Journaling Ideas: Topics, Tips, and Ideas
Are you stuck staring at the blank page? Here are a bunch of ideas for your daily journal—some creative, some visual, some for gratitude, and some for your mental health.
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So, you want to journal but you are having a hard time coming up with ideas? No worries. There are lots of things you can write about, many of them with evidence suggesting that they're good for your well-being. So in this article, we'll give you some journaling ideas to help you better understand yourself, reach your goals, and improve your life.
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Daily Journaling Ideas
Perhaps the most common journaling technique is called freewriting. When you freewrite, you just write about whatever comes to your mind. Try to keep writing even when your mind wanders off, and don't worry about grammar, spelling, or a storyline. Freewriting may be a good technique to use when doing a daily journal, at least to get the thoughts flowing and overcome the inertia of the blank page.
Write down affirmations
More relatively easy things to write in your journal are daily affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements, usually about yourself (e.g., "I have the power to change" or "I am enough"). We can use affirmations to shift our mindset and focus more on the positive. Affirmations are a good practice to do daily (or at least frequently). By doing so, you may be able to make these positive thoughts automatic (Paulhus & Coue, 1993). That is, you won't have to do the affirmations anymore; your mind will just think these thoughts on its own.
Write a to-do list
One more way to use your daily journal is to write your to-do list in it each morning. Try to be thoughtful about what you want to get done, what you'll actually have time for, and then make yourself a list. At the end of the day, come back to the list and cross off the things you completed. At the very least, this practice can help you better understand what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. At best, it'll give you a sense of satisfaction for having made a plan and succeeded in completing it. This may be one potential way to boost self-efficacy—or the belief in our own ability to do or achieve what we set our minds to (Schunk & Pajares, 2009).
Journaling Ideas for Mental Health
Often when we decide to journal, we're doing so to get some type of mental health benefit. Maybe we feel like expressing our thoughts would be helpful. Or, maybe we want to self-reflect. Indeed, journaling may be a useful tool for boosting mental health. Here are some journaling ideas that may be especially good for mental and emotional health.
Try expressive writing
Research suggests that writing about emotional experiences can result in improvements in mental and physical health. One study showed that 15-30 minutes of daily journaling for 3-5 days was enough to improve health. The researchers suggest this may be because when we disclose important things we haven't told anyone, it releases the burden of keeping these secrets all to ourselves (Pennebaker, 1997). But, keep in mind that bringing traumatic memories to the surface can be difficult and the benefits of doing so may be fairly small (Travagin, Margola, & Revenson, 2015) so this may not be the right journaling approach for everyone.
Try reflective journaling
Reflective journaling is used to chronicle our internal processes (Hubbs & Brand, 2005).
Reflective journaling is thought to aid experiential learning (Hubbs & Brand, 2005), and it may help us process difficult events so that we can move forward more effectively.
Try writing a self-compassion letter
Self-compassion can help us feel better about ourselves. To write yourself a self-compassion letter in your journal, start by thinking of some parts of yourself that you are critical of. Then, try talking to yourself about those parts in a compassionate way. How would you talk to a friend about these things? How would you ensure them that they are lovable despite these things? In this letter, just write a kind and supportive letter to yourself (Shapira & Mongrain, 2010).
Research shows that we can increase our happiness by making time for positive activities (Catalino, Algoe, & Fredrickson, 2014). So, in your journal, consider making a list of the positive activities that you want to start making time for. Make a plan to schedule these in your calendar regularly.
Video: Journaling Ideas for a Happier Day
Gratitude Journaling Ideas
Gratitude journaling can help us find more things to be thankful for and express those warm feelings (Kaczmarek et al., 2015). But there are a number of different ways to practice gratitude journaling. Here are a few gratitude journaling activities to try.
Write a gratitude list
Perhaps the simplest method is to write a gratitude list. Write down at least five things you're grateful for. Try to be as deep as you can and as specific as possible (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Just by noticing a few things, you can feel more appreciative.
