A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling for Personal Growth

pink journal and pencils

Journaling can be a powerful tool for personal growth. You can learn a lot about yourself and gain thoughtful insights into your experiences, your values, and your beliefs. There are many different types of journaling and it’s very common for someone who’s never tried it to wonder how to begin journaling for personal growth.

Journaling can be used to find answers to life’s difficult questions, to find peace with your past, to contemplate your future.  As a growth tool, it’s often helpful to have questions, or guided prompts, to help focus your thoughts and direct them inward.

The use of prompts, or direct questions, help to steer your writing in ways that give you personal insights you might not get otherwise.  Focusing on a topic or question that is provided for you helps direct your thinking to a particular subject and allows you to dig deep into thoughts you would not necessarily have explored.

As a child, I wrote religiously in my diary – a tiny little thing with a pink cover and a real lock and key (as if that somehow prevented my brother’s eyes from reading my secrets!) 

Even throughout college and young adulthood, I had a blank book in which I would occasionally share thoughts, favorite poems, and snippets of song lyrics that felt meaningful to me at the time.  And then, at some point, I just stopped.

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How to Begin Journaling for Personal Growth

Recently I’ve renewed my interest in journaling, specifically using prompts to provide direction to my writing.  And because this type of journaling has a specific goal in mind, it’s more intriguing to me than simply opening to a blank page and filling it with whatever comes to mind.

While you can type your journal into your computer, most people find it more effective to use actual pen and paper.  It seems somehow to deepen the thought process and connect you more closely to your words. If you are just beginning your journaling journey, I encourage you to try both methods to see which works best for you.

“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.”

Jen Williamson

The eleven suggestions below will lay out several different approaches to help you begin the process.

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Prompts You Can Use to Begin Journaling for Personal Growth

1. Review your day.

Take notes on your experiences of the day.

  • What happened – good and bad, large and small?
    • How did you feel about and respond to the day’s activities?
    • What did you do well?
    • Were there mistakes that you can correct and learn from?
    • What did you learn that you can use in the future?
    • How can tomorrow be better than today?

2. Make a list of your goals and write about your progress progress toward each of them.

Think about your goals and list the progress you made toward each. If you failed to do anything to make progress toward one or more of your goals, note that, too.

  • How do you feel about the progress you have made?
    • What are the next steps that will bring you closer to the goal? Do you understand what you need to focus on, and how to do that?
    • If you didn’t experience progress, why not?
    • Look at the obstacles you have surpassed, and the ones still to come. How do you feel about your ability to reach your goal?

woman's hand writing down goals on pad of paper.  How to begin journaling for personal growth

3. Focus on one self-improvement goal and create an action plan.

  • Pick one goal to focus on. Write about it from start to finish.
    • Consider your reasons for that goal, and why it is important to you.
    • Create an action plan and timeline for your goal.
    • Record your experiences, progress, successes, and feelings about it all.
    • Note what it’s like when you achieve that goal.

4. Confront your fears.

  • Write about your fears.
    • What are you afraid of?
    • Why do you think you’re afraid of those things?
    • How do your fears impact your life?
    • What is your plan to address those fears? 
    • Writing about fear is important, because it allows you to step back and look at those fears from a distance.  You aren’t confronting them directly at this point, but learning to understand them better.

5. List five things that you are grateful for.

  • What are you grateful for?
    • Make a list of several items each day and notice how your perspective on life changes.
    • Does your list change from day to day?
    • Are the things you are grateful for within your control or are they completely independent of any action you take (like a sunny day)?
Woman writing about gratitude, how to begin journaling for personal growth

6. Write about the obstacles in your life.

  • What’s standing in your way?
    • List the obstacles in your life that you believe are blocking you from happiness or achieving your goals.
    • Are there ways to work around these obstacles?
    • Are there solutions to them – ways to remove them altogether?
    • Is there someone or something that can help you deal with them?

7. Contemplate the future.

  • Aside from your specific goals, what does your dream life look like?
    • How are you planning on getting there?
    • Where would you like to be in five years? Ten years?
    • Can you create a plan to help you work toward the life you want?

8. Write about what is causing you to feel negative emotions.

  • What in your life is getting you down or leaves you feeling dissatisfied?
    • What are the situations, people, habits, and beliefs that are causing you the most grief?
    • Why do these things bother you?
    • What can you do about it?
    • If you cannot control the situation, is there a way of adjusting your reaction to it that would lead to improvements?
    • Are these short-term dissatisfactions, or are they ongoing?
    • Are they clustered in one particular area of your life – career, family, finances?
    • What are some action steps you can take to improve things?

9. List the best thing and the worst thing that happened today.

  • What are these two things and what was so great or terrible about them?
    • What specifically made them your “best” and “worst”?
    • How did you react to these occurrences?
    • What actions, for the best thing, can you repeat to recreate the event?
    • What can you do differently to eliminate the worst thing?
woman in grey sweats writing in blue journal

10. Make a bucket list.

  • Make a list of big dreams you would like to achieve during the remainder of your life.
    • They don’t have to be realistic or easy to accomplish, just of interest to you.
    • When you look at your list, are there consistent themes? Such as a longing for travel or adventure, or financial freedom?
    • Which of these might you want to pursue? What would that look like?

11. Use journaling prompts.

There are literally thousands of journaling prompts you can choose to use at any time. They are easily found online, or you can purchase journals that have a prompt on each page. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • List five things you appreciate about each member of your family.
  • Describe your ideal day.
  • If I could speak to my teenage self, I would say…
  • I wish that others knew I…
  • Five things that always bring a smile to my face.

“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.”

Julia Cameron

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Final Thoughts on A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling for Personal Growth

Journaling each day can seem time consuming, but it’s time that’s well spent.

Would you like to develop a routine that incorporates journaling into your life? These 11 ideas can get you started. It won’t be long before you begin noticing the benefits and realize you’ve created a journaling habit. Then you can branch out and explore all different types of journaling!

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