How to Start a Reflective Journal

When you consider journaling, a couple of images can come to mind when you think of who it would be advantageous for. Imagine a magnificent adventurer with an owl feather pen, slowly dipping it in ink as he writes in his extensive mahogany library about the escapades he has embarked on. He writes about his adventures sailing seas, fighting monsters and includes tales of joy and sometimes sorrow. The adventurer is closer than just an image. 

Look in the mirror, and you are the adventurer of your life journey. 

Reflective journals are there to help you get in touch with who you are instead of who people think you might be. When is the last time you asked yourself, “who am I?” Anytime someone asks this question, people can spiral into an existential crisis, but with journaling, you can address this question little by little each day as you work on your skill. 

Define a Reflective Journal

A reflective journal’s primary purpose is to discover the answers that you’ve had the entire time. When you are in a stressful situation, your amygdala is on overdrive, provides a concoction of chemicals, hormones, and other things that put your body into a state of anxiety. You can’t really think straight during these times. A reflective journal can slow time down so that you can breathe and take the following steps to where you would like to go.

Similar to meditation, reflective journals are a practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an exercise that focuses on keeping you in the present when your mind wants to go a million places all at once. A reflective journal helps you place words to your feelings. A general rule of thumb is that if you can identify it, you can understand then grow from the problem at hand.

The journal is a deep analysis of feelings, memories, and prompts that help gains a better self-awareness for your talents, relationships, and any other facets that need your attention. It does not have to be a fancy journal or specialized in helping with introspection but a simple notebook, sturdy pen, and openness within yourself to get the most out of your journal.  

Why use a reflection journal?

In Lew and Schmidt’s study of Writing to learn: can reflection journals be used to promote self-reflection and learning? They discovered that students could retain more of the information while writing it in their reflective journal and produced higher levels of personal understanding. 

You can actively track your progress with your mental health and gain understanding through a reflective journal by re-reading some of your older passages and express gratitude for how far you have come in your healing journey. It is a great tool to help aid if you feel depressed due to a mental health day. 

Similar to meditation, it helps you practice mindfulness. To learn more about mindfulness, read our article, #1 Benefits of Mindfulness, to learn more about the positives of being present to help in your physical and mental journey.

Pro-Tips from JournalOwl when starting your Reflective Journal:

  • Use your own words. You do not need to pull out a thesaurus to try to use bigger words in an attempt to sound eloquent. It can be difficult that we have written for a role or a responsibility most of our lives. We have felt the need to critique and second-guess our words to make them sound business professional. With a reflective journal, all you need to be is yourself in your writing. Use your slang words; you can even cuss, too, if you are feeling like it! The important thing is that this journal is only for you, no one else.  
  • Meet your new best friend. It is crucial to bring your reflective journal with you in the event of a sudden epiphany, or you need to calm your mind in a completely unexpected situation. Bringing your journal as a habit can help with more consistent writing to give your brain peace before going on the next goal.
  • Practice makes Perfect. It can sometimes be challenging or awkward trying something new, but the more you practice the skill, the better you will become. The same relates to the power of journaling. One of the best advice an author can give is even with writer’s block; it is essential to put any words on the paper. It helps with your flow and reconnects your brain to the current event.  
  • Go Deep. It seems pretty standard that to truly benefit from the reflective journal is to reflect on yourself. Journaling is not meant to be a chore; when you begin to get used to writing, it can be something you look forward to every day. This being said, use writing in your journal as an oasis from problems like turning your phone on do not disturb or let everyone know in your household that you are taking some me-time. When you are unsure of how to begin the reflective process, start by talking about what happened in your day. What were some of the emotions you felt and why? If you don’t know the “why” just yet, you might realize it sooner than you thought with journaling.  
  • The Small Things Count. Every time you write will not be a stroke of genius. Sometimes you will feel like a house plant might write better than you, but this is not the case. You should be proud of the small day-to-day efforts in keeping your reflective journey. We recommend at the minimum writing for 15 minutes a day. In addition to small things, practicing gratitude is known to boost your mood. Read our article 170 ways to Show Gratitude in Your Daily Journal to learn more about fun prompts to help with introspection and positivity.
  • Review. If you feel like you need motivation or clarification, re-read some of your older material and topics. When you are figuring out the person you want to be, you need to accept and understand the parts of your past with kindness and forgiveness. Find what lessons you have learned from your earliest entries.

Start Your Reflection Journal Now

Types of Reflection

Observe

Think about a moment in your day, observe, and feel some of your feelings during the day. Write about the observation, don’t try to analyze yet but talk about the emotions you felt if a co-worker wasn’t the nicest or felt overloaded with work.

Follow-Up with the Feeling

Now that we have looked at the feeling and wrote it down. What were the emotions that you felt? They can be simple bullet points on the paper, or if you want to go more in-depth, you are welcome to it.

Speculate Situations

If the situation happened with another person, speculate why they might have acted this way towards you. Write down the internal factors as to why they had a bad day internal factors could be always lashing out at others then explain the external factors on why they might be acting in a different way like if they had mentioned traffic was horrible today and maybe they almost got into an accident. While people shouldn’t lash out, it helps explain when they do if we know the root causes.

