8 Best Journaling Ideas to Start in 2023

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“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.” – Robin S. Sharma

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Journaling can help you understand yourself, achieve goals, reduce anxiety, improve life satisfaction, and solve hard problems. But if you’re new to journaling, you may be unsure about what you should write in your journal.

I’ve tried dozens of journaling ideas over the years, and the truth is that there is no “right” way to use a journal. There are many ways to use a journal, and you need to experiment to figure out what works for you. You can always change how you journal as your goals and life evolve.

Below, I’ve curated eight of the best journaling ideas that you can use to improve your life. Whether you are a seasoned journaler or new to the practice, these journaling ideas and prompts will help you find a practice that works for you.

8 Effective Journaling Ideas to Improve Your Life

  1. Do Morning Pages
  2. Keep a Habit Journal
  3. Journal for Accountability
  4. Journal to Reduce Anxiety and Worry
  5. Start a Goals Journal
  6. Keep a Daily Journal
  7. Use the Five-Minute Journal
  8. Keep a Mistakes Journal

1. Do Morning Pages

Morning pages is my favorite practice for developing a journaling habit and improving mental health. All you need is a pen, paper, and a few minutes to write about what’s on your mind.

I first learned about morning pages while reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a wonderful book that will help you develop and nurture your creative spirit. To do morning pages, you simply write three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing as the first thing you do in the morning.

The great thing about morning pages is that you don’t have to think. You simply start writing about whatever comes to mind until you’ve filled three pages. Most of my journal entries are filled with incoherent thoughts and pointless musings. On rare occasions, I will get great ideas during this free writing process, but that is not the aim of this simple form of journal writing.

What I love most about morning pages is that they are a powerful way to clear your mind of the mud that often awaits you upon waking. When you’re done, you’re often free from anxiety and fear and can start the day with a calm focus. It’s a magical daily journaling practice that makes you feel good and offers a surprising amount of self-discovery along the way.

2. Keep a Habit Journal

Whenever I start a new habit or quit an old one, I keep a journal to keep myself accountable and to reflect on my progress. I usually keep the journal until I feel that I’ve made enough progress to no longer need it. Here are a few habit journal ideas based on what I’ve done over the years.

  1. Surfing journal: When I learned how to surf as an adult, I kept a journal. I recorded my experience during a session, including things I did well and could improve. A lot of my journaling reminded me of why I loved the sport and kept me motivated to improve.
  2. Daily food journal: When I wanted to start eating healthier, I simply wrote down everything I ate that day. Writing down my food intake gave me an awareness of what I was eating, but it also made me think twice every time I went for an unhealthy snack because I knew I would have to record it. Keeping a food journal for even a week can be powerful.
  3. Book writing journal: While writing my first book, I kept a journal about my daily progress, worries, and everything I’m thinking about.
  4. Quitting alcohol journal: When I took a month off of drinking alcohol, I kept a journal to track my thoughts, temptations, and how I felt as the month went on.
  5. Stomach pain journal. When I had health problems with my gut, I kept a daily log to remember my symptoms and to track what was helping or hurting.

Once you start using habit journals, you won’t go back. It’s especially helpful in the beginning stages of new habit formation to keep you on track.

3. Journal for Accountability

Journaling can be a powerful mechanism for self-reflection that allows you to ensure that you’re making progress on the path to whoever you want to be. For many years, I wanted to be someone who was always learning, grateful, excited about life, and helping others. Instead of relying on memory, I started every day with a simple, four-question writing prompt.

  1. What did I learn yesterday?
  2. What am I grateful for?
  3. What am I excited about?
  4. Who did I help yesterday?

This journal morning routine offered many benefits, which included encouraging me to express gratitude and ensuring that the way I was operating in the present moment would allow me to move closer to the future self I desired to be.

The most helpful part of answering these questions is that there were days or weeks when I was not living up to who I wanted to be in some of these domains. For example, if I went a week without having helped someone, my journal entries served as a good reminder that I needed to change what I was actually doing in my daily life.

The writing prompts you choose will be specific to your goals, but this daily journal idea is a great mechanism for personal development and moving you closer to who you want to be. If you don’t know where to get started, try gratitude journaling, which has a wealth of empirical research about its many benefits.

4. Journal to Solve Anxiety and Worry

In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie shares one of my favorite journaling ideas that I use whenever I’m worried or anxious about something. It does not always solve my problem immediately, but it often shakes me out of a frenzied, paralyzed mindset and helps me find a productive path forward.

