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5 Ideas For Starting a Self Improvement Journal

Have you been thinking of starting a self improvement journal? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

Journaling is a powerful tool when it comes to self-development. Putting pen to paper and reflecting on your past, present, and future is something that anyone can benefit from.

Each time you journal, you’ll typically get new, fresh insights that you can use to improve your life. You might realize that you need to switch up your goals, pursue a different career, or even leave some friends behind that are holding you back.

The bottom line is that journaling allows you to express your authentic self in an environment where no one can reject you or criticize you for your thoughts and feelings. It’s just you and your brain having an internal dialogue about the current state of things.

If you’re a little lost with how to start a self-improvement journal, then stay tuned. We’re going to dive into a few journaling ideas that you can pick from and in order to start taking advantage of this awesome method for improving your life.


What is a Self-Improvement Journal?

A self improvement journal is simply a resource where you can express your thoughts in order to fix a certain problem you’re having or get clear about what you really want out of life. In this article, we’ll cover techniques that have both of these objectives in mind.

Each person journals in a different way, but for the most part, the goal is the same — pick up new insights about your life and/or reinforce your desired future.

Some people think of a self-improvement journal like a diary, but the objectives of keeping a diary and self-improvement journaling are far different. When you think of a diary, you probably think about the teenager who vents about everything that happened to them that day to relieve stress.

And while self improvement journaling can reduce stress, it’s really more about helping you find ways to improve your life and bringing clarity to your goals. It’s about keeping your ambitions at the forefront of your mind so that you avoid feeling lost in life..


How Do You Write a Self-Improvement Journal?

This is the great part about journaling, the answer to this question is different for everyone!

There’s really no one-size fits all approach to keeping a self-improvement journal. We all have different goals, struggles, and needs that inform the approach we take.

You can use your self improvement journal to:

  • Express gratitude
  • Design your future
  • Make sense of your past
  • Get clear on your goals
  • Work through problems

The area that you focus on depends upon how you feel in the present moment, and what you believe is the biggest area of life that you need to address.

I can’t answer that question for you. But, what I can do is give you some ideas for how to keep a self improvement journal, and there’s a good chance that one of these methods will resonate with you.


5 Self Improvement Journal Ideas To Better Your Life

I’m gonna throw out a few ideas here that I’ve implemented in the past, so feel free to pick the one that resonates with you.

A good way to look at which type of journaling would be beneficial for you is like this — which type of journaling would I actually enjoy doing on a daily basis?

The answer to this question should be what you start out with, because it will make it far easier for journaling to become a standard part of your daily routine when you actually feel motivated to do it.

Without further ado, here are five different ways to start a self improvement journal.


self improvement journal with a pen


#1: Future Self Journaling

First up, we have future self journaling. 

I’m not going to get too deep into this one, because I have an entire blog post on how to write a future self journal here on my site, but I’ll give you the reader’s digest of what it entails.

Future self journaling accomplishes two things. First, it allows you to get hyper-specific about the kind of life you want to have. 

By setting a direction for how you want your life to look, you’ll then be able to work backwards and think about how to build habits that will make your desired future a reality.

Perhaps more importantly though, it forces you to think about what would happen if you didn’t live out your true purpose. 

How would your life look if you decided to take the path of least resistance day after day?

How are you going to feel in five years if you continue to stay in your comfort zone and avoid confronting your fears?

These are the hard-hitting questions that future self journaling forces you to answer. You don’t just think about what would happen if everything went perfectly, you also get to imagine the hell that you would find yourself in should you not decide to live up to your full potential.

Typically, you spend a few hours completing the future self journaling exercise outlined in the article linked above. Then, you’ll do daily check-ins using the step-by-step process outlined below.

Keep in mind these check-ins should be done at the end of each day.

How to do Daily Check-Ins For Future Self Journaling:

  • Open up your journal and turn to an empty page
  • Get our a pen/pencil and answer the following three questions
  • Which actions did I take today that moved me closer to my desired future?
  • Were there any instances today where I let short-term pleasure override my long-term goals
  • What action can I tomorrow to become 1% better than I was today?


#2: Keeping a Gratitude Journal:

If you struggle with appreciating the blessings that you’ve been given in life, then one popular self improvement journal idea is to practice daily gratitude.

One study conducted by Joshua Brown and Joel Wong analyzed the impact of daily gratitude on 300 college students who were seeking mental health counseling. 

The students were separated into three separate groups:

  • Group 1 was classified as the “gratitude writers,” who were asked to write one letter of gratitude to one person per week for three weeks
  • Group 2 was asked to journal about their negative experiences
  • Group 3 simply received mental health counseling

Keep in mind all three of the groups received mental health counseling, it’s just that Groups 1 & 2 were asked to complete supplementary work.

The results showed that the “gratitude writers” had significant improvements in their mental health four and twelve weeks after the study was conducted compared to those who didn’t.

Now, you don’t have to write a letter to someone every single day in order to experience the benefits of gratitude. That’s a difficult habit to maintain because it’s a little too time consuming.

However, what you can do is simply write down three things that you’re grateful for every single day.

That’s literally all you need to do in order to keep a gratitude journal. You don’t need to write about earth-shattering experiences, you can write about the simple things in your life that you’re glad to have.

