Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Everywhere you look someone is telling you what you should and shouldn’t do for your wellbeing. Coffee’s good for you one minute but not the next. You should feel joyful at all times but also be real. Coconut oil should be used everywhere but could also be wreaking havoc on your life. You should quiet your mind but not all the way because then you’ll make people uncomfortable. There’s a whole lot of shit you should and shouldn’t be doing. But, what if you could do one single practice that could help you cut through the noise and figure out what’s best for you?
*Hint, it’s journaling.*
What if that practice could also help you better understand your emotions, work through your relationship problems and even help you build the life you have always wanted?
Better yet, what if that practice didn’t require anything fancy and could be done with items that you have kicking around your office, house or even in your handbag/backpack at this moment?
Since you actively clicked on this article, you know where I’m heading with this.
Journaling… Journaling is the practice I’m talking about.
Here at DiveThru, journaling is sort of our whole thing. We’re all about journaling because it changed our founder’s life. She was in a place where her mind felt like a fragile place to exist. Her thoughts were all consuming, and her body was suffering. Yet, on the outside looking in, she was doing all of the things she should and shouldn’t be doing.
After a life-shattering panic attack, she realized she needed to make a change.
Journaling was a large part of that change.
As she began to piece her life back together, journaling became her go to. She experienced the benefits that journaling could have in her life, and she wanted to share that with the world.
Whether you need a life-changing practice or are simply looking to feel better in your day-to-day life, journaling can be an excellent tool that can help you DiveThru what you’re going thru (interested in what we mean by that statement? (Click here to learn more about our mission.)
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about journaling. We explore what journaling is, and identify the benefits that are associated with journaling. We answer the questions people often have when starting a journaling practice and provide you with journaling prompts to help you get started. Lastly, we cover the steps for starting a journaling practice and go over tips to maximize your efforts.
(Want to get started with your journaling practice right away? Download the DiveThru app here!)
Yup, you’ve got some reading ahead.
Let’s DiveThru, shall we?
Merriam Webster says journaling is the act of recording your experiences, ideas or reflections.
While this is a basic description, it does a great job at showing how simple journaling truly is. There are no secret formulas. There’s no trap door or secret magic trick. If you want to start a journaling practice, all you do is… well, write shit down!
End of article.
Okay, fine, there’s some other stuff you should know.
Firstly, you might ask why we’d bother to record our experiences, ideas or reflections? And, science has some answers.
The. secret. is. out… Journaling is real good for you. By turning to the Google machine, you’ll uncover article upon article that discusses, in depth, the many benefits associated with journaling.
Here are our favourites that Psych Central explored:
You’ve got thoughts floating around in your mind and feelings running rampant within…or, wherever we feel our feelings. Journaling has been shown to help us make sense of the thoughts we’re thinking and the feelings we’re feeling. We could all do with some of that.
You’d think we understand the person we spend every moment with… Ourselves. But, sometimes it feels like we have no idea who we are. Journaling routinely can help you better understand yourself. Naturally, understanding yourself a bit (or a whole lot) better will improve your overall quality of life.
The kids are stressed. We’re the kids. I’m talking about us. Yup, you and me! When we turn to journaling to explore our emotions, we help release their intensity.
As a society, we have created a world where problem-solving is often only done from a left-brained, analytical perspective. However, sometimes we have to engage our right-brained more creative and intuitive self. Journaling unlocks this side of our brain and allows us the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
People sometimes, amirite? Journaling can help. When we write about misunderstandings with others rather than stewing in them, we help ourselves understand another’s point of view. Why aren’t they teaching this in school?!
Now that you’re totally and completely bought into the power of journaling, you might have some questions. When you start something new, it’s natural for there to be things you’re unsure about. We don’t know what we don’t know. So, let’s go through some questions we commonly get asked:
Okay, brace yourself for the answer. It’s complex. It’s customized for you… The best time to journal is whenever you can.
Yup, it’s as easy as that. Whenever you can make time to journal is the best time to journal.
