The Power of Journaling & Self-Reflection

From a very early age, I journaled daily. I can still remember launching myself toward the journal and diaries section of every bookstore that I ever visited because of my love for recounting my thoughts and feelings on paper. If I still had them, I'm sure that I'd be embarrassed by my mundane content and giddy descriptions of my days spent watching Price is Right and throwing tennis balls up against my house.


But that type of journaling isn't exactly what we are talking about today. Instead, by journaling, we mean 'reflective journaling'.


A reflective journal helps you analyze your professional and personal growth. By keeping a record of your ideas, reasons, actions, techniques, and assessments, you can plan for your future and facilitate a positive outcome. Reflection is defined as “the process of stepping back from an experience to ponder, carefully and persistently, its meaning to the self through the development of inferences; learning is the creation of meaning from past or current events that serves as a guide for future behavior.” (Daudelin, 1996).

Having an established writing practice has been shown to lower stress and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Journaling can be used as a tool to extinguish imprudent and negative thoughts from minds pre-disposed to depressive attitudes.


And, it's just fun. Why don't you try it?


In this article:

  • I'll discuss three additional benefits of developing a reflective journaling habit.

  • I'll share three steps for starting a reflective journaling habit today.

  • I'll offer 20 writing prompts to help you get started journaling.


Three Benefits of Reflective Journaling


1) You Can Express Yourself Freely.

If you think about it, there are very few cases in life where we are free to express exactly what we think and feel at any given moment. There is always a risk of hurting someone's feelings or being misunderstood. But not while journaling. When you are writing, you are in your own space. Your journaling practice can be private - an experience solely between yourself and the pages of your notebook. Releasing your built-up emotions and physical tensions is so important to maintaining a healthy mental state.


2) Gain a Better Perspective on Your Emotions by Looking Back.

There are so many times in my life when I wish I could have benefited from the hindsight that I would gain in the future. By journaling, you can do just that! You can look back at old entries and read what your own honest thoughts and feelings were 'in the moment'. You can think about all that has happened between the date of your writing and now. Were your initial feelings, intentions, desires, etc. warranted? Were they exaggerated? How far have you come since then? What do you wish you'd known then that you know now? You'll learn a lot about yourself and how you see the world around you by keeping a record of your thoughts and feelings.


3) Journaling Helps you Regulate your Emotions.

Often it takes a few minutes to write out exactly what you want to say. And while you may feel it is tedious or a 'waste of time' at moments, this time-intensive process is actually part of what makes reflective journaling such a powerful practice. Instead of bursting into a fit of anger, you are forced to regulate your emotions and try to make enough sense of them to be able to get them out on paper. Sometimes, even physically writing down your feelings in the moment gives you the perspective you need.



Have I missed any?
Tweet Anne @annevangessel0 to share other benefits
of reflective journaling.
 


How to Start a Reflective Journaling Habit


1) Choose Your Medium - Electronic or Paper?

Decide whether you'd rather keep an electronic or paper journal. There are perks to both, so choose wisely. By electronic journal, we mean a journaling app on your phone or device that allows you to submit voice memos and typed entries. The main benefit here is convenience - you can create a new entry anytime, anywhere.

If you'd rather go old-school and buy a paper journal, you can benefit from a (in my opinion) more relaxing experience that does not increase your daily screen time.


2) Choose A Time

The hardest part of starting a journaling habit is being consistent. Often times when I start a new habit, I will do it for a few days and by day four or five, I will have forgotten. Now, this is fine, as long as you only forget for a few days and then start up again. But you will not gain the sustained mental strength or benefits if you give up after just a few entries. The best way to be consistent with your new habit is to pick a time of day that you dedicate for journaling. Think about which time of day you have the most time to yourself, and when your mind is not full of other stressful things. You want your journaling time to be relaxing. Commit it into your schedule, and try to keep it as part of your daily routine.


3) Choose A Place

In order to get the most out of journaling, aim to journal in a place that will be relaxing, free of distractions, and quiet. You want a space with just the right amount of light, comfortable furniture, and good airflow. If all of these features are apparent in your writing space, you'll be more apt to keep your habit, get the most out of your time, and feel refreshed after every entry.



 

20 Writing Prompts to Get You Started


1) Today I am grateful for....

2) Today I surprised myself by....

3) The most challenging part of today was....and I dealt with it by....

4) If someone described me today, they'd say....

5) I am feeling....because....

6) I learned something today about....

7) Today I had a new perspective on.....

8) Today (blank person) said something really interesting....and I thought....

9) I am worried about....

10) Today I looked in the mirror and thought....

11) Today I wanted to get done....

12) I'm happy that....

13) I'm disappointed about....

14) I really want to help (blank person) with....

15) I was glad I was able to....

16) Today I used my strengths and abilities by....

17) I felt peace today when....

18) If I could do today over, I would....

19) Today my body feels....

20) My favorite thing about myself today was....


 

Thanks for reading. As always, if you have any questions or
comments we'd love to hear from you. Email us at annevangesselauthor@gmail.com or tweet Anne @annevangessel0

 


References

Daudelin, M. W. (1996). Learning through experience through reflection. Organizational Dynamics, 24(3), 38–48


Lepore, S. J. (1997). Expressive writing moderates the relation between intrusive thoughts and depressive symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1030-1037.


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