8 Aug 2023

Journaling: Four Prompts for Greater Mental and Emotional Well-being

Humans have been journaling since the beginning. From pictographs to electronic notes, we have looked for ways to record our stories. But, while our ancestors had to gather pigments, mix them into paint, blow the paint from their mouths, and use their hands as stencils, today we can simply speak into the phones we carry in our pockets and record our stories. Journaling could not be easier! And yet, less than one in six people actually keep a daily journal.

No, you won’t remember – unless you write it down

There are many ways to journal – as many ways as there are people on the planet. We can simply write one line of gratitude, or we can detail our day. We can share a few bullet points, or we can write out memories and lessons learned. All of these methods have the same purpose – to share our story – and none of them are “wrong”. While I’ve tried almost every method of journaling out there, including electronic notes, I find that the good, old-fashioned method of pen on paper helps me best process life’s events. Writing helps me ponder and focus. If I have time for details, great! But if not, I can pick out a few things that carry the most meaning for me. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is, “I’ll remember this!” It’s a known fact that if you haven’t written it down, within days the details will be fuzzy. After just a couple of months, most particulars will be gone. Within a year, we’re lucky to remember the true feelings of the event and the lessons learned could be gone for good.

Four journaling prompts to help process

I have journaled my whole life. My methods have changed over the years; as has my consistency. But I always come back to a simple daily practice that helps me “cover the bases”. Research shows that if we can remember four specific things about our day, then we can basically remember the whole day. I have refined this concept to four specific prompts: Sweet, Sour, Remember, and Gratitude.

  • Sweet: Share something sweet or good that happened in your day. It could be something someone did for you, or that you did for someone else. It could be a great conversation you had, or a positive thought. Anything that gives you a little lift or leaves a smile on your face is perfect.
  • Sour: Here you can share something that didn’t quite go your way. Maybe it was a sad event, or you were ill. Maybe you just woke up in a bad mood and had a hard time shaking it. Or someone cut you off in traffic. Little or big, just write something you need to process, and then let it go.
  • Remember: This is the prompt with the loosest “rules”. Here you can write a chronological list of items from the day, tell details of a specific event, or write out a conversation shared with a friend or family member. You could just jot a few notes to remind you of the day so you can write out more details in a separate journal or piece of paper later. I love to do this with those bigger events that might take more room than the usual page. You can always glue that extra page in later, but, for now, the highlights are safely tucked away.
  • Gratitude: Always make room for at least one item of gratitude each day. This could also be a hope, a dream, a prayer, or a positive mantra. Just think of something that gives you feelings of gratitude and take a few minutes to write it out. Studies show that an attitude of gratitude will help you find more satisfaction and peace with life.

A great tool for kids and teens, too!

By taking the time each evening to write out a few things from your day, you will greatly increase your ability to remember the good times, reflect on the challenges, ponder on the lessons learned, and process day-to-day events and how they fit into the bigger picture of your story. When we write down our stories, we have a much greater ability to process those events and create a healthier mental and emotional outcome for ourselves. Teaching our children this valuable skill can help them in the same way. Children can struggle to voice their feelings, but writing in a journal gives them a safe place to process those emotions.

After years of using this formula myself, I created a series of journals for kids and teens based on these four prompts. My desire is to help kids develop the habit of journaling early so they can have healthy methods for processing their day. I’m pleased that the expert child therapists at Family Strategies see these journals as valuable tools for their clients. You can find my journals at the office or on Amazon by clicking the link below.