At this time of year, most of us have a laundry list of self-improvement projects to be completed in 2016.

Whether your goals involve greater mindfulness, healthier relationships or better self-esteem, writing in a journal can be a powerful tool.

A journal provides an opportunity for self-reflection, goal-tracking or recording the ebb and flow of emotions.

Psychotherapy clients can use a journal as a bridge between sessions, maintaining daily awareness of treatment issues and providing excellent data for subsequent therapy appointments.

Journals can take a variety of forms. Some of us are “old school” and prefer to use pen on paper. Others prefer a digital journal kept on a PC or laptop, somewhat akin to a personal blog.

Others utilize smart-phone capabilities and record a series of voice memos, available anytime, anywhere.

The format one chooses is purely personal.

Journaling is powerful because it reflects your commitment to personal growth and to making reflection a part of one’s day.

Here are some tips for getting started.

  • Suspend judgment: Adopt a curious and nonjudgmental attitude toward your entries. Remember that this is for your personal growth, not to be sent to a publisher.
  • Establish a routine: Try to make a place in your daily routine for your journal entry. It can take as little as 5 minutes, but still needs to be a priority. If daily journaling sounds overwhelming, plan to check in two to three times per week. Remember that consistency is key.
  • Be honest: If you want to collect good data, you have to be honest with yourself. Try to state your goal or focus area at the start of each entry, and then proceed to honestly assess your current progress. This might be a place where you’ll need to remember the first tip (be nonjudgmental.)
  • Give yourself credit: Every time you make a journal entry, give yourself a pat on the back. Regardless of the entry’s content, you just “showed up” for yourself, and that deserves recognition.

Journaling is one of those “small steps” practices, where growth needs time to emerge.

Journaling can be used to track progress toward fitness goals, to process mental health issues, or to document one’s journey toward compassion and self-awareness.

Make this inexpensive and flexible tool your own. If consistently utilized, your journal practice can yield many valuable rewards and insights.

Maria Malcolm Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate at Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry.