The Beginner’s Guide to Journaling. Part 3: Learning to express your inner life.

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The more you know of yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others”-Erik Erikson

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 also 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.

Why journal?

Journaling is much more than recording a timeline that tracks your journey through various stages of life. You are also creating a mirror image of your inner-self to look back upon and reflect. It’s a journey of exploration and discovery, and yet a safe haven to express your real thoughts and emotions.

Try Adding Color

I encourage adding coloring to your list of various things to include in your journal. Research shows that coloring stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity. Creativity fuels creativity, which means the endeavor of journaling helps improve writing skills.

Coloring is not the same as art therapy, but it helps with focus and mindfulness. These are two key components of the healing aspects of journaling. No need to invest in expensive books and writing instruments. A few simple crayons or colored pencils will do for a start.

Save your ideas

Create a journaling jar or use an old recipe box to store magazine or newspaper clippings, quotes, pictures, sketches; anything that grabs you as you go about your day. These will come in handy on days you are looking for inspiration.

Your life is noteworthy

Don’t set an alarm, just grab a pen and your journal and write, or paste, or tape, or draw. Don’t worry about the content, just put it down into your journal. If it’s interesting or important to you, then it’s worth noting. Experiment, play and have fun. Make it something you do every day.

1. Write a letter (you don’t intend to send) to someone with whom you are angry. Write down everything that is on your mind.

2. Write a letter to an imaginary best friend. Write about three things you especially like about them.

3. Write a letter to yourself at age 10. Describe three things they should know about the future.

4. Make a list of three things you wish you hadn’t done.

5. Write a letter to your parents (you don’t intend to send) and tell them three things about you that would make them proud.

6. Imagine that you’ve walked into one of the following places: your grandmother’s house, your first day at work, a friend’s wedding, or a relative’s funeral. Write a paragraph, or more, incorporating all the senses you find there. How do they make you feel: filled with anticipation, exhilarated, peaceful, angry, disappointed, fearful?

7. Write about three things that happened today.

By now, you should be ready to move forward and keep journaling daily. You can always revisit any of the three parts to the “Beginner’s Guide to Journaling,” for inspiration.

Wishing you the best always,

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.