4 Types of Journaling, Plus How to Find the One That's Best for You

Your journal’s purpose will determine when you write and how much. Check out these four types of journaling to see if one would work for you.

Keeping a journal can help you understand the past, record the present and plan for the future. Even if a lot of what ends up in your journal is stuff you already know or feel, putting it on paper helps you reflect and examine your actions and reactions. After a while, you will start to see patterns. Ideas emerge that clarify your goals, help you identify positive and negative influences in your life and even direct you toward more positive life choices.

There are many types of journals you can keep: a daily log to help you remember what you’ve done and felt, a journal with a focus like travel plans, logging specific activities like workouts, unloading your fears and worries, unleashing your creativity, helping you sleep, recording your dreams or simply writing whatever comes to mind. Your journal’s purpose will determine when you write and how much. Check out these four types of journaling to see if one would work for you.

1. The One-Sentence Journal

The first step — that first word on a blank page — is always the hardest to take. “I think the best way to get started with absolutely anything is to just do it,” advises Lee Crutchley, author of “The Nocturnal Journal” and “The Art of Getting Started.” “The thing that got me started with journaling was keeping a 'one sentence a day' journal. Just write a single sentence at the end of each day. Before you know it you’ll have months of sentences written down, and you’ll get to a point where writing just one sentence isn’t enough.” With a one-sentence journal, you can write anywhere and at any time the mood strikes you.

Read more: 10 Daily Habits to Increase Your Productivity

2. The Bullet Journal

On the other side of the spectrum, you can create a full-on, whole-life Bullet Journal. A Bullet Journal (or BuJo® for short) may look like a to-do list at first glance, but it's more of a personal organizer. The creator, Ryder Carroll, describes it as an analog system for the digital age. Created according to Carroll’s easy-to-follow plan that, surprisingly, only takes a few minutes to set up, a BuJo can organize your entire life, including thoughts, hopes, dreams, workouts, friends’ birthdays, habits, food intake and anything else you want to keep track of. Basically, Bullet Journals are a nondigital tool that may actually do a better job of recording your life than any one digital planner. While it looks complicated, 10 minutes of preparation once a month can get you started with a beautiful, organized life hack that’s worth its weight in paper and colored pens.

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3. The Nighttime Journal

If you often have trouble sleeping, you may want to consider keeping a nighttime journal to help you unload your thoughts and wipe your mind clean of intrusive thoughts before bed. Crutchley, in his book “The Nocturnal Journal,” explains that most of the day we are “switched on,” performing a version of ourselves that matches each situation. At night, we are alone in bed with our thoughts, trying to switch off the filters and roles we have been juggling all day long. When our head hits the pillow, our brains release the “static energy” that builds up throughout the day. That energy can come in the form of creative ideas, negative thoughts or list upon list of things we have been setting aside while dealing with immediate concerns. Creating a bedtime journal can help you release the flow of thoughts — negative, positive, creative or productive — to put them out of your mind and onto paper and clear your head for sleep.

Read more: 10 Bad Habits to Ditch for a Happier You

4. The Visual Journal

If you’re not a words person, don’t despair. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Pouring your heart out in art can provide similar therapeutic benefits to putting them into words. Cartoonist Brian Gordon had always loved drawing, so when parenthood inspired him to start journaling his experiences as a dad, he turned them into single-panel comics. Those panels became a successful and incredibly funny franchise, Fowl Language, which can be found online, in bookstores and on refrigerators of exhausted parents worldwide.

Not an artist? No need to let that stop you. Create a visual journal on your smartphone in a series of photos or daily videos and catalogue them in a folder or slideshow. Review what you’ve shot after a few weeks or a year. You’ll find that surprising patterns can emerge through the lens of a camera.

The End Result

To start journaling, simply set your intention and just start getting something into your journal each day. It doesn’t have to be big or important, it just has to be something — a sentence, a drawing, a photo or a video. After a week, a month or a year, you’ll have a whole lot of small somethings that will add up to something big!

Read more: 9 Habits of Emotionally Intelligent People

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