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Self-reflection is one of those things that sounds nice in theory, but can be really difficult to put into practice. Especially if you're the kind of person who's always on the go and finds it hard to slow down.

Yet, the reason why so many of us keep a journal is that we have a desire to know ourselves deeper, and better. That level of understanding only comes when we take the time to self-reflect.

In this article, I’ll be sharing some tips for how you can make journaling for self-reflection a part of your practice. Along with examples of self-reflective writing, and prompts to use in your journal.

How Do You Journal for Self-Reflection?

Self-reflective journaling is different from other types of journaling.

You're not just recording events or situations or making lists. 

You're thinking deeply about your life, and experiences you've had in the past. And you're asking yourself questions to try to understand what you've been through, how it's affected you, and what it means for your future.

This type of journaling helps you sort through your thoughts and feelings, gain new insights, and process emotions without being overwhelmed by them. It requires a level of self-honesty that can be challenging, but is well worth the effort, when done with an open mind and heart.

In reflective mode we're trying to make sense of our inner world.

We quietly question our actions, and choices.

We grow more aware of the patterns in our lives, learning more about ourselves and improving our self-image in the process.

As well as the quality of our interactions with others. 

When we self-reflect we get to figure out:

  • why we say the things we say, and do the things we do,
  • what's working or not working in our lives,
  • what's worrying or stressing us out, 
  • what we need to do for more peace, happiness and wellness. 

Self-reflection is an opportunity to create distance between an experience or situation, and our reactions to it.

In this fast-paced world we live in, we often end up reacting in the moment. In some instances, being able to react quickly is no doubt a blessing.

Getting out of the way when a car is hurtling toward you at 100 miles per hour is a good reaction. We don't want to be mangled.

Shouting at the new girl in your local coffee shop for getting your order wrong, is also reactive. But it's just not cool. Or kind. 

Let's say you've had a massive argument with your friend, and horrible things were said by both of you. 

Later on, you sit and reflect on the events leading up to the fight.

You write down your thoughts:

"Max was being a total cow yesterday. But was she just being a cow, or was she reacting to something I said or did?"

"Real talk: was I being the a-hole here?

Through our assessment of a situation, we're able to acknowledge the role we played in an argument. Essentially seeing both sides clearly, now that we've had time to process what actually went down.

We can understand how and why things escalated the way they did. 

Owning and taking responsibility for our actions is a healthy and adult1 thing to do. Even when it's tough to admit we were the ones in the wrong.

And with this insight, we can make a decision to patch things up with a friend. Or not. Because if you uncover patterns of disrespect you can safely conclude that that friendship isn't what you need to be investing in.

Imagine if we didn't take the time to reflect.

And we made the decision to cut people out of our lives, despite having otherwise good relationships with them. We'd never really know whether our actions were justified because we hadn't taken the time to deep think.

Can You Ever Be Too Self-Reflective?

Totally. There's a line between thoughtful introspection, and rumination - where we get stuck dwelling over an issue or situation we need to let go.

For some, thinking about their problems can make them feel worse.2 

The key is to learn how to distinguish between a healthy level of self-reflection and unproductive dwelling.

I'm a big overthinker.

Or should I say, recovering overthinker?

I used to obsess over what felt like every little thing. 

One of the perks of having perfectionist tendencies, I guess.

I'd just sit and think myself into oblivion. It used to drive me nuts. Not to mention the amount of time and energy I'd waste over stuff that I'd said or done. 

I still have moments when I overthink. But, they're few and far between. 

Meditation helps. I recognise when I'm 'falling into the abyss' of overthinking, and I can snap back into the present. 

It takes work, but if you're prone to overthinking, you might want to consider starting a meditation practice too.

What to Self-Reflect On 

If you're digging into your innermost thoughts and feelings, you're likely to uncover some stuff that makes you feel sad or uncomfortable.

But you don't have to jump straight into reflecting on painful episodes from your past. Not if you aren't ready to do that.

If you need to talk to a qualified therapist first, that's fine.

You can ease your way into being more reflective by focusing on the good things in your life right now and how they make you feel.