Imagine subtracting the good things
One way to feel more grateful for the good things in our lives is to imagine we don't have these things anymore. For example, we might imagine that a positive event never happened (Koo, Algoe, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2008). Write in your journal about what it would be like if this event never happened. Then switch your mind back to reality where this thing did happen and see if you can find new ways to be grateful for it.
Write a gratitude letter
Gratitude is mostly an other-focused emotion. That means much of the benefit of gratitude comes from expressing that gratitude to others. To get this benefit, we can write a gratitude letter. We should aim to write this letter to someone who was especially kind to us but who we never properly thanked. Then we can visit this person and hand-deliver the letter. Research suggests this activity can boost our positive emotions (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
Creative Journaling Ideas
Creative journaling is thought to be a useful tool for expressing internal thoughts and feelings because it uses a combination of words and images (Rajasingam & Couns, 2017). It may increase self-reflection and self-disclosure—two things that tend to be good for well-being.
To do creative journaling, feel free to incorporate poems, drawings, shapes, and squiggles. Feel free to write or draw in colored pens or markers, paints, crayons, or any other medium you desire. With these ideas in mind, here are some creative journaling ideas to try:
In addition to these creative journaling ideas, feel free to explore your own. Any topic or reflection may be benefited by using creative journaling techniques.
Video: 5 Creative Journal Ideas
Bullet & Dot Journaling Ideas
Bullet journaling and dot journaling have become very popular in recent years. Basically, these techniques involve making a lot of bulleted lists that vary from functional to artistic (Ayobi, Sonne, Marshall, & Cox, 2018). Given this is a new journaling technique, there isn't a ton of research on it. But, initial and related research would suggest it likely offers at least some benefits. One study suggested that bullet journaling helps creators to gain holistic and novel views of their life, reflect on life trajectories, appreciate the imperfect world, and resist a culture of super-efficiency (Tholander & Normark, 2020).
Bullet journaling is also a potentially useful way to track habits and goals. Given research suggests that tracking progress can help us more easily reach our goals (Locke & Latham, 2006), bullet journaling may help. One study showed that people use bullet journals to track a wide variety of things including:
These are just some examples of the things that you could track in a bullet journal.
Here are some more bullet journaling ideas from Pinterest:
Journaling Prompt & Question Ideas
One way to get over the hump of figuring out what to write about is to use journaling prompts. These are questions or phrases that get your mind thinking and get your pen writing. Here are some prompts to try out:
Journaling prompt ideas
Journaling question ideas
Travel Journaling Ideas
Are you taking your journal on vacation? Then why not incorporate your travel into your journal. Here are a few ideas you may want to try out:
Health & Weight Loss Journaling Ideas
If you want to use your journal to improve your health and well-being, you may want to create a 'tracker'. For example, mood trackers can help you identify which thoughts or behaviors contribute to a more positive or negative mood (Ayobi, Sonne, Marshall, & Cox, 2018). In fact, I tracked my mood and a series of experiences for 10 days once and discovered that the thing that most contributed to my positive mood was not exercise, diet, or socializing—it was creativity. I never would have guessed that.
'Food and mood' trackers can also be a helpful tool if you're trying to identify how different foods make you feel. If you start to pay attention you may notice that eating certain foods makes you feel better than eating other foods. I did this exercise when I was dealing with some health issues and discovered that eating cantaloupe melon makes me feel really good. That was pretty random and not something I would have expected.
Weight loss journaling ideas
If you're working on losing weight, tracking can be really helpful. Of course, you probably want to cut calories but you also want to make sure that you're not cutting calories too severely (that's not healthy!) So creating a little chart with your specific goals for diet, calories, and exercise may be helpful.
Here are some weight loss journaling ideas from Pinterest:
A Few More Things For Your Journal
More Articles on Journaling
Want to keep reading about journaling? Here are few more articles to explore: