Journaling Tips: How to Use a Journal for Personal Growth and Happiness!

Regular journaling allows reflection that spurs personal growth and development, allowing you to be more loving, peaceful, and happy. This article has two parts: suggestions on what to write in your journal, and top tips to help your journaling practice be a cherished and effective part of your personal growth.

We start with a list of ideas on what to include in a journal to get the most out of it.

1. Inspiring quotes or insights you have to help you live a better life.

Review these entries during difficult times in your life.

2. List what you appreciate.

Make your journal a gratitude journal by writing five things you are thankful for each day.

Appreciation is a wonderful antidote to sadness, depression, and overwhelm. List all that is skillful, good, wonderful, praiseworthy, and blessed about your life, the life of your family and friends, and in the world at large. Being clear on these things will help bring you joy, energy, and a mind of possibilities.

You can even apply the agape arsenal technique of gratuitous gratitude. Take something you typically see as a problem, and brainstorm how it serves you and all life. What beautiful qualities does it help to teach you? What delusions does it help you let go of? How does this benefit you and others? See what is skillful, good, and beautiful about this problem. For example, I appreciate how my severe allergies have given me a profound appreciation for my health and vitality when they are present and a deep compassion for others who are sick.

3. List your priorities.

Reflect on what your priorities are now. Being clear on your priorities helps you simplify your life, focus on the important, and bring you more peace, clarity, and joy. Your priorities will change over time, yet the value of knowing what motivates and inspires you in the present moment cannot be underestimated.

4. Write your goals and plans for the future, framing them as skillful intentions.

First, list all of your goals and dreams.

Then transform your goals into skillful intentions. Skillful intentions seek to help, inspire, and enrich the lives of others, or connect you with other beings or life. In this way, the goal, "I want a nursing degree by 2020," turns into, "I want the skills and knowledge to effectively heal and ameliorate the suffering of other people who are sick or injured. I will pursue this by obtaining a nursing degree by 2020."

Skillful intentions help reveal the love, service, and generosity in your goals. Being clear on how your intention is an act of love and service will give you energy, persistence, and joy as you pursue your goal. Avoid goals and intentions that cannot be framed as an act of love and service. They will not bring you lasting happiness.

Then journal about your plans for how you will implement these loving intentions. They will help you determine your first steps towards achieving your goals. Be careful to not greedily cling to the plan, as this will cause you needless suffering. All plans must be fluid, flexible, dynamic, and amendable to account for the constantly changing nature of reality.

5. Write notes in your journal.

When consuming inspiring books, podcasts, or talks, take notes in your journal of all the things you may like to remember.

6. Mentally jiu-jitsu delusional thoughts.

Draw two lines down a page to create three columns. In the first column, list each of the thoughts you think during emotional disturbances. Evaluate each thought to discern if it contains a delusion. (Visit our What to Be Mindful of page for a list of common delusions.) In the second column, write down each of the delusions it contains. In the third column, provide a clam, rational, truthful and kind response to each of the delusional thoughts. Through this activity, you prime yourself to mindfully see and debunk delusions that arise in your head.

7. Write and respond to your questions about life and everything.

If you seek joy, truth, and a life free from suffering, you will need to get curious and question everything. Your journal is a place to write down those questions and explore your own answers to them in your search for truth and freedom. All of this questioning and investigating will help bring you more clarity and wisdom.

8. Write about your meditation practice.

Document any unusual experiences or insights gained during meditation. Write stories sharing the benefits you see in your life due to your mindfulness practice.  Include questions you have about the practice, instructions, and the application of mindfulness in daily life. You can ask these to your meditation teacher, or try and figure out the answers yourself through your personal experience.

9. Agape Arsenal Techniques.

Many agape arsenal techniques require some thoughtful reflection, including mental jiu-jitsu, blame flipping, gratuitous gratitude, and so on. Use your journal to do that thoughtful reflection.

10. Reflect on situations that you handled unskillfully.

Write down what happened, being sure to note what thoughts arose in you, how you reacted, and what it was that triggered your reactions. Look at the thoughts that arose and look for any mental distortions in them. For any delusions seen, use the mental jiu-jitsu technique to create kind, honest, and truthful responses to these delusions.

Write down how you would respond to the situation if you were the embodiment of love, peace, compassion, and joy. You may experiment with several different responses until you find one that feels skillful, dignified, kind, and compassionate to all involved. Doing this helps you set a new intention and a clear skillful strategy for how to respond to similar situations in the future. It doesn't guarantee you will behave in this manner, but it dramatically increases your chances that you will.

Finally, brainstorm genuine ways that you can make amends to anyone you have harmed through your unskillfulness. How can you show them that you love and care for them in a way that they would understand and appreciate?

Making amends may be frightening or humbling, but these emotions are just temporary visitors to the body, and they are not as strong as your love, which is the best motivation for trying to make amends. When you make amends, let go of the results. The person you hurt may still not want to associate with you, and out of love for them, you need to give them the freedom for them to do what makes sense for themselves. The main thing is communicating your love and willingness for connection with them.

11. When upset, journaling allows you to vent in a skillful manner.

By venting in your journal, you are less likely to take actions that you will later regret, "explode" on others, or engage in complaining and gossip with others. When you vent in your journal, you have the opportunity to air your emotions in a skillful, healthy way that does not impact others. This process of expressing your thoughts on paper, often helps a person to then let go of the thoughts, so they don’t mull them over repeatedly. Later, when your mind is calm and peaceful, you can review what you wrote and identify the delusions present that caused your upset feelings.

12. Journal about whatever else you want to journal about.

It's your journal. Make it your own and do with it as you see fit.

Now that you have an idea of what to write in your journal, here are some tips to help you get more out of your journaling experience. 

Tips on Journaling

1. Start every journal entry with the current date.

When reviewing entries, this aids you in seeing your progress over the months and years.

2. Include topic headers for easy reference.

Examples of topic header include things like, "Good quote on living joyfully," "My relationship with my spouse," "Spiritual insights," "Reactive Patterns," "Sign of Progress," "What's important to me now," "My current intentions," and so on. If you know what you plan to write, you can write the topic header first. Otherwise, leave a blank line to add a topic header once you have completed your journal entry.

3. Journal at least 30 minutes per week for several months to get in the habit of it.

When you start journaling, it may not feel natural to you. Block off 30 minutes a week for dedicated journaling time. As you journal on a regular basis you will start to appreciate how journaling improves the quality of your life and how much it has to offer you.

4. Journal whenever you feel the need to.

Your life situation will have times when journaling calls to you. Don't resist. Go for it! Journal as much as you need to.

5. Write knowing that no one else will read it.

Our fears creates barriers to authenticity in our daily lives. Be as authentic, genuine, and as honest as possible in your journal. If you write fearful that others will read it, or with hopes that it will be published, it will be inauthentic, cause you to censor thoughts and feelings, and serve you less.

Write for an audience of one: you! Then your journal serves as a transformational tool for your mental health and happiness. Your journal will allow you to practice being authentic, genuine, and honest. If your journal contains private comments you wish no one else to see, then take appropriate precautions to prevent others from reading it.

6. Periodically review what you wrote.

This is a wonderful way to remind yourself of your skillful intentions and the collective wisdom you have gathered. You may also be pleasantly surprised by how much progress and growth you have had over the months and years. Things that caused you a lot of aggravation years ago, may no longer do so now.

We hope you find these tips useful to get the most out of your journaling practice. If you have other advice on how to use a journal, or what to include in it, please share it in the comments below. Thanks!