Journaling can help you unravel complex emotions, thoughts, and feelings as you move toward action.
Let’s look at the benefits of journaling, various journaling styles, and how to build the habit of journaling into your life rhythms.
Is Journaling Good for You?
Journaling has been shown through multiple research studies to have significant benefits. Researchers have found that journaling improved study participants’ mental wellness by minimizing feelings of depression, helping lower high blood pressure, and boosting immune system function.
In one study, researchers followed a group of engineers laid off from their jobs. They asked some to journal about their emotions regarding the layoff. Others were asked to write about non-emotion-related topics such as time management. The remainder of the engineers served as the control group and didn’t write at all.
When they checked in seven months later, the researchers found that over half of the engineers who had journaled about their feelings received new positions.
That was three times the hiring rate of the other two groups, despite the participants in each group going to roughly the same number of interviews.
The researchers hypothesized that those who had worked through their anger and frustration regarding the layoff were better poised to make a good impression in an interview.
In another study, researchers found that journaling helped first-year university students improve their working memory, standardized test scores, and overall grades.
So whether you’re going through a rough patch at work, starting a new educational program, or struggling with your health, journaling can help you out.
40 Journaling Prompts
Sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper can feel intimidating. If you feel stuck, try one journaling prompt to get your thoughts flowing.
- What was the best part of your day?
- What are three things you hope to achieve this year?
- What is something simple that brings you joy?
- Write down three people you spend the most time with throughout the week, and think of one way you can show them your appreciation.
- What is your favorite personality trait in yourself?
- What is a memory you cherish?
- Where do you hope to be in five years?
- If you were still at your current job in three years, would you be excited or disappointed?
- Write down 20 bullet points describing what you would like your life to look like.
- Who do you feel most comfortable around?
- How would you describe yourself?
- What is something you appreciate about your upbringing?
- Describe a recent challenge you overcame.
- When was the last time you cried, and why were you sad?
- When you feel anxious, what is something that helps you feel centered?
- Describe the positive traits of someone you have a difficult relationship with.
- When were you last frustrated with someone, and why?
- What would your perfect day look like?
- When faced with a stressful situation, do you shut down, get short-tempered, or overthink things? Why do you think that is?
- What is your favorite food and why?
- What on your schedule can wait until next week to be taken care of?
- What is one thing you’ve been putting off doing for a while, and why are you avoiding it?
- Write a letter to your younger self. Are there parts of your life today that your younger self would be excited about? Are there ways you’ve changed or challenges you’ve overcome?
- What is one lesson you’ve learned in the past year?
- Which of my belongings are the most special to me and why?
- What is causing you to feel the way you do?
- Are there commitments in your life that you no longer enjoy but feel obligated to continue doing?
- What do you think about most these days?
- How do you feel about a certain situation, and what do you know to be factually accurate about that same situation?
- What is your favorite part of your daily routine, and why do you enjoy it so much?
- What needs do you have that you don’t meet in this season of life? Are there ways that you can work towards meeting those needs?
- How would you describe yourself to someone else?
- What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
- If you have children in the future, what is one thing you hope they learn from you or a characteristic of yours you hope they inherit?
- What is something new or exciting that you’ve learned in the past month?
- What character traits do you value most in other people (honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness, kindness, sense of humor…), and why is that something you value? Do you exemplify those characteristics?
- Describe a significant life event that shaped you into who you are today.
- Write a theoretical letter to someone you don’t see anymore. Describe how they impacted you and how you’ve grown since you last saw them.
- What is an opinion or belief you used to hold that you no longer agree with? What caused you to change your view?
- What is beauty, and why are people drawn to it?
For more questions, you can use as journaling inspiration, check out these 255 Philosophical Questions to Spark Deep Critical Thinking.
6 Different and Unique Ways to Journal
There are many different ways to approach journaling. Try out a few different approaches before you decide which one you resonate with most.
Remember, journaling is supposed to benefit you. Don’t stick with a method because others you know enjoy that approach or because you feel like you “should.”
For example, one day, you might have a lot of anxious thoughts racing through your mind. Try journaling with a flow-of-consciousness approach and see if you can find what is causing your anxiety to spike.
The next time you sit down to journal, you might be short on time and choose to take the one-word approach.
While different approaches work for different people, it might take a few tries for a new journaling style to click for you. Give it another shot before you write it off (pun intended).
#1 Gratitude Journal
In a gratitude journal, focus only on what you are grateful for in life. While you want to be careful not to be dismissive of life’s challenges, gratitude journals can help you realize that regardless of circumstances, there are always reasons to be thankful.
With a gratitude journal, you can experiment with various formats and approaches. One way to get started is by writing down 3 to 5 things you’re thankful for daily. Focusing on the good aspects of life has been shown to have many benefits for mental health and confidence.
For example, researchers found that gratitude journaling helped first-time university students adjust to dorm life within as little as 3 weeks!
Read Gratitude Journal: 35 Prompts, Templates, and Ideas to Start to learn about other scientifically backed benefits of gratitude journaling, get some tips on how to get started, and read one of Oprah’s gratitude journal entries.
#2 One-word journal
If you’re running short on time, try finding one word that captures how you’re feeling. This can help you be honest with yourself and name your emotions while not being an overwhelming time commitment.
If you have extra time, try finding your one word and then expanding on what contributes to you feeling that way.
Here are some examples of what that could look like:
- “Hesitant—As I head into work this morning, I’m a bit nervous to see what the dynamic will be with our new boss. I’m glad I met her last week, but I have no idea what to expect. Will she come in and try to make many changes all at once? That could be stressful. But she might also help the team iron out some of our differences and work together better than we currently are. I want to hope for the best, but I feel hesitant because I’ve seen leadership changes go poorly in past workplaces.”
- “Overwhelmed—I know I’m supposed to be excited about going home for the holidays, but I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed. I still have to take all my finals and don’t know when I will have time to pack. I also feel like I was just getting settled into a great dynamic with my roommate that I’m worried will change after a few weeks apart.”
- “Thrilled—I just found out that I landed the internship! It’s an amazing opportunity, and I’m excited about the prospect of learning in the context of a small startup. It will teach me a lot and help me decide if I want to start my own business after graduating. I didn’t expect to get it; I know how competitive internships are, so it’s affirming to know that all of my preparation paid off.”
Remember, if you’re running short on time, stick with one word! But sometimes, expanding on your word can help you process why you’re feeling that way as you work towards self-discovery.
#3 Bullet journal
Bullet journaling is a journaling approach where you can tailor the contents of your journal to your needs. Many people use it to combine their planner, journal, habit tracker, mood tracker, and goals all in one place.
It’s an excellent option for those who are artistic or enjoy being creative because you can design your spreads.
They can be a space to get creative, or you can keep a minimalist approach—whatever works for you!
In this video, Sadia Badiei, the creator of the YouTube channel, Pick Up Limes, shows her minimalist approach to bullet journaling.
Minimal bullet journal setup » for productivity + mindfulness
Badiei’s minimalist approach is less time intensive than a more creative design. But if it sounds fun to use a dozen different colored markers to design beautiful pages in your bullet journal, go for it!
A diary is a journal intended for data collection and progress tracking.
The terms journal and diary are sometimes used interchangeably, but they technically do have different purposes.
Diaries are typically intended for:
- Keeping track of the books, you have read for the year and jotting down a few thoughts about each one
- Logging what you did on any given day—this might be especially interesting while on vacation
- Tracking progress towards your goals
- Recording new recipes that you try and what you thought of them
Since a diary is more of a data collection, it may not have all the emotional benefits that journals offer. However, it can be encouraging to see your progress in different areas of life or have a log of special events or times.
#5 Flow of consciousness journaling
This is one of the most common approaches to journaling and what many people think of when someone talks about journaling. With this approach, you take a notebook and pen and start writing. Use the journal as a space to process how you’re feeling and define what your goals and priorities are moving forward.
Here’s an example of what flow of consciousness journaling could look like:
“I woke up today feeling overwhelmed. I don’t quite know why. Nothing huge has changed in life recently. I think I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure to make career advancements, but I feel like I just recently got settled into my current role. It took me so long to feel confident that I could be successful at my job. But I want to wait until a promotion or new position is something I want, rather than something I feel pressured to reach for.”
Some people find it challenging to start with a blank piece of paper and go from there. If you resonate with that, try using a prompt and see what happens.
You can also start by describing your day and noting any worries or joys. Try to be non-judgemental of yourself. Judgment is rarely the best way to move forward toward growth. Instead, let your journal be a space where you can be honest and recognize what you are experiencing.
#6 Video journaling
If sitting down with a pen and paper is not working for you, maybe video journaling would be a better fit!
Think of it as venting to yourself. Prop your phone up and start talking about what is on your mind. This could be a beneficial method for verbal processors or those who struggle with dyslexia or ADHD.
One downside to video journaling is that it doesn’t challenge you to slow down like writing your journal entry by hand.
Try combining methods—once you finish talking, pull out a notebook and write down your three biggest takeaways from what you talked about.
This allows you to verbally process most of what is on your mind while reaping the benefits of having a written log that you can reflect on.
How to Build a Daily Journaling Habit?
Building a habit of daily journaling follows similar principles to founding any habit. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses the primary components of habit building. The three main components are cue, routine, and reward.
Let’s talk about each of those!
Find your anchor
When you’re starting a new habit, it’s helpful to find something to anchor your habit to. Duhigg calls this anchor a cue. The goal is to find something that reminds you to pull out your journal and spend a few minutes writing.
Many people have their journaling anchor at a specific time of day. But this might not be the right fit for you! For example, if your work operates on a shift schedule or you are in school, and your schedule is different every day, it might be hard to have a routine anchor at a specific time.
An anchor can be anything from a time of day, set of events, or feeling.
Here are a few different ideas for anchors:
- Brewing a fresh cup of coffee first thing in the morning
- Crawling into your bed and unwinding from the day
- Going to a local coffee shop on the weekend to read and think
- Feeling overwhelmed and looking for a way to help yourself slow down
Pro Tip: It takes a while for new habits to get established. If you’re finding it hard to tie journaling to an anchor in your day, set a recurring reminder on your phone for the same time every day or week.
Set your routine
Find a comfortable, nice place to sit, pull out your journal, and start writing. You can set a nice ambiance by lighting a candle or finding a sunbeam to sit in. Do whatever helps you feel comfortable, and look forward to your journaling routine.
There are many different ways to journal. Try experimenting with different styles until you find what works for you!
Remember, while daily journaling is beneficial, adding something to your everyday schedule may sound overwhelming. If that’s the case, start with journaling once a week or once every couple of days.
Research shows that journaling for as little as two 15-minute sessions every week can significantly decrease levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility.
Another hindrance from journaling might be that you’re worried it will take too long—that’s valid! If that’s holding you back from journaling, set a timer and only let yourself write for 15 minutes. If that sounds like more than you can commit to, try doing a one-word journal or scribbling down three bullet points about what’s on your mind.
You can switch it up day-to-day, too! For example, if you enjoy journaling in the morning but oversleep one day, write down one word for that day.
Or, if you are trying to journal every Saturday, but your family goes camping for the weekend, pull out your journal and jot down three bullet points that you’re grateful for that day. You can get back to writing longer paragraphs another weekend!
Journaling as a habit intends to help you. Don’t get overly tangled up in what you feel you “should do” or what “others are doing.” Find the style that helps you.
Find your reward
You might find that the benefits of journaling are all the rewards you need. But long-term wellness benefits can be hard to appreciate at the moment. If that’s the case, find a reward that will help motivate you to journal.
For example, if you have a book you’re itching to read, you could tell yourself that you’ll wait and read until after you’ve journaled for 10 minutes.
Or, you could get a bar of your favorite chocolate from the grocery store and only eat it while journaling.
Try treating yourself to a facemask and a nice bath after journaling or having a special candle that you only light while writing.
Sometimes, just being able to check something off your to-do list is motivation enough to get it done. If so, add journaling to your list of tasks for the day, and then enjoy the sweet reward of checking off that box.
How to Journal for Therapy?
Journaling can have a therapeutic effect, as it is a place to write unfiltered thoughts and feelings. Let yourself write transparently in your journal and see how that impacts you.
For some people, this may be challenging. Finding words to express your feelings may be hard depending on your childhood or the values in your household of origin.
If you find that to be the case, start by making observations about a situation. Then, think about how you feel in light of those facts. Sometimes seeing it written out in front of you can give you the time and space to recognize how you think about the situation.
If you have a therapist, feel free to discuss with them what you wrote about in your journal. This can be an excellent way to keep track during the week of what your mind is on or notice how you feel about a particular situation on various days—instead of just while you’re in their office.
Final Thoughts: Journal in a Way That Benefits You
Journaling can have many benefits, but not every approach will work for every person. You may even find that in different seasons of life, different approaches help you more than others.
Be open to trying new things and finding what is most helpful to you in a given moment.
Here are some general principles to keep in mind as you build a daily journaling habit:
- Find your habit loop. The three pillars of building habits are to find a cue that will signal a routine that ends with a reward. Your anchor could be sitting on the bus on your way home from work, right after you wake up on a Saturday morning, or a notification on your phone as you’re getting ready for bed. The routine is journaling. Finally, the reward can be a beautiful notebook, mental clarity, or your favorite snack!
- Experiment with various journaling methods. There is no right or wrong way to journal. Try multiple approaches and see what helps you the most. You can also switch between different approaches depending on what you have the capacity for that day.
- Be kind to yourself. One challenging aspect of naming emotions and, over time, recognizing patterns is that it can be easy to become frustrated or discouraged with yourself. Try to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend if they told you about their feelings. Recognizing your weaknesses allows you to grow.
- Pay attention to how journaling is helping you. One of the most motivating aspects of starting a new habit is when you begin to see its benefits of it. Pay attention to how you feel as you start journaling. Do you feel more mental clarity? Do you have a stronger sense of what you want to accomplish in your life? Are you having more intentional conversations with loved ones? These are all amazing benefits that can come from journaling. Pay attention to how journaling helps you in the unique season of life you’re in.
Journaling is a great habit to establish! If you’re interested in establishing other helpful habits, check out this article where 10 C-Level Executives Share Their Habits For Success.