Improve Your Mood With 1 Simple Journaling Habit for Mental Health

Jordan Brown

I recently started a new habit.

Well, to be more specific, I'm trying to form a habit, and I just completed day three last night.

I'm journaling for 10-15 minutes every evening.

I'm doing it so that I can document what happened in 24 hours prior.

I've always found it difficult to keep a dedicated journaling practice, but this feels different.

I've learned so much already, and I plan to keep this up for as long as I can.

It's time to share what I've learned and how you can get the benefits from your own journaling habit.

Why I Started Doing a Nightly Journal

If you've been reading my writing for a while, you probably know that I can't visualize stuff in my head.

It really bummed me out for a while.

I can't see my parents' faces or my wife's face when I try to imagine them.

And it also makes forming memories challenging.

I have to remember events in a roundabout way by drawing out one particular word, phrase, or characteristic from the event that took place.

One day, I was listening to an interview Tim Ferriss did with Penn Jillette, the world-famous magician and one half of the magic / comedy duo, Penn and Teller.

I was amazed to learn that someone who relies on fooling people with sleight of hand and complex visual distractions also could not visualize a single thing in his head.

He has aphantasia just like me!

He shared in the interview that he journals every day about the last 24 hours to counteract this phenomenon and remember more of what happens to him.

He talked about how doing this helped him remember the past and identify patterns that he wouldn't have noticed before.

Since he's been doing this for decades, he can go back a year in time and look at what was happening to him a year ago.

If he's writing about the same issues he had a year ago, he can safely assume it's time to try something different to get out of a rut.

So much of learning about your mental health involves learning about where you get repeatedly tripped up in life. If you can't identify where you're going wrong, then there is little chance the problem will resolve itself on its own.

That's where a simple journaling practice comes in.

In the last 3 days of journaling for mentalt health, I've learned:

  • What kinds of things are most important to me
  • The people in my life who are impacting me the most
  • What bothers me and why it bothers me so much
  • Big problems in my head aren't always that big when typed on a screen
  • That I never regret spending 10-15 minutes journaling because I feel more capable of understanding what's happening to me and why I'm feeling the way I am

Let's now talk about how you can get the same benefits from building a journaling habit.

How You Can Start Journaling For Mental Health

Let's start with a list of the key steps, and then I'll go into detail about each one below.

  1. Understand your motivation to journal
  2. Pick a time that you can commit to and set reminders
  3. Pick a format that works best for you
  4. Just start

1. Find Your Motivation

Motivation is key. Without understanding your reason to journal--or your reason to do anything, really--you're going to have a hard time building a new habit.

Work without motivation is just drudgery and sadness.

With the right motivation, you can accomplish anything.

2. Set Aside Time and Set Reminders

The time you select is also important. You have to have enough time to get this done, after all.

Are you a morning person or an evening person? Do you have a chunk of time after work, or do you need to do this in the morning when nothing else is going on? When is your brain at its best?

All of these should be considered.

After you have the time set, you need a trigger each day to help you remember to do it.

If you're a pen-and-paper kind of person, maybe you could set out a notebook in a spot that you know you'll see it.

If you're like me and keep most of your life in digital spaces, then you're going to need something to bring the digital journal to your awareness.

I'm currently using reflection.app and I set via the app both an email reminder and a phone notification at 7 PM, a time when I'm usually done with dinner and about to transition to whatever I do next.

3. Choose Your Journal

This next step is one that can trip you up. It's tempting to think you need the perfect app or writing experience to start journaling. But you could start journaling on a napkin if you really needed to.

No app will build your habit for you. You have to build your habit.

The apps or tools you use are just the supplemental materials that combine with your motivation to do what you set out to do.

Other great apps I've come across are Day One for Mac / Apple users, Diaro, Journey, and Penzu.

There are others out there, but these all focus on writing down your thoughts.

Each of these apps has differences that stand out. The key is to find one that shines in the area that is most important to you. For me, that was lots of blank space to write, a way to date and easily find my entries, and basic categorization.

I prefer minimalist design over complicated features, and that's why I ended up with reflection.app.

4. Just Start

But--and here's a big but--you need to remember that no app will do the writing for you. It should be simple for you to just start writing.

I can access reflection.app from my computer or phone, and that was huge for me.

Getting started tricks your brain into wanting to finish a task before you move on to something else.

Once I open up a new entry for the day and start typing, I know I'm going to get it done. It's the leading up to the journaling that is the hard part.

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I hope you'll set aside some time in the days to come about how you can start a new habit for your mental health, whether it's to journal or to do something else.

Habits are the levers that shift our world.

Without them, we are rudderless.

With them, we can chart our own course.

If you know your motivation, or why you want to do something, you're only a habit or two away from getting there.