3 Reasons why journaling doesn't always work and how to maximise your experience

journaling Sep 10, 2020

At the end of 2019, I received a bullet journal as part of my Christmas gift. 2020 was going to be a fantastic year. I am a planner and love my checklists, colour pencils, sticky notes, creative stickers and multiple mini-notepads.  As an ex-pat family of 5, living abroad for the past 13 years is no longer unfamiliar territory. I have to make sure that I am on track to balance all the expectations of home life, school, work, university, yacht industry, coaching and the culturally diverse society in Spain, we live in. 

So, I usually have everything worked out months in advance, written down, little boxes are made up with things that I might need for upcoming events.

2020 was no different. This would also be the year that I would publish my long awaiting book "Who am I".   

I was set, what could go wrong?

Super excited, I kicked off in January 2020 with my bullet journal. Before long I was already bulleting away at things to do for March. You might wonder "Now what is a Bullet Journal, and how is that different from other journals?"

A bullet journal is perfect for someone who writes a lot of lists. You can choose to write down bullets filled with potential ideas that you'd like to execute. 

But journaling is not limited to just one specific format. From a dream, food, travel journals to art, gratitude and prayer journals, to name but a few. Journals can be tailored to your needs.  

I use a bullet journal to keep track of my ideas, goals and tasks that are coming up in the year. For day-to-day tasks, I have a weekly journal, and a reflection and prayer journal to capture my thoughts, emotions and conversations with God during the month. 

But, let us get back to my bullet journal. At the end of January, I had a lot of bullets on my page. 

January was off to a good start rumours of COVID were floating around. I saw the news, showed empathy for the ones affected, and continued with my daily life as if nothing could derail it.

12 March 2020, everything changed. Wall Street had come to a standstill - for the first time since 2008, and I was on my way to sign the contract for the sale of our house in Austria. COVID was no longer just a mere rumour. Italy was under lock down, and I had two days to get myself on a flight back to Barcelona to reunite with my youngest son and husband before the rest of Europe went into lock down. My eldest stayed behind in Vienna, and my middle son was on a yacht in Seychelles.

Within days everything changed. I was left with a blank page.

As most of you can relate, our lives literally came to a standstill. Masks, alcohol hand sanitiser, gloves and social distancing became the new normal. School and office changed overnight to virtual and working from home. Even the cat was overwhelmed with all the attention and love she suddenly received from everyone in the apartment.  

During this period, I opened my bullet journal several times, and all I could see was the previous month's ideas and plans I had to draw a line through and for the next month only a blank page. Anything that I wanted to write down just did not make sense. What use was this journal now? I felt paralysed and overwhelmed with all the emotional uncertainty. My mindset was so fixated on what I wanted to use the bullet journal for, that at that moment, I could not see another purpose for it. How was I going to fill this blank page? 

As a Coach, I teach my clients how to work with mindsets and obstacles that “shackle” your thought process to an imaginary pole. My block was perspective. I had this fixed idea (maybe more perfectionism) that I only use the bullet journal to keep track of my goals and tasks that are coming up in the year. It was time to think outside of the box and adapt my bullet journal to fit my current practical and emotional needs. But then I also had to ask myself whether a “box” really exists.

Below is a quick recap of my findings, followed by 3 reasons, why journaling does not always work. 

But first .....   what are the benefits of journaling?

Journaling is a practice that helps you express your goals, purpose and/or improves your spiritual, mental and emotional health. This can appear to be unique for every single individual, and the results can vary, but they are mostly positive. 

Scientific evidence supports that journaling provides other unexpected benefits.  

  • Clarify your thoughts and feelings.

Do you ever seem all jumbled up inside, unsure of what you want or feel? Taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and emotions (no editing!) will quickly get you in touch with your inner world.

  • Know yourself better.

By writing routinely, you will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you — important information for your emotional well-being.

  • Reduce stress.

Writing about anger, sadness, and other painful emotions help to release the intensity of these feelings. By doing so, you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.

  • Solve problems more effectively.

Typically, we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities and allows solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

  • Resolve disagreements with others.

Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another’s point of view. And you just may come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.

In addition to all of these incredible benefits, keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends and improvement and growth over time. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you will be able to look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved. 

3 - Reasons why journaling sometimes does not work

1. Feeling overwhelmed

Have you ever opened your brand-new journal to its very first page and staring at it, what feels like hours, while fiddling with your pen between your fingers ….? Then, put the pen back down, closed the journal, put it on the shelf and left it there?

Sometimes, starting at your journal can simply feel overwhelming, and you might not know how to begin. That's OK, you're not alone, we've all been there at some point.

Feeling overwhelmed can be caused by several factors. To name but a few, stress from financial and job uncertainty, health challenges, caring for others needs and your thoughts are jam-packed into your head like overstuffed pork sausage. 

One of the secret ingredients is to keep it simple. Journaling is not about perfection or what others dictate it should look like – a journal is about the journey!

2. Lack of motivation

I read a quote the other day "Yesterday you said tomorrow". It's easy to fall into the habit of thinking "tomorrow, I'll write in my journal", and then the next day – "tomorrow, I'll write in my journal." If lack of motivation is your main concern, try using a reward system to get yourself excited about implementing a journaling habit – today.

For example, a reward system could be that if you write in your journal for the next 5 days, you can watch your favourite movie. Or, if you start writing in your new journal today, you can pamper yourself with a hot bubble bath, candlelight and soulful music.

3. Using a journaling method that does not resonate with you

Starting to dread your journaling sessions because you just don't enjoy them? Think about trying a new journaling method you might really want! For example, if you love doodling, try to describe your day in pictures, rather than words. 

Your journal is about you and what resonates with your heart and soul. What brings you joy? In what way do you express yourself creatively?

There are so many different ways that you can journal, so if a particular method isn't working for you, then try a different one! 

Here are some ideas for fun journaling techniques: 

  • Doodle journaling (incorporate images with words)
  • Prayer journaling (writing down your conversations with God)
  • Gratitude journaling (write about 3 things you are grateful for each day)
  • Bullet journaling (A bullet journal is perfect for someone who writes a lot of lists)
  • Electronic journaling (various apps and platforms are available for journaling for example, Daylio, Grid Diary)

How to begin? 

The most important rule of all is that there are no rules.


  • Your journaling will be most effective if you do it daily for about 20 minutes. 
  • Begin anywhere and forget spelling and punctuation. 
  • Privacy is vital if you are to write without censor. 
  • Write quickly, as this frees your brain from “shoulds” and other blocks to successful journaling. 
  • If it helps, pick a theme for the day, week or month (for example, peace of mind, confusion, change or anger). 
  • Through your writing, you’ll discover that your journal is a non-judgmental friend, and it may provide the cheapest therapy you will ever get. 
  • So, what if you decide to start journaling today? 

Whether you are starting a bullet or travel journal, prayer or gratitude journal, it is a great tool that adds value to time management, being more organized, working through emotional thought processes while capturing memories and experiences.

To get you started, download my free printable “Kick-starter journaling journey” to spark your creativity and enthusiasm for journaling. 

Best of luck on your journaling journey!

Leave a comment - I'd love to hear your perspectives!

Source: The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 7, 2020, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/000721

Photo by Alina Vilchenko from Pexels

Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels












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