If you’re feeling stuck—whether it’s in your personal or professional life—journaling can help close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
“Journaling helps us to clarify thoughts and feelings, reduce stress, solve problems and helps to resolve disagreements with others, says Janet Philbin, LCSW. “In my 21-year practice as a clinician, I have found journaling to help my clients improve coping skills, maintain emotional regulation, decrease worrisome and obsessive thoughts, improve sleep and journaling allows for integration of traumatic experiences.”
When you sit down to start journaling, the words might not always flow onto the page, and that’s completely normal! If you’re unsure what to write, Philbin recommends the following prompts:
Journal a list of five things you did today that brought you joy and write down why.
Journal a list of five things that upset you today and write down why.
Sit still for a moment and journal how your body is feeling at this moment in time, use as much description as possible.
What are you afraid to speak out loud but wish people knew about you?
What was one thing you felt proud of yourself for today?
If you were to say one thing to yourself that is loving what would that be and why do you need to hear that?
What is something you have always believed about yourself and why?
What is something you always felt you wanted to accomplish and what has held you back?
Imagine your perfect day and write down all of the details.
What TV or movie characters do you most identify with? Write as many details as possible.
Mary Potter Kenyon, certified grief counselor and Therapeutic Art coach, program coordinator at a spirituality center and author of Expressive Writing for Healing: Journal Your Way from Grief to Hope, suggests these journaling prompts to raise your self-awareness and heal emotionally.
Make a list of all the lies you tell yourself. Now go down the list, cross out the lie and write the truth.
Everyone has a story to tell. What’s yours?
Author Lewis Carroll marked never-to-be-forgotten days in his journal as “white-stone” days. What are some white-stone memories in your days?
Without thinking about it too much, make a list of ten milestone moments in your life from birth to now, moments, good or bad, that stood out. Now, take one of those moments and write more about it.
You don’t have to be a writer to express yourself through writing. When the writing is for ourselves, and not for publication, there are no rules. Try writing a free verse poem. It doesn’t have to rhyme, nor does it have to follow a certain format.
What have you learned about yourself in facing difficult situations? Maybe you are stronger, or weaker, than you ever imagined. Make a list of your strengths.
You are going to feel emotional pain during difficult experiences. That is a given. The question is; what are you going to do with that pain? Will you use it to propel you do make changes in your life, to become a better person, or to reach out to others? Write down some ways you can mine your pain.
Research has proven that practicing gratitude has health benefits. Make a list of three things you are thankful for. Some days, it might be as simple as a smile from a stranger.
If time or money were no object, make a bucket list of sorts, a list of all the things you’d like to do or experience in your life. Now, choose one, and make plans to do it,
Look back to your childhood. What were you naturally drawn to? Where did your natural interests and talents lie? Make a list of activities you loved as a child. Now, choose one and make plans to incorporate that same activity into your adult life.
Fill in the blank with these simple yet powerful prompts from Alexander Burgemeester, Neuropsychiatrist and Founder of “The Narcissistic Life:”
I couldn’t imagine living without…
I really wish others knew this about me…
One thing I wish I felt comfortable doing is...
What I loved most about today is...
The biggest surprise of my life in the past year has been...
The biggest lesson from my biggest mistake, so far, is...
What inspires me most is...
I feel happiest when...
My biggest disappointment in life so far has been...
If I could do anything tomorrow, it would be...
Angela Amias, holistic psychotherapist and co-founder of Alchemy of Love offers a variety of prompts to support your personal development:
Write about something that happened recently that’s been on your mind. Describe the details of what happened and also describe how you felt about what happened. Research shows that this is a highly effective way of processing emotions about our experiences.
Write a letter to your past self, at a time when you were facing a problem you didn’t know how to solve, from the perspective of your current self, who has successfully resolved this problem.
When you’re facing a challenge you don’t know how to respond to, write an encouraging letter from the perspective of your future self to your present day self.
Choose something in your life that you appreciate and spend five minutes writing about it. You can write about a person, an experience, or anything else in your life that you appreciate. This process of savoring has been shown to boost mood and reduce depression.
Write a thank you letter to someone who has been influential in your life.
Write about a memory of a meaningful experience in your life. Recall as many details as you can, including sense details (sights, smells, sounds, etc.) as well as how you felt at the time.
Write a list of ten things you appreciate about yourself.
Write about a wish you have for the future, no matter how unrealistic it feels to you right now. Describe it in detail.
Spend five minutes making a list of everything you appreciate about your life, including both small things and big things. For each item, write about why you appreciate it.
Write about this moment right now. Try to capture the moment in words. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? What’s happening in your life currently? How are you feeling?
Board Certified Clinical Psychologist Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP recommends these journaling prompts to learn more about who you are and improve your overall well-being:
What have you learned about yourself lately?
What are you struggling to get over? How are you contributing to your own experience of this issue?
What are you most grateful for in your life?
What do you wish was different about your life? What steps can you take to get there?
What do you appreciate about your body?
Who do you most admire in your life? Why?
How has the pandemic positively affected your life?
What do you wish you could communicate to someone else about who you are that they don’t understand?
What advice would you give someone else about what matters most in life?
What is one difficult reality that you have overcome? How did you do it?
Danielle Massi, LMFT provides prompts that will promote self-reflection:
If I woke up tomorrow and my life was perfect, what would my day look like?
Based on my experience today, how can I make tomorrow feel even better?
If I could choose one thing to change about my life, what would it be and why?
If I had no fear of consequences, what big risk would I be willing to take to make my life better?
What is one thing that happened today that I feel really proud of?
What is my big dream for my life, and what steps can I take to get there?
If money wasn't an issue, how would I spend my days?
How do I know when I'm taking care of my body?
How do I know when I'm taking care of my mind?
How do I know when I'm taking care of my soul?
Ash Blanton, Ed.S, LPC uses these prompts with his clients:
Where did I feel the most connection today?
When Ddd I feel the most disconnected from myself and others?
What did I need to hear the most today but didn’t hear it?
What do I need most in this moment?
To feel whole, I need to...
I can take care of myself by...
One small thing I can do for myself is...
What caused my emotions to rise today?
Right now, I am feeling ... and some reasons are...
If I fast forwarded to thirty days from now, what would I tell myself?
Clarice Fangzhou Hassan, AAPI female psychotherapist suggests these prompts to help you get started:
What are you experiencing right now in your body?
Very often when we do not know where to start for a self-reflection, trying to be aware of your somatic experience can be surprisingly helpful!
If you can travel back in time, what do you wish you can tell yourself?
Time traveling questions are fun but at the same time insightful to play with!
If you are dying tomorrow, what does that mean to you?
Existential questions are timeless classics to look into...
What are you paying attention to at this very moment? You might surprise yourself on this topic! You thought you were paying attention to your work or your spouse's text message—but in reality you might be paying attention to the bird chirping outside of the window!
If you are thinking freely, what about this detail here and now is grabbing your attention? Does it have any special meanings to you?
How are you different from others?
What does it mean to you that you are different from others?
Can you still love each other when you are so different?
What does writing a journal mean to you?
If you do not have any prompts for journaling, maybe you are struggling on this question. You need to know what it means to you to journal in the first place—and it's okay that your answer is different from your therapist's!
What are the very important qualities of yourself you need to hold on to?
If you can learn a new language, what is that and why do you want to do it?
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