Journaling seems to be a personal way to untangle my thoughts, notice things that I otherwise wouldn’t slow down and realize, towards resolving them. Below is a growing collection of prompts for introspective journaling based on behavioral therapy (mostly as a record for myself, but if it’s helpful, help yourself).
Disclaimer: this is in no way a replacement for therapy, nor is it intended for self-help. These are merely personal notes and brainstorming.
Addendum: it’s been pointed out to me that there are no instructions. As an FYI, I personally just pick a singular subcategory and prompt from the bunch (sometimes revisiting the same one if I feel like I’ve experienced some amount of changes or growth) depending on the mood and what stars align.
Additional prompt recommendations appreciated!
- emotional regulation
- direction and self-orientation
- closing words
Emotions are signals to how we feel about our experiences. Although our initial reaction isn’t something we can (and should) control, it can lead to a series of secondary emotions which can be regulated.
The next few sections are prompts to help better gain control of emotions and behaviours towards being more resillient and better self-managed.
Strive to mend your physical health, eat in moderation and sleep sufficiently.
- Have you drank 8 cups of water?
- Are you feeling physically content? full? hungry?
- What healhty habit could you do more often? Could you do it right now?
- What’s a healthy habit that you think you could maintain for the upcoming week?
- How well-rested are you these days? Could there be any achievable improvements?
- What’s something that you do in moderation that you’re proud of?
- What are some things that you don’t do in moderation? Why is it sometimes difficult to stay in control?
Do things that help better your proficiency/competence.
- What are some hobbies that you enjoy doing?
- What hobby will you pursue today for personal interest?
- What’s something that would take less than 5 minutes, that you could do right now?
- How competent do you feel in your responsibilities (i.e. personal, academic, professional)?
- What’s something actionable to do next time to become more competent?
- What does competence mean to you?
- What prevents you from feeling proficient at something?
- What’s a significant personal trait that has brought you to your level of proficiency?
Conscious and deliberate acknowledgement of personal experience help reinforce the feeling into our memories. Being able to recognize and recall positive experiences is the basis of emotional regulation, and grounded optimism. Journaling about positive experiences help us learn from those experiences, similar to how we retrospect on bad ones.
- What song(s) currently put you in a lighthearted mood?
- What memorable compliment has someone given you?
- What small thing could you do to make today a tiny bit better?
- Has anything good happened recently?
- What’s not so bad these days?
- What’s something you’ve achieved that you would like to reward yourself for?
- Do you recall doing anything noble, moralistic or ethical recently?
- How would you like to change your behaviour to better practice taking in the good things that happen?
- Without living in rose-coloured lenses, what are some good things about your life?
- What are things that have gone your way because you were prepared for it?
- What are some people/things to be grateful towards, for situations that have gone well or improved thanks to outside support for you?
- Who are the people you’re thankful for?
- What material things that you own, that you are content about?
Gaining the ability to be aware your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations in the present moment without passing a judgement, label, or self-criticism. This skill helps to separate the inner emotion from what’s happening around us, towards a better grasp of ourselves.
- What’s been bothering you recently?
- Have you been disappointed recently?
- Document something embarassing that’s happened recently.
- Do you feel empty or indifferent? What do you think is causing it? What’s your opinion about feeling like that?
- Are you infatuated with something currently? Do you have past experiences of obsessing over anything?
- What’s something that you’re proud of, these days?
- Do you feel regretful? Why so? Anything you could do to work towards resolving how you feel?
- What’s something that’s making you feel vulnerable?
- Are you nervous about the future? Are you feeling cautious about anything these days?
- Are you feeling unsure about anything significant these days? What parts of it are unknowns?
- What do you worry about? What’s the worst case scenario of those worries? Do you think you could still accept it if it happened?
- How do you feel towards your own sense of self-worth?
- What do you feel towards yourself?
As well, some prompts for meta-mindfulness.
- How easy/difficult is it to pinpoint what you feel?
- How easy/difficult is it to pinpoint why you feel?
- How easy/difficult is it to express how you feel to yourself/someone else?
- How strongly (intensity) do you feel your current emotion?
- What thoughts (not secondary emotions) are generated by your current emotion? (“emotion x makes me think about …”)
- Are you feeling emotionally fragile?
And a note on what to ask yourself to pinpoint how you feel:
- Do you feel good or bad?
- Is it a high-energy feeling or a low-energy feeling?
- To what intensity is it?
- What emotion do you feel? Could you add more nuance?
- What other secondary feelings are mixed in?
Remember that feelings have a lifespan; grow, peak, diminish. Awareness can give you some degree of control over it. Lastly, try not to criticize yourself or your emotions when you feel them.
Sometimes, it helps to change the feeling simply by acting in the opposite way.
- If you’d like to feel better right now, what’s something small that you could do?
- What’s something on the complete opposite quadrant of the Mood Meter? Recall a time you’ve felt that way.
This involves pinpointing the problem (usually indicated by how you feel), brainstorming for solutions and narrowing down on a specific solution. The more specific you are describing your problems, the easier it’ll be to think of solutions. Chat with a friend, family member or helpful stranger (me!) for more perspectives.
- For some specific aspect of your life, what situation would you like to be in (realistically)? What are the obstacles?
- What’s the current problem? Why is a problem? What’s the scale or repercussion of the problem?
- Objectively, what are the reasons that led to the problem?
- What are some specific and attainable solutions? (Try not to be caught up thinking about the best solution, just focus on brainstorming)
In the process of solving the problem, don’t move your goal post or targer further away as soon as you reach it. Acknowledge your progress.
Validation comes in the form of respecting yourself–and by extension–your feelings, encouraging yourself, and being kind to yourself in the situation you’re going through.
Take yourself seriously, in a non-judgemental way. Work towards acknowledging that you’re competent, that your experiences are valid, and that you’re able to get through the current times, as you’ve gotten through previous challenges similarly.
- Do you trust in yourself? What achieveable actions could you do, to show yourself that you can trust yourself a bit more?
- What’s something that you’ve overcome that you’re proud of?
- What’s something that you’re currently managing well?
- Have you been belittling or minimalizing any experiences? What did it take to overcome them?
- During this past week, what have you been consistently doing?
- Have there been any healthy habits that you’ve dropped, but picked back up?
Encourage and support yourself in your turmoil; it’s only human to feel no matter your situation.
- What are you currently doing, that you would like to do well?
- What are some of your traits that led to past positive experiences?
- Who can you reach out to for encouragement?
Accept and take care of your vulnerabilities. Don’t focus on what you should do, or what you should have.
- What do you like about yourself?
direction and self-orientation
Sometimes, it helps to ask ourselves what we’d like to see, to be able to holistically decide on where we want to go. The following are some probing questions to calibrate our internal compass.
Questions to help direct our day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month goal-setting in the many facades of life.
- What did you learn today? What would you like to learn more about this month?
- What’s something you’d like to realistically achieve by next week? (Make yourself a calendar reminder to check back in)
General long term directions that guide how you act on a daily basis; the northern star that you’re navigating towards.
- Do you aspire to grow?
- What inspires you to want to become a better person?
- What do you value?
- What are some principles in life that you’ve been following?
- What kind of person would you like to be?
- What do you hope your life will look like in 10 years?
You may not always reach your northern star, but life is taking a scenic route doing genuine things with a certain amount of serendipity while traveling to that star.
Journaling doesn’t need to be artsy. It just needs a small block of downtime, some honesty with yourself, a bit of verbosity and any writing medium.