Here at DiveThru, we encourage our team to journal about personal experience in the morning and before bed. During working hours, we recommend one another turn to our journal whenever an obstacle presents itself and at the end of their day.
Yup, we’re into journaling.
There is research that shows that journaling for as little as 15 to 20 minutes a day three to five times throughout four months was enough to impact one’s physical wellbeing, positively.
But, here at DiveThru, we just want you to journal. Like, please. Please journal. It’s real good for you.
Any time you can take for introspection is time well spent. Whether it be a quick check-in or a meaty journaling session, you’ll pull something from it — and we hope that’s enough to motivate you to journalllllllllllll.
To successfully journal, the journal must choose its master. We once knew someone who’s journal was made out of holly with a phoenix tail at its core…
Oh no… Wait… we’re thinking of what Harry Potter needed to overthrow He Who Must Not Be Named.
To journal? You just need a piece of paper and a pen. Super simple!
We find that this is the question we get asked the most. With that in mind, read on for some journaling prompts that will help you get started:
When starting your journey, it’s important to ease yourself in your practice. Here are 5 simple journaling prompts to get you started:
You’d be surprised at what comes up when you answer this simple question honestly. To answer it effectively, take a moment to check in with yourself. Take a breath and notice any thoughts floating around, any feelings you’re experiencing and just how you’re doing at that moment.
Taking time to practice gratitude will change your life. Plain and simple. It’s why we include a daily check-in within the DiveThru app for our Divers.
When answering questions isn’t working, another way to start your journaling question is by completing sentences. By exploring how you feel through your journal, you can help yourself make sense of it.
We’re all about diving thru what you go thru so we couldn’t share five journaling prompts without a question that requires exploring some more in-depth stuff. By being honest with yourself about what’s currently stressing you out, you take a step towards better managing it.
Journaling about how you feel about yourself can result in some tears. But, we’re all about that. We also find that taking the time to journal about how you feel about yourself opens the doors to other topics you’ll realize you have to DiveThru!
As we said, we’re big fans of journaling – and that’s why we created our very own guided journaling app. When people look to start a journaling practice, they often don’t know what to journal.
That’s where we come in!
We work with mental health professionals to create guided journaling exercises that help you take charge of your mental wellbeing.
Within the DiveThru app, you’ll find over 300 journaling exercises on a range of topics, from everyday stressors to specific ‘I can’t believe this happened to me’ moments.
Remember when we said there is no right way to journal? Well, we stand by that! We really just want what’s best for your mental wellbeing and if that means freestylin’ your way through a journaling session, we fully support you. Can you do both though? ABSOLUTELY.
Our focus is on guided journaling because we want to create a mindful journey and a grounded experience from start to finish. Some of you will know exactly what you need to DiveThru, but if you don’t, we will help you narrow it down. This means finding your journaling purpose by theme, by emotions or by general personal development. What’s available at your fingertips? Dives that focus on specific areas like parenthood or relationships, or dives based simply on how your stressors are making you feel that day.
Here’s the thing though.
Question prompts are not enough in our opinion so we created The DiveThru method. We take Divers through a guided introspection first, followed by handwritten journaling, a reflective exercise, a review of the thoughts on paper and a self-summary. Whoa. Talk about taking charge of your mental wellbeing.
Now that you know what journaling is, the benefits, the answers to frequently asked questions as well as journaling prompts to get you started, let’s talk about how to set up your own journaling practice.
Whenever you’re looking to form a new habit, it’s essential to set yourself up for success. Some of us may thrive from journaling in a super cute journal. Unfortunately, it won’t be made of holly and have a phoenix feather at its core, but a beautiful journal that reflects your personality could be what we need to jump-start your practice.
Or, it couldn’t, and scrap paper is all you need. That’s cool, too.
We’re busy. You’re busy. Everyone’s busy.
While it’s essential to recognize that taking time for yourself is a privilege that not all of us can afford, it’s important to be intentional with that privilege. We make time for what we make time for. We’d probably have a lot more time if we didn’t watch hours worth of Brooklyn Nine-Nine reruns, but here we are.
