What Are Journaling Prompts? Which are Best?

This post explains what journaling prompts are and how you can use them to write more meaningfully

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Searching up “journaling prompts” in Google wasn’t even a remote consideration of mine prior to 2021. It was only upon the realization that journaling would, perhaps, do me some good in the midst of a pandemic that I also discovered my brain isn’t adept enough to fill a page with things other than yesterday’s itinerary or imagery of my last meal.

Although the amount of journaling prompts on the net could fill volumes, this post will simply explain what they are, which type would be best for you, and list several quality ones along the way.

What are journaling prompts? Journaling prompts are brief, thought-provoking words designed to help you find meaningful things to write about in your journal. They give momentum to an otherwise stationary mind. Most journaling prompts come in the form of a question, a quote, a statement, or even a single word.

What is the Purpose of a Journaling Prompt?

No matter how tack-sharp you are, you’re bound to suffer from writer’s block at some point – just like the rest of us. So, a good journaling prompt should accomplish one thing: inspiration.

Like a splash of cold water on a groggy morning complexion, a journaling prompt works by alerting a foggy, blocked brain. If you’re like me and wish to sustain a routine of personal writing, then building a collection of refined journaling prompts would be wise (and should be fun).

The Most Important Quality

The crucial quality all prompts must possess is that they’re able to elicit an open-ended response. Dead-end, yes-or-no answers kill creativity. So, make sure whatever prompts you use inspire deep tangible thinking while providing various possible routes for your answer.

On the other hand, good journaling prompts should also require enough concreteness from your journal entry so that your future self could easily understand it, even years down the road.

I find the most beneficial inspiration comes from journaling prompts that aid me in 1) processing the past, 2) focusing on the present, and 3) mapping out the future. What are some of the best examples for these?

By Processing the Past

Use reflective journaling prompts to take full advantage of your past. What does this mean? According to psychologists, if you can gain clarity on your past, you can then tailor your goals to drastically improve the odds of making for yourself a better future. Some journaling prompts are excellent aids for self-reflection, such as this one:

If you could redo one thing you did in the past, what would it be and why?

The above question can bring up a past experience and guide you into disassembling, analyzing, and reworking it. Not only will this exercise strengthen your inner awareness, but it may also pinpoint what you might need to change, and inspire you to develop the resolve to see it through.

By Focusing on the Present

In recent years the practice of mindfulness, or “being in the present”, has gained strong traction. Not surprisingly, a plethora of written prompts encourage you to close your eyes and consciously take in even the minutest detail of your current surroundings.

But, I find the best prompts involving the present make me compare how and why the things NOW are BETTER than they were in the past. So, an ideal prompt for focusing on the present in my journal would be:

List 10 things you currently take for granted that weren’t available to you one year ago.

The above statement is a great one for writing about your current circumstances because it forces you to sift out and appreciate the advantages you have right now. But it could do more. For instance, if you’re stuck living in the past, believing those were better days, then this prompt could help you to loosen the shackles of embitterment and move on.

By Mapping Out the Future

I’m goal-oriented but supposedly too practical. I HATE the thought of my hard work ending up in futility. If I suspect the effort required now won’t yield corresponding results in the future, I’ll bail out early. This is why I always got low grades in the subjects I saw no personal use for (my Chemistry 11 teacher crowned me the King of Sleeping).

Countless journal prompts invite you to imagine achieving your future goals. These are fine, but I recommend they also trigger a concrete, step-by-step action plan for all the roadblocks along the way.

Next time you’re goal-setting, try this mnemonic acronym as a prompt:

S.M.A.R.T.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

This original formula for business management success has since permeated the pages of countless personal journals. A simple yet robust journaling prompt such as “S.M.A.R.T.” can help you assess the realistic workload involved in executing a goal while providing an actionable blueprint to completion.

Different Types of Journaling Prompts

Now that you understand the purpose of a journaling prompt is to inspire a meaningful, open-ended response, here are the main types. Take these with a grain of salt, though. Journaling prompts can’t fit within the rigid academic criteria of, say, essay writing. Rather than view these as separate lists, view them symbiotically like you would in a Venn diagram. There are a lot of overlaps between the categories.

For Personal Growth

Journaling prompts for personal growth help you to hone in on four areas of personal development: physical, emotional, social, and intellectual. They get to the root of your behavior and habits and inspire you to construct, well, a better you.

Here’s a refined list of superb personal growth prompts for self-improvement:

  1. How can you brighten up your loved ones’ days?
  2. I want to be remembered for… because …
  3. How do you want to feel? How do you feel right now? Why?
  4. I’d like to deepen my relationship with … and this is how I’ll do it:
  5. Describe what would happen if you stopped procrastinating?
  6. I may be too sensitive about … because …

For Mental Health

Long gone are the days when talk of anxiety and depression reddened cheeks and ears. I hate to break it to you, but nowadays it requires more than a bottle of Jack to feel better about life.