Gain Self-Awareness

Now is the time to gain awareness; what about a person’s action or event that made you feel the way you felt. Triggers are one of the best ways to understand what we have yet to heal from. These intense feelings that are accompanied by a trigger are connected to the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is activated when it perceives an emergency. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an emergency, but your brain perceives a situation as a threat to your life. If anything, blame evolution. Your body wants you to stay alive, but calm this evolutionary quirk by facing your feelings to understand their root cause.

Let’s say that you have an interview for your dream job. You are excited, terrified, and want to make the absolute best impression. Your brain sees excitement and nervousness as a threat, so your brain is activating its amygdala to release a surge of hormones. Now that you have your reflective journal, you can address these big emotions into much more bite-sized portions.

Some journal prompts to think about before the interview:

  • What do you think the interview location will be like?
  • What kind of personality do you think the interviewee will have?
  • What is the best thing that could happen during the interview?
  • What outfit do you think would make the best impression for this job?
  • What is your biggest pet peeve, and what will you do if they do it?

“What is your biggest pet peeve, and what will you do if they do it?”

— Asking Yourself

Before your interview, we recommend getting to an interview thirty minutes before giving you time to research the company and write in your journal to alleviate stress.

What is a question that always stumps you? Ask it and answer in your journal.

  • How will this job benefit you?
  • How are you REALLY feeling?

“How will this job benefit you?”

— Ask Yourself

Now that you have researched the company a bit more, what questions will you ask the interviewer? 

It could be right after the interview or when you process and write in the privacy of your own home. Ask yourself these questions:

Observe the situation like a fly on the wall; what was your overall impression?

  • Do you feel like you would be happy in this position?
  • What do you think the company culture is like, and is that something you want?
  • What are the learning lessons or tips you have learned from this interview?

Don't wait. Start reflecting today with JournalOwl

Beginning your reflective journal journey.

Since we know the beginning of any journey is a little tricky, we have provided some optional prompts to help in your personal discovery within yourself and relationships.

Introspection Prompts-You

  • What are three physical traits you like about yourself and why?
  • What are three personality traits you like about yourself and why?
  • What are some aspects of your past you need to let go of?
  • How do you show your happiness, anger, and sadness?
  • Who is your role model, and why?
  • What are your fears? What caused them?
  • Who do you value the most in your relationships, and what do they do for you?
  • Where will your life be in five years? 
  • What are some actions you need to take to get to the life of your dreams?
  • How do you feel loved?

“What are some aspects of your past you need to let go of?”

— Ask Yourself

Introspection Prompts- Situations

Events in our lives can be a determining factor in the people we are today. We invite you to view your personal history to teach you lessons for your life now.

  • From last year/ past five years, how have you grown?
  • What is your happiest memory and why?
  • What memory do you hold most dear?
  • Do you remember your first memory?
  • What is a memory from childhood that you enjoy thinking about?
  • What is a memory from this past year that you enjoy thinking about?
  • Do you have a painful memory? Why is it painful?
  • Did you have a good day? What are parts that made it a good day or not so much?
  • What is your first memory of love?

“What is a memory from childhood that you enjoy thinking about?”

— Ask Yourself

Introspection Prompts- Relationships

A huge part of our existence is our inner dynamics with others. Humans are naturally social creatures who gravitate towards others. In these prompts, we want you to write about the relationships with others and your feelings connected.

  • Who makes you feel like the most authentic version of yourself?
  • Who makes you feel small, and why do you still associate with them?
  • List the most important relationships in your life. Try to go back and explain their importance.
  • Have you made a significant impact on someone’s life, and why?
  • Who has made a significant impact on your life and why?
  • How have your past relationships prepared you for the future? Label each relationship that comes to mind and explain how they prepared you. 
  • What traits do you admire in your friends? List their names and the features beside them. 
  • Are there any traits you would like to change about your parents and guardians? What are qualities that you would never want them to change?
  • Is there anyone you think you have outgrown?
  • As a culture, what are some aspects you do not understand and aspects that make sense

“How have your past relationships prepared you for the future? Label each relationship that comes to mind and explain how they prepared you.”

— Ask Yourself

Introspection Prompts- Spirituality

In all civilizations, there has been some form of religion and spirituality within the culture. In your current day and time, we want you to explore more abstract concepts of your core belief systems and how they might interact with the world around you.

  • Do you believe in fate or predestined path for each person? Explain your answer on why or why not.
  • Do you identify yourself as a religious or spiritual person?
  • Do you believe in the supernatural?
  • Are they other beings other than humans in another universe? Is this comforting?
  • What are examples of blessings or phenomena in your life?
  • How do you connect with your spiritual side more?

“Do you believe in fate or predestined path for each person? Explain your answer on why or why not.”

— Ask Yourself

Another great tool to use if you are a Christian or curious about Christianity is our blog about Benefits to Keeping a Bible Journal. It helps those who are Christian better retain and understand the Bible during their devotions and continue in their reflection.

All faiths, persons, and relationships can use a reflective journal to help their mental health and provide a better understanding of themselves throughout their lives.  Small steps such as writing each day can make lasting impressions on your mental health.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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