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If you're deciding what to journal about, there are plenty of different ideas and approaches you can use. Here we'll find out how to journal in a way that works for you.
If you're just faced with a blank journal and no idea why you're doing it, then your journal will feel like an extra job of work and you will come to dread it.
On the other hand, if you are journaling to accomplish something (for example to understand yourself better) then your journal will become a valuable asset to you which will really help you move forward in life.
So first you need to know why you want to journal. Even if it's just that you've been given a journal as a gift and you now want to use it, or perhaps you've heard about all the benefits of journaling and want to try it, that's fine. One of the reasons in the next section will resonate with you - find it.
Identify YOUR reason for journaling
Everyone is different and your reason for journaling might be different to your neighbor's. Before deciding what to journal about, first make sure you know why you're journaling. Common reasons are:
- Therapeutic, self-care or gratitude journal - to understand your mood, to practice gratitude and to get feelings out
- Self-discovery - for reflection, to understand yourself and your personality
- Creativity and ideas - putting new ideas of yours down on paper, whether it's about a new craft project, new academic project, home improvement idea, sketching, or creative writing
- Scheduling and to-do's - similar to a planner, but with a bit more scope for longer-range thoughts and ideas
- Diary or life journal - a record of your day to day experiences
- Don't know or not from your own choice - you don't actually want to journal but have to do it as part of a course or as a type of homework, or you just don't have a reason yet
Hopefully you were able to identify a reason from the list above (or another reason you came up with that's not on the list).
Great! Now you know why you are journaling. Let's move on to what to journal about. If you don't already have a journal, you might like to take a look at these awesome personalized journals on Etsy.com.
Journal entry ideas
Here we'll cover how to journal based on your reason for journaling. The important thing is to keep it flexible. If you're having trouble being consistent, try an approach from one of the other reasons, whether it's for a day, a week or just here and there. A journal shouldn't feel like yet another unwanted task in your day - if it does, that's a sign you need to try one of the other approaches from the list below.
Here is what to write in a journal.
Therapeutic, self-care or gratitude journal
For those journaling for therapeutic reasons or as a self-care or gratitude journal, I recommend keeping track of your mood and emotions each day as well as things that happened that were out of the ordinary. For example, you could fill out all of the following items every day as your daily journal entry:
- At the moment, my mood is ______
- I had ___ hours of sleep last night
- Any unusual or exciting things that happened today (and yesterday after my last entry): ______
- Here are any big emotions I had, whether positive or negative, and what these related to: ________
- The people I saw or talked to today: ______
- Right now I am grateful for ______
- I feel like I have a better handle on ______
- Notes and other things _____
Of course, you don't have to follow this exact journal entry example, but it's a great starter approach for this type of journal. Besides reaping the benefits of the process of journaling, you'll also gain the advantage of being able to look back and see how you've answered these questions a week ago, 2 weeks ago, a month ago, and so on. This is a wonderful way of charting your progress.
If you're journaling for self discovery, you'll want to pose yourself some questions and answer them. Just stick with one question per day. If a question needs a longer answer than you have time for, it's OK - you can take 2 days (or longer) to write it down. It's not a race to answer the question in the fastest amount of time! Let's get to the prompts: I highly recommend these self-discovery prompts from Psych Central.
Creativity and ideas
Even if you literally have no ideas right this minute, here are some great prompts and ideas for journal entries that will soon have your creative juices flowing! I keep a creativity and idea journal and I can attest it's a huge help.
In this type of journal, remember that you will likely wind up with drawings, diagrams, flow charts, poetry or bullet points in your pages instead of paragraphs of writing. Don't expect yourself to come up with essay-style writing in a creativity and idea journal. If you do, that's fine, but that won't be the most usual or natural output from this type of journal.
Here are some journal entry ideas. Try out any prompt on any day. Some prompts could be repeated more frequently, while others will come around less often (for example the goal setting prompt - too much goal setting can backfire and stress you out).
- Brainstorm any new skills I need to learn or courses I should take (this does not need to be formal education; it can be learning something from YouTube. This can include life skills, crafts, a new language, and so on - any type of skill). ________
- Do a quick brainstorm of some new projects I could do in one of my existing fields of skill, even if the project requires additional learning on my part: _______
- Random doodle
- Flesh out details for one of my new project ideas from a previous entry in this journal _____
- Remember that sometimes a not-immediately-exciting idea or project, when carried out really well, can be an amazing thing that can outclass some of the more innovative things out there. Are there any projects or ideas I could implement that fall into this category of a simple idea executed well? _________
- In progress - here is a quick and brief summary of where things are at (what's going well, what's not) with this project that's in progress: _____
- I want to write down a goal. I'd like to either: [create something tangible / write a computer program / learn a specific skill so I can perform at a beginner level without constantly referring to the instructions / hold a very basic conversation in a new language / other goal] by this date _____. I have set the date realistically (it's not a stretch goal) and understand it's OK if I need to push the date back. This is a personal goal and not a job of work with a formal deadline.
- Words that mean something to me
- Pick a category to jot down people whose work you admire, either writers, artists, musicians, or some other category. You don't have to explain why you admire their work, you probably already know!
- Pick a project of yours (it can be a partially formed idea that was brainstormed quickly, or a fully-fleshed out idea or a current project you're working on). My project: ______ If it could look or feel like any piece of music, what piece of music would that be? ______
- Are there any projects in any of my previous journal entries that I want to start soon? If so, which one(s) and is there anything I still need to think about or can I just go ahead and start? _____
Scheduling and to-do's
For a journal that's all about keeping your organized, I recommend dividing your daily entry page into 3 sections:
- a to-do list for the day
- a meeting or appointment list
- notes, for example some less urgent reminders
You can get something pre-made that works for you, saving you from having to section off each page as you go. I recommend the Eric Condren planners at https://www.erincondren.com/ for this purpose because they're available in a variety of formats to suit you.
Diary or life journal
A diary or life journal records the events of your day and what happened to you personally. It's not a planner where you record what's going to happen. So in a life journal or diary, you'd record the following:
- Things you did today
- Anything out of the ordinary that happened
- People you saw today
- Feelings and emotions you had that day
- Meetings and appointments you had
- Anything particularly beautiful or interesting or noteworthy
- Meaningful words that day - whether spoken by someone, or in a book you're reading
Of course, it's up to you what you want to include or leave out. But you don't want it to be so mundane that every entry says "got up, ate breakfast, went to work... ". This is why I've tried to emphasize the things that made that day unique, such as things out of the ordinary, your feelings, and so on. You'll find this particularly rewarding when you look back.
Don't know why you're journaling, or not from own choice
If you are in the position of keeping a journal but you don't have a personally motivating reason, then I'd highly recommend trying each of the approaches above in turn, a day at a time, until you decide which one you like best.
Alternatively, just keep rotating between these in turn to make it interesting! For example, on day 1 you'd try a therapeutic journal entry, on day 2 you'd do a self-discovery entry, on day 3 you'd go for a creativity and ideas one, and so on. You'll either find an approach that sticks for you, or if not, at least you won't get bored by rotating between them. If you're wondering how to start a journal and keep it going over time, this is one of the easiest ways to do it.
You'll never be short of things to write in a journal when you follow the guide above. You may also like to take a look at our article on cute journal ideas for productivity and self-discovery.