“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor

I often tell patients that a good way to explore their feelings is by keeping a journal. Some people call it a diary. Call it what you like, but it does wonders for organizing your thoughts and can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself. If you’re like most people and not sure how to begin, this quick-start guide is for you.

Start with a blank canvas

I recommend a sketchbook to give you enough open space to work with. The size doesn’t matter. Keep in mind that it’s your thoughts and feelings that are important, nothing else. These can be expressed in words, sketches, clippings from magazines or newspapers, photographs, or whatever you find that helps communicate your message. With your sketchbook, you are the artist and you’re free to express yourself.

No need to hesitate

The best way to start is to write quickly. There are no rules to follow; just a few guidelines offered here to help you get the ball rolling. Try to write at the same time every day. Some people prefer the morning and some like the afternoon or evening. It’s up to you. For the first week, try to add something to your journal every day for the next 7 days. Some people like to set a timer and stop after 5 minutes, others like to estimate the time. Then just set the journal aside until the next day.

The power of three

No matter how they are formatted, words and images affect the way people think and feel. To add to that, there is something magical about the “power of three” that seems ingrained in us as humans, from the “Three Wise Men,” the “Three Little Pigs,” to the “Third Time’s a Charm.” And that’s just three examples. I’m sure you can think of a lot more. When writing, ideas tend to flow more evenly in groups of three. Try it for one week and see if you don’t agree.

What to write about

Start each day with a fresh page. Pick one topic to write about from the following list every day for the next 7 days. Write about the same topic for as many days as you like. Keep in mind the  power of three and try to incorporate both words and images if you can. Start saving things for the next day.

1. Three things you are grateful for.

2. Three things that make you angry.

3. Three things you enjoy doing.

4. Three things you never want to do.

5. Three things you wish you had learned as a child.

6. Three things you want to do before your life is over.

7. Three secrets that nobody knows about you.

8. Three things that hurt your feelings.

9. Three things that make you anxious.

Next Week—The Beginner’s Guide to Journaling: Part 2.

Dr. Dale Simpson (The Every Day Psychologist)

Dale Simpson, PhD, is the father of five children. As a practicing psychologist for more than 37 years, he has counseled children, teens, adults and couples and currently practices in Venice, Florida. Dr. Simpson was a cofounder and publisher of an educational magazine, wrote the Inside the Family column for the magazine, served as a featured speaker at numerous parenting and homeschool conferences, and is the publisher of Learning for Life Press.

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