How to keep a journal this year (and *actually* make it a habit)

Consider this the only journaling inspo you'll ever need. All that's left to decide is pencils or gel pens...

Every new year you vow to keep a journal...and forget about said journal by Valentine's Day. Yep, those pretty planners and Moleskine notebooks look oh-so-enticing—then real life happens and, a few weeks later, they're buried under your school books. But we're calling it: *This* is the year your journaling habit sticks.

So why journal? Turns out it has a lot more benefits than just aesthetically pleasing pages. "Journaling can be a powerful tool to help process difficult experiences, soothe us when we're upset and improve our self-confidence," explains Lindsay Braman, MACP LMHCA, therapist and mental health illustrator.

Not only is dishing in your diary good for your mental health, but it's the perfect space to let your mind run wild and be your most authentic self. "A journal is a space where you get to make up the rules as you go," notes Braman.

But we'll be the first to admit that starting down a blank diary page every p.m. can be a bit, well, daunting. That's why we've rounded up all the inspo you need to keep that journaling kick going from now until...forever. 

Start small

If the idea of writing in your journal every single day is a bit overwhelming, you're not alone. "For some people, scheduling time to journal each day can be helpful—while for others, it can feel like a chore," explains Braman.

That's why you should take baby steps to build up the habit. Start with just a few sentences about what you did during the day, a few days per week, building up to longer (and more frequent) entries once you feel like you've gotten in a groove.

Embrace imperfection

"There are no 'shoulds' when it comes to journaling," Braman reminds us. Translation? Try not to stress if your notebook doesn't look exactly like the flawless #InstaJournaling spreads on social media (or if your sentences don't read like Taylor Swift lyrics).

And if you miss a day? Don't force yourself to write an extra-long entry to catch up. Journaling is all about experimenting and adapting, so rigid rules don't help.

Mix it up

Not ready to commit to just one journal concept? Remember, your notebook doesn't have to follow a perfect pattern. It's totally OK to create a crafty spread one day and scribble a simple daily reflection the next.

Be patient

Building any habit takes time—and journaling is no exception. Whatever you do, Just. Keep. Writing. (Even if it's only a sentence or two!) That notebook will be filled up before you know it.

Jazz up your journal

Just a few ideas to help you channel your deepest thoughts.

Bullet journal


What it is: If you low-key love organization, this planner + diary combo is the one-stop shop for allll those daily to-do lists, long-term goals and, yep, even random thoughts. So basically the Marie Kondo method for your brain.
How to use it: Devise a logging system that works best for you. Maybe it's splitting your journal into sections of your life like school, health, family and friends—then creating agendas for each one. Or perhaps it's keeping yearly, monthly and daily spreads to track your goals and progress over time. The best part? All you need is a dotted grid notebook and a pen to get started.

Book journal


What it is: Calling all bookworms! A reading journal is pretty much your own individual book club: a place to reflect on your recent reads and track your progress through that stack of novels on your shelf.
How to use it: Store your ever-growing TBR list, wandering thoughts about that mythological fantasy series you just finished and inspirational literary quotes. You can even design artsy spreads for your fave novels or channel your inner lit critic by penning personal book reviews.

Art journal


What it is: Whoever said that a journal had to include actual words? If you're more of a crafty queen than a pen-to-paper gal, an art journal is the perfect tool for flexing that right-brain energy.
How to use it: Your art journal could be a space for practicing a specific skill, like oil paints or color mixing. Or it could simply be a collection of themed collages and memories (magazine cut-outs + Polaroids of you and your BFFs + washi tape = the only essentials you need).

Gratitude journal


What it is: Research shows that expressing gratitude can reduce stress, improve relationships and even help you sleep better. Journal those thankful thoughts here.
How to use it: Every night before bed, simply write down one or two things that brought you joy that day. And try not to overthink it—your responses can be as simple as hearing a throwback song on the way to basketball practice, having a snuggle sesh with your dog before dinner or taking a fab bubble bath.

Heart journaling? Share your gorgeous spreads with us on Insta @girlslifemag for a chance to get featured!

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our December/January 2022 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.

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by Kathleen O'Neill | 12/21/2021