The What & How of Journaling – 3 Ways to Kickstart your Journaling Habit

Journaling has gained so much popularity that it is almost felt like a celebrity having a second act. And this second act is way better – there are beautiful journals for different purposes, and the status given to journaling is much more elevated than the notebooks we wrote in during high school. If you haven’t got into journaling, this article gets you up to speed with the basics of how to journal and recommends 3 challenges to kickstart your journaling journey!

When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!

Anne Frank 1

Table of Contents

Journaling 101

What is Journaling

Journaling is simply writing your thoughts and feelings. If you search for journaling images, you may feel overwhelmed by all the beautiful hand-lettering, hand-drawn images beside perfect handwriting. I have illustrated my own children book and read a few design books (but not gotten into drawing/ hand-lettering) – my jaw dropped when I saw how beautiful everyone’s journal pages looked. Then I thought, maybe, we can look at buying one of those splendid journals to write in. The next thing is that I have spent hours shopping online for expensive journals, with no guarantee of getting any journal writing done!

The only guarantee for starting your journal is to start it.

Start journaling one entry, then the next, and the next.

Getting started with your journal
Follow the fun and find the joy - Discover your best life through journaling

The tools needed for Journaling

You do not need any special tool for journaling. You do not need to be an artist. You do not have to be a writer. You just need to be you, with pen and paper or without, if you are typing it.

While I love a beautiful journal, I do not recommend buying one with journaling prompts if it is your first attempt at journaling. The journaling prompts may deter you to get started if you don’t feel like writing to any of the prompts. There are many journaling prompts online, or in books about journaling if you need some inspiration on what to write. If you are the type that worry about messing up the journal (don’t!), then get an inexpensive exercise book to make a few entries before you go out there to purchase that perfect journal to use.

Some books to give you ideas on journal writing. I love how Creative Journal Writing keeps on reassuring us to get started, persevere for 20 minutes and give ideas to push through when we feel there is nothing to write.

I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

1st Challenge – Assemble your Journal in 5 minutes

  1. Gather 5 sheets of A4 blank paper, 1 pen, Washi tape/ Sharpie marker/ Stickers (100% optional – just for fun if you have these lying around!)
  2. Fold your A4 blank paper into two
  3. Put them together into a booklet – you don’t even have to staple it, that way you can always add more pages anytime
  4. Decorate – you can see what I have decorated in 5 minutes!
  5. Write the date today, breathe, what’s the first thought that comes to your mind and write it down
Assemble your journal in 5 minutes
Sample journaling page for gratitude journaling

I know we have simply folded printing paper and written something, but that’s really all that is needed! You can come up with your journaling ritual – it can be at a certain time, your favorite spot in the house or the coffee joint, your mantra/thoughts before getting started. For instance, mine is sitting at my study area in my bedroom – first thing I do after morning run, shower and breakfast. And always with a coffee. I will think, ‘I’m grateful for _________’, followed by writing my prayers and then any other thoughts and feelings.’

What to Write

Now, don’t scratch your head just yet. There are a lot of journaling templates and prompts to get you started.

Don’t feel pressured to follow any of the journaling templates or prompts. I have simply organized them into different themes, for instance, health, relationships, faith that broadly correspond to the life wheel.

Life Wheel - Journaling the various aspect of life
The Life Wheel is simply a graphical representation of various aspects of life, and you can score yourself regularly to see whether you have improved in a certain aspect. It is useful as a reminder to take action for a particular area that we consistently feel we have been neglecting.

2nd Challenge – Choose from any of the 7 templates and start writing

Journal writing is simply writing our inner thoughts and feelings, instead of thinking in our minds. When we keep thinking about something in our head, we may find it hard to break from our normal thought patterns; when we write them down, the distance allows us to process them. Thoughts and feelings are by nature fluid. In our journaling, we may be skipping from one aspect of our life to another unconsciously. For instance:

Today was horrible. 😫 I wanted to cook curry for my family but didn’t even stir the curry stock cube properly. Eew! I had bitten into half a cube of curry stock!