Most people need to make a conscientious effort to stay positive, and journaling prompts for mental health offer an inconspicuous, highly effective form of accomplishing this. The following precious handful of prompts ensures that you’re being detailed enough in describing your thoughts and feelings, which is vital for improvement:

  1. You ARE worthy of being loved! Give 3 reasons why.
  2. Three examples of your fears being proved wrong are … and what actually transpired?
  3. List 10 happy outcomes of enduring …
  4. What are 5 comforting things you can write to someone who feels hopeless?
  5. How would you describe depression to someone who hasn’t had it?

For Self-discovery and Self-love

Journaling prompts designed for self-discovery and self-love are not intended to make you self-absorbed, arrogant, or egotistical. Rather, they’re meant to help you cultivate a balanced sense of your overall worth. Such prompts encourage you to embrace your strengths – to resolutely find contentment along with inner peace.

Some great self-discovery and self-love prompts are:

  1. Explain something you’re passionate about to a complete newbie, then to an expert.
  2. What is one situation that you handled well? How did your action help others?
  3. You’ve finally achieved [your goal here]. Describe what you feel.
  4. Give 10 reasons why your friends and family love you so much.
  5. What would be the perfect moment and how will you remember it perfectly?

For Pure Fun

Sometimes, you just want to write for yourself, but not necessarily about yourself. There are plenty of whimsical journaling prompts whose entire existence stems from rightful nonsense, and will likely lead to nowhere productive. I think that’s how Star Wars was born.

Perhaps these types of journaling prompts are the most important of all – they make writing inconsequentially fun. Here are several you might wanna try:

  1. She woke up to the smell of bacon. She was a vegetarian.
  2. The dog is actually a cat. Now what?
  3. How would you convince [person you know] to eat something you’ll never dare to try?
  4. Write an alternate ending to [favorite book or movie].

How Do You Start a Journal Prompt?

Igniting a fire requires a single spark, but it must be done under the right conditions. First, prepare your physical space so that it’s free of all clutter. Then, declutter your mind through deep breathing for thirty seconds. Then…

Oh, who am I kidding? The right way to make a “spark” and pick a likable journal prompt is to do a quick Google search. You can go very general and broad, such as via the key term “best journaling prompts”, if you’re not looking for anything specific. Or, you can narrow your criteria down to, say, one of the specific types mentioned above. Trust me, you’ll find something suitable.

Many writers also like to keep a list of their favorite prompts, going through it to find the one that suits their current temperament. Others write their prompts on individual pieces of paper and store these in an actual receptacle, drawing one out at random when it’s time to write.

Remember, journaling prompts are for you and preferably you alone. No assignment, no deadline, no rigidity, no rules.

My only tip for writing out a journal prompt? Set a time limit. First, ruminate on what the prompt is asking and mentally outline your response. Then, set a timer for anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes and just let the ink flow. Aside from time, don’t set any other limits for yourself.

Benefits of Using Journal Prompts

Not only are journal prompts a renewable, free, and readily discoverable resource, they’re beneficial for all writers alike. The obvious reason is that they unblock writer’s block. Another reason is that they open up new possibilities for creative expression. And yet another reason is that they add variety to your journal entries for a far more entertaining and insightful read down the road.

But the most important reason why you should use prompts is that they contribute to the enjoyment of this hobby of writing. And with anything you enjoy, you’ll resolve to make it last. So, if you’re keen on extending the longevity of your routine, then start making a list of appealing journaling prompts today.

Sources

Benefits of Reflective Journaling – wellmanpsychology.com

SMART Goals – How to Make Your Goals Achievable – mindtools.com

A Brief History of SMART Goals – projectsmart.co.uk

Journaling Prompts for Self-discovery – rebekah-joan.com

Journal Prompts for Mental Health – thehowtosocialworker.com

Journal Prompts for Depression – danxiety.com

What Do We Mean When We Say “Self-love”? – abrandtherapy.com

Journal Prompts for Self-discovery – pageflutter.com

Nonsense Writing Prompts – wattpad.com

Leo Cai

Leo Cai

Leo Cai, the one solely responsible for the inception of this Mickey Mouse operation, has at least garnered the acceptance of Casey Cai - his wife. He used to view himself as an avid writer back in high school, with grandiose dreams of making a living using words. That never culminated because, as he himself puts it, "It's more practical to stock bakery shelves while striving to become a professional photographer".

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About Us

We’re Leo & Casey Cai, and Journaling Diaries is our outlet for sharing what we’re learning from the lightweight, nearly disaster-proof hobby of journaling. So far, we’ve found that journaling isn’t merely a shameful tool for hard times or a poor memory. It’s enriching & fun. Whatever, whichever, however – as long as it involves journaling – we’ll be covering it all here. Thanks for stopping by!

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