This Next-Level Guided Journal Helped Me Stick to a Journaling Routine for the First Time in Years

published Jan 27, 2021
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The benefits of journaling are well-documented: improved resilience, increased creativity, a healthier immune system, stress relief, and more. It’s even been shown to help people with PTSD (though nothing beats more traditional therapy if you’re looking for a personalized mental health program).

But just because you know something is good for us doesn’t mean you’ll do it — or that old habits won’t lapse every now and again. Although an avid journaler throughout my teens and early 20s, I’ve struggled putting pen to paper ever since my 30s hit. Each year, my famous last words are: I will not be too busy to write. I will make time. This year will be different.

This year, though, I vowed things would actually be different. And when “What’s Your Story? A Journal for Everyday Evolution” came across my desk, I perked up. 

Co-authored by Rebecca Walker and Lily Diamond, “What’s Your Story?” is “an interactive journal for anyone who longs to bring a new story to life and leave behind the tired patterns of their past.” This felt right in line with my desire to create more meaningful moments in the new year.

According to Diamond, a writer, wellness advocate, and educator, “What’s Your Story?” is built to develop lasting habits. Chapters are color-coded and center around creativity, self-expression, self-care, activism, spirituality, grief, and more. And instead of answering the same questions each day, the prompts vary daily. 

“The questions themselves help guide you step by step, so unfolding into that kind of radical honesty within yourself becomes a bit easier,” Diamond tells Apartment Therapy, adding that the questions “ask you to look at every area of your life, and get truthful about where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’d like to go moving forward.” 

“We really wanted to provide a space for people to release themselves from the burden, weight and confusion of old stories that they have been telling about themselves, their relationships, and just being a human in the world,” Walker, a lifelong activist, bestselling author, and TV/film producer, tells Apartment Therapy.

Curious to see what kind of story might unfold for me (and if this year, in fact, would actually be different), I committed to journaling with “What’s Your Story?” (WYS) for a full week. Here’s what happened:

Credit: Samara Vise

Monday:

Old habits die hard. I put off journaling until right before bed, but knowing I made a commitment, I opened the first page and grabbed an embarrassingly dusty pen lingering on my nightstand.

Immediately, I was greeted with the following prompt: “What is your first memory? Did you experience it or did someone tell it to you so many times that it came to feel like your own?” It was unlike any other journaling prompt I’ve ever read, and my brain loved the mental workout. After I finished, I looked at the clock and was surprised to see that while I’d filled the entire page (and overflowed into the margins of the next one), I’d only been writing for about 10-15 minutes, max. The journaling practice hadn’t taken that long at all — but considering I’d never contemplated this question before, I was surprised at how easily I was able to unearth deep-seated thoughts and feelings.

Tuesday:

Tuesday is always the most mentally exhausting day of the week for me. Even so, I found myself actually looking forward to journaling. Monday’s session made me feel refreshed and centered, which is what I knew I’d need most (and I was also inspired by the knowledge that I could complete really deep work in just a matter of minutes). I picked up WYS after a seven-hour Zoom call, and noticed it felt like a relief to take a break from screen time. It also helped to know I had a prompt to help me out, and that I wouldn’t have to come up with things to say on the spot.

Wednesday:

I tried doing “morning pages” in my 20s with some success, but I have since found that I prefer building flexibility into my new routine. The deep questions in WYS felt suited to help ground me as I transition from one part of my day into the next, instead of sticking to a strict time frame.

By day three, I needed help transitioning into relaxation mode at the end of a particularly stressful day. I realized after five minutes of journaling that not only did my never-ending to-do list evaporated from my brain, but so did any other trace of the outside world. The mental shift was palpable.

Thursday:

Full transparency: I slipped. I didn’t journal. I got sucked into emails, I took a long walk after work, a call went longer than expected, and I ended the day barely being able to keep my eyes open. 

At first, I regretted my misstep, but I also realized how much I missed writing. So far, it has felt like something I want to — not have to — do, and I actually felt excited to pick the process back up as soon as I could. That’s new, I thought. Maybe that’s the sign I’m starting to create a healthy routine instead of just another to-do list item.

Friday:

I opened WYS after my first few hours of work. The prompt asked me to “make a list of the things that give you total joy, and a list of the things that make you feel less than awesome.” It was shorter and easier to answer than usual, or at least it felt that way. I couldn’t tell if that’s because the work was actually shorter and easier, or if it was because I had been looking forward to it since the night before. 

I also noticed the practice helped shift my mindset for other daily tasks: When I headed out on my run (something that gives me total joy), I felt particularly energized. I wasn’t overthinking the emails I sent (which is typically a habit that makes me feel less than awesome), and I wasn’tover-scrutinizing the tasks I knew I would have to tackle later in the day. Journaling, I found, helps me be (and stay) in the moment.

Saturday:

Saturday was my one full day off this week, and I ended up curling up with WYS within 10 minutes of waking up. It felt luxurious. The new prompt was, “What are your assumptions about who, where, and what you should be at this moment in your life?” I ended up mulling this one over way after I was done writing, thinking back on all the various assumptions I once had about who I’d be at this point in my life. I also wondered what assumptions I’m putting on my future self, and how I can set her up for success no matter how her life unfolds.

Sunday:

I picked up WYS right after I finished a big work presentation, which helped me avoid mentally replaying (and over-analyzing) everything I thought I screwed up. Now that I’ve developed a practice of getting curious about both my strengths and weaknesses via journaling, I noticed it’s easier to be kind to myself instead of critical of myself.

What I’ve Learned:

After a full week, I felt confident that I’ve begun to create a ritual that’s not only sustainable, but deeply meaningful. I learned that I don’t need to carve out a huge block of time to make my journaling sessions count, and even a few minutes can help me reflect, refocus, and refresh. At the same time, it’s okay if those few minutes of journaling don’t happen every single day. In the future, I can see myself being energized and empowered by even a couple quality sessions during a busy week, even if I can’t get to it daily. For me, journaling is all about quality, not quantity, and setting myself up for long-term success.

The best routines are the ones you’re able to stick with not because you think you “should” do them, but because you want to do them. And ultimately, the authors of WYS share, it’s not about the details of when or where — because every time is the right time to start reflecting. 

“Every story starts somewhere,” they write in the book. “Every moment brings the opportunity to awaken and to put ourselves, and our stories, together in a new way. We can reexamine our earliest memories and beliefs about who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and why we are here.” The most important story I tell is the one I tell myself, about myself – and I’m grateful to have this new tool by my side to help me write it.