If you can, carve out time in your schedule for journaling. Add it into your calendar. Set up reminders for yourself. Be proactive in trying to make your journaling practice stick.
One thing our Divers love about the DiveThru app is that you can set a notification reminder for when you want to journal (or as we call it, DiveThru). You can download the DiveThru app and get started for free by clicking here.
There are motivations behind everything that we do. We watch reruns of Brooklyn Nine-Nine because it soothes our soul. We move our bodies because we love them (if your motives for exercise are a bit crueler than this reason, we have a Dive for that).
When it comes to sticking to your journaling practice, it’s crucial to establish your why. So, we’ll ask you… Why do you want to start a journaling practice?
There’s an app for everything – including your journaling practice! While a lot of the journaling apps on the market get you to journal into the app, it’s best to find a hybrid.
DiveThru is a guided journaling app rooted in journaling therapy. For that reason, we get you to journal but ensure you do it in the written form. This helps you truly reap the benefits associated with journaling (highlighted below). Don’t fret, you can still input your summaries into the app to review later and track your journey. You can also do quick check-ins throughout your day when you don’t have the chance to get a big journaling session in.
Best part? It’s free to download and get started!
You can download the DiveThru app here.
Still not convinced that journaling by hand is better than inputting it into an app? Let us convince you:
As technology advances, a lot of things we once did will radically improve. While we are all for improvements, there are certain things that benefit us to do the ‘old school way’. Here’s why journaling is best done by connecting pen to paper:
We talk about how busy we are on this blog, a lot. As our lives get increasingly demanding, it’s important to take time to slow down. Journaling by hand helps us slow down. A psychologist at Yale told the New York Times that taking the time to writing things down forces you to focus on what’s important. And guess what’s important? You and what you’re going thru.
While we may think that writing is a relatively simply act, it requires more of your motor skills, and a collection of links around your brain called the “reading circuit.” When activating these pathways, you’re able to better focus about the topic at hand.
Science tells us that writing by hand increases activity in the brain’s motor cortex resulting in an effect that’s similar to meditation. Because of this, journaling can help calm your body and nerves as it promotes mindfulness. Who doesn’t need some help with that?
We’ve got a lot of info to recall at all times. Writing by hand is proven to help increase your memory. A study published in Psychological Science had participants talk notes during a TED Talk. Half of the participants took notes via their laptop, and the other half by writing by hand. The researchers then tested them on the information in the lecture. They found that both parties remembered facts (such as dates) but the hand writers better understood the conceptual questions.
What does this mean? Taking the time to write by hand helps you slow down, process and reframe information in your own words which is proven to be more helpful.
Now that we have convinced you of the magic of journaling by hand, you may still be coming up with questions or barriers in your mind that could derail your practice or minimize the benefits. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one, so see below for some tips, tricks and best practices to make it easier to get started and get you in the flow.”
While there’s really no way you could mess up your journaling practice, there are some best practice tips that will maximize the time you spend journaling.
We live in a world that is constantly correcting us. We take a wrong way on our commute, and Google Maps is there to remind us of our mistake. Social media is right there with you when you wrongly quote a source or say something you shouldn’t. Spell correct greets us daily with its little red line or forced correction! No, iPhone, I’m not saying duck.
We have ample opportunities in our day-to-day lives to concern ourselves with grammar, punctuation and spelling errors… journaling is not one of them.
Constantly correcting spelling mistakes or getting hung up on the proper placement of commas dramatically takes away from your journaling experience. During a hot, steamy journal sesh we’re often swept up in emotions, memories or ideas. By forcing ourselves to focus on spelling, we’re flow-blocking — as in, blocking ourselves from getting in a journaling flow.
Lay your perfectionist flag down while journaling and embrace your 5th-grade writing level — we here at DiveThru certainly do!
Continually editing your journal entries isn’t the only way you can flow-block yourself. Allowing our judgemental selves to steer the journaling ship also impacts the incredible benefits associated with journaling.
You know that super judgy co-worker? The one who sits back in meetings sneering at everyone and picking apart what everyone shares?
