Journaling techniques or methods are ways that you can better utilize the time you have to journal. They give you a tool to make journaling your thoughts easier.
After 20 plus years of journaling I can say that having different ways to journal really helps when you are struggling to get the writing flow going. The blank page can incite overwhelm and fear!
Here are my favorite journal techniques, so I never have to stare at a blank page.
1. Problem Solving Technique: Ask a Question and Walk Away
If you are trying to solve a problem, then write down the question(s) that you have around that problem. Write down as many as you can think of. Then walk away.
Yes, that is right don’t journal about them!
Why? When you do this, you are signaling to the Universe and your subconscious that you need help. You are announcing to both that you would like some answers. And luckily, most of the time you get an answer, or at least a starting point to solving it!
How long should you stay away? This is all up to you, it can be five minutes or an entire day. It doesn't matter. The point is that you're putting the questions out there and allowing the answers to start coming to you.
You're not stressing about it. You're not creating an issue about it. You're letting the answers come to you. You let them flow in.
I typically will do this at night right before bed. This way I clear my mind and allow my subconscious to work while I am sleeping. First thing in the morning, grab your pen get to writing!
2. Meditative Journaling
The second thing that you can do is combine meditation and journaling. I do this when nothing is flowing, but I want to make progress. By combining journaling with a meditation then you get the best of both! It's really easy to. Turn on some music. Begin to meditate without trying to force anything. As soon as you have an insight into something you do want to explore, grab your pen and write. Go back and forth between the two as needed.
3. Journal Prompts
Journal prompts are a great way to get your thoughts flowing. Journal prompts are sentences or ideas that help focus your mind in one direction. They can also trigger ideas or questions around what you were working on.
You can Google these they are everywhere!
You can also create your own. I went through an old journal and pulled out all the questions that I noticed worked for me. Then I recorded them in Notion (an organizing tool I use), so when I am stuck I can quickly grab a question.
I will give you an example of a journal prompt so you can get the idea.
“Write out what your new identity is if you follow your dream.”
4. Intuitive Guidance
When I am stuck and really have no idea what direction to turn to, I will ask for direction. Then I will use either an oracle or tarot card deck, or a book to discover what I need.
If I am using an oracle card deck, then I pull a card. Then read the page in the accompanying book. I will pay attention to what stands out to me. Then I will journal on that. If nothing stands out I will review my issues I am working on and see how the card might apply to it. Trust your instincts with this one and start journaling on the one part that calls to you.
Some extra questions you might consider are:
What does that mean? Why did I draw this card? What does that have to do with my problem? Is it the solution to my problem?
With the book approach, I grab a book (usually The Four Agreements) and turn to a page. I read a couple pages and pick what most resonated with me. Then I use that to journal with.
There is no right or wrong with this journaling technique. The idea is to get you started, not that it has to be perfect.
5. Re-Read Past Journal Entries
I will go back and re-read my previous journal entries. Something will jump out at me as something to explore and expand upon. You may see a lose thread that you can continue writing about
6. Brain Dump
A brain dump is a technique where you are putting everything that is in your head onto paper. You just keep writing until nothing more is coming! This is great to do before bed or when you are overwhelmed with too much to do.
Stress and things to do can keep us wide awake. But when we put it all on paper, our minds feel like it is taken care of and won’t be forgotten. Making falling asleep faster. In fact studies have shown it will cut about 7 minutes off your fall asleep time.
This technique can cause a bit of overwhelm when you see how much there is! I recommend you begin to understand what you have direct control of. Mark everything on the list as either you control, or you have no control. Then you can work on creating a plan for what to do with those that you control. And release what you don't control.
7. Free Writing
This is a technique where you just let your thoughts go to paper without thinking about them. This practice is known by many names. Such as: Morning pages, stream of consciousness and free writing.
What is the difference? Not much, the general idea behind them is all the same. You pick up your pen and just start writing. No judgement, no plan – just writing.
Free writing is good to do in the morning, right upon waking. This allows what happened in dream state to be top of mind. And this gives your subconscious a cleaner connection to the paper. This can tie directly into the very first technique we talked about. When stuck a on a problem write it down before you go to bed. Then in the morning get up and just start writing. You will be amazed at how quickly answers start showing up in your writing.
This one can be one of the harder journaling methods to get used to. We often stop to think about what to write. And think it isn't good enough. The goal is just to write. Even if it makes no sense at all. Start by setting a timer for three minutes and work your way to longer time periods.
If you prefer you can also use a page count. Start with one page and then go to two, etc.
Difference Between Brain Dump and Free Writing
The difference between these two, is that the brain dump is more of a list of everything that you are thinking about. You are actively engaged with what is being written. In a free write, it is more about letting the words come without forcing them. It is not necessarily a list, but more about removing the thinking and analyzing from your writing.
8. Picture Exercise
I created this technique when I was going through my divorce. I find it is especially good when you are doing emotional healing work and are over glorifying the past.
How you do this is, take a picture or two and write out the story of what was really going on behind the scenes. It is easy to see smiling faces and forget what was going on. Did you just have a fight? Did you not really want to be there? What emotions and events are behind the picture?
