Helpful tips for recording something meaningful in your life in the new year
Many of us aspire to keep a regular journal or diary but rarely manage to follow through. We have notions of putting pen to paper in beautiful, memorable prose, preserving our daily profound thoughts for future generations — or maybe just for our older selves when memories start to fade — but then nothing happens. We’re too busy. We don’t know what to write. Our pens are crappy. The journal book we have is too fancy/not fancy enough/unlined/lined/too small/too large — or just nonexistent.
If you’ve ever resolved to keep a journal and then proceeded to get completely stuck and abandon the idea altogether, it may be because you didn’t have a realistic plan for making it happen. So here are six ways to keep a journal in 2016 that may not only change you by the end of the year but give you joy in the process.
Before going any further, however, a few basic tips:
- First, the obvious: You need a journal. Make it one you want to write in. Force yourself to break open the beautiful blank book that’s been sitting on your shelf for three years, or pick up a simple notebook that won’t intimidate you. It doesn’t matter, really. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
- Do get a nice pen, though. Something that feels good in the hand, something enjoyable to write with. If you don’t have one, though, don’t wait or you’ll never get started; grab the ballpoint in your junk drawer if you must.
- Place your journal and writing instrument in the place you’ll most often use it. A bedside table is an obvious place if you’re going to journal first thing in the morning or before bed, but there are other places that may work better, such as where you eat breakfast, your reading nook or prayer corner, or your purse or briefcase. (If you happen to attend daily Mass or adoration, it’s a perfect time to journal.)
- On the first page of your journal, write something inspirational — a Scripture passage, a favorite quote or poem, a dedication to someone, a short prayer. It’s not only a lovely way to begin journaling, it will “christen” the book and make it feel like you’ve already begun.
Now you’re ready. But the biggest dilemma wanna-be journalers have is that when we finally sit down with pen in hand, our minds are blank — or else they’re full of to-do lists and concerns that hardly seem worth writing about. Most of us need a focus, a theme, something to direct our thoughts — and our pens. So here are six ideas to choose from to make 2016 the year you conquered journaling once and for all:
There are many ways to keep a prayer journal. The easiest is to take it to your prayer time — wherever that may be — and reflect on the Mass readings for the day, writing down any insights you have about the Word of God or anything you think God may be saying to you through the Scripture. You can also do this with spiritual reading. Keeping a prayer journal can be a real boon to your spiritual life.
Examination of Conscience Journal
This works best at the end of the day. Before bedtime, take up your journal, date the page and write down answers to the following questions: What went well today? What didn’t? How did I respond to God’s invitation to love, to be virtuous? Where did I fall short? Make a silent act of contrition and write down one thing you’re going to work on the next day. You’ll be amazed about what you discover looking back on this after a few months.
Journal of Mercy
Since 2016 is the Year of Mercy, it’s a great theme for journaling. Each day, record at least one thing related to the theme of mercy — something merciful you managed to do or say, or want to practice, or something you observed in someone else. You can reflect on something you read about in the news, a question you are pondering or a challenge related to mercy and love that you’re struggling with. You can refer to this list of 56 Ways to Be Merciful During the Jubilee Year of Mercy for inspiration. You could take each idea listed there and journal about putting it into practice each week of the year.
Journal of Letters
Create a journal made up of letters — to God, to your children or spouse, to your parents or even to different people on different days. These letter entries can be short and sweet, or longer stories, or things you have always wanted to say to the person. (This can be a very therapeutic exercise.) You may not intend for these to ever be read, but when you can picture the person you’re writing to or for, it can make for meaningful journaling.
One of the best ways to improve your overall sense of happiness and well-being in the new year is to keep a gratitude journal. Which means writing down, each day, at least one thing you’re grateful for. It can be the simplest of things such as the sunrise you saw out your window, your child’s smile or the delicious sandwich you had for lunch. Nothing is too small, and sometimes when life is hard, the tiniest things are all you can find. The exercise of reflecting on and recording what you’re grateful for each day can be a life changer.
This video is about a journaling project called “365 Grateful,” launched by a young woman who was struggling with meaninglessness. A nun told her to start keeping a gratitude journal, and she turned it into a photographic journal with text that changed her life. If you’re so inclined, you could do the same, or do it with text only.
There’s no law that says you have to journal every day. You can do it weekly, occasionally, or when it’s relevant to what you want to record. My husband, for example, keeps a journal of original family quotes because so many funny, quirky, insane things seem to come out of our mouths on a regular basis and he doesn’t want to forget them. He doesn’t record quotes every day — we’re not that original — but often enough that we have a random selection of hilarity to crack up about whenever we need a good laugh.
Some people write down inspirational quotes or poems as they come across them; others like to use a journal when they travel so they can record and remember all the highlights.
Journaling can be whatever you make it. And it doesn’t need to take large chunks of time — start with five minutes a day, or three times a week or once a week after Mass. Let 2016 be the year you finally record something meaningful in your life.
Zoe Romanowskyis lifestyle editor and video content curator for Aleteia.