Keeping a journal is an easy and essential way to increase mindfulness and awareness and tune into your thoughts and emotions. Here, I have come up with a range of guided journal ideas, covering many different topics. There is also a discussion on the surprising health benefits of keeping a journal.
Something is compelling about a pen and a blank piece of paper. Writing down your thoughts, fears, hopes, aspirations, memories, and goals makes everything seem a little less abstract and a little more concrete. And keeping a journal is one of the best ways to help you become more mindful.
“Journalling is an ideal way to build self-awareness and become more in tune with what you are feeling,” notes Sara Robinson, author of Choose You: A Guided Self-Care Journal and a mental skills coach. “It helps make a connection between your thoughts and actions.”
Research has long backed the concept of journaling as a way to clear your mind and face whatever emotional challenges you may be dealing with. “There is a great deal of information out there regarding the power of journaling,” notes Lisa M. Schab, LCSW, a psychotherapist based in Libertyville, Illinois, and the author of 25 self-help books, including the upcoming Put Your Worries Here: A Creative Journal for Teens With Anxiety. “There’s an incredibly strong mind-body connection that takes place with writing down your thoughts.”
But you don’t have to be facing an emotional crisis to find journaling helpful. “It’s a great way to record your experiences and remember them, the positives as well as the negatives, so you have a record of what went on,” says Robinson. “It helps you see the changes you’ve made and gives you a sense of how far you may have come.”
The act of writing something down also makes it seem more real, whether that’s putting down a goal you want to reach or helping you deal with a problem in your work or personal life.
“Taking those thoughts and feelings that are internal and making them external by writing them down makes them seem more real and allows you to take ownership,” adds Robinson.
When Words Surprise
Many journal keepers are surprised at what comes out of the pen. “When something comes down from deep inside you, and you don’t stop to judge, critique or analyse it, you may not even have realised you were thinking that way,” says Schab. “You may experience emotional revelations that are similar to talk therapy.”
You may also be amazed at how much you enjoy spending time with your journal. “A lot of people think they have to be a good writer to keep a journal, but often they’ll discover how fun and easy it is,” says Robinson.
And when you journal regularly, she adds, you’ll likely find yourself being more mindful in other situations. “Often, you can consider a situation and your reaction without getting overly emotional.”
Guided Journal Ideas
Rule number one of journalling; there are no rules. “People are often worried that they’ll do something wrong, but there’s really no wrong way to keep a journal,” says Schab. “It is just a matter of putting aside some time and starting to write.”
That said, it can feel intimidating to look at an empty sheet of paper. That’s why I’ve listed the ideas that follow. There are suggestions on a variety of prompts to help you write down your thoughts, and let them lead wherever you want to go. Use them to help you organise your writing, set a goal or reflect on a critical moment.
Most of all, they can help build your sense of mindfulness and tune into your emotions and the world around you. I hope you will find them useful wherever your words may take you.
Finding GratitudeGratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others Click To Tweet
- Six things I am thankful for today
- Six people I am grateful to, and why
- Three ways I can share my gratitude today
Today I Saw… what did you see that will linger in your memory?
The World Outdoors vs Being Indoors
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
- This is my favourite season, and why
- Five ways I can bring nature inside
- My ideal way to spend time outside
Today I Felt… what did you feel, happy or sad, positive or negative?
Goal SettingThe greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark Click To Tweet
- In five years this is what I would like my life to look like
- Three goals I will set for myself for the next 30 days
- What has actually been the most important lesson that I have learned this year?
Today I Heard… what did you hear that made you stop and think?
How I Feel
“Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”
- What makes me feel happy?
- What makes me feel sad?
- What makes me feel angry?
- What makes me feel anxious?
- This really makes me laugh
- This really makes me upset
- This is what I want to experience more of in life
Today I Tasted… did you taste something new?
Journalling Prompts for Self-DiscoveryLight is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning Click To Tweet
- Three things I noticed today outside my window
- What do I wish I did differently today or yesterday?
- What made me smile?
- What made me wonder?
- The one thing I really want to remember about today
Today I Indulged In… did you treat yourself to a new product or experience?
A Letter to Myself
Write a letter to yourself to be looked at in one year. Include what you are worried about now and what you can do to change that situation.
- What would I tell my eight-year-old self?
- What would I tell my teenage or 20-something self?
- What do I really wish for my 80-year-old self?
Today I Appreciated… what did you appreciate? Was it an act of kindness?
“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.”
- 10 things that make me smile
- The best thing about my day
- These people bring me joy
Today I Worked On… are you proud of what you worked on and did you meet your goals?
A mantra is nothing more than words or sounds that can help you feel more connected. It can be a saying that speaks to you or a sound you are drawn to; and is something you can repeat when you need an energy boost, are feeling anxious or just want to increase awareness. Here are seven mantras or sayings to consider using.
- Be calm
- Peace and love
- Breathe in, breathe out
- I am fulfilled
- I am blessed
- I am enough
- I love being me
Write down three mantras or phrases you would like to call upon when feeling stressed.
What are some of your favourite, motivating quotes that give you a sense of strength?
Today I Thought About… Did you have any unusual thoughts today? Did they make you uncomfortable?
What I Can’t Live WithoutNothing has more strength than dire necessity Click To Tweet
- Three things I genuinely love to do
- Beyond food and shelter, what are some of my most essential necessities?
