My top 3 journaling prompts

My favorite tried and true journaling prompts for making my practice more intentional.

My top 3 journaling prompts
Photo by Tim Wildsmith / Unsplash

If you follow Life Noticed, you know I’m a fan of journaling.

  • I keep a daily, written (and quasi-illustrated) journal of my thoughts and feelings. This is where I do a daily brain dump using the Morning Pages method.
  • I keep a basic nature log of the changes I observe in nature in our neighborhood (this is great for tracking seasons, bird migrations, weather, and critters).
  • I keep a nature journal where I do a deeper dive on various subjects in nature. This helps me connect more deeply with the natural world.

Devoting time to write in my journal each day has become one of my most sacred routines, but this hasn’t always been the case: It’s taken me several false starts and quite a bit of refining to find what works best for me.

Here are three prompts I have found to be especially helpful in making my journaling practice more intentional.

1. Top of mind

Open your journal and tune into your thoughts. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is there an idea that’s bubbling to the surface more than the others or is your mind flooded with so many thoughts and feelings it’s difficult to grab hold of any single one?

Either way is okay. Just write down what comes to mind. It doesn’t need to make sense and it doesn’t need to be thoughtfully structured. It’s okay if you don’t even know what to can write, “I don’t know what to write.”

Let the thoughts flow onto the page in whatever random order they arrive. When you feel you’ve reached a natural stopping point, look back over what you’ve just written: What themes do you notice? What stands out?

This approach works especially well on days when I’m experiencing a lot of mental chatter. I’ve found it to be invaluable for uncovering how I’m feeling, determining my direction, uncovering goals, and uncloggin’ my noggin’ (I am so sorry...I had to.).

2. Win the Day (i.e. The One Thing)

This prompt is useful when you want to be intentional about the day ahead and tackle an important challenge. I tend to reflect on my ‘Win the Day’ goal in the morning but occasionally do so the night before, depending upon my schedule.

Reflect on the following: What could I do today, if I could do nothing else, that would make me feel like the day was a success?

Whatever your answer, that’s your “One Thing”. That’s your goal to win the day.

Winning the Day doesn’t always mean smashing goals and being hyper productive, either (productivity is good but you can definitely go too far). Winning the Day can also mean making time to truly rest, disconnect, and spend quality time with people and/or activities which reenergize you.

3. What went right?

I’m a worrier and left unchecked, my mind loves dashing off to Worst-Case Cove to frolic in its icy waters and sing campfire songs about the myriad things that could go wrong. I dislike this tendency of mine but it’s a part of my personality I’ve had to learn to work through with tactics such as cognitive reframing.

What went right helps me do just this.

Reflect on the events of the day (or yesterday, if you’re following this prompt first-thing in the morning): What is something that turned out better than you had expected? What went well? Were there any pleasant surprises?

When I reflect on my past worries and anchor these to positive examples of how things went right, I flex my cognitive reframing muscle, reinforcing a healthier feedback loop of considering positive outcomes, balancing the severity of my worst-case-scenario thinking. It really does help.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
-Mark Twain.

Whether you’re new to journaling or are have been keeping a journal for years (or somewhere in-between), I’m interested to learn how these prompts work for you and what some of your own favorite prompts might be. I love sharing journaling with others and hope this helps you along the way!