Teetering the line between taking a nice, long bath and getting my thoughts down on paper is the best way to describe how I approach self-care. My beauty stash includes a pile of half-used face masks under my sink and lipsticks I try on for fun, but ultimately let collect dust atop my dresser. But I see all of that as an opportunity to check out if only for a few minutes and pretend I don’t have work to do, calls to make and difficulties to face.
On the other hand, through weekly therapy sessions that are sometimes just 45 minutes of me complaining, crying or some combination of the two, I’m come to love the art of writing things down. On some days, it’s a simple, “I feel good today” and other days, it might be an entire dissertation about how an encounter with a friend made me feel. There’s really no happy medium and that’s what I love about the freedom of the process. The only caveat that comes with freedom is a responsibility to keep it up. Compounded with the fact that most of us place self-reflection on a long list of New Year’s resolutions, right now is the time to set yourself up for success and consistency.
First, what’s the point of writing, especially if you prefer keeping things to yourself or talking them out?
“For me journaling is all about accessing my own answers. I’m not keeping records of what I did necessarily. I’m keeping tabs on my emotional health, my connection to myself and my desires,” says Molly Mahar, a writer and founder of the self-help website Stratejoy.
Oftentimes, a journal can be the easiest and fastest way to listen to yourself, especially if it’s something you carry everywhere and can whip out at a moment’s notice. It helps you process what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what you’re craving instantly.
So you’ve got your pretty notebook and a shiny new pen, but daily entries turn into once-a-week entries and eventually, you can’t even remember the last place you put them. Most people will say they’re too busy or writing things down isn’t that high on their list of priorities. According to Mahar, there’s also the element of it not being easy or gratifying.
“I’ve seen people avoid journaling because they don’t want to tell the truth about their lives to themselves. It’s easier to distract or avoid or just ignore what’s going on below the surface of your life,” she says.
There’s also the fear that comes with knowing that if you acknowledge something going on in your life, you’re going to have to do something about it, which isn’t the case. “If you give yourself permission to write without worrying about taking action on anything that pops out of your pen, it may be easier to really dig in,” she says.
There’s also the assumption that what we’re writing–be it a fleeting thought or something more deep-rooted–simply isn’t important or doesn’t matter. “We’re so used to the model that someone ELSE is in charge — your partner, your family, your schooling, the patriarchy, society’s traditional path, the influencers of Instagram — we forget we can rely on our own internal truth,” says Mahar.
The key is to counteract the ‘why bother mentality’ with reminders that our internal lives and ideas are worth the time spent writing about them.
Get It Done
So once you’ve made it over the “why am I doing this?” hurdle, it’s time to do the deed. There are a few ways to guide your writing if the freeform blank page scares you.
For instance, you can start by getting specific about what you’re writing down. Is it a list of things you’re thankful for that day (also known as gratitude journaling)? If you believe in the getting messages through dreams, maybe you should be writing them down as soon as you wake up and reviewing later. For those who are deeply spiritual, a prayer journal that addresses whatever is on your mind is also an ideal way to keep track of your day-to-day thoughts.
And if any of those methods are still too freeform, there are journals already pre-mapped with prompts and really specific prompts to write in. For instagram, Mahar’s Reclamation journal includes three gratitudes, a focus of the day, headspace (what it sounds like in my head), heartspace (what it feels like in my heart), and two statements with fill-in space: “Today I am choosing to believe…” and “Today I am honoring…”
Here are five other ones that’ll also give you more focus and inspire a consistent writing schedule.
52 Lists for Happiness
Got a thing for lists? This year-long journal includes 52 listing prompts that will not only encourage you to acknowledge some deep-rooted thoughts, but invest in yourself more as well.
$12.64 at Amazon
Be Yourself Self-Discovery Guided Journal
If you’re a fan of keeping things in order, this journal will take your obsession and turn it into a self-care moment with prompts, checklists and diagrams designed to create a safe space for introspection.
$13.99 at Amazon
The Nocturnal Journal
For all of the nightowls, this journal takes full advantage of your night by using writing prompts and illustrations to address the thoughts that are keeping you up past bedtime.
$10.87 at Amazon
Practice You: A Journal
Written by a yoga and meditation teacher, this 150-page journal includes a wide-ranging mix of teachings, questions, imagery and more to inspire daily reflection.
$12.01 at Amazon
You’re Weird: A Creative Journal for Misfits, Oddballs, and Anyone Else Who’s Uniquely Awesome
The title speaks for itself. Part journal and part activity book, the illustrations alone will inspire you to embrace your inner creative and fearlessly write down everything on your mind (and probably more).
$10.87 at Amazon
Also, keep in mind that this is just one way to communicate with yourself, so if journaling doesn’t work, know that there are other options.