Journaling can elevate your thought process, provide clarity and help find the answer to the most crucial questions about yourself. The fact that you’re already figuring out how to journal even when you don’t feel like shows you don’t need further convincing about the benefits it can provide.
I’ve asked myself how to start journaling a thousand times. I’ve started and stopped dozens of times and walked away with the guilt for failing to keep up with my promises. That makes it even harder to start the next time.
I’ve been on a decent streak now and want to ensure it lasts. I want you to be able to enjoy the same. Hence, I’ve listed down 9 tips to journal when you don’t want to.
1. Strip it down
If you’re overwhelmed by the size of a problem, break it down into smaller pieces. — Chuck Close
The biggest hurdle in journaling is setting your goals impractically. You promise yourself to jot down thousands of words on daily basis or simply something out of your reach. When you’re starting, the excitement of a new adventure keeps you on the track and you knock your goal out of the park.
Then the newness begins to fade away and your progress starts to stall. Eventually, your motivation well dries up and you walk away feeling worse than when you started.
The smart thing is to strip your goals down. Trim the fat. Don’t set goals to be measured in words written. Don’t even set them to be measured in pages written. Set goals to be measured by time instead and those too after thinking practically.
I’ll write 1,000 words per day soon because too tiring to even think about. Switch it into I’ll journal for 5 minutes each night and it becomes shamefully difficult to skip.
Also, Don’t force yourself to write fancy words. Don’t compare your journals with professional writers and don’t weigh yourself down with pointless expectations. Keep it light and keep adding to it gradually and you’ll be rewarded.
2. Let your writing float
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep — Scott Adams
If you’re sitting down to write about dull topics, you’ll have trouble sticking to your routine. Soon you’ll lose interest and start looking at it as a chore instead of something you look forward to.
The early days of building new habits are extremely crucial. Hence, the more fun you can make your journaling sessions the more likely you’ll be sticking with them for the long run.
The quickest way to throw boredom out of the window is to let your topics float, let your ideas bounce, and allow yourself to drift towards whatever topics your heart desires.
Let your thoughts pour on the pages about the new shiny car you are drooling over, the girl you can’t stop thinking about, the adventures that give you goosebumps, or whatever gets your pulse going.
Once you develop the habit of sitting down and writing about things you enjoy, you’ll get a better understanding of who you are as a person and what you don’t want to be. You’ll also eventually develop the discipline to answer difficult questions and get to the core of rough problems. The lesson is to be patient with the process, enjoy your sessions and stick with it.
3. Eat the Bullets
The blank paper can be intimidating. It has given nightmares to the greatest writers who’ve ever walked the face of this planet. The idea of filling up blank space with thoughts and ideas can hold you back and more so when you’re trying to jot words down after an exhausting day at work. The solution?
You don’t have to write lengthy essays and long paragraphs. You don’t have to explain anything. You don’t need to list down the mundane details of how your day went. Write one-liners instead like you’re writing some Vin Diesel action movie.
Here is an example.
Regular journal example
When I woke up this morning, my body was aching and my neck felt tired. I had weird dreams last night and couldn’t sleep peacefully all night. I feel like I was stuck into a grinding machine all night and spit out in the morning.
I laid there contemplating my life choices for half an hour before mustering up enough courage to crawl out of the bed into the shower and head to work afterward. I didn’t feel like having breakfast either so I resorted to lunchtime at the office instead.
Bullet journal example
Woke up tired, had trouble getting out of bed
Missed breakfast, had lunch at the office instead
Two paragraphs can be summed up into two bullets. Now the quality of details in these bullets is going to be dependent upon you but they can deliver the message without requiring too much effort in choosing words. This approach can make the early days of journaling easier and help you write even when you don’t want to.
4. Quick Prompts
Journaling prompts can help spice up your daily sessions. They’ll help you avoid looking at the blank paper and you can skip having to conjure up descriptive words to write meaningful bullet journals. You’ll get straight to the point instead and start writing.
To get started, take some time and reflect on what matters the most in your life. These things can be health, wealth, career, relationships, and more. Once decided on daily items to reflect upon, try to sum them up into one or two questions. Here is an example.
Journaling quick prompts example
Did I learn something new today?
Did I stick to my core values?
What was the best thing that happened today?
What were the worst mistakes of the day?
What’s one thing I can improve on tomorrow?
