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What is Journaling and Where Should You Start?

Despite popular belief, journaling has nothing to do with pretty, artistic pages. Not for me, at least. When I refer to journaling, I'm talking about the messy daily ramblings, the streams of consciousness, the moments of joy, of fear, of anger that goes from my mind to the page.

Most recent dotted journals.

And, trust me, I've done the pretty aesthetic spreads and pages. I did this for almost five years. It's only recently that I've actively reflected on what, of my journaling practice, was working for me and what wasn't. With this reflection came a gigantic overhaul of how I journal.

Starting Again

The funny thing is I returned to the original methods of the Bullet Journal. I referred back to Ryder Carroll's original design. His method includes a key, an index, a future log, a monthly log, and then your dailies (not weekly spreads, daily ones).

See, the reason I latched on to the bujo in the first place was because of the combination of the planner and journal in one notebook.

When I look back at some of my old notebooks and journals, I used signifiers. I didn't call it that, but I already had the beginnings of a bujo. I just didn't know how to bring it all together.

For years, I'd been told you can have a journal and a planner, but you can't have both in one. I really thought they had to be separate things. You bought a daily planner and lined notebook separately. So, the bujo, for me, was a permission slip to rethink these existing systems and norms I'd been taught and to make it my own.

Skip The Traps

The first trap I got caught up in was not the pretty spreads, but the weekly ones. I'd often run out of room in a day to record everything I wanted to. But I held against daily spreads, thinking it was a waste of space and paper. Despite the frustrations around the limitations of journaling and planning I'd already dealt with, I was already giving in to similar issues.

After many trials and tweaks, I finally found a method of daily journaling that works for me. I split a page in half, one side for longhand journaling and the other for tasks. I no longer worry about wasted space or if a page barely has anything on it. Each new day gets a clean, fresh page to work with.

Your journal belongs to you, so try out different spreads and ideas and see what works best for you.

Old journal signifiers.

Where should you start?

If you don't know where or how to start, make that your first page. Brainstorm what you want out of your journal. Is it a place to reflect, to be more productive, and know where your time and effort is going? Is it going to be a creative outlet?

You get to decide, it is for your eyes only. The bujo system is supposed to help you be better, not drag you down. There is no right or wrong way of journaling.

But what do I actually journal about?

Journaling is a mindfulness practice that allows us to slow down and take full notice of the present moment such as what we're feeling or thinking, the struggles in our lives, the times of joy, the fears and worries we hold, and the achievements we've made.

Bullet journaling takes this mindfulness practice and combines it with the workings of a traditional planner. I can write down that I have to clean the litter box, and right next to it, record my stress and annoyance over task switching. It's truly a versatile system. The bujo is meant to grow with you and while it can take some time initially to make it your own, it is more than worth it.

For those of you who need something more concrete…

A few years ago I worked through the book Mind Over Mood. I don’t do this as often anymore, but when I was really struggling with depression and anxiety I used the following process:

  1. Write down the event or situation.

  2. Record your moods and rate their intensity.

  3. What are your automatic thoughts about this situation? What was going through your mind?

  4. Is there evidence that supports these automatic thoughts?

  5. Is there evidence that doesn’t support these automatic thoughts?

  6. List alternative/balanced thoughts.

  7. Rate your moods again.

Yes, this is a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) method, but it did work for me. I was able to separate myself and my anxiety from the situation and see it more objectively. I had a hard time trusting my instincts and initial thoughts so writing them out in this way helped to build that trust back up.

I do recommend working through Mind Over Mood if you can. I think it works for us neurodivergent folk because it’s individual work and you can go at your own pace.

Final Thoughts

Remember these five things:

  1. Your journal doesn’t have to be pretty or artsy.

  2. Try out different spreads and ideas and see what works best for you.

  3. Journaling is about mindfulness and capturing the fullness of the present moment along with our thoughts, feelings, struggles, and fears.

  4. Bullet journaling, as a practice, is meant to grow with you so don’t be afraid to make adjustments when necessary.

  5. If you’re struggling, go back to the basics of Carroll’s method.

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