Don’t let yourself transform into that co-worker while journaling.
Allow yourself to write freely. Lay it all out. Write down the shit you have always been afraid of saying. Dish about your most secretive secrets and get real about your deepest insecurities. Get it all out there on the page.
This is easier said than done, yes. But, being aware of your tendency to censor and judge yourself during your journaling sessions will help you break free from the habit.
You never know when the mood to journal will strike. By keeping a journal close by, you’ll help yourself get in the habit of turning to your journaling when things come up. Here at DiveThru, whenever we’re facing a creative challenge, our team members turn to their journals. Yup, we truly practice what we preach.
You could go as far as keeping a private at home journal and a work journal. Bring your work journal to work and keep your other one at home stashed away. Whatever you need to feel comfortable about busting it out when the mood moves you.
We have all tried to journal while the TV has been on only to get distracted by Tony Stark’s good looks. Wait, is that only our founder’s, Sophie, experience?! Uh… Well… This is awkward.
Regardless of your preference of Avengers, we know what it’s like to slowly look away from our journal and get swept up in whatever’s happening around us. For this reason, it’s vital to ensure you journal in a space or at a time where distractions are limited.
If you’re journaling in the morning or evening at home, turn off the TV or set yourself up in a private room away from whatever’s pulling your attention. If you’re at work, put your headphones on . Retreat to a vacant office. Put a sign on your cubicle that says you’re taking a moment.
Do whatever you can to keep distractions to a minimum.
While the TV can be the thing that is stealing your attention, your busy thoughts may be sabotaging your journaling session. I cannot stress enough the importance of adequately preparing your mind before journaling. It can be challenging to transition from the busyness of life into the introspective place that journaling takes you. By dedicating as little as 3 minutes before your journaling session for introspection, you’re allowing your mind to get thoroughly swept up in whatever topic you’re journaling about. To do so, we recommend taking a few breaths before each journaling session to tune into yourself.
While taking a few breaths before your journaling session can prepare your mind, we recommend you take things a bit further. In the DiveThru app, we take you through a guided introspection piece before and after every journaling session. It helps get you in the space to journal and helps you reflect post journaling session, as well. You can download the DiveThru app and get started for free by clicking here.
As I mentioned, you really can’t mess journaling up. However, if you remember to let go of spell-checking yourself, leave the judgment at the door, keep a journal close by, keep distractions minimal and prepare your mind beforehand, you’ll get the most out of your journaling practice.
We bet you’ve got a lot on your mind. Between juggling daily errands, work commitments, family responsibilities and friendships, it can be overwhelming to find time for yourself. But you’re here! That says to us that you’re dedicated to learning a new practice that will help you work through everrryything that’s going on in your life. Here are a few different ways to journal through these thoughts. You can do them all or you can choose just one! Whatever your heart desires and your time allows.
If you’re craving more efficiency and organization in your life, this type of journal may just be the answer. Ryder Carroll created the bullet journal method to stay focused and productive while living intentionally. What is it exactly? A coded system that breaks down the content you’re entering.
Called Rapid Logging, it’s a system that organizes information into Bullets, Tasks, and Events, which you can then Nest together. That may be too simple an explanation — there is way more to it! If a Bullet Journal interests you, learn about it here and explore the system a bit. Even if it takes you a hot minute to get a good handle on the symbols used, don’t let that scare you away.
We can’t recommend this enough. Take the time to recognize allll the good and amazing things you are grateful for (like Tony Starks’ chiseled looks) because it is a fantastic way to lower stress. Start a gratitude journal and notice how it helps you focus on the things that are going really well, even if they’re only tiny achievements unlocked. At the end of the day, just by putting yourself in the gratitude mindset you will feel more self-aware, grounded and connected. Jot down 3 things you’re grateful for and BOOM! Mood improved. Expect to feel lighter and happier and ready to write appreciation posts for your entire crew.
Whether you’re jetting off on a new adventure or reminiscing on an old one, write it down. All the sights you see and the feels you feel are important, now and always. A travel journal will help you process what you are experiencing and in the same breath create a record of the wicked memories that might one day flee.
