October 22, 2012

Self Help Journal for Self Discovery and Expression

Written by Rachel Eddins

self-help journal young woman on laptop

33 Ways to Use Your Self Help Journal for Discovery and Expression

As a therapist, I often suggest to clients that they explore their feelings and thoughts by keeping a journal. Sometimes clients ask for a bit of direction with this process.

Journaling helps you step outside and gain perspective of your inner world

One way to start a journal is to simply notice where you are right now.

We are often aware of what we are doing in the present moment. But our inner world is not so easy to access. When you live inside something it’s not so easy to see what it is. It’s hard to a perspective on a situation when one is in the situation. For example, a goldfish doesn’t see that he lives in the ocean, the water is simply his world.

If you can take a moment to step outside of whatever it is you are in, you can see it.

Journal writing can help you step out of your mind and notice what is going on inside your mind and body. Our thoughts, beliefs, internal sensations, etc actually have more impact over us than we realize. Thoughts and beliefs can be the only thing that keeps us limited in life. Thoughts and beliefs are nothing more than what you tell yourself over and over.

Journal writing helps you to step outside of your own mind. When you are writing out your thoughts and then reading them to yourself, you can clearly see what they are.

Start journaling with where you are right now.

There are many ways to begin journaling. You can start with a thought, you can start with a feeling, or you can simply start with a blank slate. You may be preoccupied with something that just happened, you may be preoccupied with a certain feeling or you may be going back in memory to a distant time. The important thing is to start with “where you are” in this particular moment.

As you journal in this way on a consistent basis, you will get better and better at observing your inner world.

Some useful journal questions to prompt you are:

• Where am I now in this moment?
• What is happening in this present situation?
• What is going on with me right now?
• What am I feeling right now?
• What am I doing right now?
• What do I seem to be thinking right now?
• What am I wanting right now?
• What am I telling myself right now?
• What am I fantasizing right now?

Big List of Journaling Prompts and Questions for Exploration

Once you get in the habit of noticing your inner world, you can focus on specific topics in your journal. Here is a big list of journaling prompts and ideas:

  1. Write down what happened today and how you felt about it.
  2. Write a letter to a person you are angry with. Say everything you are feeling and wish you had the nerve to say.
  3. Draw a picture of the person you wrote the letter to in #2.
  4. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. List all the big things, all the small things, and everything in between that you can think of.
  5. Circle the three most important things on the list you made in #3. Write a paragraph for each, expressing your appreciation to the person who had the most influence over it. if possible, turn this into an actual letter and send it.
  6. Make a list of the things that you feel upset about right now. Write down as many as you can think of until you can’t think of any more. Then choose the top five.
  7. For each of the top five things you identified in #6, list 10 things you can do to gain control of the situation. Circle the top three from each list.
  8. Make a timeline that represents your life. Fill it in with the most significant events that have shaped you: your early years, your teen years, and each decade that has followed. Draw pictures or icons next to the most important events. Use crayons or makers if you wish. Look for any patterns or themes in your life story. Notice how important events have impacted you.
  9. Write a few pages about your feelings about the timeline.
  10. Describe how your life would be different if ­­­____ had or had not happened. Here are some examples:
    1. If you parents had divorced
    2. If your parents had remained married
    3. If your parents had been married
    4. If your mother hadn’t passed away
    5. If you hadn’t moved to ___
    6. If you had gone to college
    7. If you hadn’t gone to college
    8. If you had gone to ___ College
    9. If you had never met ____
    10. If you hadn’t broken up with ____
  11. Make a list of all the things you wish you could do before your life is over.
  12. Make a list of things no one knows about you.
  13. Write about your junior year in high school.
  14. Write about what life was like before you became a parent.
  15. Write about what you wish you had known before you became a parent.
  16. Make a list of the things you still want to learn about being a parent.
  17. Describe what it was like when you first met your partner.
  18. Write about what you wish you had known about your partner before you married him/her.
  19. Write about what you wish your partner had known about you before (s)he married you.
  20. Write a letter to yourself as you were at age 10. Tell yourself:
    1. What your life is like now
    2. What you have learned since you were 10
    3. What you want him or her to know
    4. What you want him or her to beware of
    5. What you want him or her to enjoy every moment of
  21. Write a letter to your own parents. Tell them what your life is like now.
  22. Write a letter to someone from your childhood or adolescence who didn’t appreciate you or who misunderstood you. Tell the person what you want them to know and how you feel about the lack of connection between you.
  23. Think of someone you never acknowledged for something important. Write that person a letter and acknowledge him or her.
  24. Think of someone who never acknowledged you for something important. Write them a letter and tell then want you want them to know.
  25. Make a list of five miracles you want to happen in the coming year. Write a paragraph or two describe each one and how your life will be better if it happens
  26. For each of the five miracles, make a list of:
    1. Five barriers or forces that block or prevent it from happening
    2. Five positive influences, things that encourage or support its happening
    3. Five things you can do to reduce the barriers and strengthen the positive influences
  27. Write about the five things you most like to do.
  28. Write about the five things you most dislike doing.
  29. Make a list of five places you’d like to visit. Describe what you imagine them to be like.
  30. Write about three things you most regret doing or not doing. Describe what happened and how you feel about it.
  31. Write a letter to your children, even if they have not yet been born. Tell them what you want them to know about you.
  32. Write a letter to your grandchildren, even if they have not yet been born. Tell them what you want them to know about you.
  33. Write a letter to your descendants one hundred years from now. Describe what your life is like today.
  34. Add your own ideas here:_______________________________________________________

Next Steps

For additional self help journal exercises to help you explore your feelings in greater depth, visit the journal exercises for individuals or couples in our wellness library.

Journaling can accelerate your progress in therapy as well. Share your journal with your therapist or at least thoughts or emotions that stand out to you as you explore your inner world. You can make huge shifts in your life by revealing thoughts, beliefs and difficult feelings that have been holding you back.

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