And what was I thinking? Trying to cook curry? Who am I trying to impress? Do I have to cook curry to prove that I love my spouse? He isn’t doing anything to show his love anyway. 💔

And the curry stock cube was full of salt. The potato chips I ate yesterday were already making me feel bloated, now with half of a curry stock cube in me, no wonder I am feeling so awful. 🤢

We see that from one meal gone wrong (about food, family), we moved into marriage in the second paragraph, and then physical health and mood in the third. Each of the questions we ask ourselves when journaling can be further explored 🤔 & enjoy mixing up the various theme templates! Think of them as your perfect mix-and-match solution, for the price of $0! p.s. you can buy me a coffee 😉

Health Journal

Health journaling is likely to be a mix of:

  • Goal settings – we may set a weight target, a fitness target (say, run 10km or do one pull-up), body shape target or to hit some healthy levels such as lower cholesterol
  • Tracking – we can record our progress for the goals that have been set. If you are tracking calorie intake and workouts, it is best to track using an app. I only record the total calorie intake/output on paper, whereas all other details are recorded in Fitbit due to built-in workout tracking and food nutrition data
  • Planner – we can include the actions to reach those goals, for instance, planning our meals or workouts for the week/ month
  • Review – we can include hard data and our thoughts/ feelings! For instance, drawing a blah face 😞 if we didn’t stick to our plan, or smiley face 😄 because we are feeling so good after taking good care of our health
  • Insights/ Affirmations – we can journal insights, either from reviewing the data or our moods throughout the week. We may discover that fun and joyful workouts are better than push-ups and burpees (cos we simply hate them too much to do it!). Also include some affirmations and focus for the next week/month!

If you prefer to purchase a health journal, you can check these out. Or subscribe here to get your free CluelessJournal© Health Matters Journal (original edition) 🎁

The Journal Writing in your Health Journal

With so much data to track in our health journal, we may sometimes lose sight of the journal writing. We desire to use our journal as a form of expression, meditation and discovery. Remember? Follow the Fun, Feel the Joy, Find the Clues, Forge your Path.

If our health journal ends up becoming a paper-version of a health tracker, that’s not much of journal writing, is it?

Clueless Journal Gang

To get our minds (and hearts) firing, I’ve created 20 health-related journaling prompts and one journal entry here. Read it, I had a blast thinking back of what I would have journaled when I was in high school! 😉

Couple Journal

A journal you keep for your marriage will look very different from your health journal – it is almost like the other end of the spectrum, much more feelings and thoughts than (health) data and goal tracking.

I don’t have the perfect marriage and both of us are not good at talking about feelings or sharing our deepest hopes & dreams. So we haven’t gone through a couple journal together, but I have (true to the ‘checklister’ in me!) consistently set goals for my marriage, came up with some checklist to track these goals and a daily/weekly/monthly to-do list as a reminder to keep up the marriage .

I have also pored through the journals out there, and broadly, you can expect to find these 5 types of couple journal:

  • Journals with counseling guidance – the journal writing prompts in these journals are crafted like how it would be in a therapy session, with emphasis in areas such as better communication and greater empathy for each other
  • Journals with devotionals – the journaling prompts relate to the devotional for the day with a quote or bible verse
  • Journals meant to be a keepsake – these journals are more light-hearted and come with different prompts for you to fill in something positive about your partner
  • Journals for better understanding of each other – the journaling prompts cover a wide range of topics to inspire conversations (and journaling), for instance, your passions, goals, beliefs/values and habits
  • Journals with activities – these journals come with recommended bucket list or activities to do together, followed by spaces to journal your thoughts after completing the activities

Here are some of the journals that you can check out if you are looking for the above 5 types of journals.

I have created CluelessJournal© Love Matters Couple Journal (70-page pdf download, with 60 day of activities) that you can get for $9.97. If you prefer to try out whether the journaling prompts will work for you, I have made some of the pages available as individual downloads at $0 – simply checkout those freebies in your cart!

Lest you think couple journaling is all dull & dry, I’ve created a journal entry for some laugh! There are also 20 couple journaling prompts in the journal entry here.

Finances Journal

Finances is an area where we think of figures, budgeting, planning and tracking. We can have all these in our finances journal, and more – the ‘more’ is the journal writing that will help us dig deeper into the principles that guide our spending and saving. Before we explore the writing in the finances journal, let’s cover the basics of what a finances or money journal will include:

