Struggling with keeping a journal

Two things I constantly fail at are keeping a journal and coffee.

I don’t like coffee. I simply dislike the taste. Oh, I’ll drink a cappa-frappa-pumpkin whatever with whipped cream and more calories than a bacon cheeseburger, but that’s not coffee. That’s a dessert masquerading as coffee. It’s the hot water filtered through ground beans that I just don’t like.

As someone who’s coffee-averse, I often feel like I’m missing out on a major social activity. People enjoy spending time together over a cup of coffee. Every few years I’ll try it again, hoping my tastes have changed, and every year the results are the same: I can’t finish one cup.

I have the same relationship with journaling.

I’ve read many articles and had several conversations with people, colleagues and those who’ve built careers around productivity and personal organization. They all say the same thing: It’s hugely beneficial to keep a journal. They’re not wrong, either.

A Huffington Post article earlier this year outlined 10 benefits of keeping a journal, including:

  1. Promotes progress toward goals
  2. Boosts memory and comprehension
  3. Strengthens one’s self-discipline

Academics agree, too. The University of Rochester Mental Health Center published an article on the practice of journaling and mental health, citing additional benefits. And writing down what you eat in your journal can even help you lose weight (if that’s something you want to do).

I believe in the benefits, yet there’s a disconnect. Each time I try to maintain a journal in earnest, I fizzle out.

Thinking the issue might be the tools, I’ve purchased very nice paper journals and top-rated software. I even got a special pen and designated a time of day for sitting down to record a journal entry. Despite these best efforts, a few things happened.

  1. I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. “Drove the kids to ballet and soccer practice” is boring and, as far as I’m concerned, hardly worth putting in writing.
  2. I felt self-conscious, like a teenager keeping a diary.
  3. I decided to skip it because of either reason number one or two. Then I skipped another day, and another and soon enough I’m failing at journaling.

In many ways, a to-do list and calendar can be similar to a journal. They certainly record what I’m doing and my commitment levels. But it’s not the same. In fact, keeping a journal feels like one more thing cluttering up my to-do list.

Like so many things in life, keeping a journal requires motivation. So, if you maintain a journal, what keeps you motivated? Have any of you struggled to do the same, perhaps for similar reasons? Last, is it simply that journaling is not for me, and I should move on?

Perhaps we can discuss it over coffee.

32 Comments for “Struggling with keeping a journal”

  1. posted by Bev on

    I like coffee. Journaling…not so much. I always worry that something will happen to me and someone will find my journal and then what will it say about me. That’s not really the way you should journal. But I can’t seem to get out of my head with it. I’ve started but end up ripping it up and tossing it all. I’ve decided journaling my inner thoughts is not for me.

    On the other hand, I am a scrapbooker so I do lots of journaling on pages. This is a different type of journaling. It is story telling and sometimes I do put some inner thoughts down too.

  2. posted by Anne D on

    I keep a journal, mostly so I can look at it and remind myself that I did accomplish something that day. So it’s a list of the work I did.

    I don’t see anything wrong with that. But if it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay too.

    I don’t like coffee either; I prefer tea.

  3. posted by Jeewoong Chang on

    * Truth I learned the hard way: keep it simple.
    * This is about the length and format of my typical entries. No photos, right from the menu bar, takes 30 seconds.
    * What’s important is to actually ruminate about the random thoughts that’d I’d remain unconscious about.

  4. posted by Brian on

    I’m with you on the coffee. But no amount of sugar will make it tolerable for me. However, add it to a porter or stout, I’ll give it a shot.

    Regarding journalling, I’ve struggled too. I’ve never been a paper guy though. I’ve been capturing my thoughts electronically since like 1997.

    Back then I was just using the notepad feature in my Palm Pilot and did the same through 2010 when I final jumped from my Treo to Android.

    I’ve used all kinds of apps, from Google notebook (pout) to Evernote. Now I’m using an app called Journey. To me, it’s well balanced between having the features I like and staying light weight. I’ve used generic applications (like Evernote) and tried plenty of specialized journalling apps. This is the first one I’ve used for more than a few days.

    I put just about everything in there, except for detailed notes. How I’m feeling, what’s bugging me, things my mother told me when she called, etc. Yeah, it feels a little wierd, vein even at times, but it definitely helps me level set my thoughts and my moods.

