Beyond “Dear Diary”: The Why & How of Journaling So You Get the Most Out of This Noble Practice.

Reflection on 30 years of journaling and many notebooks later.

I’ve journaled daily for over 30 years now, and I see many benefits but also some dangers. 

Journal the right way – for you – and you can gain powerful insights that will help you live the life you want. 

Journal the wrong way- for you – and you will keep spinning the wheels on a stationary bike and not move an inch. 

To Journal or not to Journal. 

Journaling, along with reading, may be the most consistent of all my daily habits.

Simply put, I write to think, to reflect, and improve.

But if you’re an Ambitious Procrastinator who tends to overthink things, journaling is not without dangers. 

It’s easy to get stuck inside your head while writing and end up dissecting every little bit of life instead of taking action to change things. 

Just familiarising yourself with your feelings and understanding them isn’t enough; in the same way, knowing something does not equal applying knowledge. 

However, if done right, journaling can be a fantastic tool for self-exploration and growth

So, to journal or not to journal? 

The short answer is: do it! Just make sure you pick the right format for you. 

It’s not about whether to journal or not; it’s about how to journal to get the most benefits out of practice. 

The WHY behind your journaling.

Now that we agreed journaling is a valuable tool (even if I say so myself) let’s find out why you would want to get into journaling. 

Ask yourself: what are you hoping to achieve by journaling?

  • Do you want to record your experiences and feelings?
  • Are you trying to solve a problem or make a decision?
  • Are you trying to change something – your behavior, thoughts, or feelings?
  • Are you trying to focus on something more?
  • Are you interested in self-exploration only?

Benefits of Journaling.

Journaling has many benefits for mental, emotional, and even physical health. Here are some of the main reasons and benefits of journaling:

Self-reflection: Journaling provides a space to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, which can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself.

Writing in a journal can help you better understand yourself and your experiences, leading to greater self-reflection and personal growth.

Emotional processing: Writing about difficult emotions can help you process and healthily cope with them. Processing difficult emotions is an important part of maintaining good mental health, and journaling provides a safe and supportive space to do just that.

Stress relief: Journaling can be a helpful tool for reducing stress and anxiety, as it provides a way to release tension and process difficult emotions. Feeling stressed and anxious? Write it out! Journaling has been shown to be a helpful tool for reducing stress and promoting relaxation.

Creativity: Journaling can help to spark creativity and generate new ideas, as well as serve as a space to record and develop creative projects. 

Want to boost your creativity and generate new ideas? Journaling can help! By providing a space to record and develop your creative projects, you’ll be able to access your inner muse with ease.

Improved memory: Journaling can help to improve memory and recall, as writing things down can help to reinforce them in your mind. Looking to set and achieve personal or professional goals? Journaling can be a great way to track progress, identify obstacles, and find solutions to problems.

Goal setting: Journaling can be a helpful way to set and track progress toward personal and professional goals.

Problem-solving: Journaling can be a way to work through problems and find solutions, as it provides a space to brainstorm and explore different options.

Increased self-awareness: Journaling can help to develop greater self-awareness and self-reflection, which can lead to personal growth and development.

Overall, journaling can be a powerful tool for improving mental and emotional well-being, increasing creativity, and achieving personal and professional goals.

What are some popular journaling forms?

There are many different forms of journaling, each with its own unique benefits and purposes. Some of the most popular forms of journaling – and we’re not even taking of the medium such as analog vs. digital – include:

  • Long-form
  • Stream of consciousness
  • Bullet Journal
  • Forward Moving Questions (or using Prompts)
  • Interstitial Journaling
  • Awareness Log- Attention-Procrastination Log

Journaling can take many different forms, and it’s important to find the style that works best for you. Some popular journaling forms include:


This involves writing in-depth about your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. It can be a helpful way to process complex emotions and gain a deeper understanding of yourself.

  • Reflective journaling: This involves reflecting on a particular topic or event and exploring your thoughts and emotions related to it. It can be a way to gain insight and self-awareness.
  • Travel journaling: This involves documenting your experiences and observations while traveling. It can be a way to capture memories and reflect on your experiences.
  • Art journaling: This involves incorporating art and creativity into your journaling practice. It can be a way to express yourself visually and explore your creativity.
  • Dream journaling: This involves writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up. It can help you remember your dreams more vividly and gain insights into your subconscious mind.
  • Gratitude journaling: In this form of journaling, you write about the things you are grateful for each day. It can help cultivate a more positive outlook and increase feelings of happiness and contentment.

Journaling for awareness.

 “Ulysses” Syle.

Stream of consciousness. This involves writing without any particular structure or goal in mind. It can be a way to clear your mind and access deeper insights and intuition.

A popular way to journal is to write the so-called Morning Pages.

Julia’s Style.

Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages is another popular form of journaling. Morning Pages involve writing three pages of longhand stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning, without any concern for grammar or structure. 

The idea is to empty your mind of all the clutter and noise that might be holding you back from being creative and productive throughout the day.

Morning Pages can help you clear your mind and reduce stress and anxiety while also providing a space for self-reflection and creativity. Many people find that this practice helps them to develop greater self-awareness and a deeper understanding of their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Morning Pages can also be a helpful way to jumpstart your creativity and overcome writer’s block or other creative challenges.

Dear Diary!

The good old Daily journaling involves writing about your thoughts and experiences on a daily basis. It can be a way to reflect on your day, process emotions, and track progress over time.

