Reflective journaling — keeping a journal where you reflect on a specific pursuit, project, or aspect of life — is one of the most popular forms of journaling, though not everyone necessarily knows to call it that. That’s because reflective journaling comes naturally to many new and seasoned journal-keepers. It’s an important form of journaling that’s worth taking some pause to explore and think about.
What is a reflective journal?
A reflective journal is a journal in which the writer reflects about something particular. For example, some schools use a reflective journal to encourage students to engage in reflection about the process of completing a particular project. Some artists and other professionals do this outside of the school setting, too. Other people use reflective journaling in their day-to-day lives, using their journal as a place to purposefully reflect on things like what happened in their day, what they’re currently challenged by, what’s worrying them, or what they learned through the lessons posed in the events of their day.
What makes reflective journaling different?
Reflective journaling shares DNA with other forms of journaling, like freeform journaling, gratitude journaling, or mindfulness journaling. At their core, all of these forms of writing give a person an opportunity to get their thoughts out of their mind and into writing, to explore the way they feel about those things, and to sit with those feelings, thoughts, and experiences in a way that is ultimately healthy, safe, and productive.
Reflective journaling could be thought of as a more structured way to approach journaling than some of its counterparts. Since the point of a reflective journal is to capture one’s contemporaneous reflections on a particular topic, prompts can helpful in creating some parameters — a lens through which to reflect regularly and thoroughly, so that those reflections can be examined by some future version of yourself.
This form of journaling is different because it is so purposeful. Whereas a daily journal may have purpose in that it gives you an outlet every day, a reflective journal is almost like a project you’ve agreed with yourself to participate in. It gives you a space to explore reflections incrementally throughout an experience, rather than attempting to reflect back on it in its whole, after the fact.
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What are some examples of prompts?
The prompts you use will naturally be different depending on what your journal is a reflection of; they should make sense for what you want to capture and explore. Some examples might include:
For a journal reflecting on daily life:
- What happened in your day today?
- What felt like a win?
- What felt challenging?
- Is there anything standing in your way?
- What are you worried might happen tomorrow?
- Did what you worried about yesterday come to pass?
For a journal reflecting on your progress in a project:
- Where did you begin today?
- Where did you arrive?
- What was challenging in the work?
- What were you excited about in the work?
For a journal about your progress with a personal endeavor:
- What steps did you take today to achieving your goal?
- How do you feel today about your endeavor?
- What are your plans for tomorrow? How will you push yourself forward?
The value of reflective journaling
The benefits of journaling to one’s mental health have been well documented. Reflective journaling is no different; it has the potential to boost your mental health by giving the writer a place to examine and record your feelings about something as they happen or shortly thereafter. Doing so allows you to clean the slate, so to speak, on this particular experience with regularity, giving you a fresh perspective with which to approach it on an ongoing basis.
In addition, this form of journaling gives us the ability to really understand, when we look back at it, the way an experience or particular point in our lives progressed. For many people, especially those who write memoir or other types of writing that require a look back, our perspectives shift based on the outcomes of experiences. If we end up in a good place, we forget the struggles we had along the way. By keeping daily reflections, we can be true to the journey we’re on by giving voice to its many ups and downs, providing a true image for ourselves about what we went through and who we were when it was happening.