5. Writing isn’t the only option
Express yourself through art — whether it’s your drawings in a sketchpad, tattoos on your skin, the shades of your lipstick, or the clothes that you wear.
You don’t have to write when you don’t want to. You can express yourself without using words. You can draw instead. They don’t have to masterpieces either. Make them yours. Make them whatever you like. The important thing is to let how you feel pour out into the images you create.
The pain, the sufferings, the beauty, and happiness. Let everything come out and don’t let your brain fool you into thinking you’re wasting time. Don’t let anyone tell you journaling is all about words. Journaling is about expressing yourself instead.
6. Make it colorful
Color is a power which directly influences the soul. — Wassily Kandinsky
Even when you’re not drawing, trying to make your journals colorful can impact how fun your sessions are. We are drawn to colors and they evoke various kinds of emotions inside our mushy brains. They often make us feel happy and having that feeling associated with your journaling sessions is extremely helpful.
The colors also make it easier to skimp through your pages when your return to them years from now. The important sections of your notes can be put under bold colorful headings to ensure you don’t miss them.
This approach applies to both notepad and digital methods and provides the same benefits.
7. Turn into game
Have you ever tried forcing yourself to do something beneficial for yourself but still didn’t feel like doing it? And then you went ahead and did it anyway? How do you feel after accomplishing such tasks? Powerful. Grateful. Satisfied. Self-respect.
How do you feel when you’re on the basketball court and an opponent is trying to grind you down? How do you feel when a boss is yelling down your throat telling you that you suck? How do you feel when teachers keep screaming at you and telling you how worthless you are?
These situations feel terrible at the moment but then something magical happens. Your inner warrior starts putting his gear on. He readies himself to go to war. He grabs his sword and lifts his shield and yells: “I’m gonna show you how great I am”.
I want you to play the same game with your temptations to delay or skip journaling sessions. Make laziness your slave. Go to war with procrastination and conquer it into submission. Don’t stop until you get what you want no matter how hard you need to fight.
8. Wear a different skin
Perspective is a powerful thing and we shape the world around ourselves with our thoughts. We often act selfishly without considering how the other person is feeling, without trying to understand their reasoning behind seemingly pointless actions.
You can also convene your personal board of directors, the greatest thinkers, writers, poets, philosophers, and warriors of the past. You can try to understand your situation from their perspective. You can try to imagine how they would’ve reacted to the terrible odds you face at the moment.
The ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes also works wonders in business. You can understand your clients better, make better moves to climb up the corporate ladder, and achieve more success.
Surprisingly, this seemingly mundane activity is fun if you know how to play with it. You can start wearing a different skin in your journaling for a dozen different reasons.
You can try to understand someone better. You can try to evaluate the deeper rooted reasoning behind your past self’s foolish decisions. You can switch to the person you’d like to be in a decade and see how that’ll feel.
That’ll help make your journaling sessions far more fun while also giving valuable insight and developing the priceless skill of having the perspective of other dimensions.
9. Dive deepest
The art of living this life to the fullest requires you to enjoy little moments. And to savor the fleeting moments we have on this planet, you must be an excellent observer. You must pay attention to details and drive lessons and motivation from seemingly menial things. This will also help you paint the future you’d like to have.
What I want you to do is focus on a situation, incident, person, object, or place and then drill down into the details. Write into the finest details you possibly can. Try to evaluate how a certain situation could’ve been avoided. Try to understand why a person said something in a certain manner. Try to feel what the breeze in a place feels like.
The deeper you can go, the more colorful and rich your memory and journal entry is going to be and the more enjoyable your writing session will end up.
These are some powerful yet fun ways to journal when you don’t want to and they help you develop other valuable skills as well. The most important thing, like most situations in life, is your drive and the level of determination.
The ability to sit down and face your demons is going to require some courage and patience. The ability to paint a future that doesn’t exist and then to plan how to win it is going to require some discipline. The ability to search your soul for answers is going to require some effort. But in the end, if you stick with it, you’ll surely get the rewards.
The length of sessions is meaningless. The most important thing is consistency and turning it into a habit. Try to repeat it to the point where you don’t have to think about whether or not to do it. You simply sit down and get it down because that’s what you do.
Thank you so much for reading all the way through. If you have any questions or would like to add something, please feel free to reach out to me. I’d also love to hear your ideas on how you stick with the habit of journaling and how you conquer yourself and journal even when you don’t want to.