Here’s how this journaling idea works: Whenever you are worried or anxious about something, start a journal entry by answering these four questions:

  1. What am I worrying about? (define the anxiety or worry)
  2. What can I do about it? (list out everything you can do to solve the problem, even if it’s a crazy idea you won’t actually do)
  3. What am I going to do about it? (decide on what path you are going to take)
  4. When am I going to start doing it?  (decide when you will start working on the plan)

This simple journaling exercise does three things. First, it helps you define and become more self-aware about what is actually bothering you. Second, it allows you to think of fresh ideas by writing things about how you can solve your predicament. Third, it forces you to decide on a plan of action with a set timeline so that you can make progress.

This is one of the most effective journaling ideas I have discovered for solving problems quickly.

5. Start a Goals Journal

I have a fairly robust process for setting and achieving goals, and a journal is a big part of that process. I have three journal ideas that I use for goal setting and achievement.

1. Writing daily goals. When I end my day, I write down everything that I want to achieve the next day. Then when I wake up in the morning, I review and edit that list and get started.

2. Weekly reflection. At the end of every week, I write a short reflection that includes:

  • Progress: The measurable things that I did toward my goals.
  • Challenges: Areas where I fell short.
  • Learnings: Lessons from the week that I want to remember.
  • Next steps: The goals I want to achieve for the next week.

3. Monthly and quarterly review: Every month, I do an expanded version of the weekly reflection and every quarter, I do the same thing and set my goals for the next quarter.

These goal-setting journal prompts may not work for you, so you can adapt the practice to your needs. For example, many people enjoy using a bullet journal, which is an organized system that leverages brainstorming, to-do lists, scheduling, and other methods to help you keep track of everything you need in a single place.

6. Keep a Daily Journal

A daily journal is a place for you to write ideas, your to-do list, and whatever else captures your attention during the day. It’s a similar idea to bullet journaling. The ideal daily journal is something that you can bring around with you. A small journal or your iPhone works well.

For example, imagine that you’re a writer. Every time a creative idea pops into your head, you can write in your journal about the idea. When you are thinking about what to write next, you can revisit your list of journal entry ideas so that can avoid staring at the blank page and start writing about something that has recently inspired you.

Regardless of your profession, the most helpful aspect of a daily journal is that you can get thoughts out of your head and onto paper. That way, you can stop using your brain as storage for all the things going on in your life. You can then review that journal periodically to harvest ideas or revisit the endless list of things that you need to do.

7. Use the Five-Minute Journal

If you’re new to journaling and want a simple, structured journaling idea that leverages the science of positive psychology to make you happier and more productive, the five-minute journal is a great place to start. It’s a structured journal that you can easily get on Amazon.

In the morning before you start your day, you write:

  • 3 things you’re grateful for
  • 3 things that will make today great
  • A daily affirmation about how you want to be

At the end of the day before bed, you write:

  1. 3 amazing things that happened today
  2. How could you have made today even better?

The five-minute journal is one of the best all-around journaling ideas. In a few minutes, you get to gratitude journal, clarify your priorities, set a personal vision, celebrate victories, and identify improvements. It’s a great journal for anyone interested in personal development.

8. Keep a Mistakes Journal

We all make mistakes. And while those blunders can be painful at the moment, it can be helpful to write about them once some time has passed so that you can learn from them and move forward as a better person.

One journal idea is to write about all the dumb things you have done. You can add to the list over time and look back over the years to see how much you’ve improved. I’ve found that this practice helps improve my mental health by allowing me to see how much I’ve grown.

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to journaling or feel that you don’t enjoy writing, figuring out what to write in your journal can feel overwhelming.

But the truth is that starting to journal is as easy as starting with a few blank pages and writing down whatever is on your mind. Even something as simple as writing down your thoughts can be a helpful tool for getting clear about your life, improving your mental health, and getting ideas flowing.

Above, I’ve discussed some of the most helpful journaling ideas that I’ve discovered. While I don’t use each of the eight journaling ideas every day, I’ve used all of them at different points as a means of improving my life. Each form of journaling serves a different purpose, but it’s helpful to have all of these tools in my quiver to help solve the problem of the day.

Outside of the journal ideas I’ve already covered, I’ve also kept a travel journal, dreamed up an awesome bucket list, and set intentions for an upcoming event. Once you start journaling, there are endless ways to write in your journal in ways that move you in the direction you want to go.

If you’re new to journaling, my advice is to pick one idea that sounds interesting to you and try it for a few days. If it works, keep going. If not, pick another journaling idea and try that. Little by little, you’ll find the right practices and journaling prompts that work for you.

And as you journal for years, you’ll discover the great joys of looking back on your journals. Those reflections often remind you of all the small details of life that you forget, and most importantly, help you learn more about yourself and how you’ve grown over time.

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