Journaling isn’t just for teenagers. As Arlo Laibowitz explains, jotting down your thoughts, plans and reflections can help you with self-development. Check out these six different journaling techniques and the many benefits they will bring to your life.


Many of us have started writing a diary or journal at some points in our lives. And many of us have also stopped writing in them not that much later! Many famous artists, writers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and thinkers keep, or have kept, journals, and there are many different journaling techniques. For many, it's a creative necessity and outlet. For some, it's a place for exploration, and yet for others, it's an art form in itself.

Journaling can be enriching and fulfilling on many levels. It can lead to insights, personal growth, and setting and achieving goals. Journals record our thoughts, feelings and reflections. In doing so, they create a through-line in our life, a place of refuge and reflection, that we can visit and revisit.

Personally, I started journaling some years ago, as part of the Morning Papers practice of The Artist’s Way. I've written notebooks full of journal entries related to personal growth, gratitude, creative development, project ideas, personal insecurities, blocked traumas, to-do-lists, goals, dreams and much more.



I've tried different journal techniques for weeks or months at a time – and have also not journaled for weeks in between entries! Every time I come back to the practice and sustain it on a regular basis, I feel I can go deeper, explore things more explicit, and in the process, experience a wonderful journey to my interior.

So, what are the benefits of journaling? And what different journaling techniques can we employ? How do we go about starting and sustaining a journaling habit?

journaling-techniques.jpgDream diaries: keep track of your dreams... or maybe your ambitions?


What are the benefits of journaling?

In different studies, journaling has been identified as a so-called 'keystone habit', a habit that is defining and catalysing more habits in your life. As Charles Duhig writes in The Power of Habit, these keystones are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” The benefits of journaling are emotional, cognitive, creative and possibly even spiritual. Journaling helps us to:
  • Know ourselves better, by clarifying our thoughts and feelings.
  • Release thoughts and emotions, by recognizing and tracking them.
  • Increase focus, deepen our learning and problem solving, in ‘decluttering’ our minds.
  • Boost stability, detach and let go of the past; similar as in meditation practices, by developing our awareness of our thoughts and letting go of our clinging to them.
  • Resolve disagreements with others, by detaching ourselves from the conflict and reflecting on it.

Furthermore, studies show that keeping a gratitude journal offers some added benefits. People that keep a gratitude journal are happier, healthier, more balanced and generally more optimistic. They are less self-centered, and less susceptible to feelings of envy, more relaxed, better in decision-making, and more strengthened in their emotions and developed in their personality.


Journaling: six different techniques

1. Enso drawing

 There are various forms of journaling. We can choose a traditional way, with pen and paper, or write in an electronic journal, use various media, or add art practices to our journaling (like drawings or collages, or even specialised forms like enso drawing).


2. Ten minute routine

An easy technique to start journaling is practising the Ten minute routine. Before going to bed, ask yourself so-called “requests” – the things that you're trying to accomplish – and write them down. Then, in the morning, write down your answers and thoughts on these questions. This way of journaling is especially efficient to review and sharpen your to-do-list and life vision, as they become forged in your subconscious mind.


“There are many journaling techniques. For many, it's a creative necessity and outlet. For others, it's an art form in itself.”


3. Stream of consciousness

 Another tried way to journal is journaling every day in a stream of consciousness. Write down any thought, memory, to-do-list, feeling, drawing, or whatever else pops up. Just let it flow as you write, without trying to censor or edit yourself.


4. Morning memories

 A different journaling technique is writing 'morning memories'. Schedule your journaling session each morning, before you start your day. Use the same journal every day, sit in the same spot, and when you’re done writing, take time to reflect on what you've written and accomplished in that session.

RELATED: Morning meditation – the secret to a great day


5. Gratitude journaling

Probably the most researched journaling technique is keeping a gratitude journal. For maximum benefit, take 15 minutes per day, three to four times a week, to journal what you're grateful for on that day. Be specific, choose depth of gratitude instead of breadth, and try to get personal (being thankful to people is more efficient than to things). Make a note of seeing good things as a gift, savoring surprises and unexpected events.

techniques-of-journalingJournaling techniques: start putting pen to paper


6. Intensive journal

 A comprehensive method of journaling is using the intensive journal process. This copyrighted process, which can be learned in specialised workshops, enables the person journaling to get to know themselves on profound levels.


“People that keep a gratitude journal are happier, healthier, more balanced, and generally more optimistic.”


The Intensive Journal Workbook is a large notebook filled with paper and divided into four dimensions of human experience: Life/Time, Dialogue, Depth and Meaning. Each of these aspects is divided into several subsections to work through in the path that the method prescribes. Some of these paragraphs are used to write about our memory of the events of our lives as well as dreams and images. Others are more geared towards stimulating insights and creative activity.


How to start and sustain a journaling habit

There are as many ways to initiate and maintain your journaling, as there are different forms of journaling.
  • A straightforward way to start journaling is by starting every day with writing down tasks and goals that you have for that day.
  • Only write a few items, to make it easy to start and make progress.
  • It's useful to mix personal and professional things.
  • By keeping each journal entry short in the beginning, it's easy to succeed.
  • At the end of each day, look back at what you've accomplished, what you've learned, what you want to explore further, and what you want to pursue the next day.


Once you've developed a basic journaling practice, you can dig deeper and further expand it. Some commonly held beliefs and ‘best practices’ include:

  • Start writing about where you are in your life at this moment, and build on that in subsequent journal entries.
  • Start a dialogue with your inner child by writing in your non-dominant hand, and switching back to your dominant hand.
  • For sustaining your gratitude practice, maintain a daily list of things you appreciate, including uplifting quotes.
  • Start a journal of self-portraits; draw, write, or collage who you are today, and learn to appreciate and develop yourself.
  • Keep a nature diary to connect with the natural world: record what you experience in looking at the sky experiences the weather or walks in nature.
  • Maintain a log of successes, starting with big ones that you remember, and then add them as they occur.
  • Keep a log or playlist of your favourite songs. Write about the moods and memories they trigger.
  • If there’s something you're struggling with or an event that’s disturbing you, write about it in the third person to create distance and perspective.



Journal techniques: travels to our interior

Journaling is a powerful habit that enables us to get a more in-depth and clearer understanding of the thoughts, feelings and issues we're working through. Whether we use journaling to accompany our meditation, forgiveness, or gratitude practices, or to work through emotional trauma or creative stumble blocks, a daily practice enables us to focus and develop further. Trying different journaling techniques has given me many benefits in life. I wish you the same journey as you explore your journaling practice! 

Images: Cathryn Laver, Ben White, Haley Powers, Estée Janssens on Unsplash | The fine art of being: learn, practise, share

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Written by Arlo Laibowitz

arlo.jpgArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.


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I must admit, I haven't tried any of these journaling techniques, but I struggle sometimes with anxiety and keeping things in my head. I think getting things down on paper always helps to clear the mind so I will give one or two of these methods a go and see if I notice a difference. Thanks, Arlo!

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