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Writing in a journal is a great way to empty out the clutter from your mind. I’ve been a “journaler” most of life. Like many of my yoga practices, I ebb and flow in the activity. I was a heavy journaler during my divorce in 2008, using it to pour out my anger, sadness, and doubts.

And that’s what many people think of when it comes to journaling: sitting down and writing out all your feelings, or using it as way of recording daily thoughts and activities. This kind of personal accounting or inner reflection puts many people off from journaling, and therefore all the benefits associated with it.

Journaling has been found to ease depression, anxiety, improves brain functioning, and get the creative juices flowing. In short, it’s a great release from everyday stress. But what if you need something less dramatic? I found some solutions that don’t involved heavy writing or cathartic confessions.

11 ideas for journaling

As with all the lifestyle practices I share the trick is finding what works for you. There are so many ways in which to “journal,” many that don’t require heavy-duty writing or cathartic confessions. Maybe you’ll find one or two styles that suit you.

#1 Morning Pages

I first heard of Morning Pages more than a decade ago. In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes Morning Pages as “three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind–and they are for your eyes only. Just put three pages of anything on the page, and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

#2 Journaling Prompts

A simple search in Google will produce thousands of writing prompts from “25 Ways You Feel About Yourself” to “If You Could Be a Book, Which One Would it Be?” Prompts help flip on your thinking switch instead of staring at a blank page wondering what to write. Last year I found a book similar to this one, giving me 365 prompts.

642 things to write about

#3 Smash Books

What’s a smash book? Shaunte, a blogger with Crafts Unleashed, called it the “un-scrapbook.” An “un-scrapbooker” is someone who doesn’t want to spend hours with cutesy stickers and catchy titles, but would still like a place to cram ticket stubs, thoughts, and the occasional photo.

I did something similar to this when I took a trip to Monaco in 2001. As soon as I returned from the trip, I had the pictures developed (Yes, I said developed) then wrote small memories and what I did while there. I wanted to get it all down before I forgot the beauty of it.

I love this new twist, so it’s going on my FUN list for the new year.

#4 Zentangles

Zentangle is described as a relaxing and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. The method involves simple deliberate strokes which build on each other, and deliberate focus with an unknown outcome. Tiny Rotten Peanuts has some free Zentangle starter pages and some great tips on–what else?–getting started.

#5 Mandalas

Mandala is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to “circle.” (And if you didn’t know, the circle is my favorite shape.) The circle represents the unending nature of life; our search for completeness and self-unity.

You can find mandala coloring books or search the internet for free downloads. You can color a mandala using colored pencils, crayons, paint or other mediums. When creating your mandala choose your colors intuitively.

#6 Art Journaling

I had no idea this journaling technique existed until I was putting this post together, but I’m so freakin’ excited to give it a try this year!

An art journal is similar to a regular journal in that you can use it to record daily thoughts, travel, health and fitness diary, to-do lists. They become “art journals” when you add any kind of illustration or embellishment to the pages, and are usually not structured or formulaic like you would see in scrapbooking. The focus is on words, color and imagery.

Pinterest has some amazing art journal examples. And Brene Brown offers an online art journaling course. (I am not affiliated with her course.)

#7 Milestone Keeper

For my baby shower three years ago, everyone who attended wrote a letter to baby E in a notebook. It was my most precious present, even better than all the diapers. When I read all the wonderful words, I cried and cried. {Admittedly some of the crying may have been hormone-related.}

I decided to continue the journal rather than have a traditional “baby book.” So every few months, I jot down the latest and greatest–phrases he’s saying, favorite toys, games and characters–in the form of a letter to him. I also take a picture at each birthday and glue it to the page.

You could make a milestone keeper for all your kids; for your spouse and you to share; or even one for yourself as you reach your important milestones.

#8 Gratitude journal

I first heard about a gratitude journal when Sarah Ban Breathnach was on Oprah. (Yeah, yeah. That’s around the same time I had my travel pictures developed.)

Each night before you go to sleep, list five things for which you’re grateful. This simple idea has morphed into a worldwide movement. You can now get gratitude pages to put in your personal planners. There are tons of free downloads you can find with cute images and quotes. Another take on this is the gratitude rampage where you set a timer for three minutes and write out everything for which you’re grateful until the timer goes off.

gratitude journal

#9 Daily Calendar Journal

In a Daily Calendar Journal, you have a card (like an index card or something similar) for every day of the year. Every day you jot down the year and then something that happened that day.

For example if you started today, you might put on the card for January 7th, “2015:: Started my very own daily calendar journal.” The next year on January 7th you’d pull the card and record something from that day.

I pinned a few examples for you.

#10 Wreck This Journal

Suffering from perfectionism-itis? Then a Wreck This Journal might be just the one for you. Created by artist Keri Smith, journalers are encouraged to poke holes through pages, add photos and deface them, paint pages with coffee, and more. –in order to experience the true creative process. You can buy the journal or get really creative and make your own.

Wreck this Journal

#11 Digital journaling

Many of the ideas I provided involve a paper journal. But there are also computer and phone apps for journaling such as Evernote or keeping a Google doc. Blogging (originally was web-logging) is an extremely popular form of journaling.

It doesn’t matter the what, where or how. . .just find what speaks to you and get to writing!

How others use journals

“I used my journal to write inner wise self letters (a technique created by my mentor SARK), to process, to doodle. I write my dreams. Moments I want to remember. I also tape things in it. Instead of a makeup bag I have a pencil bag with color wheel, colors and a glue stick.” –Natalia Gabrea

“I use it for things I want to remember. For those lovely little moments with my kids that I don’t want to forget. I also use it to brainstorm, and for a personal bucket list. I record things that make me smile–whether it’s something funny the kids said; some kindness I experienced from someone or that I witnessed; or some beauty I noticed. Flip back through it when you’re having a bad day. Random lists of places you want to go, book you want to read, things you want to learn.” –Sara Barry

“I’m big on identifying daily gratitude. Write goals–long-term and short-term and track your progress. Write positive affirmations. Write out your big dreams. I also love keeping tracking of what kids say.” –Katie Wolter Mes