A roof over your head, loving parents, a big family, food to eat, water to drink, these are all things that you can express gratitude for, and these are all things that I’ve written in my journal many times.

When you start off each day appreciating all that you’ve been given, this mindset will reverberate throughout the rest of your day.


#3: Reinforce Your Goals

This is another of my favorite ways to keep a self improvement journal. 

Oftentimes, we don’t get what we want because we’re not completely clear about what we want in the first place. Or perhaps even worse, our goals are misguided and incomplete. 

So first things first, you need to get clear on your goals. Now here’s what’s really cool about this journaling technique — it actually acts as a goal-setting process of its own.

Each day, you simply write out your top three goals that you want to achieve in the next 3-12 months.

When you do this, you don’t get to look at the previous day’s page, which means your goals may look a little different from day to day.

This is totally natural, and it’s actually the whole point behind this exercise — you get to hone in on what you really want out of life. 

It’s great to write down your goals , and it’s something everyone should be doing. But more importantly, you need to be writing down the right goals. 

I like to think of this exercise as a high school writing assignment. In high school, did you ever turn in your rough draft? No!

You wrote a rough draft, edited it, and then turned in a first draft. Then, once you turned in a first draft, you edited it, and then turned in a final draft.

The same concept should apply to your goals. 

If you sat down right now and wrote out your goals, that would be considered your rough draft. However, as you continually optimize them day after day, you’ll be left with true aims that help you prioritize your life around align with your values.

How to Keep a Self Improvement Journal That Reinforces Your Goals:

  • Perform each morning
  • Take out your journal and a pen/pencil
  • Write down your top three goals for the next 3-6 months without looking at the previous day’s entry
  • Repeat every morning


writing down your goals in a self improvement journal


#4. Do a Brain Dump

We all have that endless mental chatter telling us what we need to do or what we should do on a daily basis, and this can get pretty overwhelming.

You’re walking to grab a morning coffee and then boom! You’re hit with 3 or 4 consecutive thoughts of things that you need to get done today, or that you’ve been putting off.

And this can happen dozens of times, even hundreds of times throughout the day depending on how busy you are.

Luckily, doing a brain dump is one of the best ways to declutter your mind and get rid of open loops that are draining your mental energy.

Now you might be wondering, what are open loops?

Open loops are simply commitments you made to yourself or to others that you haven’t yet fulfilled. Your brain considers these tasks “open” which means they are taking up space in your working memory. 

So, how do you close these loops? Well first, you need to get out all of your thoughts on a sheet of paper.

The first step in a brain dump is to write out all of those unfinished tasks lingering in your mind on a sheet of paper.

Don’t leave anything out. If something comes to mind that you need to get done, write it out no matter how small or large the task is. Once you’ve done that, the next step is to prioritize these tasks based on how urgent they are.

To accomplish these, you’re going to separate the tasks into three categories: 

  • Do Now
  • Do Within The Week
  • Do Within the Month

Go through every single task and decide which category they fall into, and keep this brain dump journal handy so that you can continually review it each day.

This simple exercise has just given you a roadmap of what you need to focus on next month. 

And the cool part is that all of those open loops in your brain that were draining your energy are now closed loops. Psychologically, writing down what you need to do closes the loop, even if it remains unfinished. 

Pretty neat right?


#5. The Bad Habit Journal

If you’re looking to break bad habits, then this is one of the best ways to keep a self-improvement journal.

Keeping a bad habit journal is designed to increase your awareness of the environmental factors that are triggering your bad habits.

Our habits are triggered by certain cues – time, location, people, internal state, etc. 

If you can identify which of these triggers are the root causes of your bad habits, you’ll be able to come up with a more effective plan for breaking them. Let’s get into how this works.

To start off, you’re simply going to choose a bad habit from your life. 

As a rule of thumb, you typically want to choose the worst of the worst. 

Think about the habits and behaviors that you constantly remind yourself you need to stop. Think about the bad habits that are on your mind when you lay your head down on your pillow at night.

Use your internal dialogue as a guiding force to identify which bad habits are having the most impact on your life. 

Once you’ve done that, you’re simply going to take note of whenever you succumb to instant gratification and perform your bad habit. 

Make sure you write down as much information as possible. Here are some questions that will guide your entry:

  • What time was it?
  • What was I doing before I felt the urge to act?
  • Where was I?
  • How was I feeling at the time? Bored? Stressed? Anxious?

If you perform this exercise each time you perform your bad habit, you’re going to notice a pattern. It might have to do with the time of day, the location, or your internal state, but it will be there. 

For example, you might notice that you reach for junk food at a certain time every day, or that you tend to mindlessly scroll through your phone right before bed which keeps you up longer.

Whatever information comes out of this exercise can be used to create a plan for breaking that specific habit. 


Final Note

I hope this article provided you with useful information on the best ways to start a self-improvement journal.

One of the reasons why I’m a big advocate of journaling is because it’s the purest expression of our thoughts. When we say things to other people, we tend to choose our words carefully so that it’s socially acceptable, or exclude certain information that we don’t want the other person to know.

Journaling is intimate. It’s just you, your thoughts, and a pen. And because you don’t have an audience, you’re free to be 100% honest with yourself.

Whether you want to get clear on your goals, break a bad habit that’s holding you back, or just practice more gratitude, there’s a technique on this list for you.

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