9 Journaling Ideas That Will Improve Your Life
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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
Journaling is the best free healing tool that you have to improve your life. I’ve kept dozens of journals over the years, and it’s one of the best things I’ve done. I’ve used journals to get more done, become healthier, learn new skills, make fewer mistakes, reduce anxiety, increase gratitude, boost creativity, and stay sane during the ups and downs of life.
From the dozens of journaling ideas I’ve tried, it’s clear that there is no “right” way to journal. There are endless forms of journaling, and the best thing you can do is find one that works for you at a given moment. You can always change how you journal as your goals and life evolve.
Below, I share 9 of the best journaling ideas that I’ve used to improve my life. Whether you are a seasoned journaler or new to the practice, these ideas should help you find a journaling practice that works for you. Feel free to modify any of these ideas to fit your life.
1. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Book writing journal: While writing my first book, I kept a journal about my daily progress, worries, and everything I’m thinking about.
- 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.
- 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.
2. Do morning pages (or freeform journal)
Freeform journaling is perhaps my favorite journaling idea. All you need is a pen, paper, and a few minutes to write about whatever is on your mind. When I freeform journal, I write about everything from my petty frustrations to the joys of a recent travel experience.
One freeform journaling practice that I enjoy is morning pages, an idea I first learned about in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Basically, every morning as the first thing you do, you write three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing. The great thing about morning pages is that you don’t have to think. You simply write whatever comes to mind until you’ve filled three pages. Most of my morning pages are filled with incoherent thoughts and pointless musings.
Morning pages are wonderful because they clear your mind of the mud. When you’re done, you’re free from anxiety and fear and can start the day with a calm focus. It’s magical.
3. Journal to Become Your Best Self
Journaling can be a powerful way to make sure that you’re being true to the person 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, every day I answered four questions:
- What did I learn yesterday?
- What am I grateful for?
- What am I excited about?
- Who did I help yesterday?
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, then it was a good reminder to change what I was doing.
The questions you use will be specific to you, but this daily journal idea is a great mechanism for moving you closer to who you want to be.
4. Write to Solve Anxiety and Worry
In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie shares a journaling framework that I use anytime 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, answer the following four questions:
- What am I worrying about? (define the anxiety or worry)
- What can I do about it? (list out everything you can do to solve the problem, even if it’s a crazy you won’t actually do)
- What am I going to do about it? (decide on what path you are going to take)
- When am I going to start doing it? (decide when you will start working on the plan)
This simple journaling exercise does three things – 1. It helps you understand what is actually bothering you; 2. It allows you to brainstorm possible solutions to the predicament; 3. 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.
6. Keep a Daily Journal
A daily journal is a place for you to write ideas, things you have to do, and whatever else comes up during your day. The best daily journal is something that you can bring around with you. The best effect 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 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 your best bet. It’s a journal that you can easily get on Amazon.
Here’s how this journaling idea works: 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:
- 3 amazing things that happened today
- How could you have made today even better?
The five-minute journal allows you to practice gratitude, clarify your priorities, set a personal vision, celebrate victories, and identify improvements with a few minutes of effort every day. It’s a great journal for anyone looking to improve their life.”
8. Write to Boost Creativity
Whenever I’m creativity stuck or have writer’s block, I pull from a list of journaling ideas that help me get my creative juices flowing. Two of my favorite creativity ideas.
Write 10 ideas for different journal prompts:
- 10 businesses you can create
- 10 books you can write
- 10 places you want to travel
- 10 ways you can make more money
- 10 ways you can save time
Getting ideas on paper helps you get some momentum.
Another idea I like is to write about something from the past using various journal prompts:
- Journal about the first thing you remember
- Journal about the first time you fell in love
- Journal about your first kiss
- Journal about a painful injury
- Journal about a hard lesson you learned early
- Journal about a time you changed your mind
There are endless things you can write about, and once you get going, it’s hard to stop!
9. Keep a Mistakes Journal
We all make mistakes. And while those mistakes can be painful at the moment, it’s 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.
These are 9 great journaling ideas for improving your life.
- Keep a Habit Journal
- Do morning pages (or freeform journal)
- Journal to Become Your Best Self
- Write to Solve Anxiety and Worry
- Start a Goals Journal
- Keep a Daily Journal
- Use the Five-Minute Journal
- Write to Boost Creativity
- Keep a Mistakes Journal
While I don’t use each of these prompts every day, I’ve used all of them at different points to improve 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.
If you’re new to journaling, pick one idea that sounds interesting to you and try it for a few days. If it works, keep going. If not, pick another form of journaling and try that. Little by little, you’ll find the right practice that works 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.