  • Goal settings – we set financial goals and this can look very different depending on what our values are. For instance, someone who is motivated to be a multi-millionaire will have very different goals from a creative entrepreneur whose focus is on sustaining the business to continue to engage in creative work.
  • Taking stock – to figure out how much more money is needed to reach our goals, we have to know how much we currently have. And this is a good time to include gratitude journaling because sometimes we can get so engrossed with hitting our goal that we forget to be thankful for what we have.
  • Budgeting – we have to figure out a monthly spending budget and our strategy for keeping to the budget, including what to do for extraordinary or annual expenses. For instance, a holiday could cause our spending to go through the roof and we will need a special savings tracker to cover the holiday expenses. Giving is something we can budget for – and it needed not be limited to tithing or offering, it can be giving presents to family and friends whose relationships we value or doing a project for our community.
  • Income – we can record our various income sources and track the risk/ return from various sources of income. For instance, we may set a financial goal to gradually shift our income streams to more passive forms, and to take higher risks in our investments when we can afford to.
  • Tracking – all the data can be tracked on apps, in spreadsheets or on paper. Personally, I log all the expenses in an app and only record the monthly total in the journal. I love this mixed approach because an app is fast and convenient, and you can log once you have spent instead of reaching for your pen & journal. On the other hand, recording the monthly total in the journal is the perfect chance to reflect on the past month’s spending decisions.
  • Checklist – as a reminder, I love to include the actions to reach my financial goals in a checklist. For instance, ‘budget’ is on my daily checklist where I would tick it if I haven’t spent frivolously that day. If I managed to tick 6 out of 7 days, I know I’m on track to keeping my budget.
  • Review – we can include the aggregate increases & decreases to our finances, and think through and journal what we did well and how we can improve for next month.

If you like a hard copy finance journal, you can check these out. Or get a pdf copy of the 30-page Money Matters Finances Journal for $4.97. Still unsure if you want a journal for your finances, head over to my shop for some free templates.

Faith Journal

Faith is an area which I really struggled with for the first 15 years after becoming a Christian. I struggled with how to live out a faith, how to have a faith that is real – one that moves beyond the head, into the heart and into living each day with God. I question all the time the meaning of life, my purpose on earth and why having a God that is all-knowing, all-powerful and his spirit in me is still not helping with the biggest question of my life. And how real is my faith if I can’t hear the God who I believe in?

The change came two years ago when I started bible journaling and memorizing a bible verse weekly. I was also so fed up with not hearing God that I decided to set goals for my faith, and treat it with the same intention and focus as other areas of my life – I did a daily checklist of things to do to build and live out my faith.

And it works!

I don’t think it works simply because I’m doing daily bible reading, memorizing verse & checking off list but because I do it with the desire to hear God. It is a shift of focus from ‘Give me answers for my life’ to ‘Ok, God, here we go. I’m opening the bible, teach me what you want me to hear today’. The bible then came alive (on most days) and you can read in the devotionals how the bible became applicable in life.

Faith journals typically come with:

  • Devotionals – Much like the devotionals here, a faith journal that has devotions would come with the author’s insights/encouragements, relevant bible verse(s), suggested prayer and a space for your journal writing.
  • Planners – There are also planners that incorporate your spiritual goals, or what you have learnt from your bible reading & thanksgiving.
  • Bible reading – These are similar to notebooks with spaces for you to write your bible verse and what the bible verse has taught you about God & life.

Here are some of the journals that you can check out, or you can download this FREE weekly faith planner template that is a compact two sheets of A5 insert that is packed with 8 sections for you.

Parent-Child Journal

Will you think I’m crazy if I told you that I have a checklist for my parenting? 😅

While kiddo and I don’t keep a shared journal, we have agreed on the areas that she needed help with. I have also shared with her what I am focusing on in order to be a better mom – to grow in faith, to build a stronger marriage and to be a better model for speech. I still fall short in many ways but it is good to have the goals & actions & checklist on hand to not fall too far behind in my parenting journey.

As for the journals out there, they are mostly journaling prompts to create memories, learn more about each other and create a fun keepsake. You can also download this FREE weekly parenting planner template that is a compact two sheets of A5 insert that is packed with 8 sections for you.

Work Journal

The form that work takes has changed much over the years – you have people who are working 9 to 5, people working from home (likely brought about by covid), people who work a few hours a week (think Tim Ferriss’ 4-hour workweek) or people whose work is investing or drop-shipping or podcasting. The meaning of work has also become more diverse – instead of defining it by money, it is being defined by passion, creative pursuits and the work that one identifies with.

I have found a selection of planners that include more journaling space and also created a work planner that encourages more insights into the why & joy of our work. You can download this FREE weekly work planner template that is a compact two sheets of A5 insert, packed with 9 sections for you.

Personal Growth Journal

Personal growth, or self-improvement, is such a broad topic and depending on which guru you subscribe to, you may have a different journal to follow along. Some of the journals from well-known life coaches are listed here and instead of coming up with a growth journal for you (you can use the free work planner), I’m sharing this New Yorker article titled ‘Improving ourselves to death‘. Read it for yourself and if nothing sticks, the title has definitely stuck with me (this was a Jan 2018 article).

Discover your Journaling Style

Sometimes we may get stuck with our journaling because it is not the style that works for us. Take this fun quiz to find out your journaling type! And if you want to try journaling for free, head right over to the shop and add the freebies for your downloads.

1 Frank, Anne (1991) The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

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