Here are some areas to consider reflecting on:

  • Your Day or Week
  • Physical and Emotional Health
  • Family Life
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Social Life and Recreation
  • Work-Life
  • Financial Health
  • Personal Development
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Environment

How to Write a Self-Reflective Journal Entry

Three keys to writing a good self-reflective entry:

a) Spend Time Meditating

I mentioned meditation earlier, and how it calms my mind.

If you can, try to find time to meditate before you start journaling for self-reflection. Meditation is a great way to relax, destress and can help you get in touch with your feelings and emotions.3

Especially if you find it difficult to express them.

Start with a 5-10 minute meditation, or continue to meditate when you feel like you're mind is calm enough to begin journaling.

Here's a good beginner-level guided meditation for you to checkout, if you're new to the practice:

If you struggle with meditation, try going for a walk instead.

Take your journal with you. And while you're out, make a point of noticing everything you see; trees, fallen leaves, grass, insects, sounds and smells.

This should help get you into a relaxed state before you open your journal.

b) Ask Yourself Good Questions

The quality of your questions determines the quality of your answers.

Good questions and prompts are probing. They help you delve deeper to learn more about yourself, and find solutions to problems.

I've put a list of prompts a few scrolls down. Be sure to check those out.

c) Answer Those Questions Honestly

It's just you, and your journal. No one else needs to see what you write.

No one is going to judge you. 

Being honest when you write is a process reflective journalers have to work through, if they want to reap the rewards of their craft.

Ultimately, your level of honesty is up to you.

But self-deception can be a costly, and pointless exercise.

Journaling Prompts for Self-Reflection

Here are some prompts to help with your reflective journaling practice:

  1. Write about what went well today.
  2. What brought you a moment of peace today?
  3. What was a challenge you faced recently? 
  4. What did you learn from this?
  5. What have you been most proud of in the past month?
  6. Take a moment to think of the most amazing thing that's ever happened to you. Write about the impact this had/has on you.
  7. In what ways have you grown over the last six months?
  8. When have you felt your strongest?
  9. When have you felt your weakest?
  10. How well did you manage your emotions when dealing with an uncomfortable situation?
  11. Who or what are you tolerating in your life that you need to detach or distance yourself from in order to protect your sanity?
  12. If you continued to act like the person you were last week, where will be a year from now? What about five years from now?
  13. What made you feel in control?
  14. What made you feel out of control?
  15. How do you feel when you're out of control?
  16. What can you do to feel more in control?
  17. How do the words you say to yourself affect your mood, stress levels, and ability to cope with challenges?
  18. What are you feeling right now? Why?
  19. Name three things you've come to accept about your past? 
  20. What's been holding you back from moving forward?
  21. What story are you telling yourself about a recent experience?
  22. In what ways is this story helping or hurting you? 
  23. What alternative story could you tell yourself?
  24. What do you need to tell yourself in order to have a more productive experience the next time X happens?
  25. Think back to a recent conflict. What role did you play in that?
  26. What did you find yourself wasting time on last week?
  27. What do you need to do more/less of?
  28. What do you do to protect your energy from negativity?
  29. What have you found yourself judging others for?
  30. What did you find yourself obsessively thinking about?
  31. What did you do to calm your mind when this happens?
  32. What's making you feel anxious, worried, or uneasy right now?
  33. What's at the root of this feeling of anxiety, worry or uneasiness?
  34. Who can you speak to about this?
  35. What’s the biggest lie you’re telling yourself right now?
  36. What do you do to stop dwelling on a problem?

The ability to reflect on your life is an important skill to develop.

It's in no way easy.

But, if you level up your journaling for self-reflection, you'll reap the rewards of a more self-aware, emotionally balanced version of yourself.


FOOTNOTES:

  1. Friedman, W. J. F. (2011). Self-responsibility/self-accountability qualifies you as an adult. Mentalhelp.net.
  2. Ayduk, Ö., & Kross, E. (2010). Analyzing negative experiences without ruminating: The role of self-distancing in enabling adaptive self-reflection. Social and Personality Psychology Compass4(10), 841–854.
  3.  
    Shapiro, S. L., Jazaieri, H., & de Sousa, S. (2016). Meditation and Positive Psychology. The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. In ResearchGate (3rd ed.).

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