4 Simple Journaling Techniques You Should Try

4 simple journaling techniques - gratitude journal - free writing

I've kept a journal since I was a kid. My first diary was pink with ballet slippers on the cover. I was in second grade and was more concerned with where I could hide the "kee" for it than anything else.

I then moved onto the cringe-worth middle school years where printing out AOL Instant Messenger conversations and gluing them in my journal was the norm. Needless to say, at some point in my 20's I decided I didn't want to re-read these journals, and they made their way to the recycling.

Journaling was clearly and outlet for me, and it’s something I’ve continued semi-regularly ever since.

At some point, I realized that I would write a lot when I was going through a struggle, but would virtually stop when things were going well. I wanted to make writing a part of my every day, and to use it as a positive tool, rather than solely a place to release negative emotions (although that is OK too!).

I've dabbled in these four journaling techniques over the past few years. They are meant to be used regularly, to work on maintaining & keeping a healthy mind daily.

1. The Five Minute Journal

I first heard about the five minute journal from the Tim Ferris podcast. He was a big advocate of it, and the guys who created it were inspired by Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Work Week (good marketing tactic dudes). Back when I was a loyal Tim Ferris listener, I decided to give it a go.

The basic concept of the five minute journal is to spend five minutes in the morning starting your day with gratitude & goals. You then close the day with another five minutes of reflection.

I gave it to my dad as a gift, but was too cheap to buy one for myself. Instead, I created one in a regular journal. You can easily do the same with the template:

Morning 5 Minutes

  • 3 things you’re grateful for
  • 3 things that would make today great
  • Daily afffirmation(s)

Evening 5 Minutes

  • 3 amazing things that happened today
  • How could I have made today even better?

If you like structure, and have no clue where to start with journaling, this is a great format to get the ball rolling. It's relatively quick and bookends the day nicely.

2. Gratitude Journal

Simple. What are you grateful for? Write it down. You can write as many or as few as you want. If I’m doing some quick morning journaling, I'll usually write five things I'm grateful for. If I have more time, or I need to pull myself out of a funk, I might do three pages of gratitude, to try and get myself in a better place (a Jess Lively tactic).

I'm grateful for vs. I appreciate

A slight variation of this would be to change the wording from, ‘I am grateful for…” to, ‘I appreciate…’ I’ve found I associate the two words with very different things. So this gives me a broader scope of what I recognize I'm thankful for.

Write down why you're grateful

Another variation is something I discovered last week from Katy at Inner Glow Circle. After you write down what you're grateful for, write down why you're grateful for it. This will make you go a step deeper into the root of the gratitude.

Do this first thing in the morning to start your day on an appreciative and (hopefully) positive note. You don’t even need an actual journal to do this one. You can easily sit in bed and type in your gratitude list to the notes on your phone. Whatever gets the job done!

Simple journaling techniques - gratitude journal

3. Weekly Self Meetings

I first came across this concept on a podcast that I can no longer remember or find! The weekly self meetings are normally done on Sunday evenings. They are focused on reflecting on the past week, and setting yourself up for a good week to come. I would always try to be in a good mental state with a nice atmosphere when I sat down to do this.

The format is as follows:

  • Core Desired Feeling(s) for the coming week (Danielle LaPorte is the core desired feelings guru if you want to dive into what those are)
  • Last Week Wins (3-5) - Achievements, things that went well
  • Last Week Losses  (3-5) - Things you didn't achieve or that went poorly
  • Last Week Lesson - What lesson did you learn over the past week?
  • Inspiration - A quote, a book, a video, a person... What can caught your attention over the week and inspired you?
  • Top Priorities - For the coming week

This is a good journaling style to use for personal or career reflection, or a mix of both.

I found after a while though that I would start to get hung up on my losses, which was quite discouraging to me. You will start to see patterns though of what items seem to be 'losses' repetitively. However, you could always do a variation of this leaving the losses off the list.

I’ve previously used this in combination with either the five minute journal or gratitude journaling.

4. 3-Page Free Writing

A simple concept, but very effective. Free writing is perfect if you want to really commit to getting pen to paper and to see where you mind takes you. I don't really know why we call it free writing, it's just good old fashioned journaling.

The concept of creating a three page minimum (or whatever page amount works for you) forces you to move the pen. Some days you'll feel like you have nothing to say, but before you know it, the pen is moving and thoughts are pouring out.

This is great if you prefer less structure, and want to flow of where your mind takes you. Free writing is exploratory and can be beneficial if you're not really sure how you're feeling about a topic. You realize that as a soon as you start physically writing it out, things become a bit clearer.

Which journaling technique is right for you?

You'll have to find out for yourself.

I use a mixture of different techniques depending on my mood, what I'm focusing on in my life, and what seems to be resonating with me in the moment. You can mesh them all into one and make something that is personalized to your needs and personality.

For me, journaling is all about releasing what is in my mind, and being able to see it with fresh eyes. The journaling technique you use to get there doesn't matter. It's all about where it takes you.