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7 Journaling Ideas to Try

Get some journaling ideas to help you better understand yourself, reach your goals, and improve your life.


  1. Freewrite

Perhaps the most common journaling technique is called freewriting. When you freewrite, you just write about whatever comes to your mind. Try to keep writing even when your mind wanders off, and don't worry about grammar, spelling, or a storyline. Freewriting may be a good technique to use when doing a daily journal, at least to get the thoughts flowing and overcome the inertia of the blank page.

  1. Write down affirmations

Affirmations are positive statements, usually about yourself (e.g., "I have the power to change" or "I am enough"). We can use affirmations to shift our mindset and focus more on the positive. Affirmations are a good practice to do daily (or at least frequently). By doing so, you may be able to make these positive thoughts automatic (Paulhus & Coue, 1993). That is, you won't have to do the affirmations anymore; your mind will just think these thoughts on its own.

  1. Write a to-do list

Try to be thoughtful about what you want to get done, what you'll actually have time for, and then make yourself a list. At the end of the day, come back to the list and cross off the things you completed. At the very least, this practice can help you better understand what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. At best, it'll give you a sense of satisfaction for having made a plan and succeeded in completing it. This may be one potential way to boost self-efficacy—or the belief in our own ability to do or achieve what we set our minds to (Schunk & Pajares, 2009).

  1. Try expressive writing

Research suggests that writing about emotional experiences can result in improvements in mental and physical health. One study showed that 15-30 minutes of daily journaling for 3-5 days was enough to improve health. The researchers suggest this may be because when we disclose important things we haven't told anyone, it releases the burden of keeping these secrets all to ourselves (Pennebaker, 1997). But, keep in mind that bringing traumatic memories to the surface can be difficult and the benefits of doing so may be fairly small (Travagin, Margola, & Revenson, 2015) so this may not be the right journaling approach for everyone.

  1. Try reflective journaling

Reflective journaling is used to chronicle our internal processes (Hubbs & Brand, 2005).

  • Begin by writing an objective description of an experience you had.

  • Then, reflect on the experience. Ask yourself, what was your subjective experience? How did you feel? What do you think about it?

  • Explore the meaning of the experience. Ask yourself, what do you think the experience means? How might it affect you now or in the future?

  • Lastly, ask yourself whether you learned anything additional from reflecting on this experience. Do you have any new interpretations or a better understanding of the experience?

Reflective journaling is thought to aid experiential learning (Hubbs & Brand, 2005), and it may help us process difficult events so that we can move forward more effectively.

  1. ​Try writing a self-compassion letter

Self-compassion can help us feel better about ourselves. To write yourself a self-compassion letter, start by thinking of some parts of yourself that you are critical of. Then, try talking to yourself about those parts in a compassionate way. How would you talk to a friend about these things? How would you ensure them that they are lovable despite these things? In this letter, just write a kind and supportive letter to yourself (Shapira & Mongrain, 2010).

  1. Try bullet & dot journaling

Bullet journaling and dot journaling have become very popular in recent years. Basically, these techniques involve making a lot of bulleted lists that vary from functional to artistic (Ayobi, Sonne, Marshall, & Cox, 2018). Given this is a new journaling technique, there isn't a ton of research on it. But, initial and related research would suggest it likely offers at least some benefits. One study suggested that bullet journaling helps creators to gain holistic and novel views of their life, reflect on life trajectories, appreciate the imperfect world, and resist a culture of super-efficiency (Tholander & Normark, 2020). One study showed that people use bullet journals to track a wide variety of things including:

  • fitness activities (e.g., running, weight lifting, meditation)

  • food and nutrition (e.g., water, veggies, home cooking)

  • bedtime routines (e.g., up at 7am, nap time, bed by 11)

  • hygiene (e.g., shower, wash face am and pm)

  • social activities (e.g., phone calls, go out)

  • hobbies (e.g., reading, Nintendo, piano)

  • health (e.g., period, symptoms)

  • medication intake (e.g., drugs, vitamins)

  • mood (e.g., tired, happy)

  • resolutions (e.g., no junk food, no spending, no alcohol, no smoking, no tech after 11pm)

  • personal development (e.g., creativity, productivity, compassion, courage; Ayobi, Sonne, Marshall, & Cox, 2018, pg. 4)

References

  • ​​​​Ayobi, A., Sonne, T., Marshall, P., & Cox, A. L. (2018, April). Flexible and mindful self-tracking: Design implications from paper bullet journals. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-14).

  • ​Hubbs, D. L., & Brand, C. F. (2005). The paper mirror: Understanding reflective journaling. Journal of Experiential Education, 28(1), 60-71.

  • Paulhus, D. L., & COUÉ, E. (1993). Bypassing the will: The automatization of affirmations. JMS, 4, 1.​

  • Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological science, 8(3), 162-166.​

  • Schunk, D. H., & Pajares, F. (2009). Self-efficacy theory. Handbook of motivation at school, 35-53.

  • Shapira, L. B., & Mongrain, M. (2010). The benefits of self-compassion and optimism exercises for individuals vulnerable to depression. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 377-389.

  • Tholander, J., & Normark, M. (2020, April). Crafting Personal Information-Resistance, Imperfection, and Self-Creation in Bullet Journaling. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-13).

  • Travagin, G., Margola, D., & Revenson, T. A. (2015). How effective are expressive writing interventions for adolescents? A meta-analytic review. Clinical psychology review, 36, 42-55.​

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