Allow yourself to see the past as it was. If you do find that it was great memories, then honor that they were. If it wasn't as great as you remembered, then use that with your healing work.
You may also want to do some heart chakra healing with what comes up.
9. Letter Writing
Letter writing is where your journaling is a letter. This can be a letter to yourself, or to someone specific. The idea is to get your feelings out without necessarily needing to send it.
Some letter ideas are:
- Gratitude letter to someone. Show your appreciation and love for them.
- Letter to yourself about how much you love you. Or letter to yourself about how proud you are of how far you have come. Showing ourselves self-compassion is a very powerful healing tool.
- A letter to someone who made you angry or hurt you. Expressing your emotions is healthy. But not always safe or possible to do with the person who caused the pain. Write them a letter that you won't send to get all those emotions out.
If you write a letter to someone else, and don't want it around, you may want to destroy the pages afterwards. Shredding it can bring an extra level of release for you. This is a great way to work on your forgiveness of the situation also.
10. Gratitude Journal
Gratitude is about being thankful and appreciative of what we have. Our minds are naturally wired to pay attention to the negative. Gratitude journaling helps you pull yourself into a positive mindset. Which in general impacts almost every area of your life.
Gratitude journaling is also great for improving our mindset and overall mental health. There are many studies on it's benefits. My favorite is how it can help us to even improve our physical health. (Checkout the study.)
It is easiest to do this journaling method in list format. It doesn't even need to be many things. A list as small as three things will help you get results. And get started on what you might also want to journal about.
It might seem like this should be easy one to do, but I am often amazed at exactly how hard it is. I do have a YouTube video on how to do gratitude journaling and some of it's benefits.
11. Future Self Journaling
The short version of what this is, is that you write about where you want to end up from where you are today. This is more than just about goals and what you want to achieve. It should also include what self-development you might want to work on. Think of it as how you want to evolve over the next year or so. In all areas of life.
Who do you want to be in a year or five.
This is a great technique to use, at the start of the year or on your birthday. It is a good way to usher in a new time. But you can also use it anytime you feel stuck. It will help you find the path out of where you are.
12. Why Ladder
Toddlers are on to something, by constantly asking why. When you ask why you can uncover so many things.
This is why I love the why ladder. You can quickly reach the core of what the problem is. Then you can focus on fixing the problem instead of being stuck wondering what is going on!
The why ladder is a process where you just keep asking why. We often stop at the surface level of problems and don’t find the real issue. By continuing to ask ourselves why, we can dig deeper.
You would start this with a question such as 'Why am I always running late?'
If your answer is 'because I am not done with the last thing', don't stop there. Ask 'Why am I always running over on my last activity?'
Then if the answer is 'because I didn't have the resources to finish it', continue by asking why.
Keep going until there is nothing more to uncover. The answer really exposes the true problem.
Sometimes in a why ladder you need to insert another question besides why. This is where you would pause and instead of answering why, ask a question that helps you explore it better.
You are journaling about your job. You are working too many hours and it is impacting your health. You could start with a why ladder on why you are working too many hours. But you might need to add in a question such as:
Why is it common in your industry to work that many hours? Or why won’t your boss hire more help.
This will allow you to continue digging into the problem and not get stuck with no answer.
13. Conversation Journaling
The conversation technique is where you imagine you are having a conversation with someone. What would they ask you, what would you ask them? What would your counselor or best friend ask you if you were talking about a problem you were having?
This might feel a bit odd at first, and honestly sometimes when I re-read my journal when I use this technique it makes me laugh. It might seem like you have multiple personalities. But the beauty of this technique is it helps you get out of the self judgement and have more compassion for yourself.
This is a great one to use in combination with the Why Ladder. They naturally feed off each other. You can imagine your counselor just asking 'why'!
14. Mood Tracking
Keeping a mood journal is a good gateway into understanding what is going on in our emotional world. Sometimes we aren't even sure exactly what we are feeling.
To do this as a journal practice, write down exactly what you are feeling. Include date, time and what has been going on.
You can do this multiple times throughout the day. This allows you to see how different things impact you. And even how your mood shifts throughout the day.
I would recommend at least one time a week review your mood entries to see if there is anything you need to journal more about. Is there something repetitive that is causing a problem. If so, use the Why ladder or even conversation in order to work through what is going on.
15. Intuition Journal
Intuition journaling is typically taught in two ways. First as another name for free writing. You are allowing your intuition to flow out onto the paper. Since we already covered that, let's dig into the other way to use this.
This is where you are tracking your intuition. The goal for this is to grow your intuition and learn to listen to it in the moment. To connect with not only your intuition but even your higher source.
You do this by recording what intuitive thoughts you had, and any supporting information that might be relevant for it. Then either at the end of the day or end of week, reviewing what actually happened. With a journal session about anything that stands out for you.
This is not necessarily a practice you do all the time, only when you want to tap into your intuition. I spent about 6 months doing this when I was first learning to better listen to my intuition. Then I felt like I had enough connection to it, that I could drop the focused practice.
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