Yesterday, I completed my 10th notebook. Journaling changed my life!

It took 7 years of journaling two to three times per week to fill ten notebooks.

Here's a summary of my learnings! I'll share with you why I love journaling and how I still find it challenging, even after several years.

But let's start from the beginning, shall we?

10 Full Notebooks = 7 Years of Journaling

Why did I start journaling?

As a kid, adventure novels were my favorite. I daydreamed about crazy travels and discovering the world just like the characters in my favorite books. All I wanted to do is see the world

I started free-writing short stories. Travels and discoveries fascinated me, they felt like an easy escape. They fed my imagination.

Then I got older. Being a full-time adult took over and I stopped writing.

It took a break from writing. Well, more than a break. A fifteen year hiatus.

Until one day, the urge to write came back. I was feeling down, one of those days where everything goes wrong. I picked up a notebook and wrote down what bothered me. Getting all my thoughts down on paper felt great!

I literarily downloaded my thoughts onto paper. I named feelings. I articulated my thoughts. By the end of my first journal entry, my hand was hurting. I wasn't used to writing anymore. But the pain was worth it. Think about it:

When did you last write a full paragraph by hand?

I started writing out of frustration but it’s the inner joy that I got from journalling that kept me putting pen to paper. Just like, Mary Kondo, writing sparked JOY! Spoiler alert: I'm not throwing away my notebooks...

Seven years later, I completed my 10th full notebook. Journaling has become a key part of my life.

Why do I journal?

I mean, why bother? We spend our days staring at words on a computer screen. Why after countless hours writing and reading emails, would I go back to pen and paper?

You probably type faster than you write. Isn't that crazy? Certainly true for me.

So, why journal at all? To me, it's simple:

Journaling keeps my anxiety at bay.

When in doubt, I write. Putting thoughts on paper always helps. It feels like I'm digesting what's happening. Just me, my hopes/fears. I stop and reflect, then go back to my day.

When I'm done completing an entry, I always feel in control. A thought pops up in my mind, saying: "Well, at least you journaled today, that's good!". Then I high five my thought and go back to my day.

That's priceless! Journaling has been so helpful for me, here's how I went about it:

How to journal?

I'm a remote worker, that makes me a creature of habit! Here are some of my top tips to get started:

  • No apps. Sorry friend, no "magical app" here! Quite the opposite, the magic starts offline. Or else, Instagram always wins. Heck, if want to journal in Dark Mode, just switch off the lights. Wait, that won't... Hm. Anyways, all you need to get started is pen and paper.
  • Pick a spot. Where will you write? Get away from your laptop. Pick a place where you're comfortable. Also, someplace where you won't be interrupted. Could be your local coffee shop or any place that sparks joy.
  • Treat yourself. Journaling is a habit that needs to be reinforced. Tie journaling to an activity you enjoy, meaning you get to do something enjoyable while/after you journal. I'm one of those people who enjoy eating by themselves at a restaurant, I've written thousands of pages before/after enjoying the meals I love.
  • No "edit" button. If you're just getting started, the hardest thing is not censoring yourself. It takes time and practice to access your raw feelings, and even more time to feel confortable putting them down on paper. Computers have taught us that we can always edit/delete content. When your journaling, try not to. Just ship it!
  • Default to journaling. I take my notebook everywhere I go. Why? Because never once in my life have I thought "Oh man! I shouldn't have brought my notebook along!". It's fine if I don't journal. But if inspiration strikes, I'm very happy to find it in my bag and be able to start writing right away...
Journaling in NYC (2015)

What does journaling look like?

You may be a fellow writer or someone looking to start writing. Here are some questions I recently got asked with my answers. Hope it helps!

  • What does a journal entry look like? For each entry, I add a date, location and title. Why a title? Because it gets me started. It feels like pulling the creativity trigger. My title may be unrelated to what I end up writing. All that matters is that I get started.
  • What should my first entry be like? Name what we think/feel. How does handwriting feel? What led you to pick up journaling? What was happening in your life that led you to write this...
  • What should I write about? Anything really. Some people write comprehensive summary of their days. I don't. I simply cherry-pick what's top of mind, bothering or fascinating to me.
  • Do you have a particular style? Nope, it's all free-writing. Meaning, I write what goes through my head. If there's a song I like, I may add it in. Sometime I draw, although I'm terrible at it.
  • Can I see one of your journal entry? Nope, it's private and incredibly boring. But, hey, it makes me feel good!
  • How much should I write? Length doesn't matter. What matters is that you convey a feeling, thought or worry. It's your own space! Once you feel like you're done writing, just stop.
  • How often do you read old journals? Almost never. Once it's written, it's not too important anymore.
  • What I don't feel like journaling? Then don't. I sometime challenge myself to write about why I don't feel like writing. But I always give myself the option not to write. I don't want to take the fun out of the job...
  • I journaled for a while, then I stopped. How can I make it a habit? Feels totally fine to come and go. Just like meditation, if it does enough good to you, you'll eventually pick it up again.
  • What pen do you use? Took me years to find it. I use a Black Mitsubishi Uni-Ball Eye 150 (0.5mm). Retails for $2 per pen, made in Japan. It's fade-proof and water-proof, which matters to me. Best pen I've ever owned.
  • Which notebooks do you use? I'm a Moleskine fan. Their classical rule-notebook sets you back $18. I'm a snob, so I go limited edition, specifically collecting Chinese astrological signs (about $40 per notebook).
Journaling in Paris, 2019
Journaling in Paris, 2019

My Learnings and Challenges

Journaling changed my life for the better. It's an outlet to express myself, to sort through my thoughts and feelings. I learned that journaling doesn't make up for professional help when you're depressed, although it's still a great add-on.

A huge upside of writing is clarity of mind. When toying with a new concept/idea, journaling helps me gain clarity and take a step back.

Another unexpected upside is to catch my thought patterns. When I regularly journal about a theme, it means I'm concerned about it. That may be my cue to address it.

After completing ten notebooks, I look forward to the next ten. Oddly enough, one question that often comes to mind is "how would I feel if my notebooks were to disappear overnight? I mean, if they caught on fire or something".

My sense is that I'd be pretty sad, but overall they've already helped me. The important part is the process, not the physical notebooks... Unless I lose my mind at some point, in which case those could be pretty helpful.

Today, my biggest dilemma is around vulnerability. When writing, how raw/honest can I be? How much am I self-editing myself, in fears that others, or simply myself would find out how I really feel? It's a process I'm still working on it. Transitioning from "I think that..." to "I feel that..." is no small feat. I'm striving to be as raw as possible by listening to myself. We all talk to ourselves. We all have unedited thoughts. Pretty tough to put those down on paper.

Journaling in Malaga, Spain, 2016

What's next?

Journaling has been immensely helpful to me. I challenge you to start/continue and to let me know how it goes!

My Twitter DMs are open, looking forward to hearing from you, friend!

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