Throughout my life, I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who keeps a journal (diary if you prefer!). Especially when I was younger, at least once or twice a year I would get the idea in my head that I wanted to start one. I’d buy a fancy new notebook, write a few entries, and then forget about it.
This is a pretty common theme for my ADHD – get a new idea in my head, obsess over it, and then give up after a short period of time.
Mostly these new ideas came and went just as quickly, but journaling was always something I came back to from time to time. I knew I was destined to keep one eventually but I didn’t know how to make it stick.
Now, I finally have a journal, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I write in it every day. I don’t want to claim I’ve unlocked some amazing secret to sticking with routines! But I’ve learned a few things along the way about journaling that might help you too.
Why Bother with a Journal?
There are so many reasons to keep a journal. You’ll have to find the ones that speak to you in the most relevant ways (see the next section on finding a purpose!).
But in general, journaling can be really good for your emotional health. It may allow you to better name and process your emotions, especially since the act of getting them out of your head means you’re essentially examining them from a distance. It can help reduce feelings of anxiety or irritability, and some studies show it may even have a positive effect on our immune systems.
A journal can also serve as a great record for events both big and small in your life. If you have ADHD, your memory might not be so great. Recording events in terms of how they made you feel or how you experienced them can help you remember them later. And if you forget, you can always revisit the journal entry!
How Do I Get Started?
For most people, a journal will be easier to start and to keep up with if the journal serves a specific purpose, especially if you’re a goal-oriented kind of person. On days you don’t feel like writing, if you can remind yourself why you’re doing it in the first place and if the motivation is strong enough, you might be able to get over the humps.
You will also want to consider when you’re going to write, how you’ll write (if you’re aiming for consistent formatting), and what your medium will be.
Find a Purpose
Why do you want to journal? Do you want to explore your emotions, work on managing trauma, get sober, have a place to toss down the things you can’t say out loud, or maybe work on relationship problems?
Think of something strong and relevant, because you’ll need purpose to keep you going on the days that you’re not in the mood to record your thoughts.
Decide how you want to use your journal to help yourself accomplish something before you start writing. Maybe there’s more than one purpose. But start with the reason, and that will guide the rest of your journaling decisions.
You can include the reason on the inside cover, the table of contents, or the first page. On days you aren’t in the mood, having a visual reminder of how the journal is going to support your journey may help you get something down on the page.
If you need inspiration, try searching for journal prompts (either through a search engine or Pinterest). You can create a list of prompts to choose from every time you want to write.
Make a Schedule
When you think about journaling, you might think about doing it at the end of the day and writing about all the things that happened and all of the emotions you felt. That’s a great schedule for some, but not for everyone and not for every type of journal.
Some journals work best in the morning, especially if you’re using it to work on things you want to do or think about or be aware of throughout the day. Your journal can be write-as-you-go; something you keep on you at all times and write in as inspiration strikes. If it’s dual purpose, you might write some in the morning and some at night. You might also be more creative at certain times of the day and want to take advantage of it.
Don’t assume you need a standard evening schedule. Make it work for your journal’s purpose and for your own schedule.
Format Your Entries
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I’m really particular, so it matters to me that my journal entries are fairly uniform in structure and length. I write in the same style every day, even if the topics vary.
While planning for your journal, consider how you want to fill it. Bullet points or paragraphs? Writing, drawing, or a combination of both? One page per calendar day, or a continuous flow of content?
If you like a good visual aide, try a few formatting styles on blank or lined paper before you crack open the journal – especially if it would bother you to have some entries formatted differently at the beginning!
Practice what you’re interested in doing, and make the choice before you get started.
If you’re already artistically-inclined and looking for inspiration, search for journal formatting ideas on Pinterest. If you’re not artistic, just keep it simple and don’t go down the rabbit hole of feeling stressed about why you can’t make it look more pretty. Remember that it’s serving a purpose to help you, not overwhelm you.
Pick the Right Journal Medium
Not all journals are going to work for all people. Personally, I like writing by hand in a lined notebook. I enjoy listing key events in the table of contents, I like flipping back through pages and pages of written words, and I like using a specific kind of pen (told you I’m particular).
This might not work for you! Maybe you like to handwrite too, but prefer something unlined or dotted. Maybe you prefer typing, or recording audio. Yes, audio! Your journal doesn’t have to be written at all – you can make and keep private audio or video files, if you have a safe place to store them.
The point is that there are no rules for picking how you want to journal. Just use whatever tools you have to channel your innermost thoughts.
When picking a medium, it’s important to also consider what’s going to be accessible to you on a daily or weekly basis. What can you always keep track of, no matter where you go?
A notebook might make sense because you can carry it places, but consider something small enough that can fit in a bag. Audio files might work if you always have your phone on you. A large doodling pad might be ideal if you spend most of your time at home.
Pick a medium but also know that if it doesn’t work out, you can change your plans later.
If you’re looking for an actual physical journal, I really like Leuchtturm’s selection. Beautiful colors and many sizes and page options, and they are very sturdy!
So, How Do I Keep it Going?
ADHD and consistency aren’t friends. But consistency isn’t the key to all success! Keep in mind that what’s working one week isn’t going to work the next week and you may need to change up your approach.
You don’t have to journal every single day for it to be a helpful tool. If you don’t think you can manage that, make a commitment of a few times a week or month. It can still make a substantial difference.
ADHDers often struggle with activation because we have no natural reward system (you know, that thing dopamine does!). By crafting a purpose for your journal, and writing it down and keeping it handy, you can externalize the motivation for keeping up with it.
Every time you sit down, state the reason you’re going to record your thoughts out loud. Say “I’m doing this journal entry today because…. “, and it might help you get started.
Most importantly, learn how to compromise.
If the thought of writing an entry makes you want to crawl out of your own skin, consider that it’s not the right moment to do so. But if you’re really determined to get through it, then make your entry about the fact that you’re not in the mood to write! If you’re too tired, write about how you’re so tired.
Consider that if you’re really determined to make it a habit, you can put in a half-assed effort at any time and you’re still getting it done. A little something may be better than nothing at all, and you’ll appreciate that you kept going on the days when you really need the soul-searching time.
Is it Forever?
Finally, you don’t need to keep your journal until the end of time (unless you’re really interested in doing it forever!).
As ADHDers, we sometimes have a tendency to believe that if we don’t keep up with habits or routines for a very long time, then we aren’t being consistent enough. It’s a very neurotypical idea to say that if you love journaling, you’ll do it forever. That’s just not true! Journaling may be something you do sometimes, put down for a while, and then come back to.
And if it’s going to serve a specific purpose, there may be an expiration date on the habit. You don’t have to decide at the start, but make mental notes every few weeks or months if the journaling still serves you.
Learn to be okay with letting it go when it reaches a natural end.
Do you keep a journal? What are your best tips for someone just getting started?