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Research shows journaling can ease anxiety and depression, improve brain functioning and increase creativity. In short, journaling relieves stress. During my divorce in 2008, I wrote in my journal every day, using it to pour out my anger, sadness, and doubts. But many people hate heavy-duty personal reflections, so they don’t journal. What if you could reap the benefits without all the dramatic writing? Here are 11 ideas for journaling that don’t include cathartic confessions.

11 Ideas for Journaling

#1 Morning Pages

I first heard of Morning Pages more than a decade ago. In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes Morning Pages as “three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind–and they are for your eyes only. Just put three pages of anything on the page, and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

#2 Journaling Prompts

A simple search in Google will produce thousands of writing prompts from “25 Ways You Feel About Yourself” to “If You Could Be a Book, Which One Would it Be?” Prompts help flip on your thinking switch instead of staring at a blank page wondering what to write. Last year I found a book similar to this one, giving me 365 prompts.

#3 Smash books

What’s a smash book? Shaunte, a blogger with Crafts Unleashed, called it the “un-scrapbook.” An “un-scrapbooker” doesn’t want to spend hours with cutesy stickers and catchy titles, but would still like a place to cram ticket stubs, thoughts, and the occasional photo.

After a trip to Monaco in 2001, I created something similar to this. I had the pictures developed (yes, I said developed) then wrote small memories and what I did while there so I’d never forget the beauty of the trip.

doodle your stress away

The next three provide less-traditional ideas for journaling.

#4 Zentangles

Zentangle is described as a relaxing and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. The method involves simple deliberate strokes which build on each other, and deliberate focus with an unknown outcome.

#5 Wreck this Journal

Suffering from perfectionism-itis? Then a Wreck This Journal might be just the one for you. Created by artist Keri Smith, journalers are encouraged to poke holes through pages, add photos and deface them, paint pages with coffee, and more. –in order to experience the true creative process.

You can buy the journal or get really creative and make your own.

#6 Mandalas

Mandala loosely translates to “circle.” The circle (my favorite shape) represents the unending nature of life and our search for completeness and self-unity.

You can find mandala coloring books or grab one from the FREE Resource Library. Grab your colored pencils, crayons, paint or other mediums, and let your intuition choose your colors.


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Record Keepers

#7 Milestone Keeper

For my baby shower, everyone who attended wrote a letter to baby E in a notebook. It was my most precious present, even better than all the diapers. When I read all the wonderful words, I cried and cried. (Admittedly some of the crying may have been hormone-related.)

I decided to continue the journal rather than have a traditional “baby book.” So every few months, I jot down the latest and greatest–phrases he’s saying, favorite toys, games and characters–in the form of a letter to him. I also take a picture at each birthday and glue it to the page.

You could make a milestone keeper for all your kids; for your spouse and you to share; or even one for yourself as you reach your important milestones.

#8 Daily Calendar Journal

In a Daily Calendar Journal, you have a card (like an index card or something similar) for every day of the year. Every day you jot down the year and then something that happened that day.

For example if you started today, you might put on the card for January 7th, “Started my very own daily calendar journal.” The next year on January 7th you’d pull the card and record something from that day.

I pinned a few examples for you.

#9 Digital journaling

Many of the ideas I provided involve a paper journal. But there are also computer and phone apps for journaling such as Evernote or keeping a Google doc. Blogging (originally was web-logging) is an extremely popular form of journaling.

It doesn’t matter the what, where or how. . .just find what speaks to you and get to writing!

Final ideas for Journaling

#10 Art Journaling

An art journal is similar to a regular journal in that you can use it to record daily thoughts, travel, health and fitness diary, to-do lists. They become “art journals” when you add any kind of illustration or embellishment to the pages. They’re usually not structured or formulaic like you would see in scrapbooking. The focus is on words, color and imagery.

Pinterest has some amazing art journal examples.

#11 Gratitude journal

I first heard about a gratitude journal when Sarah Ban Breathnach was on Oprah. (Yeah, yeah. That’s around the same time I had my travel pictures developed.)

Each night before you go to sleep, list five things for which you’re grateful. This simple idea has morphed into a worldwide movement. You can now get gratitude pages to put in your personal planners. There are tons of free downloads you can find with cute images and quotes. (There’s one in the FREE Resource Library.)

Another take on this is the gratitude rampage where you set a timer for three minutes and write out everything for which you’re grateful until the timer goes off.

How others use journals

“I used my journal to write inner wise self letters (a technique created by my mentor SARK), to process, to doodle. I write my dreams and moments I want to remember. Instead of a makeup bag, I have a pencil bag with color wheel, colors and a glue stick.” –Natalia Gabrea

“For those lovely little moments with my kids that I don’t want to forget. I also use it to brainstorm, and for a personal bucket list. I record things that make me smile–whether it’s something funny the kids said; some kindness I experienced from someone or that I witnessed; or some beauty I noticed. Flip back through it when you’re having a bad day. Random lists of places you want to go, book you want to read, things you want to learn.” –Sara Barry

“I’m big on identifying daily gratitude. Write goals–long-term and short-term and track your progress. Include positive affirmations. Record your big dreams. I also love keeping tracking of what kids say.” –Katie Wolter Mes

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