Journaling is an amazing tool for self awareness. But it’s not always easy to simply pick up a blank notebook and just write endlessly. Sometimes you need thoughtful and reflective journal prompts to get you started.
I’m a strong believer in journaling. Growing up, I started journaling as a blank sheet to vent to. I didn’t always feel like anyone was listening, and I didn’t always feel understood by the world.
But when journaling, no one was interrupting me or giving me unsolicited advice. No one was telling me that I was overreacting, or that my feelings are irrational.
I’m also fairly analytical. I’ll analyze characters, plot lines, events, people, and so on. I try to understand things, even if I cannot change them or severely disagree. Despite our most divisive disagreements, something keeps people doing what they do and believing what they believe. There has to be some logic to it. Journaling with an analytic perspective helps me make sense of the world.
I even try to analyze myself, from my feelings to my actions to my beliefs. When things feel confusing, I turn to journaling. In these instances, I’ve often found that I really do know what’s on my mind, how I feel, and what I want. The struggle is figuring it out. For me, journaling offers an outlet to find the answers.
We are all complex human beings with twisting story lines, confusing thoughts and feelings, and many desires. Humans are incredible and complicated, and the best of us sometimes have difficulty finding what’s really on our minds.
One of my college instructors was a strong believer in therapeutic journaling. She would give us 10 minutes or so to just write whatever came to mind. If we didn’t know what to write, she wanted us to write, “I don’t know what to write” over and over again until something came to our mind.
I usually pick up my journal when I know something is on my mind. Then I write and write and write about everything. I’ll go into things from the past that I didn’t know are still bothering me, discuss things in the present that I didn’t know I was thinking about, and hopes for the future. Sometimes I’ll discuss my fears for the future as I continue to just write all the thoughts streaming in my mind.
Here is a list of thoughtful and reflective journal prompts to get you thinking:
These are intended to challenge you to think deeper about yourself. Try not to answer in simple one sentence responses. Dig deeper into your responses. After every one, ask yourself why you chose that answer. Challenge yourself and learn about yourself.
- Describe a place that feels like home. What is it about this place that feels like home? Think about the location, the time of day, and who is with you. Have you felt “at home” anywhere else? What do those places have in common?
- What’s your favorite childhood memory? Like describing a place that feels like home, this is bringing us to a happy place and a happy time. Think of where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing. What makes this memory your favorite?
- What do you want your tombstone to say?Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions for his tombstone. It commemorates him for being the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and the Father of the University of Virginia. The former Secretary of State and President of the United States, and that’s what he wanted to be remembered for. So what do you want your tombstone to commemorate you for?
- Think of someone you admire. Describe what qualities they possess that you admire. Is this someone you look up to? Or someone you’re jealous of? What role do these qualities play in your admiration or jealousy?
- What do you hope people say about you? We all know that there are things we say about others (good and bad) that we just can’t say to that person. For some, it’s a deep admiration or even silent love. For others, it could be harsh criticism. Most of the time, we won’t know what our impression is upon others. What do you hope others say about you when you’re not there? Is that any different from what you think they really say about you?
- If today was your last day, how you spend it? The book “Tuesdays With Morrie” follows a wise dying man and his journey to his end. I read it years ago, but many lessons are still with me. In one chapter, the author asks Morrie what he would do if he had one day of being healthy again. Morrie described a day very simple and one that would probably generally described as uneventful and mundane. But it was a simple joy, and that’s all he wanted. If you only had one day, what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you spend it with? Would you run to the rooftops and break all the rules? Or would you spend your day just like any other day?
- What are you self-conscious about? We all have little insecurities that we try to hide. Some of us are more open about them, and some insecurities are much more difficult to hide. What don’t you like about yourself? What are your secret (or not so secret) insecurities that you hide? Why do you think you have these insecurities? Did you always have that insecurity, or did it grow over time? Why do you think that characteristic about yourself is a negative thing?