Have you ever been hit by a truly genius idea while you were munching away on your lunch break and told yourself you’d write it down later? But then life happened later and the thought vanished?
My idea journal is a bound notebook the size of a post-it stack. It fits in my back pocket and I can whip it out whenever inspiration strikes. Feeling sluggish or uninspired at work? Take a moment to think freely and creatively and jot it down in your idea journal. It will be a change in stride — and it’s for your eyes only.
This is what we’re all about. We help you DiveThru what you’re going thru with a guided journaling sequence that allows you to take charge of your mental wellbeing. We mentioned earlier that DiveThru is rooted in journaling therapy so let’s expand on it a bit.
A psychologist in New York City, Dr. Ira Progoff, was one of the first to introduce the therapy of reflective writing to the public in the 1960s after using the method with his own clients for years. His method included a “psychological notebook” with colour-coded sections for different areas of focus — a method that has been further developed and its benefits scientifically proven by researchers such as James Pennebaker. Kathleen Adams, psychotherapist and one of today’s authorities on journal therapy, lays out the way this reflective writing should be guided in a session.
Working with mental health professionals, we developed over 1000 journaling exercises on a range of topics to guide you through your journaling. What does that actually look like? Quick Dives and Deep Dives in areas of personal development, parenthood, relationships, student life and working life.
All you need to get started on a guided journal is a pen + paper and the DiveThru app — which is free to download!
As much as we love diving into what journaling is — seriously, how much time do you have on your hands? — we should also mention what it isn’t. Let’s reveal some common misconceptions about the practice and take them apart like you do raisins out of an otherwise delicious cookie.
We don’t agree. Journaling is a thoughtful and purposeful experience that can help you process what’s happening around you by looking internally. Sometimes that means keeping track of important events and activities, sure! As long as you’re reflecting on those experiences from an internal perspective…could be your to-do list that day but it could also be more complex, like self-control issues.
There are a few reasons why this isn’t a good idea. Only turning to your journal in darker times will make it a pit of despair that you won’t want to revisit often or spend much time in. Because processing positive emotions is as important as processing the negative ones, we think you should journal about both. Throw a few lines of gratitude in your journal or dedicate a special entry to someone important in your life. Don’t forget to focus on the good things that make you, well, you.
Or Virginia Woolf. Or Margaret Atwood.
Don’t be intimidated by these great novelists, essayists, poets, and philosophical writers. You’re not trying to be them and even if you are, your journal doesn’t know it. Being true to your thoughts, collecting them gently, and expressing them on paper is the sole goal here.
Despite its countless benefits, journaling does not encompass every single aspect of mental wellbeing. Obvious, we know, but it needs to be said. Journaling should not replace your therapist or your meditation practices or other spiritual elements of the self.
As far as misconceptions go, this one is pretty common. Journaling is not only about the major world-shattering events that go down — although defs take a dive thru those. It’s also about those seemingly mindless days where you find yourself driving home and not really remembering how you got there. A good way to snap out of autopilot? Take 6, 12, or 18 minutes to reflect on how you’re feeling.
Developing a strong journaling practice takes time. If you feel like you’ve already mastered the basics, it may be time to check out these advanced techniques to continue your growth. Here are 5 new approaches you can take to expand on your dives:
Think as far as 3 months down the road and picture the outcome you’d like for the different sections you’re diving thru. Make a note of that goal and then check in every day to see how it’s coming along. The goals themselves are important, but not as important as the journey to get there. This technique will help you stay motivated and focused but remember to be flexible in this approach to your mental wellbeing.
It almost sounds like a dirty word — affirmations — because self-help materials and social media alike have been saturated with the notion of positive daily affirmations. But take a look at Catherine Moore’s article for Positive Psychology that highlights the neuroscientific research behind the theory and you’ll be convinced with the technique.
Positive daily affirmations have a plethora of proven benefits! They can help you cope with depression, work through anxiety, and help you manage stress in different situations.
Moore emphasizes a key point confirmed by psychotherapist Ronald Alexander: writing these affirmations in a journal makes them that much more powerful. If you’re curious about how to write a good one, check out these positive affirmations!
This technique is all about patterns. It can be relatively simple to start off with but there is always the option to develop a more complex system later on. First, pick a symbol to represent a habit (or a mood depending on what you’re tracking). Second, jot it down on the days it took place and fill it in if you’re happy with how it went.
Tracking moods and habits over a month-long period will give you some insight into your behaviour. Are there any persistent feelings with certain events that happen? Are there any changes you’d like to make or habits you’d like to adjust? Reflect on what was outside of your control as well as within.
The last stage in all of our Dives involves a Self-Summary that lets you reflect on your learnings. We encourage this practice in our Dives because we know it’s important on two fronts: to articulate concisely what you dove thru and to record your summary for the future. Reviewing your Self-Summaries once a month is similar to tracking moods and habits.
Just a reminder for those who sometimes stay so focused on the end goals they forget to celebrate the wins along the way: you’ve done an amazing job! Take the time to celebrate properly, whatever that looks like to you. Personally — a glass of red wine and a handful of mini eggs usually does the trick.
It’s time to step off our soapbox and pass the mic over to mental health professionals who have been endorsing journaling since long before we came around. More than three decades of research exists in support of “affect labeling” (putting your feelings into words) and expressive writing. To help navigate that daunting amount, we’ll guide you to a few of the biggest names in social cognitive neuropsychology.
Speaking to the New York Times, social psychologist James W. Pennebaker at University of Texas in Austin highlighted in an article that “labelling emotions and traumatic events — both natural outcomes of journaling — have a known positive effect on people and are often incorporated into traditional talk therapy” (Phelan, 2018). His early work focused on expressive writing, adding to his field scientific evidence of a strong link between psychological (and physical health) and expressive disclosure writing exercises.
We turn to F. Diane Barth next, a psychotherapist in New York City and author of “I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives.” Barth writes that journaling “helps you pay attention and put structure and organization to your thoughts, feelings and ideas that might otherwise be causing anxiety or other stress” (2020). But that’s not all it does — in the same article, Barth highlights that “daily writing about emotionally significant experiences can improve our immune system, probably in a way not totally different from exercise, which is by reducing the chemicals that stress releases in our bodies.” Whoa. Incredible.
Matthew Lieberman, renowned social cognitive neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles, has added remarkable evidence to the field of therapeutic effects in the brain resulting from putting feelings into words. When speaking to The Guardian about journaling, he said “Writing seems to help the brain regulate emotion unintentionally. Whether it’s writing things down in a diary, writing bad poetry, or making up song lyrics that should never be played on the radio, it seems to help people emotionally.”
Our very own in-house mental health professional, psychotherapist Natalie Asayag (LCSW) located in Pennsylvania, drives the point home. “Journaling is a powerful method to regulate emotions. Putting pen to paper allows us to get in touch with our inner feelings and narratives, as it creates a neutral environment for introspection. This space encourages us to process emotions and experiences we may not have even realized we were carrying.”
Well, there you have it!
*Gets back up on the soapbox.*
Natasha Bedingfield gets it. Sometimes the hardest part is releasing your inhibitions so that you can make it to your journal and DiveThru what you’re going thru. Need a hype man? We dedicate our Instagram account to you. Want to share your journaling experience with a community? We’ve got a rad and supportive Facebook group for you to join.
If you find yourself blanking as you start the handwritten journaling part, just pause your Dive and take another 5 minutes of introspection. Take a few deep breaths and focus on what’s causing the overwhelming sensation of blanking. Sometimes the fix is as easy as changing into your comfiest pair of sweats or standing up and doing a couple of arm circles. You won’t know until you ask yourself what you need in that moment.
Okay, there you have it, friend! That is everything you need to know about journaling. You know what journaling is and the benefits associated with starting a journaling practice. You know the answers to commonly asked questions about journaling and different prompts to get you started. Plus, you also know how to start (and stick to) a journaling practice and how to get the most from your practice!