How to Start a Journal when You’re Not Sure What to Write

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My first foray into journaling involved a lock and key teddy-bear notebook and entries that began with “dear diary.” As a fifth grader, I mostly wrote about the events of my elementary school days, with occasional reflections of drama on the playground. As I entered middle and then high school, my journaling became more of a life line, a place where I was free to express whatever was on my mind, to give voice to the angst and isolation I often felt as a teenager who didn’t quite fit in. These entries were not pretty, and I filled page after page, finding release, if not resolve, within the crisp, lined paper.

My journaling became more intermittent as the years went by, but it’s something I’ve always come back to in times of transition and upheaval. It’s also become a place to put into practice those things I often talk about with my clients – self-care and compassion, a space for reflecting on those things in life for which I’m grateful. Recently, I’ve had several clients express an interest in starting to journal – or coming back to it after many years – but they’re not quite sure where to begin. Below are a few suggestions I’ve given to clients as well as prompts I’ve used for myself when experiencing writer’s block.

Journaling to Track Your Mood

Many of my clients use their journal to track mood changes and thought patterns that occur throughout the week. I’ve had several clients express that it’s helpful to jot down what they’re feeling, and what’s on their mind on a daily basis, and consider the impact of things like sleep, exercise and relationships on their mood. Journaling in this way can be a helpful tool for paying attention to the connection between external events, thoughts and emotions that can be further explored in therapy.

Journaling to Get to Know Yourself Better

A journal can be a great outlet for exploring your self-image and perception. You might consider prompts such as:

-What makes me happy?

-What are my greatest strengths?

-What do I struggle with?

-What are my biggest hopes for the future? My biggest fears?

 

You can also use your journal to explore experiences from your past that have shaped who you are today. You may even want to consider writing a letter from your past self to your present self, or vice versa. Alternately, you could explore writing a letter to an important person from your past.

Journaling to Cultivate Gratitude

You may have heard that practicing gratitude is beneficial to your mental health. Research has shown that people who regularly take time to consider what they’re thankful for are less depressed, have more empathy and have higher self-esteem. This can be as simple as noting and thanking your body for allowing you to breathe freely or share a laugh with a friend. Recording those things for which you’re grateful in a journal can be a great place to start if you’re unsure of what to write. I often encourage clients to start with writing down one thing per day – it could be as simple as jotting down how grateful you are for having a warm bed to sleep in every night, or related to something good that happened that day.

These are just suggestions, and you may find that certain prompts don’t resonate with you as much as others. Ultimately, the journal is for you – for self-expression, exploration, growth and discovery. A counselor at The Light Program can help provide you with additional prompts for journaling based on your individual needs and goals.