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Journaling: how to get started

Journaling has been an important part of Sanctus since the beginning.

Some of us grew up as angsty teenagers scribbling our daily thoughts into Moleskine notebooks. The Sanctus story actually started in a blog post that was pretty much an open journal entry. It’s a practice many of our Coaches recommend to the people they work with, and plenty of the team still do it to this day: have a read of James’ most recent journal entry.

What is journaling?

Journaling is the rather solitary act of sitting with your thoughts and writing down how you feel about what’s going on in your life. Not just what’s happening in it, but allowing yourself the freedom to explore any feelings and emotions that might come to the surface.

It’s a private and reflective practice, a way to process complicated thoughts in a clearer way, keep a record of remarkable life experiences, rehearse difficult conversations, and overall get a bit more perspective on your life. There’s just something about sitting down and reading your own thoughts back to you that helps make sense of things.

The idea behind keeping a journal is to get you feeling more connected with yourself, but doing so actually allows you to make more meaningful connections with others.

Journaling’s also been shown to boost working memory, our sense of wellbeing and happiness, and certain prosocial behaviours (the intention to help others). It also helps release tension and stress, and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can even make us more creative and optimistic.

“Can I not just think about what’s going on in my life? Do I have to write it all down?”

Here are two reasons it’s good to physically put pen to paper (or thumbs to on-screen keyboard):

1: the act of writing something down makes thoughts, real

It turns all those swirling, fleeting, sometimes contradictory thoughts into something you can zero in on and do something about. There’s a psychological advantage to doing so: you might find it helps get your priorities in order, or the sense of perspective may make quite large, previously very imposing challenges seem much more manageable than they first appeared.

2: it’s both important to remember, and nice to look back on

You’ll go up into the loft one day to hunt down your passport, birth certificate, or the emergency TV remote you swear is up there but can’t recall seeing since maybe mid-2014. You’ll stumble across your stack of old journaling notebooks and (hopefully) get to flick through the pages with a real sense of perspective, progress, and pride, looking back on where you’ve come from, where you are now, and where you might still be going.

But it can be quite difficult starting.

It’s daunting looking at a blank page, not knowing where to begin, wrestling with your own expectations. Which is probably the main reason people say they’ll give journaling a go, but don’t keep it up: it’s sometimes quite difficult just to get going.

So to help, here are 50 journaling prompts crowdsourced from Sanctus founders, team members, our journaling community, and team of Sanctus Coaches. These are questions to ask yourself, mental threads to tug on, and jumping off points to get you writing and feeling better connected with yourself.