How to Use Your Journal For Self-Growth and Development

Updated September 17, 2021 by Iulian Ionescu | Read Time min.
journal for self-growth

Self-growth and development are not end goals in and of themselves. They are a means to an end, and that end is you performing in your life as the best version of yourself. Among the many tools that exist today to help you on that journey, a journal for self-growth is one of the best and simplest ones you can have. Not only can a journal boost your self-awareness and help you identify places in your life where you can make minor improvements, but it will also act as a mindfulness tool that will bring you a certain level of serenity and calmness. However, a journal for self-growth is not a panacea; instead, it’s a tool, and it still requires you to show up and put in the work. Let’s see how.

What is Journaling?

At its core, journaling is a pretty straightforward concept. You have a piece of paper, which may or may not be bound in a book of sorts, and a pen. You use the pen to write down something on that paper. It really can’t get any simpler than that.

It gets a bit more complex when you ask yourself first WHY and then WHAT. The how is already apparent so long as you have mastered the skill of writing. We’ll get to the HOW question in just a bit; let’s address the WHY and the WHAT first.

Here are some of the reasons you might journal:

  1. To document the many ideas that float through your head every day. Those ideas might turn into projects one day.
  2. To improve your creative thinking and boost your creativity.
  3. To get out of a writing dry spell, also known as writer’s block (the method is called Morning Pages).
  4. To document your raw and uncomfortable emotions and revisit them later to understand them better.
  5. To plan and organize your life on paper (goals, routines, habits).

Here’s what’s interesting about this list: every one of these bullet points will contribute to your self-growth and personal development in different ways. If you break down each one of these WHYs, you’ll realize that they all pack a little bit of self-improvement in there.

So, journaling as a tool will help with your self-growth process no matter what the WHY behind your journaling truly is. That is why I started by saying that self-growth itself will not be the end goal, but it will be a result, a by-product of your journaling.

Once you have the WHY nailed down (and, by the way, you can have more than one reason), the WHAT will quickly transpire from it.

“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.”Jen Williamson

morning routine journal

How Can You Journal for Self-Growth?

Of course, I was joking a little about the writing process. Yeah, at its most basic level, journaling is writing words on paper, but sometimes that process itself can be a little daunting.

Even if you write every day for work things such as emails, client proposals, or market research, you might feel empty when you sit down in front of a blank page of a journal. In that second, your thoughts seem to vanish like a beautiful dream you remembered only for a few seconds, and now it’s gone.

That’s a problem.

To solve this, you need to go back to the why(s) above and figure out which one you’ll start with first.

Because your overarching goal of being a better person in all aspects of your life starts with self-awareness, picking up the clearest why is the first step. Later, as you develop a journaling habit, you can expand the why to cover more ground, but it’s best to begin with one for a start.

My list is not all-inclusive, but it covers many issues that most people face daily. The fact that you pick that one why first is already an experience of unpacking that self-awareness.

You are becoming aware of some pain points in your life, and you are willing to work on them. That is already self-growth, and it has momentum.

The next step into journaling for self-growth is to start. Sometimes you’ll find yourself thinking about the best way to journal, the most effective one, how you can do it quickly, and so on. There is no answer to any of those questions; they reveal your brain’s instinct to hold you back and tell you that you’re not ready and cannot start before you’re ready.

That’s the wrong approach. The best way to journal is to start right away, regardless of how you feel about it. Later on, you’ll refine. The point is not to journal in the best way; the point is to journal in any way that will produce some results.

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.”Tim Ferriss

writing girl books

Start A Journaling Habit

To that end, journaling is most effective when it becomes a routine or habit. That means that if you journal once a year, you’ll reap far fewer benefits from journaling than if you do it once a day. Even if that once time per year, you journal twenty pages as you plan your goals for the year, journaling will be more effective when done consistently in short bursts.

A day of annual planning is an excellent tool for your self-development arsenal, but it doesn’t qualify as journaling.

To qualify journaling as a habit, you must journal consistently, which usually means daily.

James Clear, the author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits, created a habit journal to help people develop that journaling routine in their life. His idea: one line per day. After all, there cannot be anything more straightforward than one line.

So much like I advocate the divide et impera method in other areas of life, it works particularly well with developing a healthy journaling habit.

You can start with writing down one line per day, ideally at the same time and in the same place (to help establish the cues for your habit). At a later time, you can expand to more lines. You’ll notice that once you develop the beginnings of the pattern, your brain will buy into it and start helping.

At that point, your mind won’t hold you back anymore; instead, it will start to fuel your process. Soon, you’ll write one line (which before you dreaded) and feel the urge to write a second one. The new idea lingers on the fringes of your mind, and you have to let it out.

That’s the habit-forming in real-time. Let it be, let it grow.

“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.”Julia Cameron

writing space coffee

8 Tips To Create a Journal for Self-Growth

I know that some of these ideas sound a little bit too theoretical. I can hear you screaming, damn, Iulian, but HOW do I do it? No worries, I’ve put together a list of tips you can follow one by one to get to that place safely and quickly.


Figure out the easiest way to journal

James Clear described a habit-creating framework in his book, and one critical piece of that framework is to make the habit easy. That is perfect for journaling. If you prefer to write long-hand with pen and paper, so be it. Don’t agonize over what type of paper. Pick the one you have around and that works best for you. If you like to type or thumb on your phone, that works, too. Don’t let the technical part of journaling keep you from starting. Make it as simple as it can be.


