for you. By being vulnerable and acknowledging what we’re ashamed of, we let go of any guilt we’re holding on to. As Brené Brown teaches, shame cannot survive being shared, and admitting our shame to ourselves is the first step.
Tip 7: Fake it ‘til you make it
In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut says, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I’m not telling you to make a habit of pretending but in the case of just getting started with your journaling practice, we can make an exception.
Tip 8: Don’t stop
Journaling shows you what’s going on at a deeper level when you allow yourself to examine your feelings as they authentically flow out of you. When you’re enjoying playing pretend as a writer , keep going. With time, the routine becomes ingrained, and before you know it, you’ll no longer be pretending.
If journaling is new for you, going this deep might cause some strong reactions, like: a) Wanting to stop or quit, b) Feeling like a fraud, c) Thinking you’re wasting your time, d) Turning off your new, heightened awareness and turning to familiar, comfortable habits to avoid the feeling.
Two words: Don’t. Stop.
Tip 9: Try a few prompts to get started.
When you ask yourself a good question, you’ll likely get a good answer back. Here are a few questions from my book to get you started.
How are you really feeling?
It’s a simple question that we ask other people all the time but we rarely ask it of ourselves. So just sit down for 5-10 minutes and write about how you’re feeling right now.
Here are a few more:
What could make today better?
What are you most afraid to write about?
Where have you been feeling most insecure?
Where have you been feeling the most confident?
What are you most excited about?
After you answer each of these questions. Ask yourself why and let your pen flow to see what comes up. Again, don’t judge it, just write without any editing, and see where you land!
Want to learn more about journaling? Sign up to take my Journaling 101 class on Bluprint.
Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and founder of Let [a podcast] Out a workshop that helps people DYI podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed nearly 300 people on her long-form interview show Let It Out. Her first book Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts, was published in 2016, now she writes about her feelings in her monthly Let It Out Letter. Katie, her feelings, and all of her plants live together in Manhattan.
Lede Image by Alisha Ramos.