Journaling - It doesn't have to be the same old 'diary' technique.

A number of alternative journaling ideas and prompts that may be helpful to find clarity or be cathartic.

Michelle Keir-Sanderson

2/13/20244 min read

When we think of "journaling", we usually envision writing out pages of ponderings and troubles, typically at the prompt of a therapist. But journaling can be so much more than that. It can be structured - direct, time bound and focused.

Below are a number of journaling ideas and prompts that may be helpful to find clarity and/or be cathartic. Start with picking those that you feel comfortable in doing, and gradually move towards those that will challenge you to think more deeply.

13 Journaling Exercises to get you started.

  • Journaling with Photographs: Choose personal photographs and spend time writing responses to the below questions about the photographs.
    “What do you feel when you look at these photos?”
    “What do you want to say to the people, or say about the things, in these photos?”

  • Letter Writing: Write a letter to someone about issues you are experiencing. You can choose to write to anyone, including people you know, parts of yourself, or someone you have lost. To give an example, a person may write a letter to a deceased parent to tell them what they are going through, or to a body part they don’t like.

  • Timed Journal Entries: Pick a general topic and then allot a set amount of time (5-10 minutes) to write about it. (See the 'Question Prompts' below for topic ideas). A helpful technique to use when you have difficulty focusing your thoughts.

  • Sentence Stems: Open-ended sentence stems in involve exploring your answers fully.
    ‘The thing I am most worried about is…’
    ‘I have trouble sleeping when…’
    ‘My happiest memory is…’

  • Dialogue: Write a dialogue between two people on a particular issue/topic. This process can increase awareness about a psychological struggle or supply alternative perspectives about it. For example, the person may construct a conversation between his/her child self and his/her current or future self; or write a conversation between yourself and someone significant (parent, child, spouse, best friend, deceased person, teacher..)

  • Strengths and Weaknesses: Make a list of 3 qualities you have that you consider weaknesses, then explore how these so-called weaknesses might be recast as strengths. For instance, if you believe micromanagement is a weakness of yours, it could also mean that you’re organized and responsible.

  • Time for Joy: List 3 activities that bring you joy. Expand on each activity, describing a recent time when you fully engaged in it.

  • Connect to Your Loved Ones: Write a letter to your loved ones. What is on your mind and in your heart that you find hard to express in real life?

  • Practice Gratitude: List 5 things that you are grateful for — people, positive experiences past or current, places, material items — then expand on each one, describing it/him/her in detail, perhaps at a particular moment in time.

  • Your Deepest Why: Investigate your deepest ‘why’ —the real reason why you want the things you want and do the things you do. Start with the question -

    • “What about _________ is important to me?”

    • With that answer, you ask again ‘What about __________is important to me?’

    • Repeat the process up to seven times.

  • List of 100: List 100 items that relate to a chosen theme or topic. This process will most likely result in the repetition of certain items or patterns. Examples of list prompts include 100 Things that Make Me Sad, 100 Reasons to Wake Up in the Morning, 100 Things I Love, or 100 Things I Want To Do With My Life.

  • The Brain Dump: when you have perhaps allowed your brain to become too cluttered; when you’ve been handling a series of stressful events, and/or haven’t been taking the time to process your wants, needs or feelings. Make a list, in bullet point form, of everything getting you down right now – the things niggling you; commitments and deadlines you need to remember; annoying things or thoughts, and generally just anything cluttering up space in your head that would be better off out of there.

  • Emotional State Dive: Write about a moment when you felt a particular emotion and how you physically experienced it. Were your palms sweating? Was your heart racing or head throbbing?

Question Prompts

  • What is the hardest thing you have ever done? Why was it hard for you? Did you learn from the experience?

  • What are 5 fears you have discarded as you have matured?

  • What have your dreams been like lately? Write down the ones you remember.

  • What 7 things would you add to your bucket list?

  • Finish this sentence: "My life would be incomplete without....... "

  • Name 3 thoughts that made you smile today.

  • Write about the best decision you ever made. How did you make it? Reasoning or gut instinct?

  • What ONE thing would you change about your life? How would your life be different?

  • Name 3 things that you learned today.

  • Who do you trust most? Why?

  • Name 3 things that are working well in your current relationship? Can you describe 3 things that could be better?

  • What do you most want your children (or future children) to learn from you?

  • Name 3 things you would like others (loved ones, potential friends and partners, professional acquaintances, etc.) to know about you?

  • What do you fear most? Have your fears changed throughout life?

Downloadable eBook - JOURNALING - Self Reflection and Discovery

Downloadable eBook - 10 Proven Methods for Overcoming ANXIETY

Downloadable eBook -10 Proven Approaches for Conquering STRESS