  5. posted by Kristina on

    I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 12 and I’m 29 now. Way back when, it started as a written activity, done in various notebooks and I even took a journal writing class in high school, where we wrote in composition books. I usually wrote about milestones (birthdays, first kiss, driving tests, etc.) and my feelings. It helped so much and was very therapeutic to get everything out, from being mad at my mom and wondering which college to go to, struggles with friendships and boys, and then the achievements and perils of jobs. That still holds true today. I write a WordPress blog that’s private and just for me. I love that I can give it a title and write whatever I want, and include pictures, song lyrics, quotes, and articles that I found that day or that struck a chord with me. I write about friendships, relationships, feelings, love, work, and just life. Decisions that I’m struggling with, what I’m thinking about religion or dating, and what’s happening at work.

    I don’t know if I can help you with the coffee thing. I’ve been an avid drinker ever since I started working early in the morning in college. All I can suggest is try adding more creamer or a flavored creamer (pumpkin spice is one of my favorites this season) and/or sugar. Or try different coffee blends. There are different roasts (such as light roast or breakfast blend) that might taste better to you because they are milder.

  6. posted by Wildkitten on

    I like Emily Ley’s simplified journal. One side of the page is “brain dump” and one side is the “entry” so I can write dumb stuff (“Drove kids to ballet”) on the dump side, first. That gives me a page to clear the crud to decide what I want to write on the entry side.

  7. posted by Susan on

    I’ve always wanted to keep a journal but never made it past, say, January 15th. Three years ago, however, my husband showed me the Day One app, and I’ve kept a journal ever since. On some days, I just take a couple of pictures — a lovely sunset, apples from our tree, a friend who is visiting, the cat being cute. Other days I write long entries, or several quick notes a day. I log dives and note books I read. I write down childhood memories. It’s perfect for my needs and it’s searchable — I just wish it had been around all my life.

  8. posted by karisma on

    The thing with journaling is to just do it. Write for at least ten minutes or try to write out three pages. Do not criticize your writing and don’t censor your thoughts. Don’t worry about spelling and just go for it. People always think they “don’t know what to say”, or “it sounds so stupid”, and if that’s what you are feeling, then write it down and most importantly, do not judge yourself or your entries.

  9. posted by Pat on

    I agree with your thoughts about coffee and keeping a journal. Even worse, I don’t like wine and chocolate-which makes me less than a normal female I guess (??) But a big part of uncluttering your life is about not worrying about these things. My mind is free and I can spend my money and time on things I do like. Which makes me feel happier. And you can enjoy a glass of soda or tea (or whatever) while other people drink coffee or wine-don’t try to be something you’re not-keep it simple and keep your life uncluttered by other peoples wants.

  10. posted by Lisa on

    I recently came across Austin Kleon’s post about keeping a logbook ( It immediately appealed to me. Six weeks in and I’ve written something for every day (sometimes writing a day or two late, but that’s ok by me). Some days are simple log entries, other days are more “journally”. Maybe this would be a good way for you to get started. Give yourself permission to start with boring lists and see if it takes off from there.

  11. posted by Jenn on

    Coffee… mmmm… it’s a new love of mine. I tried an iced latte over lunch with a colleague and I’ve been hooked ever since. My husband called it coffee flavored sugar milk – and he was right. So I started forcing myself to drink coffee with creamer. Then my friends suggested I try coffee black… what? Are they crazy? Yes, but that’s beside the point… I tried it, and I was quite surprised to learn I didn’t die, and even more surprising, I actually kind of enjoyed it. I drink flavored coffees and blend them. This morning I had coconut cream pie and sugar cookie. It was delicious. My friend says chocolate glazed donut blended with hazelnut is to die for. Maybe you could try that.

    Keeping a journal? Yeah, I can’t get into that either. I have been using Bullet Journals for my daily to-do list… that’s about as close to keeping a journal as I get. Like you said: teenager with a diary… meh. No thanks.

    PS, not sure why your comment form won’t accept my blog address. It keeps telling me to enter a valid URL. It doesn’t get much more valid than what I’m entering. 😉

  12. posted by Katie on

    The only thing in recent years that has helped me is writing the answers to the questions within the following article every morning at work. So, I don’t write anything over the weekend but have been able to be pretty faithful during the week. Maybe it’ll help someone else?

  13. posted by Sharon on

    I dislike coffee as well. I won’t even touch the fancy calorie filled drinks they call coffee. I use DayOne every day but mostly for noting my day. Occasionally, I use these notes as starting points for longer thoughts or even blog posts. I think journaling can be anything from short notes to long essays. Isn’t this blog a form of journaling?