Prepare to drop all judgments

Nobody will ever read your journal. For the beginning, I also recommend that you don’t read your journals either. Why? Because you need to develop the skill of writing without judging yourself. When you put a sentence down on paper, that thought becomes real, and the writing gives it permanency. The tendency here is to read that thought back and start agonizing about why you had that thought. Was it a good thought or a bad thought? What does that thought say about you?

That’s a surefire way to never get into journaling. When you journal for self-growth, you can’t judge your journaling because that defeats the purpose. You need to be aware of your thoughts and ideas, recognize them, let them out, and then let them be.

At this time, you are not judging; you are simply becoming aware. The goal is not to change your ideas or make them better in any way but to look at them with curiosity. You are trying to understand, not to judge.


You don’t have to be creative or be a literary genius

You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to journal for self-growth. Heck, you don’t even need to know all the rules of grammar. That’s not the point. If you were writing your memoir and wanted to publish it, that would be a different thing. But when you journal, the goal is not to produce a work of art. The point is to allow the thoughts from your brain, in whichever shape and form they are, to appear on the page, in whichever format you can put them down.

Creativity or writing fantastic prose has nothing to do with it, and your control of the language is irrelevant. None of those things matter, and they should not even pop up as reasons you won’t journal.

Incidentally, by creating a writing habit and doing it consistently, your writing will inevitably improve. With it, so will your communication, but neither one is your goal here. These will be merely by-products you will enjoy along your self-growth journey.


Figure out a form and stick to it

Again, the science of habits tells us that patterns develop into routines easier than if you try to come up with something new every time.

So, instead of agonizing each day about how to structure your journal, come up with your pattern and stick to it. Here is one possible design:

  1. one to three things you’re grateful for today
  2. your top three priorities for the day
  3. one idea that’s been on your mind
  4. one affirmation

That’s your daily journal entry. This, of course, is just an example; you can adapt yours and make it as simplistic or complex as you wish or need. Having this will simplify your journaling habit by providing a solid structure.

Later, you can evolve this structure depending on where your practice goes.


Develop a writer’s block prevention mechanism

Even the most prolific writers hit writer’s block now and then. Writer’s block in the context of journaling manifests as an empty mind and a frozen hand. That is a big problem for journaling because there are usually many distractions you can turn to, and at the slightest sign of a block, you’re prone to walk away from it.

The trick here is to have one to three subjects you can always write something about. Here are some ideas:

  • how I felt when my kids were born
  • what are some of my favorite moments from childhood
  • what am I most grateful for in my life

I’m sure you can think of others specific to you, but you get the idea. These are things you can almost always write something about, even if it’s only a sentence. This method will get you through that harrowing day, and, hopefully, the next day, you’ll be more inspired.


Pick a period and journal its beginning and end

One of the best journaling methods is to write your intentions at the start of a period and your reflections at the end of it. That creates a positive cycle of setting up your mind about what you want and closing it with the introspection of what happened and what it means.

You can do this by writing a few sentences first thing each morning, such as:

  • What am I looking for today?
  • How do I expect to feel today?
  • What do I want to accomplish?

Then, at the end of the day, answer the following:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go so well today?
  • How did I feel throughout the day?
  • What are three things I’m grateful for today?

You can do a similar “sandwich” weekly and monthly. Of course, the entries could be a bit longer than your daily ones for the week and the month, but you get the idea.


Track different things

Another excellent use for your journal for self-growth is to track different dimensions of your life. Here are some ideas:

  • mood for the day (morning and evening)
  • physical wellbeing (how do you feel physically)
  • exercise routine (did you do it, and if so, how long, what, etc.)
  • other daily habits

Routines are beneficial in many aspects of life, so knowing where you stand is critical to your self-growth. Trends are potent indicators of you being on the right track or not. That is why using your daily journal to track these measurements will provide you with a great tool in your arsenal for self-improvement.


Document great ideas you encounter

As you read through books and articles, peruse online blog posts, or listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or video courses, you’re bound to encounter exciting thoughts and ideas. Your journal can be a place where you write these ideas down so you can revisit them later.

When you find a great quote or a great thought that resonates with you, write it down in your journal. It’s great to have a special section of your journal for these or even a separate journal altogether.

That will become a source of inspiration for your future self. It’s great to write down the quote or idea and a few sentences as to why it resonated with you and what it means to you; in other words, how do you interpret it.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”Natalie Goldberg

journal for self-growth

Journal Yourself Into Greatness

Like I said before, a tool is a tool. A tool doesn’t do the job unless a human uses it in its intended way. It works the same way with journaling. It sounds like a magical tool, and it certainly has some elements that point to that, but, in the end, it’s nothing but a tool.

Use it wisely, and it will help you boost your self-growth. Use it poorly, and it will still help. Journaling is a bit like pizza. When it’s great, it’s great; when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

Journaling for self-growth has that power, so long as you harvest it.

If you show up every day at your keyboard or pen and paper and jot down what’s on top of your mind, you’ll soon feel the chains of whatever fetters your life at that moment slowly unclench. Soon, whatever and however those mental shackles hold you back will begin to loosen even more and, eventually, drop.

You’ll gain the freedom, and you’ll feel the freedom like you’ve never felt it before. From there, it’s up to you how you keep going.

My suggestion is to take your journaling to the next level and keep on that track. Self-growth is not an end, so its path expands and evolves as you keep going. Your journal can be there for you, like a guiding light or a map to your self-growth.

Good luck with it! What will you journal about today?

Other Resources on How To Journal for Self-Growth

Now, before you go, I have…

3 Questions For You

  1. Have you tried to journal before and failed? Why do you think it happened?
  2. What are your favorite methods of journaling?
  3. When you journal, what kind of things come to your mind?

Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!



discipline, journaling, writing tips

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