In this article, I’ll share with you my experience of 90 days of keeping a journal. Yes, that’s 90 consecutive days, without fail.
Included in this article are the ways in which I journal, how I made it a lasting habit, and a few of the things I learnt. All these are things you can do – and if you’re thinking keeping a journal might be something you’d like to explore, I hope this will give you the encouragement you need.
Through the article are pictures of my organisational journal I share regularly on Instagram – follow me here.
WHAT IS JOURNALLING?
Journalling is a simple process; writing (or drawing, or whatever) about your experiences. It’s a bit like a diary, except the emphasis is on examining and understanding your response to the situations of your life, rather than documenting them as if you were an observer.
If you re-read your teenage diaries, you’ll notice this; we talk about things that happened and feelings we had in quite a detached and blunt way, without really applying the necessary introspection to get anything out of the experience.
One part of contemporary journalling is the beautifying of journals, particularly organisational ones. But your journal doesn’t have to be all fancy; it’s all about the process.
There are a number of interconnected studies documenting the benefits of regularly keeping a journal. These include improved emotional intelligence, greater ability to deal with mental health challenges and deeper gratitude.
Anyone who has ever written a ‘fuck you’ email – the one you immediately delete after writing it – will know exactly how therapeutic writing can be. Just so with journalling.
For the last 90 days I’ve been practising a reflective and an organisational journal. Here, I’ll be mainly discussing my reflective journal because it’s this process which has given me the most benefits.
I am happy and willing to talk about my mental health challenges, and this is one of the reasons I’d like to share my experience of journalling with you; keeping a journal has had a profound, positive impact on this area of my life, as it has with many other people.
HOW I JOURNAL
I keep two journals; one organisational and one reflective.
My organisational one is the one you’ll have seen on Instagram if you follow me there; I love creating the different spreads each week and showcasing how you can make a normal working week look exciting (thanks, stickers!).
It’s a public document which combines my love of planning and organisation with an unhealthy obsession with collage, scrapbooking, cute stickers and washi tape. Originally, this journal started as a bullet journal, but over time it’s morphed into a something more art-based and imaginative.
My reflective journal is the personal, in-depth, completely private journal. In it, I explore my day, my emotions and thoughts, and my reaction to the events of my life. It is often a hard thing to write (and even less pleasant to read back). I use a number of prompts to help make the process simpler, which have developed over the 90 days I’ve been writing.
Having two separate documents is a way to manage two separate but intrinsically linked parts of my life; the outer expression of myself, both organisationally and creatively, and the inner expression of the person I am.
HOW I MADE IT A 90 DAY HABIT
I read somewhere it takes 90 days to form a true lifestyle change – compared to 21, 28 or 66 for a habit (depending on the source) – which is why I chose to aim for 90 days.
But it turns out 90 might be arbitrary too, and lifestyle changes are more about personality and strength of will than other factors like semi-random numbers. Who knew?
Whatever the number, it’s been difficult to make it to 90 days. Sometimes I still forget, especially when I’m busy, and end up writing the entry last thing at night rather than in the morning when I would prefer to do it. But I have used some simple techniques to make it into a habit.
Write your reflective journal in the same book each time.
I started by writing in a notebook, then forgot it and wrote on pieces of paper, then in another book – and it got confusing. Pick a nice, portable notebook and do it there.
Form a ritual around writing your journal.
This means picking a time, place and other small habit to go with the writing which will remind you to do it. Mine tends to be after breakfast, with a cup of tea, or at a mid-morning coffee break when I’m teaching.
Don’t worry about it being perfect/right/legible.
At first, I wrote very little in my journal; I was terrified of someone finding it. After a while, you stop thinking about it as a thing to be read and start thinking of it as a thing to be written. Looks, legibility, grammar and spelling don’t matter here.
Mark off the days to your goal.
Each one of my journal entries has a number from 1 to 90 marked next to it, so I could see how I was progressing. It was a small indication of my goal, but remembering that number and where I was up to helped me keep doing it.
WHAT I’VE LEARNT FROM 90 DAYS OF JOURNALLING
Here are some of the many things I’ve learnt over the last 90 days of keeping a journal.
Deeper understanding of my feelings and their context
By writing down my emotions alongside what was happening in my day, I’ve been better able to understand where the regular triggers are, and how to mitigate that.
For example, I noticed I’ll often feel rushed as I’m writing my journal, because I’m desperate to get the day underway – but this can make me feel stressed too. To balance, I’ve attempted to calm myself and be present as much as possible during that time.
More nuanced expression of my feelings
Through reflective journalling I can now express myself more freely to myself – before I would often not write what I was thinking but a more concise, often less sweary version.
Because of this and the journalling process I think I can now express myself more effectively to others, with kindness and tact which before I might not have had.
Knowing what I do each day
Planning the day and describing the activities of the day have both contributed to learning more about what I do each day (you’d be surprised at how un-seeing you are of your day normally).
This in turn has led me to question the activities, and to consider whether that day led towards my life’s purpose – or whether it was a bit of a tangent.
My reflective journalling has a specific place which asks about gratitude, but I also record gratitude as I go along in my organisational journal. I am much, much more grateful for my life than I was when I started. This gratitude then helps me smooth over the struggles of a day, week or months and improves my quality of life.
Greater awareness of negative self-talk
Reading through previous journal entries has helped me understand the most common themes of negative self-talk I riff on. The main theme is not appreciating, or sometimes even acknowledging my successes.
Without reflecting on my life, I wouldn’t see this as clearly, and I wouldn’t understand the damage it has on my self-esteem – and I wouldn’t be able to change that.
Journalling, particularly reflective journalling, is an introspective process which has plenty of proven benefits for mental health and wellbeing. Making it a habit can be tricky, but by setting aside a time and place and not worrying about it being ‘perfect’, can help you on your way.
There’s lots to learn from journalling too; practising it can help you understand your emotions and reactions more, increase your gratitude, and lead you to ways you can combat negative self-talk.
You can start a journal at any time, and you’ll see the benefits almost immediately. You can do it in any form that works for you, and document any aspect of your life you like. The key is to spend time reflecting, not just describing, to get the most out of it.
Do you keep a journal? What are your tips for making it a lasting habit?