  14. posted by Egirlrocks on

    Blogging is very much like journaling, Dave, so you’re doing it already in the style that suits you. Taking this journaling thing a step further, as a photographer my journal is visual. Whenever I read blogs I appreciate lots of pictures. I don’t need a whole lot of text. I’ve toyed with starting a blog and probably will in the near future. I once read a book where the author suggested keeping a “diary of the magic me”, meaning writing down cool, magical, serendipitous things that happen. I like that idea, and I keep a running Word document documenting those kinds of things. It’s neat to go back and read the entries now and again.

  15. posted by Ashley on

    I have a 5-year, one sentence journal. It’s a small time commitment and fun to go back through and see what you did a year ago. I was inspired by looking at my grandmother’s yearly one sentence journals, which include small details like the cake she baked for my father’s 2nd birthday. Small stuff can be big stuff, someday.

  16. posted by David on

    I usually just forget to write… I get busy. So now, and I have been successfully doing it for awhile,I have used an online service ( IFTTT ) to send me an email nightly. In that email I embedded an email address to an online blog… blogspot. I click on the email link.. it creates an email.. I type in what I have done that day or any other thoughts.. and send it off to the private blog. It posts it as that days entry. Its easy. I ALWAYS check my email… and it sorts. Love it.

  17. posted by Leslie on

    First, I’ll suggest cold press coffee. It’s a thing. I’m told that some Starbux are offering it. If you look it up, there’s an explanation on it. Smoothest coffee ever. In fact, I can’t drink the regular stuff anymore without something in it, simply too harsh in taste and on my stomach. And if you don’t like cold coffee, you can heat it but it will alter the taste. For someone who could never drink cold coffee (unless in a specialty drink), I love it.

    As to journaling, I’ve tried so many times (and so many ways) over the years and it simply doesn’t work for me. It’s odd because I work as a writer, I would think that I would want to keep one. But I will start and will keep it up for a while and eventually…I stop. When I’m generating story ideas, I’ll throw them into a file for that particular project and I suppose that’s journaling of sorts, but when it comes to what/how I’m thinking, that comes out in my characters better than I can put in a journal.

  18. posted by zydny on

    If you’re pressing yourself to take on habits (like journaling and coffee drinking) that don’t suit you, isn’t that just adding a form of clutter to your life? Even though academicians say that journaling is good, it may not be good for you if it’s causing you stress due to your failure at the attempt. Trying to drink coffee just because everyone else does even though you hate it is another cause of stress. Stress is clutter. It’s better just to find other means of self-expression and social bonding. Embrace what is best for you.

  19. posted by Rosemary on

    I’ve always thought this blog was your journal.

  20. posted by Carol on

    I struggle sometimes as well with being consistent, but for the last 83 days I have been doing something called #continuouspractice inspired by Saundra Goldman (you can just google her and her webpage comes up.). I’ve found that writing just 20 minutes a day in a composition book has helped me work through some issues I would have just stewed about. I also love the 5-year diary (also inspired by my grandmother’s like another reader), but alas I fall behind here as well.
    And I gave up coffee a few months ago and only drink it on rare occasions with lots of milk and sugar which is the way my grandmother served it to me.

  21. posted by Bette on

    Much like Bev, I don’t keep a journal because I’m always aware that there is no secure way to do so — paper journals can be easily read, lost, ruined — and online journals can be made public at any moment. I value my privacy so I don’t write anything down that I wouldn’t want others to see.

    As far as coffee, I suggest going the other route — not sweet or weak — but instead, a latte made with French Roast or Espresso. To me, there’s no comparison between “American coffee” and European. The latter reigns, LOL!

  22. posted by Jeanne on

    I believe it is beneficial to write “took kids to soccer practice” etc.

    As a 55 year old mother of three I wish I had kept a journal with even the mundane life events. It is surprising how much I have forgotten about those years & wish I had something to read that would be a brief reminder of those very busy years.

  23. posted by Marion Westerling on

    I also use the Day One app and love it. Each day, it has a question at the top that you can choose to answer. I find a lot of times, it’s a great way to get me started.

  24. posted by Putz on

    In December 2015, I hit the big 6-5. I’ve kept a diary of sorts off and on from the time I was a little girl. As an adult, I always intended to “journal”, & often used spiral notebooks to pour out occasional emotional struggles, note achievements, or remember happy moments, but it was on a random basis. Then I became totally committed to practically hour-by-hour journaling when taking trips. It happened after one wonderful college vacation to Padre Island, when I found a week later I could remember the highlights but very few of the small details –no, not because I was ‘under the influence’ — but because the days were filled with so many really fun, hilarious moments, and everything kind of jumbled together. Ok, commitment to trip documentation–check. Now I love reading every pertinent detail from several Europe trips, many of which would be long-forgotten had I not made myself record them at the time. About 3 months after I retired from a wonderful very busy career, I found a weird thing happened: With no meetings, business trips, presentations, etc. to fill my calendar & track my life, there came a week when I could not remember one thing I had done the previous week! There were no doctor appointments, no birthday celebrations, no lunches with girlfriends….just regular day-to-day living. I HATED the feeling that I had lived a wonderful week of my life, but could NOT remember a single meal, grocery store trip, tv show I watched with my husband… Are you kidding me? That’s when the switch flipped! I went to Walmart & found a small “Daily Planner” with pages that were 5″x8″. Now I buy a new one every year. It has each monthly calendar, where I note big highlights, followed by a full page for each day, and it’s turned out to be perfect for me. There’s enough room to record daily activities as well as some thoughts about what’s going on in my life. I keep it handy, so rather than waiting until the end of the day, I start entering info, including when I wake up, what the weather’s like (in the Colorado mountains it changes all day long!), what we have for breakfast, and just add a sentence here & there as the day rolls along. For example, after having it on my to-do list since college, I finally started a painting class—In a couple years I will be able to remember the day I found the teacher and how I’m feeling about my first month of classes. With my 95 year old mom moving under my care 2 years ago, it’s been great to have a method to record that transition day-by-day. She had a stroke 4 months ago, and recording her progress, and my emotions, has been quite cathartic. It may seem mundane to some folks, but I like being able to look back on my summer to read and remember the great dinner my husband & I had at our favorite Mexican restaurant, or the afternoon I found all 18 of the little ducklings, now ‘teenagers’, sleeping cuddled together in the grass on the banks of the little lake in the park, or that AMAZING sunset God painted just for me that evening I was leaving Lowe’s back in August. You can imagine I also take hundreds of photos. Our 24 hour days are made up of 1440 magic little moments that, if I don’t make a point of recording the ones I want to remember, can become long-lost on the recording in my mind. Just the act of thinking about them & writing them down seems to help me imprint them into my brain. Looking at my now frail, tiny 97 year old mother with dementia gives me added incentive to want to remember the wonderful little moments of my life while I still can. It’s as the saying goes: “Enjoy the little things in life…for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.” Indeed, and they are passing by much too quickly.

  25. posted by Heather on

    Yuck to coffee. Try tea. Or just have whatever you enjoy when others are drinking coffee. I “go for coffee” all the time and never touch the stuff, I simply have whatever I want at the time.

    As to journaling, your starting sentence is perfect: Drove the kids to ballet and soccer practice. From there you could elaborate on the weather as you drove, what you talked about in the car, any flora or fauna observed, construction going on, what was on the radio, traffic frustrations, what you were thinking, what you thought the kids might have been thinking, what you want them to be thinking, etc. You could also talk about your hopes and dreams for the kids, in ballet, in soccer, and in life in general.

    I write a blog called inlovewithjournals and I have been journaling for a very long time. Sometimes I imagine I’m writing a letter to someone whom I haven’t seen in a long time, so I describe everything, including how I felt about the situation and how the other person might be feeling. Another trick I use is to leave the date off my entries. I know this is controversial but if you pick up a notebook and haven’t written in two months you might feel defeated. But if you don’t have a date then you don’t know (and thereby don’t care) when last you wrote. And finally I agree with most people here: don’t force yourself to journal (or drink coffee) if it’s just not you. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  26. posted by Pat on

    For Mother’s Day one of my sons gave me a beautiful purple moleskine notebook. But what to do with it? It seemed too lovely to use for any ordinary purpose. So I started a gratitude journal, using a purple gel pen that matched the book perfectly. Each day (I have to admit that I have skipped some days!) I jot down three things things that happened that day for which I am grateful. Even the worst day might have been a good hair day – or I might have had truly delicious cup of coffee 😉 In some ways it does help me keep track of some of the things that I have done. And re-reading a few pages will always give me a little lift.

  27. posted by Sreekala on

    Yuck! Coffee is absolutely anathema to me too unless it’s flavoring a chocolate cake!

