Journal or Diary: How Both Can Make Life Simpler

Journal or Diary

Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m thinking until I write it down. I’ve journaled for years, and it’s a practice that has shaped my life. I can look back at seasons of my life through my journals, and often, the person in the words is almost unrecognizable. Journals are that powerful.

The difference between a journal and a diary is pretty simple, and they both serve different purposes.

A diary is a record of events, like a food diary or exercise diary. A diary is data. With data, you can see trends in your life (I spend how much on coffee?!), and optimize through new behavior. Diaries are helpful data collection devices. A recent medical study found that a food diary is one of the most effective tools for weight loss. Diaries are excellent tools for changing behavior and tracking progress.

A journal, on the other hand, can be downright magical.

What’s a Journal?

Rather than just a tool to gather data, a journal is for exploration, a means by which you can recognize and examine feelings and reactions that otherwise might be lost in the fog of everyday life. Journaling creates an awareness of emotional patterns, enabling you to look objectively at your emotions and gain insight into the thoughts that create them. The self-knowledge that appears through journaling can be life-changing, and yes, even magical.

My first reaction to most of life’s problems is to DO SOMETHING. If you’ve forced some goal or change into your life through sheer effort and grit, non-stop action might be your go-to coping mechanism too.

But, there’s a better way. At some point, you can’t out-work every problem. Sometimes, the best solution is to sit down and be with the situation and your own reactions to it. A journal puts you into the moment with your feelings, thoughts, reactions and assumptions. Through the writing process, your subconscious says its peace and solutions appear from the ether. New ideas have come to me during journaling that had never crossed my mind before. Journaling is like having a conversation with a smarter version of myself.

How to Start Journaling

There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal, and you can experiment to find the method that works for you.

Like any new habit, you’ll need to find a time and place for a journaling practice. If you’ve got a place and time designated in your day – maybe first thing in the morning or last thing at night – you’ll be more likely to continue with the practice. Consistency creates the muscle memory of picking up the pen and journal and signals to your subconscious that it’s time to explore and create. The ritual reinforces the habit, which creates the results you want. You don’t have to commit to daily journal writing at the beginning – or ever – if that might keep you from journaling. Like love, you get to choose what form of journaling is just for you.

There are no wrong journal entries. Some of my most helpful journal entries have been those in which I just throw out my uncensored feelings and write things that I would never say to anyone at any time. But, once it’s on the paper, the truth is revealed. We all hide things, even from ourselves, and journaling helps you excavate the truth.

Which brings us to the one critical rule for journaling: Your journal is yours alone. No one can have access to your journal. Anyone who violates this rule does not have your best interest at heart. Journal privacy is non-negotiable, and there should be zero-tolerance for a violation of your journal privacy. The magic of the journal evaporates if we have any concern or fear that it will be read. It’s yours alone, and that’s part of the magic.

Journal Prompts for Simple Living

One of the best ways to move toward minimalism and simple living is to journal as a practice. Creating a simpler life requires you to make choices about how you want to live, the things you want to own and how you want to spend your time. Journaling can help you look closely at these questions and discover new answers.

My favorite journal prompt for simple living is: “What do I really want?” It’s a deceptively simple question that can take a lifetime to really answer. Journalling on this one question for several weeks will create responses that evolve during the course of the exercise and may surprise you.

Other prompts for minimalism and simple living include:

  • How do I want to spend my day?
  • Where do I really want to live?
  • What material things in my life no longer serve me?
  • Who are the people in my life who inspire and energize me?
  • How could I take better care of myself?
  • What brings me joy? How can I get more of it?
  • What radical change could I make?
  • What do I need to let go of?

Your entries can be short or long. No rules. Feel free to revisit the prompts multiple times. Your answers will change and the repeated ask makes you reach further for a different answer, pushing you to thoroughly consider the question.

Choosing a Journal

I’m old-school when it comes to journaling. I write mine by hand, and over the years, I’ve found that my favorite journals are actually sketchbooks that I find in art supply stores. The paper in a sketchbook is much thicker than even the nicest journal, and there is some comfort in the sturdiness of the paper. It reminds me that what I’m writing is important, and that I may want to to save it for years (or I may want to burn it the next day, but I like having the option keeping it handy for then next 50 years). Sketchbooks are inexpensive and come without lines, which I prefer.

I also think the process of handwriting somehow lets your mind slip away from the process to more deeply contemplate the topic. But, if you’re inclined to journal electronically, of course, there’s an app for that:

  • Reflectly
  • Diaro
  • Daylio
  • Day One
  • Jour
  • Zinnia Journal & Planner
  • Prompted Journal
  • Five Minute Journal
  • Longwalks
  •  Reflect

No matter the type or process you chose, journaling will help you learn more about yourself, becoming one more tool as you move toward a simpler life.

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