- If I had to leave behind all of the objects in my house except for three things, what would they be, and why are they important to me?
Feel More Energised
“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
- Three things that give me energy
- The one thing I do that actually makes me feel the most alive
- How can I incorporate more energy boosters into my life, such as the ones above?
First LoveSometimes, you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory Click To Tweet
Write about the first person you fell in love with, the first place you loved or the first thing you truly loved. What made this person, place or thing so unique, and what are your fondest memories?
Be Kind to Yourself
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself.”
- Three qualities that I appreciate about myself
- What do I wish that more people knew about me?
- What are some healthy things I can actually do for myself when I am feeling down?
My InspirationsBelieve you can, and you're halfway there Click To Tweet
- What or who inspires me to do my best?
- The person I would most like to meet, and why
- My favourite quote
- My favourite book or poem
- My favourite movie
My Ideal Day
“Leave something good in every day.”
Describe a perfect day; not one you’d have if you were rich or famous but right now. Which day of the week would it fall on? What would you see, read, eat or watch; and who would you spend it with?
My Bucket ListCollect moments, not things Click To Tweet
- 10 things I absolutely want to do in this lifetime (be as specific as possible)
- Which can I realistically do in the next one to five years?
- What can I actually do to ensure this happens?
12 quick ways to feel calmer and reduce stress:
- Watch the clouds in the sky
- Go for a walk
- Make a cup of fruit tea and sip it slowly
- Tense and relax each muscle in turn, moving from your feet to your face
- Sniff some lavender
- Close your eyes and carefully think about something that really makes you happy
- Squeeze a stress ball
- Wash your face and hands with cool water (including your wrists)
- Stand up and do a few big stretches for one or two minutes
- Cuddle up with a pet
- Phone a friend
- Listen to your favourite song
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
Write down the 10 things that help you feel calm and centred.
Exercise to try when you are feeling stressed: Take a deep breath in. As you inhale, imagine your breath carrying calm through every part of your body. As you exhale, think about any stress and anxiety, leaving your body and evaporating. Continue for as long as needed.
How did you feel before this exercise, and what difference did it make afterwards?
Overcoming FearsCourage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears Click To Tweet
- These are my top five fears
- Where does this discomfort come from?
- What are some ways I can conquer these fears?
- A difficulty I was able to overcome and how
Reconnecting With Others
“Hold a true friend with both your hands.”
- Make a list of some people you’ve lost touch with and would like to see or connect with again
- Write down some actual days and times when you will reach out, either over the phone or otherwise
- After you’ve reached out, write down how you feel and whether you want to continue connecting with them
Surprising Health Benefits
We know keeping a journal can help you feel better, and there’s scientific evidence it can also play an essential role in keeping you healthier. Here are a few ways how.
It boosts the immune system: Research from the University of Auckland in New Zealand found HIV/AIDS patients who wrote about their life experiences in four 30-minute sessions had higher CD4 lymphocyte counts (a measure of immune function) than a control group.
It improves heart health: A study from the University of Arizona found that subjects who kept a journal after going through a divorce not only were able to better process their emotions but also had a lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability (a sign of heart health).
It solidifies memories: Writing down your experiences can help you remember them more clearly later on, according to research from the University of Lancaster. Expressive writing can also help reduce intrusive thoughts about adverse events and boost working memory.
It reduces symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis: A study of 112 patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis found those who wrote about the most stressful event in their lives showed an improvement in their symptoms, compared to a control group.
It relieves stress: Writing helps you cope with stress and anxiety. Scientists say it can involve the amygdala (the region of your brain that registers emotions and helps determine whether a situation is dangerous or safe) so you feel safe and secure, putting your thoughts on paper.
Seven Ways to Make Journalling Easier
Got writer’s block? Try using some of these simple strategies to help get your thoughts (and your pen) moving.
Find a time that works: The more often you journal, the easier it gets. Keeping a regular writing time (morning, afternoon, evening) helps you form a habit. Try doing it with your morning coffee or before bed at night. Having a regular place to sit, a cosy corner, a comfy couch, can also help you keep it up.
Take it slow: You don’t have to fill out every page of your mindful journal all at once! “You could spend a half-hour or more writing, but that can feel like a lot. You really only need a few minutes to put your thoughts and experiences on paper,” says skills coach Sara Robinson. Even two minutes of writing can make a difference.
Let go: If you are in a zone, don’t cut yourself off too soon. “To me, the best journalling takes place when you get lost in it,” says therapist Lisa Schab. “Don’t think too much; let the words flow.”
Don’t sweat the grammar: Or punctuation. You can use bullet points, brief sentences, phrases; whatever it takes to get the words down. No one will be spell-checking or editing this, so don’t worry about how it reads or sounds.
Reread it (if you want): Much of the process of journaling is about putting the words down. But it can also be helpful to read over them, says Robinson. “Consider checking back after a few weeks or months and reflecting on what you’ve written,” she adds. “It can help deepen your understanding of a situation once you’ve had some perspective,”
Use the prompts: “Prompts are a good way to help you get rolling,” says Schab. Can’t find a prompt? Take a look at my suggestions above, or start your own. There are really no limits to what you can write about.
Think outside the pen: You don’t have to use pen and paper; if you’d rather journal on a computer or other device, that works too! You can even keep an audio journal, using voice memos on a phone or other recording device.
I hope you enjoyed my suggestions for guided journal ideas, and it has given you plenty of options to write about. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.