Looking for ways to lift your mood and improve your mental health? Journaling might be the answer. Making a habit of writing in a self-reflection journal can help you manage stress and start each day in a positive frame of mind.
If you’re not sure how to start journaling, and the idea of staring at a blank page sounds a bit daunting, we’ve got you covered. Here are five journal prompts to help you on your journey toward self-discovery.
A daily sentence
Yep, that’s it—one sentence a day. It might be a brief description of your emotional state or a childhood memory that keeps nudging its way into your consciousness. This prompt is helpful if you want to journal regularly but struggle to find the time. If you’re looking to build journaling into a habit, you might find that a daily sentence is a relatively easy way to make it happen.
If you’re really pressed for time, try keeping your journal in Evernote. That way, you can add your daily sentence wherever you are, on any device, without having to carry a physical notebook around with you. Since each entry is short, you can type it on your phone whenever you have a spare minute.
Power tip: You can record your daily sentence as a voice memo. This lets you journal even when writing isn’t an option. Get an idea while walking the dog or making dinner? Record it in Evernote and it saves to your journal automatically.
Try writing in your journal as soon as you wake up. Yes, before your shower, before your espresso forte, and definitely before your battle with the morning commute. This strategy comes from Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way.” She explains that most of us have mental defenses that suppress negative thoughts and feelings. Once in place, these defenses take effort to maintain, requiring you to spend precious mental energy throughout the day.
Morning pages are a way to purge this negativity before your defenses have a chance to kick in. With these negative thoughts out of the way (or at least off to the side), you might discover a new state of mind that serves you better.
This writing is strictly a stream of consciousness. Switch topics. Repeat yourself. Commit atrocious spelling errors. The grammar police aren’t allowed to comment. Simply set a morning goal for yourself to write a certain amount. Try starting with one or two pages and build your way up to three or more! If it feels daunting to meet a page count, a time limit can be just as effective. Try setting a timer for five minutes and write as much as you can before the buzzer.
Keeping a self-reflection journal and re-reading it periodically can help you identify patterns in your behavior and observe how you grow over time.
If mornings are out of the question or you want something more structured, try doing some self-reflection in the evening with a daily recharge. This involves writing about specific events that occurred throughout your day. You might address your achievements, challenges, relationships, or any self-discoveries that occur to you as you write.
To get started quickly, check out Evernote’s daily recharge template. It sets up multiple prompts for you, so you don’t have to confront the abyss of the empty page. Just apply the template to any note and start journaling.
Power tip: After you write an entry in Evernote, tag it with a few of the topics you covered. When you’re ready to re-read your journal later, you can filter by tag to see every entry that mentions a particular idea, issue, or emotion.
Write five things you’re grateful for every day. These can range from the simplest pleasures to the most important people and events in your life. For example, you might list things that made you laugh throughout the day or describe something a friend or family member did that you admire.
According to licensed psychologist Maria Pia del Castillo, reflecting on gratitude allows you to focus on the positive things that have happened rather than the negative things that may or may not happen.
“You can easily go from saying you had a terrible day to realizing your day had some great aspects to it simply by looking back on the positive statements you wrote down.” — Maria Pia del Castillo
Evernote’s Gratitude Journal template prompts you to reflect on the positivity that has a difference in your life and to draw lessons or takeaways from your experiences.
Reflect on the good (and the not-so-good)
Journaling about positive thoughts is greatly beneficial to help you reflect on what’s going right in your life. But journaling about negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences can help you overcome them.
According to psychologists Chiara Ruini and Cristina Mortara, writing about troubling experiences can help you construct narratives around them and give them meaning. This kind of expressive writing can help lower your blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and improve your overall well-being. Even better, it doesn’t take much for this kind of writing to start making a difference. Just 15 minutes of writing about negative experiences for four days in a row has been linked to mental health improvements that can last months after the journaling ink is dry.
Work it your way
If the self-reflection journal prompts above sound enticing, you can combine them to really check in on your well-being every day. Start your day with a morning intention—just one sentence will do. Think about what you’re looking forward to each day, as well as what you’re grateful for at the moment. In the evening, revisit your morning journal entry and reflect on your day. Plus, you can set goals and put changes into action for tomorrow.
Keeping a journal and re-reading it periodically can help you identify patterns in your behavior and observe how you grow over time. According to Maud Purcell, the benefit of this kind of self-reflection is that “When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you will be able to look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved.”
Head to our Mental Health Resources page for even more tools, templates, and articles to benefit your mental health.
Originally published 10/16/2019, updated on 5/26/2022.