On the Go Journaling.

Bullet Journal.

This is a method of journaling that involves using bullet points to organize your thoughts and tasks. It can be a helpful way to increase productivity and manage your time more effectively.

You can simply use bullets at the beginning of each ‚idea,’ or you can sort them by using a different mark, such as a dash to signal a reflection, a star for an idea, or a dot for a task. 

If Bullet Journaling sounds like a practice you’d like to adopt, I recommend checking out Ryder Carrol’s book and method.

Journaling for Change. Stop – Reflect- Improve.

“If feedback doesn’t follow soon after an experience, then we won’t learn from it.”

 –Sönke Ahrens, How to take Smart Notes

By shortening the feedback loop between your work and reflecting on it, you will notice far more accurately the quirks of behavior holding you back or which power you forward.

Awareness Log- Attention-Procrastination Log.

This involves tracking your attention and procrastination throughout the day. It can be a helpful way to identify patterns and develop strategies to stay focused and productive.

One way to do it is to have two columns where the left side describes your behavior and ‚ objective circumstances while the right side describes accompanying emotions. 

The idea is to be equally specific in both columns. 

Interstitial Journaling.

This involves writing in short bursts throughout the day rather than sitting down for a longer writing session. It can be a helpful way to stay present and process your experiences in real time.

Interstitial journaling is a type of journaling that involves capturing brief moments of inspiration, reflection, or insight throughout the day rather than dedicating a specific time to sit down and write in a traditional journal.

To do interstitial journaling, you can follow these steps:

  • Keep a small notebook or use a notes app on your phone to capture your thoughts as they come to you throughout the day.
  • Set reminders or triggers for yourself to check in with your thoughts and emotions regularly, such as after a meeting, before a meal, or before going to bed.
  • Write down whatever comes to mind, whether it’s a sentence, a phrase, or a longer reflection.
  • Be honest and authentic in your writing without worrying about grammar or structure.
  • Use your entries as a way to reflect on your experiences, gain insights into your emotions and thought patterns, and track your personal growth over time.

Interstitial journaling can be a powerful tool for cultivating mindfulness, self-awareness, and creativity in your daily life. It can also help you stay focused on your goals and priorities, and manage stress and anxiety more effectively.

Hansei & Naikan

Hansei and Naikan are two forms of Japanese journaling that focus on self-reflection and self-improvement.

Hansei journaling involves reflecting on one’s actions and behaviors, both positive and negative, and considering how they have impacted oneself and others. The goal is to identify areas for improvement and develop a plan for making positive changes.

Naikan journaling, on the other hand, involves reflecting on one’s relationships with others and considering the ways in which they have been supported and cared for. This form of journaling can help to develop a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation for the people in one’s life.

Both Hansei and Naikan journaling can help develop self-awareness, improve relationships, and cultivate a sense of inner peace and contentment. These practices are particularly popular in Japan, where they are often used in business and personal development contexts.

Forward Moving Questions.

What are Forward Moving Questions? Questions that help you either get unstuck or break the cycle of loop thinking (The chicken or the egg dilemmas) and move forward. 

“The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions you are asking yourself.” 

― Anthony Robbins.

FMQ have the power to re-frame our problems so they become actionable as opposed to Gravity Problems (Gravity problems in life design are challenges or obstacles that are fundamental and difficult to change, much like the force of gravity in the physical world).

Here are some powerful Forward Moving Questions famous people suggest:

This involves asking yourself questions designed to help you move forward and progress toward your goals.

What are examples of some of the best Forward Moving Questions that are designed to help you move forward and make progress towards your goals, clarity, and direction in your life by famous people?

Here are some examples of Forward Moving Questions (FMQs) that have been used by famous people to help them achieve their goals and find clarity and direction in life:

 “What is the one thing I can do today that will bring me closer to my goal?” – Tony Robbins

 “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?” – Oprah Winfrey

 “What are the three things I need to accomplish today to make this day a success?” – Jack Canfield

 “What do I need to let go of in order to move forward?” – Mary Morrissey

“What is the one habit I can develop that will have the greatest positive impact on my life?” – Stephen Covey.

 “What is the biggest obstacle standing in my way, and how can I overcome it?” – Brendon Burchard

 “What is my mission in life, and what can I do today to fulfill that mission?” – Brian Tracy

Here are 10 solid questions to gain clarity on your life’s purpose and direction:

1. What brings you joy and fulfillment in life?

2. What are your unique talents, skills, and strengths?

3. What are your core values and beliefs?

4. What problems or challenges in the world do you feel passionate about solving?

5. What would you do if you had unlimited resources and no constraints?

6. What is your definition of success, and what does it look like for you?

7. Who are your role models or mentors, and what qualities do you admire in them?

8. What are some things you’ve accomplished in the past that you are proud of?

9. What do you want your legacy to be?

10. If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you say?

By asking yourself these types of FMQs regularly, you can gain clarity and focus on your goals, develop a sense of direction in your life, and make progress toward the life you truly want to live.

Name it so you can tame it.

When you make the invisible visible, you have more chances to change for the better.

But also: “what you pay attention to grows.” So make sure that you not only focus on the problem but also look for solutions (and follow up by taking action). 

So why not give it a try?

Grab a pen, and a notebook, open a file, and start writing your way to a healthier, happier you. 

Stop. Reflect. Improve. 

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