Looking for a new journal but not sure where to start? The best journals are the ones that make you want to write.
You look at it and it just calls for you to put pen to paper, to write and dream and imagine, to work through frustrations, or to process big events – life is full of highs and lows.
Journaling is a therapeutic and empowering practice. If you commit to it, your journal becomes like a hidden treasure that is just for you.
Even if you decide you can’t or don’t want to journal every single day, journaling can still be fun and beneficial for you. Not everyone is the next David Sedaris, turning a personal diary into a full fledged writing career — and that is okay.
If you’re looking to take up journal writing — or you just need a new book and some fresh ideas to your journal-writing — read on for a little journal inspiration and our picks for the best journals you can buy today.
Why journaling is one of the best habits you can have
The process of journaling transforms abstract, confusing, or fuzzy, not-fully-thought-out thoughts into concrete written words; writing on paper actually helps our brains process and remember information better.
Journaling has been shown to be particularly effective when it focuses on a style that’s called expressive writing — which is basically delving deeply into emotions, feelings, and thoughts, without regard to grammar, sentence structure, or punctuation. Studies have shown this technique helps patients heal faster; Dr. James W. Pennebaker, who has studied expressive writing, has found it improves physical health and work performance too.
So rather than just documenting your day like you do in a planner, journaling takes it a step further to explore your feelings and thoughts.
In so many facets of life, it can really help! Here are a few of them.
Difficult life events. Journaling is an outlet for emotions, stress, and difficult thoughts and feelings. Once your thoughts are translated to words on a page, you are able to better determine how and what you feel about something or someone.
By writing about hard times (like job loss or breakups), you release their overwhelming power and no longer carry them around with you. When you are forced to put really big emotions into words, it helps you see them as more manageable. This reduces stress in your mind and your body, which helps you feel better overall.
Also, the process of journaling helps put an end to rumination (repetitively thinking about the same thing over and over), which can be distracting and ultimately unproductive. Pennebaker offers practical advice on writing about emotional upheavals in particular, with specific parameters that have been shown to benefit study participants. Some of these include writing before bed, writing continuously, and writing 3-4 days for 15 minutes each (even if it’s about the same thing) about emotions and feelings that are deep within you.
Improved memory. Writing things down not only helps your recall later on, but it also cements a memory or concept more firmly in your brain compared to if you didn’t write it down at all. The journaling process improves retention, allowing you to retrieve information more easily.
We’re bombarded with so much information daily, and making sense of our experiences is difficult enough when on information overload. We take notes in meetings because it helps us remember; why not apply that to meaningful or happy moments in your life? Being able to recall information isn’t necessarily about being tested later on; it’s a nice reminder of the good or positive daily things that can often be overshadowed by bigger life events.
Problem solving. Journaling helps you work through problems to solve them more effectively. By writing out what the problem is, or trying to write about it from as many different perspectives as you can think of, you’re more likely to find a workable solution. And, when you write through a problem and various solutions, you’ll ultimately communicate your ideas more clearly; first drafts are often laden with pitfalls and strikethroughs, so lay it out in your journal first to get closer to that final version you’ll want to share with others.
Finding the best journals for you
The search for the best journals begins! So…what is most important to you?
Do you like hardback or soft? Lined, dotted, or blank pages for your thoughts? A ribbon finder making your next blank page a breeze to find? A secure band enclosure? Will your journal travel with you or stay put in one place?
If you plan on journaling in bed, check out thinner hardback journal options; thin so that you’re not struggling to prop it up, but hardback so there’s firmness to write against.
Plan on writing at your desk? Layflat binding and a thicker/heavier journal will help you write smoothly.
A few suggestions for the best journals to buy this year:
If you like to keep it simple with a splash of color, the Rhodia Webnotebook would be perfect for you. Not too big and not too small, with layflat binding and elastic enclosure, this journal can go anywhere with you.
Or the Leuchtturm1917, which gives you a bullet journal format with easy to use ribbon finders you can’t go wrong with.
An option that will make you feel comfy and cozy, ready for bedtime journaling is the Tailored Journal, a pretty 100 page, hardcover keepsake.
Or if you’re looking for a fun cover, the 160 page Birds of the Jungle has a black and white soft cover that features illustrations of (you guessed it) birds of the jungle. This notebook is easy to throw in your bag and take to school or work.
For a lightweight daily journaling practice, try the One Line a Day 5 Year Memory Book. Each page represents a day of the year (the Month and Date are at the top of the page) and there are 5 boxes to fill in — one for each time that day comes up in the next 5 years. It’s a great way to keep track of little things that happen each day as well as your progress on long term goals.
And last, but not least, if you want a journal that makes a statement, then the Writing as Therapy Journal – Inner Voices is a fun, great pick. The linen cover proudly proclaims “Inner Voices”, letting everyone know your deepest thoughts are housed within its pages.
Find the best journal for you and get journaling!
Journaling prompts and inspiration
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to journaling. Explore different formats to decide what works best for you, and don’t feel like you have to commit to one specific style of writing. Your journal is all about you and what works for you in the moment.
Sporadic journaling can be just as beneficial as regular, diligent journaling. Sporadic journaling is best used as a tool to process experiences as they come up in your life. On the other hand, daily or regular journaling can be used to practice your creative writing, manage ongoing life events, or just record what happens each day.
If you decide you want to write every day, give yourself a time limit, like 5 or 15 minutes. It will keep journaling sustainable, won’t wear you out, and will give you a goal.
Try writing quickly or at least without long pauses or breaks, if you can. This will ensure you’re actually putting your real, authentic thoughts on paper. And don’t censor yourself or worry about how what you write sounds; the point is to write whatever you are thinking, anything and everything. This isn’t for anyone else to read.
You’ll also find you can more easily explore your thoughts if you choose a quiet time in your day to write, free of interruptions or distractions. Turn off your phone or disable alerts to ensure you won’t be even momentarily distracted.
Don’t get hung up on formatting, punctuation, grammar or proper terminology. Just focus on getting the thoughts and feelings on to paper in whatever way feels comfortable to you.
If you need help overcoming the uncertainty of what to write, use a daily or weekly theme, or find questions/prompts to get you started. Below are some examples you can try:
- What are you excited about, today or far into the future?
- What are three things you’re grateful for?
- What brings you joy and happiness? Why?
- When was a time you felt proud?
- What makes you feel strong and empowered?
- What is/are your dream(s) for the future?
- Where do you want to go on your next vacation?
- What is something that you always wanted to try? Why haven’t you yet?
- Write about a recent interaction or experience that bothered you and why; it could be something small or it could be a major conflict or stressor.
- What will your legacy be?
- Who or what do you miss or are nostalgic for?
- What have you accomplished this week?
- Write about a problem you’re currently facing.
- What is your favorite habit? Least favorite?
- Write about a time you were afraid.
- What is something you’ve been thinking or worrying about recently?
- Write about something you have been avoiding doing, saying, acknowledging, etc.
- Write about a challenge you’ve successfully overcome and how it made you feel.