- What do you like about yourself? Now that we’ve discussed what you don’t like about yourself, remember that there is always someone that admires something about you. There is always something about you to be admired. Try to imagine what a stranger would think about you from a neutral, unbiased opinion. You have qualities to admire, even if you’re self-conscious about yourself. Look at yourself like you would anyone else, and realize how amazing you are.
- What’s a compliment that you received recently? Because the previous prompt can be difficult at times. So think about what someone has complimented you for. Sometimes, the compliments might also go beyond your looks and to your personality. Those are even more endearing, as it shows that you have much more to offer beyond your looks. So think hard and think of a compliment someone has given you recently.
- If you could run any business (and the business would be a guaranteed success), what business would you run? This will help you rediscover what you truly enjoy, as our jobs are not always what we dream of or what we do in our pastimes. But intelligent humans are passionate about something, and they make their passions their careers. Not every passion should be a career, as working your passion as a job could kill the enjoyment. But this question will help you rediscover your passion. What you choose to do with that information is up to you.
Related: 31 Heart-Centered Questions For Purposeful Living
Other sources of reflective questions and writing prompts include TableTopics conversation cards and Poets & Writer’s writing prompts.
Have you made any discoveries through your self-reflection and journaling? What other questions or sources have you found to help with self-reflective journaling? Comment below!
I often include different journal prompts on Weightless because I think it’s key to continually maintain a dialogue with ourselves. It’s part of building a healthy relationship, or rather a friendship, with yourself.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”
Here are 30 prompts, questions and ideas to explore in your journal to get to know yourself better.
- My favorite way to spend the day is…
- If I could talk to my teenage self, the one thing I would say is…
- The two moments I’ll never forget in my life are… Describe them in great detail, and what makes them so unforgettable.
- Make a list of 30 things that make you smile.
- “Write about a moment experienced through your body. Making love, making breakfast, going to a party, having a fight, an experience you’ve had or you imagine for your character. Leave out thought and emotion, and let all information be conveyed through the body and senses.” (A prompt from Barbara Abercrombie’s creative book Kicking In The Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts and Quotes To Help You Break Through Your Blocks And Reach Your Writing Goals.)
- The words I’d like to live by are…
- I couldn’t imagine living without…
- When I’m in pain — physical or emotional — the kindest thing I can do for myself is…
- Make a list of the people in your life who genuinely support you, and who you can genuinely trust. (Then make time to hang out with them.)
- What does unconditional love look like for you?
- What would you do if you loved yourself unconditionally? How can you act on these things whether you do or don’t?
- I really wish others knew this about me…
- Name what is enough for you.
- If my body could talk, it would say…
- Name a compassionate way you’ve supported a friend recently. Then write down how you can do the same for yourself.
- What do you love about life?
- What always brings tears to your eyes? (As Paulo Coelho has said, “Tears are words that need to be written.”)
- “Write about a time when work felt real to you, necessary and satisfying. Paid or unpaid, professional or domestic, physical or mental.” (Also a prompt from Abercrombie’s Kicking in the Wall.)
- Write about your first love — whether a person, place or thing.
- Using 10 words, describe yourself.
- What’s surprised you the most about your life or life in general?
- What can you learn from your biggest mistakes?
- I feel most energized when…
- “Write a list of questions to which you urgently need answers.” (This is probably my favorite prompt from Abercrombie’s book.)
- Make a list of everything that inspires you — from books to websites to quotes to people to paintings to stores to the stars.
- What’s one topic you need to learn more about to help you live a more fulfilling life? (Then learn about it.)
- I feel happiest in my skin when…
- Make a list of everything you’d like to say no to.
- Make a list of everything you’d like to say yes to.
- Write the words you need to hear.
Journaling helps us figure out who we are, what we need and what we want. It can help us make better decisions, and focus on the very things that support us in taking compassionate care of ourselves and others.
What are your favorite journaling prompts? What are your favorite ways to check in with yourself, to get to know yourself better, to get inspired?