    I used to get a diary every year in my teens, but I never actually made a habit of writing on a daily basis. In my 30s, I saw one of my old diaries and thought, hey I have to do this again. Since 2007, I have been buying large 7×10 diaries with a page a day and have been writing down my daily activities in them. Sometimes a week or so goes by without any writing, but I do make an effort to at least record the highlights of those days. Frequently I get into a streak of continual daily journaling, sometimes I get ideas for elaborate writing that I continue on to another notebook. I have found that it helps my writing quite a lot as well as my blogging.

    Recently I had reason to pick up my 2008 diary to look up something and couldn’t help but smile at the antics that my younger son used to get up to that year. I had forgotten all those funny moments! But thanks to my diaries, I can hold on to them. Needless to say, it inspired me to write even more regularly!

  28. posted by Donna on

    First of all, coffee is nasty–drink tea! I always had trouble maintaining a journal even though I liked the idea. Then I challenged myself to do it for 30 days. I’m now on Day 430 or so and I will never stop. Suggestions: memories are a good starting point. Everyone has some point in the week where they think back on something, good or bad. Write about it. Did you read a good book this week? Did a song lyric appeal to you? Write about it. When you drove your kids to soccer, did one say something that made you laugh? You won’t remember it a year to twenty from now, but if you write it down you’ll laugh about it someday when you re-read. Write a list of the ten things you’d like to do next year. Places you want to go. Write down a quote you heard in passing that you thought was cool. News headline have you upset? Tell yourself about it. Brainstorm a list of 50 memories from your past…grandparents, school, trips, time you screwed up, something you regret, movie you adored, first kiss, embarrassing moment, kid being born…you get the idea. Then when you bore yourself writing about the day to day, pick one and spend an extra ten minutes digging into your past. Oh, and write about how much you hate coffee…blogging is a good starting point for journaling! Go have a cup of tea and try it!

  29. posted by Donna on

    First of all, coffee is nasty–drink tea! I always had trouble maintaining a journal even though I liked the idea. Then I challenged myself to do it for 30 days. I’m now on Day 430 or so and I will never stop. Suggestions: memories are a good starting point. Everyone has some point in the week where they think back on something, good or bad. Write about it. Did you read a good book this week? Did a song lyric appeal to you? Write about it. When you drove your kids to soccer, did one say something that made you laugh? You won’t remember it a year to twenty from now, but if you write it down you’ll laugh about it someday when you re-read. Write a list of the ten things you’d like to do next year. Places you want to go. Write down a quote you heard in passing that you thought was cool. News headline have you upset? Tell yourself about it. Brainstorm a list of 50 memories from your past…grandparents, school, trips, time you screwed up, something you regret, movie you adored, first kiss, embarrassing moment, kid being born…you get the idea. Then when you bore yourself writing about the day to day, pick one and spend an extra ten minutes digging into your past. Oh, and write about how much you hate coffee…blogging is a good starting point for journaling! Go have a cup of tea and try it!

  30. posted by SD on

    Have you tried giving yourself a kick start using Julia Cameron’s “morning pages”: ?

  31. posted by Laura on

    @SD and everybody else writing morning pages: Are morning pages also a useful thing to do if you want to go and try to do some form of journaling if you just spend way to much time in your head overananlysing everything? I overanalse everything 24/7 and while I’m curious about morning pages the thought of being even more ‘in my head’, analysing every little thing puts me off.
    Anybody experience with that?

  32. posted by Marsha on

    I can’t do without coffee OR my journal. I’ve been faithful to both since I was 21, and in a few months, I will be 65. I write every day, without fail, and what I discover about myself both as I do it, and as I re-read entries from years gone by, is priceless. I have learned to befriend myself, and I have learned to be honest about myself and my beliefs. Some days, I write about big issues and the world at large; other days, I take a hard deep look at the small things that occupy my mind. Nothing is too big, and nothing is too small. I journaled my way across Indonesia over a 20-year period. I journaled my journey as a second wife and stepmother to grieving teens. I also journaled what it felt like to admit that my first marriage to a man I thought I would love for my whole life was a complete failure. In writing, I discovered that there is a well of hope and resilience in me that informs everything I undertake.

    I write in personal essay form, as if I am exploring something that I feel should be shared. Mostly I am the person who benefits from the sharing. It takes me about an hour daily, and I believe it is the most valuable hour of every day.

    In recent years, friends who have read — or to whom I have read — excerpts from my journals call them “works of art.” I believe that that my journal helps me remember that my life is nothing less than a work of art.

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