A handful of years ago, in the face of trauma and heartbreak, I did something I had long left between the fuzzy pink covers of my middle school diary: I journaled. I put pen to paper and began a flow of consciousness. I wrote and wrote until my pen began to snag at the page, and the answers to all my questions began to surface. It wasn’t until I turned inward instead of out that I found I held the answers within me. I just needed to create a line of communication to tap into them.
While I still lean on my people, journaling has become the single most impactful form of personal transformation for me. It’s gifted me the tools to understand the facets of my identity, and it’s taught me how to communicate my needs. Now, I rarely miss a day of my morning journal practice. Journaling has allowed me to identify my own triggers as they surface, given me time to process before reacting, and become a tangible testimonial to my own growth. It’s all right there on the page.
Right now, we’re all processing loss, grief, shifts in security, and threats to our physical health. As we maneuver this, both separately and collectively, I urge you to go inward. Here are five of my tried-and-true journaling prompts that will help you cultivate self-awareness and personal development.
Take your emotional temperature.
Each morning, I begin my practice by writing a few lines about how I’m feeling, how I slept, who I’ve been spending time with, what the weather is like, what I did the night before, etc. As someone who struggles with anxiety, seasonal depression, and situational depression, using these seemingly mundane lines to reflect on weeks, months, and years past has helped me find very clear patterns in things that spiked anxious feelings, sadness, or fear. On the flip side, I’ve identified what fed moments of pure joy and spans of happiness. I was able to remove the things that emotionally drained me and add in more of what nourished me. When I feel out of whack, I can refer to these as little road maps directing me toward my best self.
Ask yourself: do these feelings belong to you?
We are products of our conditioning and environments. Our upbringing, media, family, religion, societal standards, and cultural or community beliefs deeply impact our core beliefs. But when we really get to the nitty-gritty of it, do those concepts really belong to us as an individual?
When I’m feeling deeply impacted by something, I check to see if this is even a belief I have or if this belongs to someone else. This exercise always allows me to get more insight into why I’m sensitive to the issue at hand, and how to address it.
“It wasn’t until I turned inward instead of out that I found I held the answers within me.”
Find the Why.
When I have a particularly sticky topic on my mind, I ask myself a series of Why’s? It looks something like this: I am upset about how someone treated me. Why am I upset? Because it felt disrespectful. Why did it feel disrespectful? Because it was dismissive of my feelings. Why does the dismissal of my feelings hurt me? Because it reminds me of not being seen or heard growing up.
Often, this little trail of breadcrumbs will lead you right to the crux of your feelings. I find this exercise specifically stops me from reacting to the person at hand when I feel triggered, and gives me the insight to understand why those feelings arose in the first place.
Make the only to-do list that matters.
I’m a huge proponent of lists, so when I’m feeling particularly unsure I close my eyes and find my feelings in my body. Do I feel anxious? Tired? Energized? Then make a list of things that would feel good to do that day accordingly. Sometimes I’ll surprise myself that if I’m transparent with my needs, my body wants to rest, to connect with another, or seek joy-inducing activities. This is an act of showing up for yourself, instead of relying on a daily-routine to care for your needs. When we offer ourselves the things we want instead of depriving ourselves of them, we feel more accomplished and balanced.
Clap back at what you can’t control.
When I feel like I’m trudging through the muck and can’t see an end to it, I find a heavy-handed reality check is in order. I first get very quiet with myself and name my feelings. If I’m having a wave of unworthiness (which we all do at some point or another) I ask myself why I’m feeling unworthy. Then I create a list in two categories: things that are within my control, and things out of my control. For example, someone else’s actions are out of my control. I then set to take on the list of things within my control. If I’m feeling unworthy of love, I remind myself that many wonderful people love me, that love comes in many forms, that I have been loved in the past, and that I will be again.
As for the list of things I cannot control? I read it again, and then toss it out. The actions of others have nothing to do with you or your worthiness. Remember: to focus on the things you cannot control is a fool’s errand.