“Dear Diary: You won’t believe what happened to me today. I got called on in math class and I had no idea what the answer was. I hate math. Ugh. When will I ever use it, anyway?”

Keeping a diary about teenage angst — and the weather — may be the stereotypical view of journaling, but there is so, so much more. In fact, journaling has been called by some the “ultimate keystone habit.

Charles Duhigg, in his excellent book “The Power of Habit,” describes keystone habits as those “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” (If you haven’t read Duhigg’s book, I highly recommend it, especially as goal-setting and resolution-making is a topic-du-jour this time of year.)

The benefits of journaling are many. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see what I mean, from 100 Benefits of Journaling, to 83, to 10, to five, there are lots of reasons to get started or keep going. They can be grouped into a few categories: improved mood and health, both physical and mental, clarification for ourselves (the brain dump — getting it all out on paper frees your brain for better problem-solving and increases creativity), a powerful de-stressing and self-improvement tool. It can even be a benefit in improving memory and retention and in reducing the effects of trauma.

Sometimes, though, it can all seem so overwhelming — one more thing to do on the never-ending to-do list, right? So just how does one add journaling to the list?

The answer is: Do what works for you.

Here are some ideas. First, figure out how to create a habit of journaling. Tie it to your morning ritual, or your winding-down ritual at the end of the day. Create those neural pathways in your brain that signal you to journal when … you roll out of bed/drop the kids off at school/put on your pajamas, or any other time that works for you.

Next, set a timer. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on maintaining journaling consistency was to set a time limit of 15 minutes. It freed me up to feel like I did not have to “catch up” on all the time in between entries, and I did not have to write five pages. Some days it’s five minutes. I’ll be honest — some months are better than others for writing almost every day but still, knowing I “only” have to write for 15 minutes makes it a lot easier to get back into it when I miss several days (weeks) in a row.

Experiment with different types of journaling. You can do lists, you can answer prompts. You can have a separate travel journal, gratitude journal, inspirational journal and a dream journal or you can keep it all in the same journal. You can do bullet journaling with fancy doodles/artwork or just the bullets. I have a friend who does beautiful bullet journaling with fancy fonts and artwork — it’s a masterpiece. I do bullet points when I am trying to capture recent events and don’t have a lot of time. You can “free write” three pages each day, a lá Julia Cameron, or you can write a paragraph. They all work. (I only use one journal, though — I wouldn’t be able to keep track of more than one.)

Then, the ultimate question: Pen and paper or digital. Again, the answer is, do what works for you. I think there are some benefits to writing by hand, but if you just won’t do it, then go digital! You can use a Google doc (password-protect it if you need to), or an app like “DayOne” or “5 Minute Journal.” You can also photo journal each day.

Frank Smith, is his 1981 book “Myths of Writing” said: “Thoughts are created in the act of writing. [It is a myth that] you must have something to say in order to write. Reality: You often need to write in order to have anything to say.”

Here’s to writing down 2019.


Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, still wonders if anyone else will care about her journaling, but it doesn’t matter because she does.