​"Why is journaling so hard for me?"

Posted by Milena on Dec 14th 2023

I've asked myself this question loads of times. Why exactly do I love buying journals, displaying them on my bookcase, and especially perusing the journals section of the bookstore, only to stop writing a few pages in?

It was a tough question. I mean, I liked the idea of journaling a lot. Something about being surrounded by journals warmed my spirit. But much like having a gym membership doesn’t always mean you make it to the gym, owning a bunch of journals doesn’t always mean you make time to journal.

Thinking on it now, I relate journaling with self-intimacy and mindfulness. All those years when I wished I journaled more, I was being inspired to journal in much the same way I felt inspired to meditate or improve my dream recall.

There was just something about sitting alone with my own thoughts that felt uncomfortable. When I was younger, I'd sometimes start a journal with, "Dear Diary," only to write a brief entry and tell myself that it's silly to address a piece of paper. Eventually I transitioned to, "Dear Anja," my made-up friend. That didn't last long though, since I was quite aware I was writing to *no one*. And that felt really lonely.

Loneliness was my biggest barrier to journaling. I found I could write about events or dreams, but once I tried journaling my feelings I felt alone. It wasn't until years later, once I'd processed some of my loneliness in therapy, that I became much more willing to journal.

There are many other reasons journaling can be hard, for myself and others. I've collected a few of the most common ones to tackle below.

Lack of time

Our precious time is finite, and for many of us, there never seems to be enough. Whether you're working long hours, caregiving, socializing, or finding yourself busy with the endless number of things that need to get done – it can feel like there's always a lack of time.

There's a phrase I like, it goes, “you don't find time, you make time”. I used to find it jarring, since I frequently felt like things were happening to me. But over the years, I've grown to accept that time management is the key to good habits, not an infinite amount of it.

When I’m unintentional with my time, I find it quickly gets sucked up by whatever is around. Nowadays, I try my best to make time for what's really important. As my priorities shift and evolve, I find that I do "happen to have time" for what matters most.

If you struggle to find time to journal, I say start with only 5 minutes a day. You can pair it with something else, like journaling right after you brush your teeth, or during your morning coffee. Habit stacking is a great way to create room for a new habit. room for it. Habit formation often works better when you're consistent rather than exhaustive. So aiming to journal daily, no matter how little you write, can be a great foundation for building a habit.

Lack of ideas

I've seen a lot of people who are new to journaling struggle with not knowing what to journal about. It's rough, because unlike other hobbies, there isn't really an "official method to journaling". You can free write, follow guided prompts, or really place or write whatever you wish in a journal. How you journal is up to you.

This hangup may also come from perfectionism. You want to "do it right" or "get the most out of it". Maybe imperfect journaling sounds like a waste of time? Or maybe you get anxious thinking you're not "good at journaling". The truth is, there is no perfect in journaling. Everything you put on the page is something you created, and is beautiful because it represents you!

If you feel like you lack ideas for what to journal about or how exactly to journal, try this (journaling) exercise: make a list of things you want to get out of journaling. What are you hoping to accomplish?

If you simply feel inspired by seeing others, say that. If you want to feel better or sleep better, say that. Once you have your list of goals, make another list containing ideas for how you might accomplish your goals.


When you first start writing – especially if you're writing your deepest, innermost thoughts – vulnerability may come up as a blocker. It's often our subconscious thoughts that come to the surface while writing: ones that we aren’t necessarily aware we have.

I think vulnerability can be a deterrent, especially if you don't experience a lot of self-compassion. You may be judging your own thoughts and feelings and possibly wishing you didn't have them. This can manifest as avoidance.

If you struggle with vulnerability, try writing in a more compassionate way. You can imagine that you're reading a friend's journal entry (in lieu of your own) and then write what you would say. Do you sympathize with your friend? Do you judge your friend? If you find yourself feeling judgmental, why?


Beyond being vulnerable with yourself, you may feel vulnerable thinking about the possibility that someone finds and reads your journal. Depending on your living situation, it may not be possible to have 100% guaranteed privacy.

This is a tough situation, and I really feel for those of you who fear a violation of privacy. Whether your fears come from the judgement of others, potential consequences from a parent, or just a sense of having your inner world violated, those are all valid concerns. Deciding you’re going to journal despite your fears can require some creativity and bravery.

I think finding a safe place to store your journal is a good start. You can place it in a lockable container or a small safe. There are also journals sold online that have locks on them. Some journaling enthusiasts have written their own code language or they use an invisible pen to write, so that even if their writing is discovered, it can't be read.

Another option is to write a disclaimer at the beginning of your journal. Something like, "These pages are private. If you have found this journal, do not read ahead. Violating my privacy is an act of betrayal and will irreparably damage my trust in you."

Feeling lousy after journaling

I've heard of many people having a bad reaction to journaling, especially if they have traumatic memories or negative emotions that come up while writing. It's not easy to open your mind and reflect on everything and anything that comes out.

Many of us have certain emotions we're comfortable experiencing and expressing. It varies from person to person but it may include happiness, peace, anxiety or anger. On the flip side, there may be feelings that we're uncomfortable sitting with. This could include “positive emotions” like happiness and excitement, or “negative emotions” like envy, jealousy, rage, anxiety, or sadness.

If you find yourself sitting with a lot of difficult memories or feelings after you journal, it's possible that sitting alone with your thoughts isn't best for you. You may need to process it with a trusted friend or a mental health professional.

Alternatively, you may need a different direction in your writing. One study found that people who ruminated while writing sometimes reported feeling worse after journaling. One suggestion would be to stop ruminating and start asking yourself deeper questions about what you're writing. Why is it meaningful to you? What similar experiences have you had? What would be a better situation or feeling that you'd prefer to experience?

Like anything that's good for you, journaling can be hard at first. But keep in mind it's also a rewarding habit for many. Understanding why it’s so hard for you is the first step to creative problem-solving that might make it easier to journal.