Published on January 13th, 2014 | by Kristen Kansiewicz

Journaling for Non-Writers

I tell almost all of my clients to write in a journal. Why? Because journaling is one of the most effective ways to step outside your own head. People who journal are often surprised by what comes out when they write—they get a glimpse into their murky subconscious.

Often when I suggest that my clients start journaling, I get a response something like this:

“Me??? Journal??? I don’t like to write, so journaling can’t be right for me!”

They then go on to explain that they never did well in school, they don’t know how to start journaling, or they don’t know what to write.

I get it, not everyone is a writer. Here I am, writing this article, expecting you to grab a pen and paper and do the same. But journaling is a totally different kind of writing from the stuff you read (or don’t read) every day.

If you can be open enough to try, I’m sure it can benefit you too.

Journaling is just for you—it’s not a redo of school

No one will be grading your journal, examining it, evaluating it, or publishing it. In fact, unless you show it to them, no one will even see it.

It does not have to make sense, it does not have to be grammatically accurate, there can be all kinds of horrible and embarrassing spelling mistakes, and it can be MESSY.

If school wasn’t your thing, no problem! Journaling is about the process, not the product. The goal of journaling is to step outside yourself and practice seeing—more and differently.

If even you can’t decipher it a week later, it’s okay. The process of writing will have helped you release tension and stress.

journaling for non-writersStart with a journaling prompt and fresh formatting

Most people think that a journal has to start with a daily entry of “Dear Diary…” followed by beautiful prose about your innermost thoughts.

For the contemplative introvert writer this might be the case, but for most people, journaling needs to have a different feel. I often encourage people to start with a question and then make a list.

For example: “What feelings do I have right now?” followed by bullet points listing every word that comes to mind. With this strategy, I encourage people to set a timer for two minutes. Write every word that pops into your head (don’t stop and think, don’t edit out any of your words).

You can use other strategies as well, like making a flowchart or brainstorming bubbles. One of my recent journal entries is a series of connected, messy circles.

I started with one thing that was bothering me and drew expanding lines and circles off of it to capture all of what I was thinking. It is ugly, illogical, and wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, but boy did I feel better when I had gotten it all out of my head!

If this technique is working for you, another option is to use electronic tools that can help you use brainstorming to sort out your thinking.

Simply write down your observations of yourself

In addition to naming your thoughts and feelings, journaling is also useful for taking notes on your own behavior.

If you start with a question or prompt like I mentioned above, another opening is “Yesterday, I…” or “This morning, I…” and talk about your day, with an effort to go beyond the physical, chronological events, and looking deeper to motive—the why something happened.

Some people may find this track easier than going straight to “How do I feel?” The goal is the same, but some people may find it easier to look for a back door.

This is especially helpful when you are trying to notice patterns in your life (like “I keep on running into this same problem and I just don’t know why…”).

Your question would focus more on the specific behavior: “I yelled at my son again today even though I knew it was over the top. What was I doing right before that incident?”

When observing your behavior, it is useful to describe what happened (again feel free to just make a list) along with what was happening right before and how you felt right afterwards.

If you’d like to start from a pre-written format to guide you, I created a “C.A.R.E. for your feelings” worksheet that you can download for free.


There are no “rights” and “wrongs” in journaling. There is simply you, a pen, and a notebook. (Or a computer if you prefer…or grab some crayons and construction paper or magazine cutouts…go crazy, it’s yours!).

Your journal, in whatever form you choose, is an extension of your brain, one that helps you release stress and increase your self-awareness. Giving yourself that extra brain space to get comfortable exploring your thoughts and feelings will provide insight to create concrete ways for you take care of you.

Photo by Sanja Gjenero via Stock.Xchng

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